1960 Lime Rock Nationals– Denise McCluggage sits on the grid  while SCCA gets things straight.

Back in 1955 or so, a young Denise McCluggage had a chance encounter with a then unknown Steve McQueen which led to a brief affair and a long-lasting friendship. They would be separated by their own career ambitions, and the many demands and erratic schedules that come with the territory. That said, McCluggage managed to stay in touch over the years. She herself would go on to become a legend in the world of auto racing– a renowned driver, writer, and photographer for over 50 yrs. McCluggage has won trophies around the world and raced for Porsche, Jaguar, Lotus, Mini Cooper, Alfa, Elva, OSCA, Volvo, among others. In 1961 she won the grand touring category at Sebring in a Ferrari 250 GT, and in 1964 McCluggage scored a class win in the Rallye de Monte Carlo for Ford. She shared her remembrances of McQueen and their relationship years after his passing, published in AutoWeek magazine back in 1981. She recalls a young, lean McQueen who was already obsessed with cars and racing, who swept her off her feet with his searing looks, charm and well… incongruity, as she puts it.

1955, Steve McQueen as he looked back in the day, running around the Village w/ Denise McCluggage – Image by © Roy Schatt

Shortly after our reunion he had sidled up next to me and whispered in my ear: “I’m falling in love all over again,” and given me the full brunt of the smile. My response had been an instantaneous hoot of laughter. –Denise McCluggage

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Dean Jeffries Pontiac GTO Monkees Car - Monkeemobile

Pontiac GTO Monkeemobile built by Dean Jeffries. The car was featured on the NBC network’s comedy television show “The Monkees” starring Davey Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork. Created from two Pontiac GTOs, the visually radical Monkeemobile was an instant hit with fans of the show. This shot shows the dragster-inspired parachute deployed at Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling offices on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Legendary painter, customizer, racer, and stuntman Dean Jeffries is one of those guys whose soft-spoken nature has allowed other, more self-promoting figures (read: George Barris, the Don King of Kustom Kulture) to steal a lot of his thunder. Barris has tried to hire on Jeffries as an employee many times over the years, and Jeffries always rebuffed– preferring either to rent his own space, or work freelance. Their histories are forever entwined, and the tales of rivalry, and particularly Barris’ trickery, are the stuff of legend. Many of Dean Jeffries’ most recognized works (like the Monkeemobile, for one)– George Barris came behind and unrightfully claimed credit for them. It’s dumbfounding and downright sleazy– we’ll get to that later.

Dean Jeffries grew up immersed in Los Angeles auto culture– his dad was a mechanic, and next door to his dad’s garage was a bodyshop. The young Jeffries was drawn to the creative expression allowed in bodywork over turning a wrench (“too greasy!”) like his ol’ man– the bodyshop became his hangout of choice. After returning from the Korean War, he became buddies with another future legend of Kustom Kulture— Kenny Howard (AKA Von Dutch), and started pinstriping.

“We’d do freelance pinstriping on our own, then get together and hang out. I also worked during the day at a machine shop doing grinding. But pinstriping really took off then–I was painting little pictures and medallions on cars. My first job was pinstriping a boat. I didn’t have no shop back then. You were lucky if you got $5 for a whole car. If you got $25 in your pocket in a day you were King Kong. I thought it was great.” –Dean Jeffries

More than anything else, I’ll always remember Dean Jeffries for painting the infamous “Little Bastard” badge on the Porsche owned by his racing buddy– James Dean.

“For years Barris claimed he painted it– now he just says he can’t remember and somebody in his shop painted it. Sure. I used to bum around with James Dean. I wasn’t trying to be his movie friend. We just had car stuff between us. We hung out, got along together real bitchin’. But one day Dean asked me to paint those words on his car, and I just did it.” –Dean Jeffries

Love this pic. There’s the obvious knockout pinup, Carol Lewis (Dean Jeffries’ high school sweetheart in front of his ’47 Merc), posing for his pinstriping pleasure, but also check out Dean Jeffries’ paint box. “The Modern Painter Has Arrived.” It’s an incredible piece of work in itself.

