Most cars built nearly 50 years ago have long been relegated to the scrapyard. A few lucky ones have been restored and now enjoy pampered lives as classic cars. Al Cardwell's two-door club sedan began its life in 1955 as a grocery getter and daily driver, then spent many long years being ignored. Cardwell bought the car in 1996 and began the long process of bringing the old Ford back to life. These days this big banger mixes it up weekly with other vintage cars on short tracks in the Southeast.
Most observers assume that this gem is a show car or an old racer restored to its original form and have a hard time believing their ears when Cardwell tells them he actually races it. In fact, he tells us, he wrecked the car in 1998-in just its second race-doing so much damage that it took a year's worth of repairs before he could return to the track.
"I couldn't believe it," Cardwell says of wrecking the classic car he had spent two years building. "I brought it back home and just left it under the tarp. I couldn't look at it for the first month-so I did a lot of fishing."
But a year later, White Lightin' was once again ready to take the track. Because of the car's age, several strategic parts were substituted to make replacement easier and the car more raceable. The white Ford sports a steering box from a '67 Mustang, front disc brakes off a '75 LTD, and a top-loader four-speed transmission. The engine is a 351 Ford Motorsports crate engine with a GT-40 head. Cardwell has modified the camshaft, rockers, intake, and some other pieces and conservatively estimates horsepower at around 375. Cardwell says beyond the safety hardware, almost everything else is stock, including the sheetmetal and chassis.
And how does it drive? "Other than feeling like a top-heavy shoebox that rides about the height of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it does good," Cardwell says with a laugh. "There is no rear spoiler, so I have about 170 pounds of lead in the back to get the distribution right. It does feel very different from something like a Camaro because it rides so much higher. When you go into a turn hard the first time, you think sure as the world it's going to tip but of course, it doesn't. It's really a lot of fun."
Want to Race?Cardwell doesn't just race in a classic car series, he's also the president. The Carolina Vintage Stock Car Racing Association (CVSCRA) organizes events for vintage race cars produced between 1930 and 1965 (Winston Cup cars excluded) in the Southeast. If you would like to try your hand at racing vintage cars, you can contact the CVSCRA at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out its Web site at www.mindspring.com/~racinginreverse/club/.
Do you have a car you'd like to see featured as a Race Car of the Month? If so, send your vital statistics (detailed information on the car, the driver, the owner, and the series you race) and photos (the more, the better) to Circle Track Race Car of the Month, 5555 Concord Pkwy. S., Ste. 329, Harrisburg, NC 28075.
Circle Track does not take responsibility for any photos received and can only return them if a self-addressed, stamped envelope is provided.