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A Visit with Spencer Simon June 27, 2013

A Visit with Spencer Simon June 27, 2013

Biography by Spencer Simon, edited by Richard Parks


    My grandfather on my father's side was Yousif Shimon. My father's name was Stuart Simon and he married Janina Bilokur. Stuart was born in 1933 enroute to Lebanon with his family. I was fascinated by Ed Iskenderian's biography.  I would like to say that my dad's side of the family was in Turkey also at the very same time, in the 1920's.  Yousif Shimon was an Archdeacon of the Ancient Assyrian Church of Saint Mar Zia of the Jeloo tribe in the mountains of Hakkari, which is the next mountain over from Mount Ararat. This was the resting place of Noah's Ark. The Mar Zia church my grandfather was serving was erected in the 4th century AD.  The tribe which I am from has the longest bishopric line from 281 AD to 1917 AD. That was thirty years before Caesar Constantine became a Christian of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Saint Mar Zia Church is still standing today.  The entry of the church was specifically designed to be waist high. The reason for this is that any person entering the church would have to bow before entry. 

    Things had gotten very bad with the Islamist extremists as well as with the Kurds and they were hostile to the Christians.  My dad was the thirteenth child at the time of their exodus from Turkey.  They left by mules and donkeys in order to escape to Lebanon with their lives.  Assyrian Christians were originally from Baghdad, Iraq until the Arabians took over and pushed them into the mountains of Hakkari.  It was still called Iraq but taken over by the Arabs.  My father later worked for an American oil refinery under a man from Leighton, Alabama by the name of Abner B. Kirby, Jr. He also worked for the Royal Air Force in the late 1950's sending coded messages.  He also worked in Germany for Continental Tires as a salesperson, which I had my knowledge of and which spurred my interest in the 1937 Auto Union streamliner.  Abner helped Stuart in coming to America on a permanent application.  My father received his education at a University in Pennsylvania where he met some interesting people; such as Jack Lemmon and Bill Cosby.  Bill wasn't a comedian back then.

    When my parents got married my father began working in the home decorating business and at Gimbles Department Store in New York City, right next door to Macy's.  We lived in the countryside around Poughkeepsie, New York.  I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Albert Einstein Medical Center and given the name Spencer Simon.  I lived in Livingston, New Jersey, and Poughkeepsie, New York.  My dad finally gave up on the cold weather in New York and decided to move to California to live. We opened a business with the name Looms. I did my first job of hanging drapes when I was only nine years old in New York.  The business climate in New York was difficult and there was a lot more business in San Mateo, about 25 miles from San Francisco, so we made the move west.

    My grandfather on my mother's side was Wasyly Bielokurov, which was later changed to Bilokur.  Wasyly married Josepha Koniushevsky, who was born in Siberia in 1916.  Josepha's family was given a place to live in by Tsar Nicholas II.  Josepha passed away in Belmont, California in 2002.  My grandmother worked for Schick razors and she knew Igor Sikorsky, who founded Sikorsky Helicopters.  My mother, Janina Bilokur was born in 1943 in Sibesh, Russia.  She was a fencer, interior designer and a telephone operator with Pacific Bell.  She died in 1995 after an unsuccessful surgery.

    My family first lived in Burlingame, California. I also lived in Belmont, California also in Castro Valley. I attended Ralston Junior middle school in Belmont, and then went to Carlmont High School in Belmont.  My best friends of over 30 years include David Chandler, Mike Arndt, Brent Moore, Stephen Moire, Jeff Mahoney, Jeff Crowl, and Matthew Coloma.

    I met a lot of great people in the San Francisco Bay area and did jobs for some of them also.  I have the pleasure of meeting Bob Wilkenson of Creature features, the guy from Smile you are on Candid Camera, and Bing Crosby's family.  Bing's family was very impressed when they saw a 12 year old kid put up their window treatments. I also met the actor Jan Michael Vincent, Lia and Vince Neil from Motley Crue, Sally Yeh, who is a Mandarin Pop singer, descendants of the US General George Patton, descendants of Stonewall Jackson's family, the San Francisco '49ers Roger Craig and Jerry Rice.  I met a lot of Silicon Valley people, a few astronauts and more.  The work that I did was in interior designing, but my mind was interested in the mechanics of the automotive world as well.  I had my first involvement with cars when I saw a magazine that had an article on Carroll Shelby.  I loved the exotic Cobras and GT40's, even though I knew that I couldn't afford one.

