Don Weaver’s 1960 South Bay Auto Body Sprinter Restored

 

The Del Mar Fairgrounds event map for the Goodguys event in 2019. The mile-long horse track is clearly visible in the center of the photo. Photo from www.good-guys.com.

Earlier this year, we were enjoying a visit to the Goodguys Car Show in Del Mar, California. If you are a dirt track enthusiast, chances are you also love some of the classic and vintage cars that are drawn into the Goodguys’ atmosphere. Del Mar’s well-maintained and popular dirt oval track became infamous in auto racing circles in 1949. 

Del Mar’s Racing History

By the end of the 1940s, Del Mar had become a summer playground for many Hollywood stars. A track was built for horse racing, and promoters eyed the large dirt oval for open-wheel big cars – like the ones that ran at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The former racer-turned-promoter Babe Stapp planned the final AAA championship race of 1949. This race would be at Del Mar, a scheduled 100 miles on the mile-long horse track. This was the first Indy-style car race in Southern California since 1934.

L.A. Times photographer captured the crash sequence of Rex Mays at Del Mar, which ran in life magazine. Photo from www.jalopyjournal.com.

It was at the Del Mar race on November 6, 1949, where Rex Mays, one of the most popular and most gifted drivers in Southern California history, was killed. This effectively stopped open-wheel racing at the venue. Because Del Mar is not known as an auto racing town, we did not expect to see many vintage open-wheel race cars at the car show.

 

The Del Mar Goodguys Show

We did observe a plethora of classic American muscle cars. Many of these street rods and muscle cars served as the backbone of early dirt track racing through the 1970s. At a vintage car show like a Goodguys event, it is easy to look at a street rod built on a Model T frame and see where the early open wheel sprints and midget cars came from.

Around every corner sits another early Camaro. How many of the vintage muscle-car-era Camaros were cut up and built into dirt oval stock cars? The number of second-generation Camaros destroyed on dirt ovals sends goosebumps down the spine of these modern collectors. At the time, they were simply second-hand cars that dirt track teams could afford to pick up inexpensively. 

As we enjoyed seeing these restored machines, walking from one building to the next, we managed to spot a really interesting find. At the rear of the third building, resting on top of a single-axle, open trailer – that could have actually hauled the race car back in the day – was a beautifully restored vintage Sprint Car.

The Display

At the front of the open trailer was a signboard proudly stating: South Bay Auto Body #33 1960 Vintage Sprint Car. Two names on the board jumped out at us immediately. Don Weaver and Porky Rachwitz. Any west coast open-wheel racing fan in the past 50 years should recognize Don Weaver’s name. Weaver tried his hand as a Midget racer in a car he owned with his brother Bob. It was not his driving that earned him legendary status, however. It was his mechanical ability.

Weaver worked with top-notch drivers like Ray Crawford and Bill Vukovich. Crawford, who qualified for the Indy 500 three times, drove family-owned and private funded cars his entire career – which motivated him to hire the best mechanic available. This is where the Crawford/Weaver connection was made.

In his autobiography, Mickey Thompson cited Crawford as an early influence on the speed legend. Thompson later hired Weaver to help with his Indy Car program in 1962. This is where Weaver crossed paths with Thompson’s two drivers, Dan Gurney and Keith “Porky” Rachwitz.

Weaver had become a very well-known car owner in the California Racing Association (CRA) Sprint Car series, with only the best drivers behind the wheel. Bobby Unser was a frequent driver of Weaver’s cars. In the off-season, Weaver tended to his primary business as the owner of South Bay Auto Body in Redondo Beach, California.

The #33 Car

Initially built by Mack Terry of Chelsea, Oklahoma, the car was completed before the 1961 season. Driving in the IMCA Sprints in the midwest as car #77, the Terry family moved to California for better opportunities. Racing in the CRA and USAC series in 1962, the car continued through the 1963 season with sponsorship from Itow Automotive, a company with a long history in racing.

For the 1964 season, Weaver’s South Bay Automotive began sponsoring the #77 South Bay Auto Body Special, with Mack Terry doing the driving. Near the end of the season, Don Weaver and Phil McClain bought the car from Terry, changed the number to 33, and put Keith “Porky” Rachwitz in the driver’s seat.

The #33 South Bay Auto Body Special raced through the 1965 season then it was retired and put to rest behind the shop. 

The Restoration

The real restoration part of this story began in May of 2010. Phil McClain sold three vintage Sprint Cars that were stored in a pile behind his house. After purchasing the cars, the new owner decided to completely restore the most-complete Sprint Car with significant racing history. Along the way, he planned on carefully documenting the restoration for everyone to see. This painstakingly complete documentation can be found here.

A little more than seven years later, the project was complete and began showing up at events in the Southwest. It is finished in the 1964 livery with South Bay Auto Body as the primary sponsor and the #33 on the tail tank.

The car is reported to be period-correct with 97-percent of the original parts. The replacement parts are exact matches to the original, “right down to the part number,” according to the owner.

As a bonus, the trailer that hauls the car from event to event was also restored and has its own restoration page, where every step of the rebuild is documented. You can find that restoration page here:  Trailer Rebuild.

About The Engine

The engine was originally built when USAC rules mandated the engine displacement be limited to 305 cubic-inches. The South Bay Auto Body team used a 1957 Corvette 283ci block as the base of the engine build. The block is over-bored .125-inch to a full 4.00-inch cylinder bore. Using a stock stroke crankshaft, the displacement comes to 301.6ci, keeping it well below the max allowable.

1959 Corvette “fuelie” cylinder heads topped the block, with the restoration blog reporting these heads are ported and polished. Under the valve cover, stock stamped-steel Chevrolet rocker arms are used.

Jahns aluminum racing pistons fill the block with stock Chevrolet connecting rods. The crankshaft is also a stock Chevrolet piece, balanced with plates welded to the counterweight area. This was the common practice and set up at the time.

Using a dry-sump lubrication system, oil tanks are placed under the driver’s seat with hoses running to and from the pan, with a stock oil filter housing between the oil pan and tank. According to the rebuild blog, Don White at HDS Machine Shop did the engine rebuild.

This is exactly what you could have seen traveling down the highways in Southern California, going from track to track.

How We Saw It

This was how a top-flight sprint car team went racing in the glory days of the early 1960s, complete with a 301 cubic inch fuel-injected, Chevrolet-powered sprint car, loaded on a fully-restored, single-axle, open trailer. 

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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