“The above shot comes from a publicity shoot done ironically, at Barris’ shop, with George behind the camera. Jeffries was just out of high school, and Barris tried to hire him, but Jeffries wanted to sub-contract to Barris, so Barris cleaned out a storage area in his shop, and Jeffries based himself out of there. Pretty slick on Barris’ part– he could grab Jeffries any time he wanted a striping job.” –Thanks to Irish Rich for the story on Carol Lewis.

Carol Lewis’ custom 1956 Chevrolet– Dean Jeffries high school sweetheart.  –image via Kustomrama “It was Jeffries who was having dinner across the street from Barris’ shop when he spotted the smoke coming from the start of the disasterous Dec. ’57 Barris shop fire. He ran across the street and broke in, and managed to get Lewis’ 56 Chevy out of there before the flames got too out of control. Lewis’ Chevy was done in a similar style as Jeffries’ ’47 was.” –Irish Rich

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One of the greatest rivalries in all of Drag Racing history has to be the classic Wildlife Racing matchup– Don “Snake” Prudhomme vs. Tom “Mongoose” McEwen.  Any red-blooded boy born of that era remembers their famous Funny Cars decked-out in bright Hot Wheels badges screaming down the 1/4 mile in a furious blur that lasted all of 5 sweet seconds.  The two faced-off in match races that raged over a period of about 3 years.  Don Prudhomme, being the stronger competitor, usually came out on top. Their epic West Coast battles, fueled by huge sponsorship deals (Mattel, Coca-Cola, Plymouth, and Goodyear) were a major draw, and their loyal fans never tired of seeing them go head to head.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is celebrating the opening of their new exhibit, NHRA: Sixty Years of Thunder by paying tribute to – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme – during their annual Tribute Night on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.  Honored guests include– Roland Leong, Tommy Ivo, Carroll Shelby, Ed Pink and many others. Special guest Dave McClelland, the Voice of the NHRA and longtime friend of Don Prudhomme, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Their will be a film featuring The Snake’s epic history, and several other drag racing icons will share their stories of the legend. A live auction of amazing racing memorabilia will follow with proceeds going to the Petersen’s educational programs.

If you’re a Drag Racing fan of any age– this is an epic event not to be missed.


Racing rivals- the Snake and the Mongoose at Dallas International Motor Speedway (1969-1973). Continue reading


1973 — “Jungle Pam” Hardy and “Jungle Jim” Liberman with his Chevy Vega Funny Car.

You’d be hard-pressed to say who was hotter back in the ’70s– “Jungle Pam” in her go-go boots, short-shorts, and titillating tops… or “Jungle Jim” Liberman’s rubber-melting burnouts, wheelstands, and screaming up and down the length of the dragstrip backwards.  Liberman was arguably one of the most flamboyant and memorable showmen on the funny car circuit, who knew better than anyone what the crowd wanted– and hiring the 18 yr old tall, dark and sexy “Jungle Pam” Hardy as his sassy staging sidekick was a calculated stroke of marketing genius.  But she was no lightweight– she quickly learned to turn a wrench, know here way around cars, the crowds, and the scene– the fans loved her.

“Jungle Pam” is still a legend to this day, and a true original.  Sadly, Jim Liberman left us back in ’77 when his Corvette hit a bus head-on in a tragic road accident.  His spirit lives through all the drivers he’s inspired, and the countless memories of his “Jungle Jim” antics and achievements during Liberman’s legendary racing career.

Drag racing legends “Jungle Pam” Hardy and “Jungle Jim” Liberman doing what they do best.


“Jungle Pam” gets down.

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When Henry Ford II’s quest to buy Ferrari back in 1963 was spitefully squelched by Enzo, the mandate was given to, “Kick Ferrari’s ass.” And not just anywhere– at Le Mans, the world stage of auto racing.  The ass-kicking would finally come in the beautiful & brutish form of the iconic Ford GT40–America’s most incredible racecar ever.

