George Place’s Hudson sprint carBy Dale Fairfax
Editor’s note: Like many of you, I have watched the high-dollar automobile collector auctions on television, and while the provenance of the million dollar muscle cars always seems well-documented, the history of the race cars offered at these auctions is often overlooked. This article from renowned racing historian Dale Fairfax traces the history of one such car. Thanks for sharing Dale!
While recently reviewing auction results Hemmings Motor News I was surprised to see that a Hudson Hornet-powered sprint car offered at auction again for the third time in two years. I fear that this ‘1930s Hudson-powered Champ Car’ is going to be worn out just from travelling across the country and across the auction block.
My interest in this race car is based on having known the builder, George Place, and thus being familiar with some of its mechanical details. Some of this information that has been stated previously is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate. For example the car was actually built in the mid 1960's, not the 1930's. The frame and front axle may be from the nineteen thirties by virtue of being sourced from a Model A Ford but the car dates from the nineteen sixties. The auction description claimed the body is alloy although the builder told me that it was a steel body. As opposed to its current appearance, the original body color was a coppery maroon with few, if any, decals.
The car was built by George C. Place, who ran an auto parts store and garage in the small northwestern Ohio town of Delphos. George was a passionate Hudson aficionado who started racing in 1949 at Landeck Speedway with a track roadster in the Buckeye Roadster Association. Over ensuing years, his cars became ever more sophisticated, especially as he absorbed and acquired technology from his mentor and friend, Joe Walls of Muncie, Indiana.
Joe Walls started out with the roadsters of the Mutual Racing Association in 1939 and raced a car powered by Terraplane 6-cylinder engine in a Model A frame. Over time, Joe developed concepts like needle bearing camshafts that ran in bores created by a unique Walls-designed boring bar, custom camshafts with profiles ground on a home-built grinder, a dry sump oiling system on a flathead engine, and his own "Rhyne-Walls" quick change rear end.
In the late nineteen fifties, George Place acquired Joe Wall’s tooling and incorporated many of Wall’s concepts into his own series of sprint cars and modified stock car which he campaigned throughout the Midwest during the nineteen sixties.
Regarding the much-auctioned Hudson Hornet-powered race car, other than the "million lightening holes" drilled in the frame of the car, the most unique feature was its home-made mechanical fuel injector. It worked and looked much like a Hilborn fuel injection system but, except for the barrel valve, was all built by George.
The throttle bodies were made from 2" black pipe, the injector butterflies were brass slugs made of stamping scrap from the National Seal Company of Van Wert Ohio, and the fuel pump came from a military surplus store in the Chicago area. George claimed the system ran quite well even though he frequently struggled with an overly rich condition and readily out-performed the Joe Walls-built twin Riley carburetor manifold that he had used earlier.
When I last saw the car in George's shop, it was equipped with a bolt-on roll cage and a set of very robust wire wheels on the rear. As is typical of any old race car, the need for money led to its sale. George couldn’t remember the details of the sale but some years later the car was discovered in Larry Rust's racing museum (actually a chicken coop) in Fayetteville, Ohio. The discovery was reported in the May 1994 issue of Rod & Custom magazine with a subsequent follow up article in the October 1994 issue, and at that point the Place home-built fuel injector was still on the car.
Later, Larry Rust died and the contents of his collection were auctioned off. Kirk DuQuette, a custom woodie station wagon body builder from the Cincinnati area bought the car then “flipped it” to Don DeSalle of Anderson, Indiana.
DeSalle commissioned a cosmetic, inaccurate, non-running restoration as the 'DeSalle Promotions Special' painted to resemble the 1952 Indianapolis ‘500’ winning car which he used to promote his vintage toy show and flea market business. During DeSalle’s ownership the injector system was lost, then the throttle bodies were welded closed, though presumably the internals of the engine still included all the Walls/Place ‘High Tech’ details.
DeSalle sold the car to Rick Hadley in Marshall, Michigan then in early 2013 it was sold from the Hadley estate sale to new owner in California. The new owner dropped off with a mechanic in Arizona who fabricated an intake system for it and got the car up and running, before it was sold again at auction in August 2013 for $23,650. Most recently it reappeared in Auburn Indiana in August 2014 at Auctions America and it was a ‘no sale’ with the high bid of $14,000
George C. Place passed away in his hometown of Delphos Ohio on October 11, 2014 at age 93.