As I was sitting and reminiscing in the hot seat of Rob Boult’s Edelbrock Special at the last Scope meeting, Rob was approached by a group of drivers from the Grand Prix Specials Team. “We are thinking of a new rule they said. No V8’s”. (Rob had just run away from the field in a scratch race for the group). Sure they weren’t serious, but V8 specials have attracted such respect from day 1.
Sitting in that seat the thought came to do a “Members Cars” article on the Edelbrock. But it turned out not to be so simple. Rob’s particular NZ special is actually very special indeed, and a bit of historical murkiness adds to its history. From 1949 on it is well documented, but its origins reach back to the late ’30s.
This description of the car and its race records are based on information from the Grand Prix Specials team information handout, with clarification information from Graham Vercoe’s two books “Historic Racing Cars of New Zealand” and “The Golden Era of New Zealand Motor Racing,” with a bit of help from the Messenger/Wood book “Flat to the Boards” (A history of NZ Motorsport up to 1940).
The story of the Edelbrock Special starts with George Smith, a serial specials builder with a driving career spanning over 20 years. Messenger/Wood record Smith as building two Specials in the 1930’s. The first of these, in 1933, was based on a shortened and lowered straight eight Roosevelt. (Roosevelt was a brand name used by the Marmon Motor Co, the builders of the winner of the very first Indy 500). Chassis lowering followed the Brooklands Riley practice of cutting off the rear section of the chassis, inverting it and welding it back on. Voila, an instant overslung axle. Smith raced the Roosevelt
special on and off for several years, and it was later converted to a road vehicle.
Just over the fence from Smith’s workshop was Merv Hardy’s wrecking yard. In 1934 Hardy built up a Chevrolet “Baby Grand” special. This car also had its chassis shortened and lowered and retained the original 4 cylinder Chevy running gear.
Messenger/Wood record that Smith built a further chassis for a V8 special in 1938. The car was owned by a Mr A.Casey but driven by George, and others in 1938-39. The references state that this car was built up on a “Smith Chassis” but the vehicle itself is not described, and no photographs of it are given. Intriguingly the Vercoe description of this “Smith” car closely matches the known features of the 1934 Hardy “Bitza” Special. Given the proximity of the two workshops it could even be the same chassis, or at least a reasonably close facsimilie of it. With this Special George won the 1938 and 1939 Muriwai Beach Racing titles. Messenger/Wood record that most of it was later used to build Smith’s post war track car, but how much and what bits are not specified. It is this later build that eventually became the Edelbrock Special. Rob enters it as being of 1938 build.
In post war years the car re-surfaced, now with a fuller described attached to it. Verco records that it was built up from a fire damaged Chevrolet, using the Chev chassis (suitably shortened and lowered), a Smith built and tuned Ford V8 engine, an Austin radiator grill and Ford two seater roadster body. Its first recorded post war appearance was a hill climb in September 1949, at which it broke the course record. In 1950 Smith won the New Zealand Beach Championship with it and led the NZ Grand Prix at Ohakea until the water pump drive sheared. This car then became the basis of what is now the Edelbrock special.
At the end of the 1950 season Smith was planning another special, one that eventually emerged as the GCS, and Frank Shuter purchased the earlier car. He ran it more or less in its as found state for the next two years, with podiums at Mariehau and Wigram in both years. He entered the car as a “Smith Ford.” The photos below show the car in Smith’s hands at Ohakea in 1950, and in Shuter’s at Mariehau, virtually unchanged, in 1952.
For 1953 Shuter modified the car, using US sourced Edelbrock bits, from which the car got its new name. The Ford diff was replaced with a Halibrand quick change unit and the bodywork was modified into its current form. Vercoe describes this as “..a very round body akin to an uncorrugated water tank cut in half, with extra air intakes either side of the radiator.” The car was now in its final body shape with “Edelbrock Special” painted on the bonnet. It quickly established itself as the top South Island car. But keeping a red hot flat head V8 together is not an easy task and through ’53 and ’54 the car lost competitiveness and gained unreliability.
Both were attended to by following the lead of the American hot rodders, and the track cars of Allard and Cunningham. By 1955 the side valve Ford had been replaced with a race prepared 331 Cadillac OHV engine, coupled to a Jaguar/Moss 4 speed gearbox. In its first race in this form (Mariehau ’55) Shuter was second to Ron Roycroft’s P3 Alfa Romeo in the scratch race and recorded the fastest time for the race distance in finishing second in the handicap race.
In Shuter’s hands the Edelbrock started in 18 National long distance races. In four international races entered in 1956 it was second NZ car twice, fifth NZ car once and had one retirement. Throw in a few National and South Island Beach titles and its top flight career was done. This is it at Ohakea in 1955.
At the end of 1956 it was pushed into a corner of the workshop. It made sporadic appearances in the family hands until the mid 1960’s. (This author recalls once coming across it in a Christchurch workshop in the early sixties, and again at Ruapuna in the late sixties). Otherwise it remained in the shed, more or less at rest, until Rob rescued it and brought it back to life.
Well done Rob. How close to original can you get?
The Edelbrock Connection:
Vic Edelbrock was a Californian hot rodder, with a talent for tuning the Ford flat-head. By the late 1930’s he had built up the fastest V8 runner at the Muroc dry lake speed trials and was beginning to dabble in bespoke inlet systems, head modifications and camshaft grinds for the Ford flattie. In 1946 this become a full time business.
Vic and Frank did lots of business together, Frank selling Edelbrock bits in NZ and making bespoke versions of some of the bits for local speedway cars. Edelbrock branched out into Cadillac and Chevrolet performance enhancements when those OHV V8’s took over from the Ford flattie. The business relationship made it a natural step for a performance enhanced Caddie to find its way to NZ.
The 331 Cubic Inch Cadillac V8 was introduced in 1949, and is regarded to this day as a milestone engine. It was relatively compact (a Cadillac could be shoe-horned into any space that the Ford could), powerful (it would match a hot flattie in factory standard trim) and robust (a five main bearing crank). Early race developed engines put out a reliable 300 or so hp, and by 1955 even the top line production Caddies cold match this. Even better, as with the Ford, the hot rodders had adopted it almost at birth, Vic Edelbrock included. It was a Caddy engine that gave the old Smith Special a new lease of life in 1955. But alas by ’56 the old girl had done her dash.
Shuter’s Later Cars:
Shuter swapped to Italian jobs and continued racing up to the early 60’s, in the ex Zambucka 8CLT Maserati and the ex Pat Hoare Ferrari 625 Tasman Special. The 8CLT can be found in Southwards Museum, but the Ferrari was more or less destroyed at Wigram in 1961.
The bits of the Ferrari were later rebuilt. (Currently it runs in Europe in 2 litre formula 2 form). The marshal’s car that it hit was not. Vercoe comments that the marshals car was somewhere it had no right to be, not so. The Wigram organisers operated a speed trap near the end of the back straight. This was the service car for it.