     I worked at a second job in a Chevron gas station.  I did some tinkering here and there and learned a lot.  One time a new Ferrari came by the shop and it had a dent in it.   He was so desperate to take out the dent that he asked for my help.  I thought, "my gosh, I shouldn't be doing this."  I helped him push out the dent with a pry bar.  He was more than happy with the results. He had buckets of sweat pouring out of him.  Another man came by and this was the granddaddy of all the craziest things I ever saw. Some guy was coming into the station with his grandma in the front seat and he was pulling a rope like he was stopping a horse. I was shocked when I saw that the rope went into the hole in the flooring and a homemade pulley that went to the rear brake drum cables.  It was sheer suicide.  I did some racing during the 1980 and early '90's; some street and road racing, drag raced at a track in Belmont/Redwood City and along Canada Road where my friends and I would go race on a long stretch of road.

    My first project in 1985 was a 1967 kit car Valkyrie, which was the closest thing that I could find to a GT40.  Later things were more serious.  Another project was a 1968 Camaro.   With no instructions and just common sense I took the whole car apart completely.  I redid everything myself; windows, vinyl top, seats redone at my dad's shop, engine and tranny replacement, bodywork and stereo.  I didn't do the paint and didn't have the ears to calibrate the carburetion.  I later found a great looking car and it was something I really was interested in.  It was a 1938 Willy with an all steel body, 302 B/G gasser which was owned by a guy name Cookie.  It had a small early paint sign that said "Willy Poor Boy."  The body was cut 8 inches below the frame and unfinished.  I was only 19 and it was a difficult job, but I was going to try.  The car needed lots of work.  Then a friend of mine called me to see if I was interested in the '23 T. I owned this track T roadster for about 17 years now. 

    I can only say that this has been a great experience for me knowing all the people I have been speaking to from the past, due to the direction I was given from the trail of each person's name that people gave to me.  In 1992-93, I got this Model T in pieces from a pass-along owner named Charles Johnson, who was going to sell the car in pieces.  When I saw the car, I just fell in love with it and I made the deal.  He told me that the owner of the car was Gary Mylar and I had to do the paper work through him.  I was told by Charles that this T was a track roadster at one time.  Truthfully I did not know what a track roadster was.  When I met Gary Mylar, I did not know what to expect.  His place was full of memorabilia of hot rods and American graffiti history.  I was curious about the track T information. He said that the car was owned by a one-armed race car driver who raced it from the 1920's to the '40's era. 

    At that time he said he had the name, but he had to find it.  It was quite obvious that his office was really crowded with tons of paper stacked all around.  Mylar showed me a magazine called Honk, in the June 1953 issue, where the car was featured in the centerfold.  I was shocked by the awesome picture of the car that it once was.  For there it was; a great name for a car, called "Lightning Bolt."  The car was too good to be true, but it was.  There sitting next to the car was a good looking guy named D'angelo with his car photographed by Eric Rickman.  You could swear he looked like Joe DiMaggio, the famous Yankee baseball player.  The car did not have the nose when I bought it.  When I asked Gary, he said I had to find Chet Carter to be able to find the nose and he said it was in a barn.  I just kind of ignored the suspicions.

    At the time my mom was an operator for Pacific Bell and I asked her to help me find Chet Carter.  She told me that she couldn't because it was illegal.  So after 200 or more phone calls, I reached a Mary Root who connected me to Tom Prufer.  I then got in contact with Chet.  I was pretty excited about all of this going on.  Chet picked up the phone and he had a crisp cowboy accent.  I told him I had his car and he did not catch me at first, but when I mentioned Gary Mylar and the track T, he got disappointed, because he was expecting Mylar to sell it to him.  Chet told me to come over to meet him; so a date was set. 

    When we met, I've got to tell you that was one enjoyable great person to talk to.  He was going to move shortly and so he gave me a number to call to a Bob Coulsten, but the last two numbers were missing.  Chet then pulled out his magazine of Rod and Custom, from May, 1954 naming the car "The Perennial T," meaning the same car again the next year.  Photographed by Dean Moon, there was a paragraph about the car, mentioning that this car had many modifications even before 1925 had rolled around.  I actually got carried away with the investigation of this project.  I have watched and always enjoyed detective movies, but this was real.  After another fifty plus calls I finally reached Bob Coulsten.  I have learned that Coulsten had the nose for over 30 years and has never wanted to sell it.  I believe I have found the bend.  My thought was you cannot win them all, so the next best thing to do is to make a duplicate of the nose.

     I gave Bob a call and I went to meet him.  Just as I suspected, he was not going to sell it, but he gave me a tour of his garage.  He was actively working on his winged dirt track car.  He pointed up and there was the nose shining in lacquer black with the chrome related parts.  I asked him if he was willing to allow me to borrow the nose to have a duplicate made.  He accepted on the terms that we would get an estimate from the great fabricator Jack Haggerman.  Since we both knew who he was, he had asked me for a deposit on the nose.  Of course I did not have the money then.  I told him I had to work to come up with that sum and it was bad timing.  My Dad had lost his lease on his shop and the mortgage was in danger.  I told my dad that if I got his new place up and got the store running where he can start over, would he let me borrow some money.  He agreed and I spent three grueling months of hard work to prove my success.  

