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Williams blends love of speed, restoration

News editor

Two garages at Rodney Williams’ Florence residence house a 1927 Buick, a 1938 International pickup, a 1960 Pontiac, and a 1964 Chevrolet pickup, all of which he has restored to near original condition.

Williams is enthusiastic and animated when talking about them, but his voice carries a tone of wistfulness when he speaks of his first restoration, a car he no longer has.

“The first one was a ’57 Chevrolet, in about 1980,” Williams said. “I drove it around for quite a few years. It was a very pretty car, a nice car.”

So what happened to it?

Williams got serious about drag racing when he was 60 years old and decided to take the restoration of the ’57 Chevy to a different level.

“I started drag racing it, and I wrecked it drag racing,” Williams said. “I was doing about 130 when I started spinning the wheels, and I rolled and rolled and rolled,” he said. “When I rolled, I tore it all to pieces. It was too expensive a car to race.”

Painting bright orange-yellow flames on the black car was a cosmetic tweak, and not that expensive. The modified engine Williams put in it was a more serious investment.

“The motor, I probably had $30,000 in it, it was pretty stout,” Williams said. “To go, let’s say 157, in a quarter mile, you don’t do that with a 500 horsepower engine.”

At one point he put the car through a dynamometer test. The engine was putting out 881 horsepower, but he didn’t stop there.

“I did a lot of things to it after that, and I never did dyno it again,” Williams said. “I figured it was making at least 1,000, maybe 1,100 horsepower. It would run 150s in the quarter mile.”

Williams said he raced the ’57 Chevy for about eight years at tracks in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Springfield, Missouri, Kansas City, and elsewhere. Then, at 68, he wrecked it.

Williams started amateur drag racing when he got out of the Air Force in 1960. That’s when he bought the first new car he ever had, a 1960 Pontiac, the same as the one in his garage. He raced with it, but he wasn’t as competitive as he wanted.

“It would outrun anything on the streets, but you had to really dedicate yourself,” Williams said. “That Pontiac, I drove every day, so I couldn’t make a race car out of it. I never got really competitive in my class.”

Williams said car and truck restoration “is just something I do,” rather than sit around the house.

He restores the bodies and interiors as close to original as possible, but he takes some liberties with engines, transmissions, and differentials, and speed often factors in. The 1960 Pontiac is a case in point.

“It’s a ’60 Pontiac engine, but the only thing that’s ’60 Pontiac there is the block,” Williams said. “The heads are aftermarket, the intake manifold is aftermarket, the crankshaft is aftermarket, the pistons, rods, the camshaft, everything. It’s a pretty racy engine. At 7,000 rpms in fourth gear, it goes 150, and in fifth gear it goes fast. Probably 180. The hood ain’t fastened on good enough to go that fast.”

The 1964 Chevy pickup has a Camaro engine in it.

“It’ll probably run 140,” Williams said.

The 1938 International pickup goes a pedestrian 55 mph, Williams said, but it’s game for speed tweaking, too.

“I have the temptation to put a later model rear end in it, then I could drive it 65,” he said.

Williams has tinkered the least with the 1927 Buick, which took pieces from three cars to restore.

“I traded for that ’27 Buick,” he said. “It was almost all there, it never had been restored. It had a lot of dents in it and it was all rusted. It’s as original as I could get it. If you hired somebody to restore that Buick, you’d have $50,000 in it.”

Williams said he doesn’t take the cars to car shows because he believes they should pay appearance fees to car owners, but he brings them out every year for the Florence Labor Day parade.

He isn’t interested in selling them, but he does keep tabs on their market value.

“This International pickup I restored, there was one sold on the Internet just like it for $37,000,” Williams said.

Williams isn’t restoring another car right now, but that’s by design, he said. He has ideas to improve the ones he has.

“I’m not going to restore anything this winter,” he said. “I want to perfect the ones I’ve already done.”

Last modified Sept. 25, 2014

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