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Legendary Navarro roadster to run at The Race of Gentlemen West

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The Navarro roadster. Photo courtesy of The Race of Gentlemen.

If the East Coast progenitor of The Race of Gentlemen is any indication, the opportunity to follow in the tire tracks of history by racing vintage and period-inspired race cars and motorcycles on the beach in Pismo, California, this Saturday and Sunday (October 15 and 16) will bring out some drivers with truly legendary machines.

In the past, spectators of TROG in Wildwood, New Jersey, have been treated to authentic, historically significant cars like the Alperti White Phantom outlaw sprint car owned by Artie Conk, as well as the Morris Brothers SoCal Speed Shop roadster and the Donato & Barris Bronze Flame, both owned by Lars Mapstead.


Artie Conk awaits his turn with the restored 1933 Eastern Outlaw Championship-winning White Phantom. Photo by the author. 

As much as rodders on the Right Coast hate to admit it, the idyllic dry climate of California, along with its soil, fertile in speed shops and racing venues from dragstrips to dry lakes, has not only encouraged the development of boundary-busting cars, but preserved many of them for posterity. One such car that will be on the beach this weekend is Barney Navarro’s modified T roadster.

Barney Navarro is an automotive legend of the first order. Born in 1919, he grew up in the golden age of the gow job and helped usher in the era of the hot rod. From his childhood building and racing soap boxes to his extracurricular education in his high school’s machine shop and his involvement in the Glendale Stokers car club, he honed his mechanical abilities and refined his automotive intuition in an environment that was both practical and scientific leading him to eventually set up his own go-fast business in 1947.

Having purchased his first car—itself a bit of hot iron already—when he was just 16, taken a job as a machinist and begun racing at Muroc, he was primed to hit the pavement, dry lakes and Salt Flats running when he was discharged from the Army Air Corps after the war. As a matter of fact, it was while serving as a navigator that he first charted the airways of Ford’s stock V-8 intake manifold and began thinking about how he could improve the ubiquitous flathead’s performance.

Navarro roadster

Photo courtesy of The Race of Gentlemen.

Over the years, Navarro would test the components he would develop—the double-, triple- and quadruple-intake manifolds, the pioneering supercharger setups, the “Ricardo” or “Crows Foot” high-compression heads, and the secret liquid oxygen-and-alcohol injection systems—in various iterations on a lakes modified he first built in just four days in about 1948 from a 1927 T bucket, a set of 1937 Willys frame rails and a Ford V-8.

Gradually, the rooster-red roadster would become more refined—taking on a streamlined track nose and a bulging carburetor faring—as it raced at the lakes and at Bonneville, eventually setting records in multiple classes, including A/Modified (146.86 MPH) and even O/Streamliner (78.67 MPH) after he—never one to give up—reworked the eight-cylinder engine into a four banger after it had grenaded in a B/Modified run. In a rare crossover at the time, the roadster would even wrangle in California Racing Association oval-track competition, though with less success.

It’s rare these days, and, sadly, getting rarer, that we have the opportunity to meet the automotive heroes of the golden age—people like Barney Navarro who not only did so much to improve our beloved flathead, but who also made contributions to turbocharging, boat racing, Formula 1, automotive journalism and even the field of medical technology.

So, when we have the chance—as we do at The Race of Gentlemen this coming weekend—to spend time with one of their creations, we should not fail to take it. For more information about The Race of Gentlemen, click here. Follow our coverage on Instagram and Facebook.