    My dad did not want me to spend my money on this car, but he knew I kept my word.  I called my friend Mike Arndt to ask him for some help on picking up the nose.  When we went there a week before Christmas, Coulsten looked at me and told me that he had decided to sell the nose to me after all.  I was overwhelmed and relieved. I did not tell him that it was my birthday at the time and that I was really thrilled.  He also showed me a June, 1960 Rod Builder Magazine with Richard Petty on the front cover.

    The car was put behind the centerfold and titled the "B" Modified BOMB.  I bought the nose to my car with the original Dzus screws Bob provided for me.  I locked the nose in place.  I stood back and saw this absolutely gorgeous car that just amazingly glowed.  I had goose bumps everywhere.  Man what a sight.  As the next week or so went by I was given a call by some people I never knew.  The word got out fast from somewhere.  Mike Dobrin and Dick Liebfritz came over to my dad's shop where I kept the car in the basement and they checked out the car. It was fun that they got acquainted with the car, but I never really did ask them how they found out.  

    Another guy called me by the name of Jack Costella and he invited me to come over to see him.  When I came over, he was working on a very sleek Bonneville car.  Jack introduced me to a man named Don Lewis who actually built the hair pin rods for the T, when D'Angelo had it.  He also said that he remembered when Bob Allinger was building the nose at his shop in Santa Clara next to the San Jose Airport.  Allinger built the Tornado Streamliner body for Lee Chapel as well as the rear section of the winning 1947 hydroplane boat called Miss Peps (Pepsi Cola).  This boat had an Allison engine in it and it was driven by Danny Foster. 

    Another surprise, with a weird twist, was that I owned a 1967 FiberFab Valkyrie that was once owned by Tom Martin and was built by Keith Black. It had an 800 hp Aluminum ZL-1, 427 Chevy and a Formula 1, Z.F. 6 speed Transaxle.  Jack told me he rode this car around the block once.  This Valkyrie was tested for its aerodynamics back in the old days.  Of course the engine blew up the transaxle.  Now it sports a 327 with a Corvair transaxle.  I presently have an ultra rare Richmond 5-speed transaxle with a quick change.  I was told that there are only 30 of these.

    To find out more about my car I took it to another level.  The car was in the Grand National Roadster show (Oakland, California) in 1953 next to my late friend Dick Williams' first winning roadster at the Grand Nationals.  I found out from my historian friend, Jim Palmer, who said that the Tornado was at the same show with Dick Williams and D'Angelo's T.  This was a surprising situation.  My brother-in-law's ex-wife's father was Don Tognotti.  Don was the promoter at the time and I just felt weird about the visit.  I met some great people there, like Gene Winfield and Blackie Gejeian.  Blackie told me that he tried to race Chet for the car, but that never came to be.  When I came to the Grand National Roadster show Tognotti tried to get me to see Greg Sharp. 

    This was all very helpful to me until twin tragedies happened.  Tognotti passed away and so did my mom.  I stopped my project for 15 years.  I finally got going on this project again when I was working one day and a magazine came in with a picture of George Lucas.  Remembering Chet Carter from the American Graffiti movie gave me the spark I needed to get going again. I got in touch with the Carter's and his long time friend Tony Lloyd.  Tony, Chet and his son came to visit me with historian Jim Palmer.  We had a great meeting and I explained that Mariella, Allinger's daughter, and I are looking for Lee Chapel's daughter for personal and historical reasons.  If anyone out there knows anything more about this, it would be a tremendous help in completing a history for this car.  As we speak this car is under restoration.   

