Top Fuel drag racing in Western Canada was experiencing rapid
growth in the 1960's, driven in part by the pioneering efforts
of successful Pacific Northwest racers such as Frank Rupert and
Jerry Ruth. Canadian racetracks had flourished in both Calgary
and Edmonton (Alberta), and Saskatoon Saskatchewan. USA hotbeds
such as Spokane were also close by, all offering great tracks
and strong competition. Prominent Canadians such as Dale Armstrong,
Mike Nilsen, Ray Peets (Beck and Peets), Terry Capp, Bernie Fedderly,
Gordon Jenner, Kenny Achs, Bob Papernik, Gary Egbert, Brent Seaman
and Graham Light all started their fuel racing careers during
In 1966, Gordon Jenner decided to make the jump into the top
fuel ranks. Based out of Calgary, Alberta, Gordon partnered with
another local racer, Nick Kozak who had previous dragster experience.
After pooling their resources, Gordon left for southern California.
Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, he located and secured
an RCE car from the California team of Lechien and Drake, built
a new engine, and tested it at Lions with Kelly Brown driving.
This black short bodied car was subsequently featured in the
August 1967 issue of Drag Racing USA, and christened as the "Royal
Canadian", the first of three such named front engine AA/FD's
he would own. The car was campaigned in the Pacific Northwest
in 1966 and 1967 with Nick driving.
This RCE car was later totally
destroyed in a highway towing accident, resulting in the subsequent
purchase of another used California AA/FD. This second "Royal
Canadian" car was originally constructed by Don Long for
Joe Winters, and later raced, lengthened and rebodied by Frank
Pedregon. This blue full bodied car was brought back to Canada
and raced successfully with Gordon driving until early 1969,
when it was stolen while on a trip to southern California. It
was never found, nor any components recovered.
In early 1969, Gordon, along
with new Calgary partners Don Kohut and Mike Broome, ordered
a new 215" wheelbase car from Don Long. When finished in
the spring of 1970, the burgundy 392 powered short bodied car
was christened as the third "Royal Canadian". Don Kohut
drove, while Gordon and Mike maintained and tuned. It was also
the most successful of the three cars:
" First Canadian car to run a six second ET: 6.88, in 1970
" Set the Canadian ET record at 6.68, in 1970
" Won the 1970 Canadian Nationals
" NHRA invitee to the inaugural 1971 Supernationals in Ontario,
Don Kohut and Mike Broome
.In mid 1970, Gordon left the
team in order to later partner with Ron Hodgson (Edmonton, Alberta)
and Gordie Bonin in the first of a string of successful Canadian
AA/FC's. Mike Broome left in 1972 to field his own AA/FD, later
crewing for both Jerry Ruth and Mickey Thompson. Don Kohut, the
remaining owner, and driver, ran the car for another year with
other partners, then sold the rolling chassis to a local Calgary
racer, Rod Hodges, who converted it into an injected A/FD.
Rod successfully raced the car
under his own name as an A/FD until 1975, setting track records
at every venue it appeared at. He eventually sold the car to
another local racer, Kevin Bertram, and left active racing until
the early 1990's, when he crewed on local Pro-Comp alcohol BB/AD
and BB/FC's for a short while, prior to moving on to other endeavors.
The car subsequently passed through
the hands of numerous owners, notably Kevin Bertram and Dave
Watson, remaining in active competition up until 2009.
The "Royal Canadian" name has, however, always been
associated with Gordon Jenner.
In 2008, Rod Hodges accompanied
Brent Seaman to the California Hot Rod Reunion where Brent was
debuting his restoration of the "Outcast" AA/FA, a
Canadian car that he had partnered on with Gary Egbert in 1966.
Rod was intrigued with the whole CHRR restoration culture, and
returned with Brent again in 2009, where he met, and talked extensively
with both Pete Eastwood and Derek Bower, who were there showing
Pete's restored Mondello and Matsubara AA/FA. In further conversation,
Pete expressed his admiration for Don Long cars in general, and
also that he had recently acquired the original Don Long - Ed
Pink "Old Master" AA/FD for restoration. Rod explained
his personal connection to the 1969 Don Long built "Royal
Canadian", allowing that he had always kept track of the
car throughout it's lifetime. Rod and Pete further discussed
the issues surrounding the possibility of restoring the car,
in particular whether or not Don long would consider the chassis
restoration, and what other LA local expertise would be available.
During the 1800 mile drive back to Canada, Rod began to seriously
think about reacquiring and restoring the car. There were three
obvious hurdles; would the current owner agree to sell the car?,
would Don Long agree to restore the chassis?, and the potential
After discussing the project with his wife Cheryl, it was agreed
that it was financially possible if planned over a 3 - 5 year
period in order to defray expenses, and that it was imperative
that Don Long agree to restore the chassis, thereby maintaining
the car's credibility. Mike Broome, one of the original partner/owners,
also came on board with support.
In December 2009, an agreement was reached with the then current
owner to buy the car. Before the final sale, Rod approached Don
Long with the car's history, including both period and current
condition photos. After some consideration, Don agreed to restore
the chassis and running gear. The car was then purchased, with
plans to deliver the car to California early in 2010.
