One down, one to go.
Like a real-life version of the once-popular reality TV show Overhaulin’, Keith VanderMeulen and his team at Santa Maria’s Image Street Rods & Customs raced to meet the deadline to complete the restoration of a classic 1964 Lincoln Continental.
This after VanderMeulen’s crew wrapped up restoration of Paul Mooney’s vintage 1925 Ford Model T Track Roadster.
Why the hurry?
Both cars are set to be showcased at the annual SEMA show this week in Las Vegas.
“We’ll be here working all night to finish up the Lincoln,” said VanderMeulen as his five-man team worked to put the Lincoln back together at their Betteravia Road shop on Wednesday. “Both cars have to roll out of here this weekend.”
SEMA — the Specialty Equipment Market Association — is the centerpiece of Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW), a trade-only industry event that takes place in Las Vegas each year.
“More than 60,000 people will be coming to the show,” Mooney said during a telephone interview from his Kernville home.
“That’s a lot of people who will see all the work we’ve done to restore these cars,” said VanderMeulen. “And they’ll be featured prominently. The Model T Roadster will be the centerpiece of the Coker Tires booth in the Silver Lot right outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. That’s huge right there. And the Lincoln will be featured at the Flo Airride Suspension booth on Hot Rod Alley in the Center Hall.”
While the Lincoln is owned by a car collector from Los Angeles, the Model T Track Roadster has local roots.
“My father, Fay, and J.T. “Spud” Simkins took the original 1925 Track Roadster and rebuilt it in the late 1940s in Bakersfield,” said Paul Mooney. “It was hand built, with an all-steel body. They built it to perfection.”
Spud Simkins was also an early promoter at the Santa Maria Speedway.
“My grandfather and Fay rebuilt it from the ground up,” said Billy Simkins, a Righetti High graduate and creator and publisher of Bakersfield Tough Magazine. “I never got to ride in it but I’ve seen it. It looks nice. It’s a super cool racecar. My grandpa used to tell me those cars were so light, it felt like you were wearing them.”
The car sports Simkins’ No. 68 — the number is now being raced by a fourth generation of Simkins racers.
After Spud, his sons Danny and Donny raced with the 68 on the side of their cars, grandson Billy still runs the California circuit in 68s and Billy’s 14-year-old daughter Sunnie runs her own 68s.
“Paul’s dad originally built it but he didn’t drive it,” said VanderMeulen. “To me, what’s special about the car is that before they raced it, they showed it and then went out and raced it. It’s a pretty special car. The car won first place at the 1950 Oakland Roadster Show.”
“Dad never raced but some great racers drove the car in the '50s and '60s,” said Mooney. “Spud, Rosie Rousell, Joe Mason and Harold “Hot Dog” Hall all won in it.”
“All those guys were really unique and all great racers,” said Simkins. “Back then there were no roll bars, seats belts were optional. Racing was really a death-defying event. It was like a gladiator event. Bakersfield Raceway was always sold out. If you looked up into the stands, there were 6,000 people packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. It was an exciting era for racing.”
“They raced all through the 1950s in tracks all around California — Bakersfield, Porterville, Gardena, Culver City, Gilmore and Phoenix (California),” said Mooney. “Then they started running Sprint Cars and Track Roadsters were phased out. They just faded away.”
Gone but not forgotten.
That’s where VanderMeulen and Image Street Rods & Customs come in.
“We had to dismantle the car and then put it back together. It’s replicated — not much is left from the original car,” said VanderMeulen. “These are not quick turnarounds. We custom build a lot of the parts and it can take 18 months or more to properly restore one of these cars. On the Roadster, the body and trunk are the only original parts left. The rest we had to build using old photos and Paul’s records to guide us.
“We put in a GMC 270 (cubic inch) engine that was used in trucks from 1948 to 1950. It’s an inline six (cylinder) that was beating flathead eights back in the day. We put a 2016 Ford Mustang GT 5-liter Coyote Motor in the Lincoln and then added an Edelbrock E-Force Stage 1 Street Supercharger. That’s the first time it’s been done as far as we know. We're excited because we’re going to have two cars at SEMA — not many people do that. That takes a lot of work and it’s really special.”
“Keith and his crew have restored every square in of the Model T Roadster,” said Mooney. “It’s probably the most beautiful roadster ever built.”
SEMA will be held from Tuesday through Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.