Originally developed in England by Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd under the direction of Aston Martin’s former team manager, John Wyer, the GT40 failed at Le Mans in ’64 & ’65, as Ferrari finished 1-2-3 both years. With failure no longer an option for anyone who wished to remain employed by Ford, Carroll Shelby was tapped to give the GT40 the necessary bite to beat the Italians.  Shelby’s success at Le Mans in his own Cobras, and again with the GT40, was not about technology, but by being crafty.  He replaced the 289 c.i. GT40 engine with the same powerful, big block 427 c.i. V-8 that powered his Cobras.  The lower revving, larger displacement V-8’s were more able to take the stress of long endurance races than the higher-revving, small displacement engines used by Ferrari.

Shelby not only ended Ferrari’s racing dominance, he exacted sweet revenge for Enzo’s snub– and garnered Ford a remarkable four-year winning streak from 1966 – 1969.


Two massive American automotive legends — Carroll Shelby and the iconic Ford GT40. Originally labeled GT, ’40’ was added due to its incredibly low 40-inch stance.



West Sussez, England — A Carroll Shelby masterpiece, 1960s JW Automotive/American Gulf Oil-sponsored Ford GT40  racecar at the Goodwood race track — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis



1969 Carroll Shelby / Ford GT40 MK 1 racecar (JW Automotive/American Gulf Oil-sponsored) with body panels removed.  This Ford GT P/1075 is one of the few racecars to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back– here pictured as #6. — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis


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Promo ad sketching out George Hurst’s concept that gave birth to the epic– ‘Hemi Under Glass”  via

That’s the way the whole thing got started.  A Barracuda with a nasty 426 Hemi stuffed where the back seat used to be.  A Barracuda, the likes of which had ever been seen before– with Hurst-designed hi-performance chassis, suspension, driveline components– and naturally a 4-speed stick. This beastly Barracuda was christened “Hemi Under Glass”— a black & gold bomb that appeared at main events across the country.  It would rock awestruck crowds back on their heels, as the Barracuda’s front wheels pitched high into the air and screamed down the strip with its nose pointing to the sky.

This was the hard part– fitting the 426 Hemi through the Barracuda’s front door for the first time. With the aid of a cherry-picker, Hurst personnel jockey the mill prior to making primary measurements that result in the Hemi’s final location.  — Hot Rod, circa 1965, via

The “Hemi Under Glass” was a Hurst Shifters’ promotional project (designed by George Hurst & Ray Brock) that performed at drag strips and auto exhibitions across the country throughout the mid ’60s and ’70s. Hurst hired-on professional driver Bob Riggle to race the Hemi-powered, mid-engine ‘Cuda in front of testosterone-laden crowds who loved the spectacle of seeing these over-the-top wheel-standers scream down the strip at well over 100 mph down the track. Over the years 9 different “Hemi Under Glass” autos have been built, all based on the Plymouth Barracuda.  Riggle himself drove the epic Mopar wheelster up until 1975 when he hung up his racing gloves after a serious accident, and moved back home to Arizona.

LindaVaughn hemiunderglass

“Hemi Under Glass” was largely forgotten about until Bob Riggle decided to resurrect the drag strip icon in 1992, at the urging of “Miss Golden Shifter” herself– Linda Vaughn, and began building a replica of the ’68 model.  Bob once again toured the country’s drag strips and auto exhibitions– drawing new fans, and tickling the old-time reminiscers as he and “Hemi Under Glass” sped down the strip full-tilt, still bringing everyone to their feet just like old times.

“Hemi Under Glass” was originally designed in 1965 by George Hurst & Ray Brock to be a competitive racer.  They soon encountered a problem– the mid-engine placement of the extremely powerful 426 Hemi caused the front end to jerk up into the air quickly at acceleration, which became a huge hit with spectators, so they embraced it and made it arguably the most iconic 1/4 mile wheel-stander of all time.