Although the car had been back halved about 6 years previously,
the purchase included the original back half, all of the original
front suspension components complete with Don's unique wheel
hubs, front wing, steering components, steering wheel, pedals,
brake handle, firewall, complete rear axle housing with Donovan
axles, brakes, center section, original chutes, chute packs,
upholstery and safety harness. All of these components, along
with the remaining original Hanna body panels were heavily deteriorated
from over 40 years of continuous use. The chassis in particular
was in poor shape with multiple stress cracks, sketchy repairs,
and other damage issues. But, it was virtually 100% complete,
The remains of the car (front
and back halves), along with all of the original chassis components,
were delivered to Don Long's shop in Gardena in March, 2010.
Steve Davis drove over from his
Huntington Beach shop to look over the remaining Hanna body panels,
and agreed to perform the body/seat restoration when Don was
Over the next 20 months Don proceeded
with the chassis restoration, utilizing as much of the original
chassis as possible. For those components that were too heavily
damaged to restore, Don created duplicates using the original
parts as patterns. These included the firewall, driveline covers,
fuel tank, clutch pedal, chute levers and the front wing skin.
The original steering box, pitman arm, drag links, tie rod, spindles,
front axle, radius rods, wing struts, spill plates, brake handle,
steering wheel and rear housing were all refurbished as needed.
After Don long completed the
chassis, it was moved over to Steve Davis' shop in Huntington
Beach for the body and seat work. By that time, unfortunately,
Steve was fully committed to other projects and could not offer
an acceptable completion timeline. After a discussion of the
body and seat requirements with Derek and Pete, Rod agreed to
move the car to Derek's shop for the body fabrication and other
critical restoration work. Derek would recreate the body himself
using the original remaining damaged panels as an example. He
also agreed to take on the remaining restoration requirements
and overall project management while Rod continued to source
other components. Through Derek, the seat was recreated by Terry
The Mallory Supermag was found
after a 14 month search, cosmetically restored by Derek Bower,
and then fully rebuilt and tested by Joe Anderson at Don Zig's.
The replica Ford "Tan" solid core plug wires were sourced
from a noted California Cobra restorer, while the period plug
wire separators were provided by Derek Bower. NOS rotors, caps,
condensers, points and transformers were sourced through both
Mallory and Ebay.
Typically, as with most other
early components, it would take more than one purchase in order
to find a part suitable for the final restoration. For example,
two sets of rear Halibrand wheels, two sets of valve covers,
three gear drives and over forty rocker arms were acquired and
restored before the final components were selected for the car.
A major factor in the restoration
was the help and guidance given by Derek Bower and Pete Eastwood,
whose attitude towards accurate restorations proved both instructive,
and invaluable. Both Derek and Pete insist on the highest standards,
with either the original, or period correct components, with
accurate surface finishes. As such, every component on the car
is finished accurately to the original, without exception. In
addition to providing some rare parts, Derek and Pete also recommended
other area craftsmen for paint, lettering and upholstery.
Derek also sourced two of the most critical components of the
restoration through his own efforts: the early Enderle "Showerhead"
Bugcatcher injector, and an NOS(!) set of 1970 era Goodyear Bluestreak
1700 x 16 tires, still with the original stickers and Shelby
American stamps. (Shelby was the California Goodyear distributor
at the time).
After the tin was finished it
was time for an assemble mockup to make sure everything was perfect
before the final assembly.
In mid October 2015, Rod travelled
down from Canada to Derek's shop in Burbank in order to final
assemble the car for the 2015 CHRR in Bakersfield. Through a
10 day round-the-clock effort, Derek and Rod assembled the car
with Rod performing final engine assembly.
Bob McKray (Mission Viejo, Ca),
who was recommended by Mike Kuhl, built a set of 392 cylinder
heads and completed the short block machine work and it's final
Tom Sewell replicated the upholstery
using the original as a pattern, John Carambia painted the body
to the original design and colors, Larry Fator applied the lettering,
while Pete Eastwood painted the chassis. Sherm's Plating in Sacramento
performed all of the chrome work with the exception of the longest
drag link, which was plated by Jon Wright's Customchrome Plating
Rod borrowed Pete Eastwood's
trailer for the trip up to Bakersfield, arriving late Thursday
night, October 21st.
The car was static fired for
the first time on Friday, October 22nd, and later push started
for the Saturday night on-track Cacklefest.
Don Long made the trip up to
Bakersfield to see the finished car, and "certified"
it by applying his chassis sticker to the rear axle housing.
As it always has, the Saturday
night Cacklefest started off with the parade to introduce the
cars and drivers to the SRO crowd. Making is debut was the super
clean "Royal Canadian". Owned and driven by Rod Hodges
from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The cars stage at the top end
of the return road and push start about 20 seconds apart. This
year there was over 70 cars.
After the push start, the cars
make a U turn behind the starting line and head up the track
to their "spot".
Was the whole effort worth it
in the end?
Absolutely, as not only was a significant Canadian car saved
for history, it also provided a 5 year journey that included
new, everlasting, and priceless friendships.
Thanks to: Don Long, Derek Bower, Pete Eastwood, Bob McKray,
Mike Kuhl, Herm Petersen, Mike Broome, Don Kohut, Gordon Jenner,
and Brent Seaman.