About Guest Columnist Roger Meiners
I was born and raised in South Florida, not exactly a hotbed of hot rodding, but where there is a will, there is a way. I was one of those kids who could name every car on the road. I hopped up my bike with playing cards held by clothespins so they would hit the wheel spokes and make “car” sounds.
I am a retired lawyer. I gave up private practice when I took the position in 1986 as Director of Operations at McLaren Engines. There, I was involved with the creation of some interesting products, including the Buick GNX, which we engineered for GM. I was at McLaren for almost 20 years in various capacities. My last project there was the ZL-1 Crate Engine we did for GM Performance Parts.
My lifetime love of hot rods started in a hospital in Dade City, Fla. The year was 1956. My dad brought me a stack of car magazines to read. Books like Rod & Custom, Car Craft,Hot Rod Magazine. I couldn’t put them down. I was hooked. Dad took my brother and me to the circle track races at Hollywood Speedway many times, where I saw Red Farmer race his 37 Chevy, powered by a Chevy small block.
My buddy Chuck Watson got a ’31 Ford coupe in 1958. His dad gave it to him, hoping he would restore it. Parents sometimes have unrealistic expectations for their kids. We wanted to put a Chevy in it. Mr. Watson refused, but in response to our constant pestering, he relented somewhat and said we could do a Ford flathead
We spent the summer of 1959 on the conversion, which was done on the family farm west of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. We dug an 8BA engine out of the dirt at a junkyard, found a Merc crank and proceeded to “rebuild” the motor on the floor of a barn. It wasn’t pretty. I remember hearing the sand in the engine as we rotated the crank to install the pistons. The only modification to the engine was a hot cam, which we bought at an old gas station just down the road in Hallandale, Fla. The sign on the building said “Crane Cams,” and their hottest grind was called the “Super Whapper.” We opted for a ¾–race bump stick instead.
We got the engine in, painted the car metallic green with red steel wheels and installed a beer keg handle for a gearshift knob. There was one slight problem: The engine wouldn’t turn over. It might have had something to do with the sand in the mechanism. Anyway, we managed to free it up by towing the car in third gear. At first the rear tires skidded, but finally the motor freed up and we got it started. It ran for years afterward and had a nice lope from the Crane cam.
Sometime after that venture I got interested in road racing and in my mid-life I restored and raced a few interesting cars, including a Ferrari SWB, a Lotus 23 and a 1969 Formula 1 Brabham that was famous for winning the Canadian Grand Prix. I also had a 1966 Alfa Romeo Autodelta GTA with a Trans Am racing history. These cars are all gone now.
I never actually gave up on hot rodding. I moved to Dallas, Texas in 1965 and spent virtually every weekend at Green Valley Raceway or Yellow Belly running four-abreast eliminations in a couple of old Plymouth flatheads. That was how we sometime financed our day at the races. Here’s how that worked: The Plymouths were always in a class by themselves (who else would enter a 4-door ’52 Plymouth Cranbrook? Most self-respecting people would hide the car way back in the spectator parking lot). By entering the races we automatically won our class and received a prize. Either a trophy, a fender cover or cash. After receiving a fender cover and a trophy the first couple of weeks, we took the cash, which exactly covered the admission charge.
Yellow Belly was located between Dallas and Grand Prarie. The strip was a paved road between two open warehouses. Very low rent place, for doorslammers only.
I also got to drive my buddy’s ’68 Camaro Z28 at Green Valley. This car was an LPO version—one of the last limited production cars. The dealer order code was LPO Z28. The cars had a “302” script on the front fenders instead of the Z28 emblem. This confounded dealer service technicians, who only knew the 307 script that was synonymous with “tame.” Later in the year Chevrolet changed the model designation to RPO Z28 (Regular Production Option) and began a long run of these legendary cars.
Green Valley was a great place to see exhibition racing. We saw “Big Daddy” Don Garlits run Tommy Ivo one Friday night. Garlits showed up in a greasy T-shirt with his car on an open trailer, while Ivo had his usual showpiece. “Big” spun a rod bearing on his second run and we watched as he sanded the journal with emery cloth before the final match. He shut off halfway down.
I am now marketing consultant. Later this year, I’ll manage the Hemi Challenge for Mopar. We’ll run at three tracks beginning with the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend. I’m currently a staff writer and photographer on Mopar Magazine and Viper Magazine. I have also done freelance work in Hot Rod Magazine, Hot Rod Deluxe, Street Rodder and The Rodder’s Journal.
My consulting clients included companies that design and build engines, make electric vehicles, design suspension systems for racing cars (the Corvette C6R, for example), fabricate prototype car bodies, do Market research on automotive electronics, and produce TV shows about cars.
Early in my career I was a senior account executive with Motorola’s Automotive Group. That’s how I got to Detroit. I was on the Ford account, then Volkswagen and Chrysler. We were at the forefront of the automotive electronics revolution, building the first high-volume engine controllers back in the 1970s. Later, I was Vice President of Marketing at McLaren Engines in Livonia, Mich. I was director of product planning at Trans2 Corporation (now known as Global Electric Motorcars, a subsidiary of Chrysler Group LLC). I also served on the board of directors of the Mobility Lab, an alternative transportation think tank based in Ann Arbor. I was a member of the board of the Automotive Hall of Fame and Museum in Novi, Michigan.
I have such a passion for cars that I took auto design courses at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
I have been a licensed racing driver since the early 1980s and competed in Honda Civics in IMSA endurance racing, SCCA and vintage sports racers and my own Formula One Brabham.
I currently have a traditional-style 1932 Ford roadster built by Paul Beck of St. Johns, Mich. It’s an all-steel car with 40s Ford running gear, including a ’48 truck transmission with passenger-car gears. The ’55 Dodge Hemi feeds into a torque tube drive going to a ‘40 Ford banjo rear end. Wishbones are not split. The cut-down Auburn dash is filled with old Stewart-Warner gauges from a truck.
One of my dreams came true when I recently went to Bonneville. I have been there a couple of times—including last year. I wrote stories in Hot Rod Deluxe and Hot Rod Magazine about a couple of interesting cars I saw there, including an old Bill Burke streamliner and a newly-built ’28 Dodge Brothers roadster powered by a vintage four-cylinder flathead. I plan to go back this August to see the Dodge roadster take back the record it lost last year—and maybe even drive it down the course, if I’m lucky.