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linda-vaughn-hurst-lug-nutsLinda Vaughn, the legendary “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter”

Linda Vaughn, the lovely, leggy, legend of the auto racing scene from the 60’s through the early 80’s was better known as– Miss Hurst Golden Shifter. She was a trophy queen whose voluptuous looks and charm often stole the show at auto racing events she attended– SCCA, NASCAR, Indy & Formula One, among others.  Linda has been knocked by many for setting Women’s Lib back with her busty displays, but her passion for the sport ran deep and she had a major impact– not just in promoting the sponsors, but also in advancing women’s racing.  Vaughn earned her SCCA competition license at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving and then got behind the wheel and raced.

Linda Vaughn, the legendary “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter”

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Steve McQueen at the legendary 1970 12 Hours of Sebring Race where McQueen (partnered with co-driver Peter Revson) raced with a broken left foot in a cast against racing great, Mario Andretti.  McQueen is sporting his iconic ’67 Rolex Submariner that went for $234,000 at auction in 2009.  BTW – Anyone else feeling the “Brian Johnson AC/DC ” vibe here with the black leather 8-panel cap?

Steve McQueen’s 1971 epic, Le Mans, is the racecar film that is widely hailed as the gold standard for which all such films are measured– now, and certainly well into the future.  It was filmed largely live at the actual 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, without the benefit of computer generated imagery and modern day trickery that we rely on today.  It feels raw because it is raw.  McQueen had originally planned to enter the #26 Porsche 917K with co-driver Jackie Stewart.  Fate had other ideas–  their entry car was rejected, and McQueen was unable to get insurance for the race.  As such, Jo Siffert and Brian Redman were now given driving duties.  While it was never a commercial success, it is long on guts, and is a sensory feast when it comes to the sounds and sights of what racing is all about.  Looking back at this incredible era, it’s hard not to be struck between the eyes by the strong graphic elements of the cars, logos, racing gear,  and attitude on display at every turn.

In preparation for the filming of the movie “Le Mans”, Steve McQueen went to the 1969 race to scout filming spots around the Le Mans course. When they returned in 1970 with all their camera equipment they knew all the best camera locations for the footage they would need for the movie “Le Mans.” I wonder who has all that film footage that they took in 1969? –Nigel Smuckatelli

1970 — Steve McQueen at Sebring hanging out with Carroll Shelby.

1970 — Steve McQueen at Sebring

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“The whole idea of the road, of going from one place to another, is essentially American.”

Two-Lane Blacktop Screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer


Esquire magazine printed the entire screenplay in its April ’71 issue before the movie was even released and boldly declared Two-Lane Blacktop as, “The Film of the Year.”  Set largely on old Route 66, which had seen better days, filming locations stretched from California to Tennessee, and the project was wrapped up in two months for mere pocket change– $950,000.  And while it wouldn’t quite live up to Universal’s expectations (who did little to promote it) and become a commercial success by anyone’s standards– it would survive the test of time to become a cultural icon, and one of the most loved road films ever made.

There still a lot of love for Two-Lane Blacktop even after all these ears.  Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great studio stills that have survived– finding decent pics on the internet was slim pickings.  I’ve had a few squirreled away for a spell (courtesy of Performance Pontiac Magazine, go figure) and so out they now shall come– along with a few tidbits from behind the camera.


“I saw a picture of James Taylor on a billboard on the Sunset Strip promoting his new album.  I thought his look was right for the part of The Driver.  Regarding Laurie Bird, I took a trip to New York to meet with Rudy Wurlitzer, and, while there, met with a number of modeling agencies just to explore that field.  When you’re looking for someone that age to play that role, it’s impossible to find someone who is established, so I anticipated finding an unknown.  I checked out modeling agencies and met with people in L.A. as well and she was recommended.  Laurie was so inexperienced it never occurred to me that I would actually cast her.  She seemed so typical of what we had in mind for the character, however, that we used her as a prototype.  Rudy and I did a three-hour taped interview with her; she became the template for the character.  I still thought I could cast an actress who could play the part, but I couldn’t.  Someone then had the bright idea of screen-testing Laurie.”   –Director Monte Hellman


“Dennis Wilson (of Beach Boys fame) was the last one to come onboard, after I ran through every actor and some other musicians.  As a matter of fact, we even met with Randy Newman.  Fred Roos, the casting director, finally suggested Dennis.  If memory serves, I saw Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and James Caan; I think I saw every young actor in Hollywood.  Dennis was very easy going. The only problem was that he was having so much fun that it was hard to find him when we were ready to shoot because he was off somewhere playing all the time.”   –Director Monte Hellman

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Earl Cooper, auto racer, taken at the auto races at Salem, New Hampshire. Cooper’s last major victory was here at the Rockingham board track speedway. He won that 200-miler with a front-drive Miller in 1926.  — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS— Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Nebraska-born in 1886, Earl Cooper became a star just as the Golden Age of auto racing was dawning. Cooper’s illustrious racing career, in which he racked-up three National Championships (1913, 1915 & 1917) and 11 top 10 points finishes, all started in 1904– in an ironic and bittersweet twist.

It was 1904, and Cooper was on the West Coast working as a mechanic at a Maxwell auto dealership. Cooper was bitten by the racing bug, but when he appealed to the Maxwell dealership for sponsorship in a San Francisco race, he was refused.  Turns-out his own boss was competing in the same race and did not welcome the friendly competition.  So Cooper scoffed at the dealership’s snub, and somehow was able to convince a kind old woman to let him enter  her brand new Maxwell in the race.  Cooper soundly beat his boss– and just as quick, found himself unemployed.  With nothing left to lose, he went on a racing tear, up and down the West Coast, where he was at times unstoppable.

Cooper joined the Stutz racing team in 1912, and just one year later went on to win the National Championship– racking up 2,610 points.  Cooper dominated the scene that year, winning five of the eight major road races, along with one 2nd place finish.


Earl Cooper and his riding mechanic in the Stutz car. Picture taken at Indianapolis 500 qualifying in 1919. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. Noel Allard collection)


In 1913, Cooper’s Hell-bent rival, Barney Oldfield, was driving for the Mercer team.  The two battled fast and furiously, matching their skill and will on the racetrack–

Cooper and Oldfield would run head-to-head at the Santa Monica Road Race, held on an eight-mile macadam course near the ocean. Oldfield blasted away from the starter’s flag and held a sizeable lead, but Cooper passed Tetzlaff for second and began running Oldfield down. With a 4-minute lead over Oldfield, one of Cooper’s tires blew out and he had to coast into the pits. As his riding mechanic struggled to get the wheel off, Oldfield roared past. Cooper jumped out of the driver’s seat and wrenched the wheel off, the tire was changed and the car back on the track to begin running down Oldfield once more. In his exuberance to stay ahead, this time Oldfield blew a tire and bumped into the pits as Cooper whisked past and on to the checkered flag as the winner.

On September 9, 1913, Cooper and Oldfield again met head-to-head on a 3-mile paved track that circled the town of Corona, California. Cooper, after experiencing the tire problem at Santa Monica, had cannily practiced on the course to find what maximum speed he could drive in order to not make any tire stops at all. He determined that if he drove 75 mph. for the entire race, he could do just that. Oldfield, hell-bent-for-leather, predicted that the race average would go to 90 mph. Oldfield set the pace from the start, over Cooper, Tetzlaff, DePalma and Spencer Wishart. He clocked an awesome 98 mph on one lap, but the track had started to break up from the pounding it was taking from the heavy cars. Oldfield burst a tire and Cooper inherited the lead. Oldfield was back on the track and again at speed when again, a young spectator ran onto the track in front of him. Oldfield swerved to avoid the lad and crashed heavily, injuring several people and himself. Cooper won again and would go on to take his first AAA National Championship.

–Noel Allard



Earl Cooper in action at the start of a race in 1925, Laurel, Maryland.


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