Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jim's Speed Shop 1930s

Ok ladies and gentlemen the following goes right back to the infancy of Hot Rodding. Roger Harrell is the nephew of Jim Harrell aka Jim White. Roger wrote a great book a few years ago on Jim and Nick Harrell which is great & very important as it delves into the past of one of the lesser known Speed Shops and Speed Equipment companies. Jim was an active member of the famous Albata club and partnered with a number of the club members (I will do a post of this at a later date)

Roger asked if I would like to post a little early history on a few cars that had an association with Jim's Speed Shop. Roger research led him to Vic Maleo, I am very happy to post this great piece of history

The following photos are of a popular “T” roadster in the 1930s at the dry lakes just outside of Los Angeles, California. They picture a small group of friends who built and raced 4-bangers during the 1930s. They lived and worked in south Los Angeles. Vic Meleo had a gas station and garage on San Pedro Street just a few blocks from Jim’s Speed Shop which was over on Main Street. Jim’s Speed Shop was one of, if not the only, speed shops in the area at that time specializing in machine work on 4-banger race engines. In appreciation for Jim’s work, Vic and other friends in the area made it a habit to paint “Jim’s Speed Shop” on the sides of their cars. Some of these cars are pictured below and illustrate some great days at the dry lakes. (After World War II, Jim’s Speed Shop was better known as the Harrell Engines shop and was still located on Main Street, and was still building some fine race cars in the mid-1950s such as the one you included on your site Harrell Engines Model A Roadster.)

Photo no. 1 was given to me about 2 years ago by Vic Meleo. He identified the roadster no. 21 as his, and that he was in the driver’s seat. Vic also identified the man whose back is to the camera as his “…friend Monte who also spent lots of time at Jim’s Speed Shop and was also always willing to give Jim a ‘plug’.” I asked what Monte’s full name was, and Vic said he didn’t know. “Everybody just called him Monte.”

Photo no. 1
Vic told me that in those early days, he often broke crankshafts in that old T roadster no. 21 during the mid-1930s. And apparently he was still breaking them in the late 1930s. His stories triggered a memory for me. I remembered seeing a reference to Vic breaking a crankshaft in an early SCTA Racing News. So, I checked and sure enough, in the Feb. 15, 1939 issue of the News, I found the following, “Vic Meleo, Road Runner Club, broke another crankshaft in his T which formerly belonged to Monte.”

Fortunately, not for Vic at the time of course, his crankshaft experiences were recorded for us in the following photos. Recently, Don Ferrara, a racer from the 1940s and ’50s, was showing me some photos his late brother-in-law had taken at the lakes decades earlier, and what’d you know, there was Vic Meleo’s car number 21 with “Jim’s Speed Shop” still artfully lettered on the door. Don’s brother-in-law had captioned the photo with this information: “After checking the shaft,” (photo no. 2) and “After the shaft broke.” (photo no. 3 )

Photo no. 2

Photo no. 3

The following photo no. 4 from that day illustrates the depressed mood.

Photo no. 4

Of course, lake racers always bounce back. Vic’s roadsters were soon back on track and once again thanking Jim’s Speed Shop for its work and friendship. The following photo no. 5 is from Vic Meleo’s collection.

Vic’s car number 21, pictured in photo no. 1 is the same car pictured below carrying the number 45.

Photo no. 5

When Vic gave me photo no. 5, he told me no. 45 was his, and car no. 52 was Monte’s but that he later bought it from Monte. The 1939 SCTA Racing News mentioned above, mentioned Vic’s broken crank after he had bought Monte’s car no. 52 around the time photo no. 5 was taken. As Vic recounted his experiences at the lakes and in south L.A. with his roadsters and friends he was clearly reliving some really great times.

Roger Harrell

:ed: this is the book Roger wrote and is a must for all Hot Rod history buffs HARRELL ENGINES & RACING EQUIPMENT

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