Fred “Butch” Early from Colorado Springs has secret race car hiding place.
Can you see it ? The nose panel is easy to see, and just the touch of the rollbar, but underneath that carefully arranged collection of cardboard, tarps and parts is his PPHC rear engine Ford powered race car.
Can it be done and on a budget ?
Let’s go back in time some, to the early 1960’s. As you already know the rear engine race cars had been a hit at the Indianapolis 500 and would soon be taking over the entire fields at paved tracks around the country. Could it also work at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and be affordable ? Fred, or better known as “Butch” Early said it could work and he would prove it. The build started in Colorado Springs but in the middle of it, his job required him to move out of town. At his new home there was only a basement garage to work out of. The garage had with a very small door. No problem for Butch, he just disassembled what he had started moved it in piece by piece and continued on. Once the car was built he just reversed the process tearing the car down in small enough parts to fit through the door and reassemble it outside and load it up for his first trip to Pikes Peak.
Ford guy true and true, but…..
To this day Butch is still a Ford guy and his car isn’t called the “Ford Special” for nothing, but there are a few parts from the enemies camp. Up front in the nose is laid back aluminum radiator out of a Corvette , (Much lighter then any Ford at the time) and the rear end is out of a 1955 Chevy. I should say the rear end housing, the car ate the Chevy axles for breakfast, he was snapping them left and right. That is until he figured out how to mate Ford axles to the Chevy housing. Making matters more challenging was he wanted to run Ford inboard brakes.
The rear brakes are Bendex 49-50 Ford, front suspension runs homemade a-arms with 54-56 Ford Spindles, Transmission is a T-85 Warner from the 49-51 Lincoln’s which had a bigger snycro then the Ford’s. Engine was a Hi-Po 289 running a single 750 carb. (302 in car now). The car had 10 gallon aircraft ten gallon fuel tank and one of the first sets of Weld racing rims with Gates Commander Tires (still on the car). So mostly Ford parts and home built with a weight of around 1300 pounds. Turned out to be not only fast but a very nice looking race car too.
Butch and crew all had jackets that matched the car and the pinstriping on the car was done by a local Colorado Springs fireman. The car even received the trophy for “Best Appearing Race Car” at the Autorama Show inside the old downtown City Auditorium. (He still has the 3 foot trophy). If you have any pictures from when car shows were inside at the auditorium please contact me, it is hard to find early Colorado Springs car show history.
The car was built to race , PPHC 1967-1970
The first year out was in 1967 before the secret of running ford axles was figured out. Butch snapped the Chevy axles just coming off the trailer. Year one was not a good one. Did not qualify for 67 is how it shows in the record books. During this time frame there would be 30 to 40 championship cars showing up to try to make the 25 car field on race day. Just making it to race day was considered a win in many ways. In 1968 Butch qualified 22nd and on race day his time of 15:56.10 was good enough for 15th place, ( His best finish). In 1969 he moved up his qualifying to 15th fastest ( best qualifying), but crashed on race day. 1970 would be Butch’s last year at Pikes Peak and would also be his fastest time on race day , 15:07.16.
Times change, car goes to storage.
Jobs, wives, kids and family all take a toll on race cars and drivers. Butch like many others had changes to make and the car was put into long term storage. At least that is what he thought. After several years he went to check on his old “Ford Special” in storage. Someone had STOLEN, his car and the storage place didn’t even notify him, sad times indeed. Jump ahead ten years later, while at a local dinner Butch overhears about a car for sale locally that could be cut up and made into a nice dune buggy. Odd it really sounded like his old car. He followed up on the tip and contacted the seller, IT WAS HIS CAR ! Even after explaining all the small build details and the pictures of him racing it back day, the seller still wouldn’t let him have the car back for free . Butch wasn’t going to give up and rather then going through the the hassles and time involved to take matter to court, he figured the fastest and easiest thing to was to just buy his car back.
The car survives today !
Other then the time it was stolen the car has been with him for 40 plus years and will be for many more. When I first saw the pile of parts in the undisclosed storage location, I couldn’t believe a race car was in there. It really was there and the covering of stuff has helped it stay there for many years. Once bitten is enough for Butch. You cant steal it , if you don’t know even know it’s there .
Soon to come out of storage.
The “Early Ford Special” is due to come out of hiding and get cleaned up but will be kept in a as raced condition and not all dolled up like the cars you see in some museums.
Hard to decide which story line is better, the man with the idea to build an affordable rear engine race car and does it, or how it was built in a basement garage and dissembled to take it out and put back together to race it. then there is the story on stolen from storage, bought back and hidden in plain site to consider. You tell me or maybe its all of it, either way thank you Fred” Butch” Early for passing on your wonderful Pikes Peak Hill Climb stories.