    All of the following names were given to me by one person or another and is connected to my car in the various magazines. My search for the one armed racer continues on and also for more information on the Tornado.  This is what it took to get me this far. I had made some smiles and I have run into some that have since passed away.  And over the 15 years I have lost some great friends. All of these people have been a great inspiration to me regardless of who they are. They were a big part of my 17 year project; Charles Johnson, Gary Mylar, Moe Miller, Ivan Scorcer, Fredd Fox, Mary Root, Tom Prufer, Ken Foster, Chet and Jim Carter, Al Marsaline, Gene Roebeck, Roy Brizio, Allen Stewart, Robert Coulsten, Frank Archer, Jack Workman, Johnny Delong (cams), Dino Fry, Bob and Mariella Allinger, Lee Chapel, Les  Joseph, Mike and Joe D'Angelo, Rich Fox, Jack Costella, Don Lewis, Paul Harris, Dick Liebfritz, Mike Dobrin, Jim Palmer, Tony Casho, Mel Selvera, Ken Puccio, Mark Romney, Don Tognotti, Greg Sharp, Don Radbruch, Bill Peters, Joe Miller (friend of Dan Gurney), Pat Hall (friend of Richard Petty), Jack Houttes, Blackie Gejeian, Allen Heath and his family (another 1 arm racer), Tom Sparks, Bobby Meeks, Gorden and Perry Grimm, Lehnart Sailer (Helen Dessoux), Victor Edelbrock Jr, Mike Eddie, Paul Kamm, Jack Hagermann Sr and Jr, Arnie Roberts, Ron Covell, Bob Maywald, Tom Langdon, Armond Orr, Johnny Haigler, Ray Hiatt, Carl Schmid, Kentucky Colonel Eric Rickman, Jane Barrett, Pat Ganahl, Ken Furtado, Angus and John MacDonald, Ernie Pereira, Tony Lloyd, Jim Davis, Doug King, Helen and California Bill Fisher, Dick Williams (1949 Oakland Grand National Roadster winner) , Dick Williams (Poli-Form) , Vern Hart, Ken Fuhrmann, Tom Medley, Norm Rapp, Tom Palmer, Bill Bartello, Vic Sala, Andy Magnucci, Tom Motter, Tex Smith, Al Drake, Don Perata, Ron Atterbery, Jack T Chinn and family, George Tagney, Don Montgomery, Peter Sarber, Mike Russel, Don Zig, Bruce Bromm, Bruce Johnston, Jamie Jackson, Gene Winfield, Rick Perry, Ed Archer, R J (Bob) Owens, Ed Haggerty, Harry Souza, R. Hendall, Perry Fantos, Perry Costas, TV Tommy Ivo, Rick Hauf, Dean Moon, Chip At Mooneyes, Al of Vick Hubbard’s, Jerry Light, Ralph Lindy, Bob Miller, Loui Spinanz, Tut Willow, Bob Estrata, Clem Tebow, Joe Cardoza, Ted Gotelli, Dema Elgin, Dick Wallin, Al Slonaker, Ron Grable, Gordon Schroeder, Tom Carlton, Eddie Archer, Offenhauser, Don Smith, Rosie Roussel, Sal Leslie, Floyd Simoni, Walt James, Howard Segur, Rich Cordola, John Force, Tim Tilman, Force Edwards, Mel Janson, Bob Rushing, Ken Kronke (Holly Johnson) , McLennan, Bob McLoud, Mike Dutra, John Moore, Neil O’Kane, Joe D’Martini, Walter Rachet, Al Gatanal, Joe Valenti, Randy Daniels, Joe Signorelli, Rod Eschenburg, Tommy Cobb, Art Chrisman and Richard Parks.

     I have been in a club called Inliners International, which California Bill Fisher asked me to join.  My title was "Philly The Kid (Simon) #1932.  Bill was #2 and we kept in contact with one another and called ourselves the 2 Deuces.  I met him at the Muroc 60th Reunion, at Edward's Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, where the military keeps their Stealth aircraft.  An emergency came up and Bill couldn't make it to the reunion.  I went anyway with the intention of meeting Wally Parks, but I got there too late to see him.  I did get to see the Pierson's Brothers Coupe and the California Kid's '34.  

    I have been married to Rajaa Murr, who works as a caregiver, and we have a son named Oliver Simon, who is seven years old and my only child.  I enjoy researching and writing on topics, such as; Olympic bicycle racer Linda Jackson, Doug King, Rich Fox, Vic Sala (by Ed Archer), Paul Hannon, Norm Rapp, and James Calzia with the 24 hour Le Mans Porsche legend Norbert Singer.  Some of the new projects that I am working on concerns information on Ed Winfield that was given to me by Dema Elgin who has retrieved it from Ed's Widow.  Also a Biography of Marty Costello of Mor-Drop Axles and a real prize on George Barringer narrated by his son Bill Barringer. George was the Indy Driver for Harry Miller and Preston Tucker.  I am published in the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians Newsletter (SLSRH) which is based at  I wrote a movie review on Faith Granger's Deuce of Spades, an excellent hot rodding movie.  I know a few Kentucky Colonels, people who have been honored by the state of Kentucky with this honorary title.  One of whom was Eric 'Rick' Rickman.  I have also been given the title of a Kentucky Colonel by the governor of that state.  One of my objectives is to research and find documents and to interview people who have contributed so much to our racing history and heritage in Northern California and as a reporter for the SLSRH. I have been doing Interior design and installations of window treatments for the last 38 years.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected]