History-Making Hot Rod At Mecum

Before there was NASCAR, before twisting race tracks were known for their road-racing antics, and almost before the Indianapolis 500, there was Elgin, Illinois. Located roughly 35 miles from Chicago, Elgin was the place where speed came of age, and terms such as “stock cars” were used in their truest sense.

We often think of hot rodding as a post-WWII phenomenon, but if one traveled the streets of Elgin, even before the first World War, you might have a different reality. Starting in 1910, the streets of Elgin, Illinois would once a year, turn from the typical commuter route to a roaring race track featuring some of the biggest names in racing. Noted drivers such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Cliff Durant, the son of GM founder, Billy Durant; Ralph DePalma, and Fred Frame all competed with others on this early version of automotive competition.

As a prototype of the Elgin Road Race-prepped cars, this car was not designated to run the race. Fred Frame’s off-course lumber excursion put this car in the running as the first car to win a “stock car” race.

The Elgin Road Races were held in 1910-1915, 1919, and 1920. They were halted during World War I and were only brought back after the 1920 race as part of the World’s Fair that was being held in Chicago in 1933. In 1933, there were actually two races held. There was an “open” class, which was won by Phil “Red” Shafer, and a “stock car” race, comprised of production vehicles powered by engines less than 231 cubic-inches. It was during this race that this particular car came into prominence. One year after Henry Ford introduced the all-new flathead Ford V8, several automobiles powered by this new engine were dominating the twisting course at Elgin. The video below shows antics from both classes of cars during that race.

Powered by a 221 cubic-inch, 75 HP V-8 engine mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, this car was part of Ford’s skunkworks as part of what was termed the “Elgin Road Race project.” The car was specially built for the 1933 event, along with 10 other similarly-equipped Fords. Each car was to be sponsored by one of Ford’s dealers for the 1933 race.

The hot little flatty motor still resides in front of that three-speed top-loader transmission.

One car was to be sponsored by Louis Cote’s Ford dealership, Cote Motor Company, and driven by the previous year’s Indy 500 winner, Fred Frame. Frame hit the course for some practice runs the day before the big race and wound up putting his ride into the trees at Turn Seven of the course. As luck would have it, and with the Ford field down by one car, Ford pulled this car, the prototype vehicle for the Elgin Road Race project into service for Fred Frame. You can see it in action in this rare video of the 1933 race.

The earliest of the eleven such-built cars, it was hastily prepped with sponsorship and driver lettering in preparation for the next day’s competition. Ford dominated the “stock car” race at Elgin and Fords held the top seven positions as the checkered flag fell. The decisive finish for Ford was lead by the stand-in car for Fred Frame, who took first place in the event with his Ford-prepped 1933 Ford. At a time when Fords were touted for reaching 85 miles-per-hour on a level road, Fred’s Ford was reportedly clocked at over 100 miles-per-hour on the straights of Elgin during the event.

Post Race Provenance

Afterward, the car went on a promotional tour for a while, helping to cement the flathead’s performance to customers. After that, the car was shipped out west, where at the hands of its previous winning driver, Fred Frame, along with his brother riding as a mechanic, the car was rolled during a race at Mines Field in Long Beach, California.

The car was eventually shipped back to Cote Motors, where it was stored for some time. Soon after the car was hauled back to the Dahlinger Estate, the location of the original Elgin Road Race skunkworks. The car was sold to Bob Spanicki during the Dahlinger Estate sale and resided in storage until the late 1970s. It was then purchased by Roy Nacewicz in 1982, who established the car’s early production and differentiating build from production vehicles of the era.

Cues such as the unique motor mounts and bumper-bracket mounting holes helped distinguish this car from the prototype racer as these features were found only on the very early, first-month production Fords for 1933. All the other ten racers were built from later production Fords. The car underwent a comprehensive restoration by Roy Nacewicz in 1988. The car then went into the Dingman Collection of Fords.

Dana Mecum, founder of Mecum Auctions purchased the car in 2006 and has exhibited the car at various events throughout the years. The car has made several appearances at the Millers at Milwaukee vintage event at the Milwaukee Mile. It also served as a pre-race ceremonial pace car at several NASCAR Winston Cup races in the 1990s.

The car has won numerous awards since its restoration, including the AACA President’s Cup, the Dearborn Award at the 1988 Early Ford V-8 Club Grand National, a 1990 AACA Senior National First Place, and a Senior Grand National win in 1990. It was certified for racecar status by the AACA in Class 24-A in 1988, bearing certification badge number 33.

The car underwent a comprehensive restoration by Roy Nacewicz in 1988 and the quality of the restoration is confirmed by the numerous awards it has garnered throughout the years since completion.

The car is being offered this weekend at the Mecum 33rd Original Spring Classic in Indianapolis, Indiana. The event is held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and runs from July 10th-18th. This rare Ford will be offered as part of the Mecum Gallery Exposition—an exposition sale that will be held separate from, but in conjunction with, Mecum Indy 2020. The vehicle will be on-site at the Indy auction for inspection and purchase for the duration of the event, July 10-18, and purchase arrangements can be made directly with on-site representatives of the Mecum Gallery Exposition, or by contacting Mecum representative Rob Williams by phone or text at (262) 236-7705 or by email at [email protected]. A 10% buyer premium applies.

Article Sources

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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