An Analysis of Early Sixties Street Rods


ABSTRACT:  Various automobiles produced in the early 1960’s are compared based upon data commonly available. Their relative strengths and weaknesses are analyzed to evaluate which, in a theoretical match race, would emerge the victor.

            Many hours have been spent in the testosterone-laden community debating the relative merits and faults of various automobiles produced in the early 1960’s for the purpose of racing by the general public. It is the intention of this paper to examine the evidence and draw a conclusion therefrom as to the effectiveness and merits of these vehicles vis-a-vis each other.

            One of the most heralded automobiles of the early Sixties is cited as the Super Stock Dodge, which was owned and driven by the notorious Little Old Lady from Pasadena (henceforth “LOLP”) Jan and Dean note that, driving this vehicle, the lady, whose name is not given, proved to be “the terror of Colorado Boulevard.” One may deduce that LOLP conducted her racing operations in fairly limited territory, which indicates that the competition may have been less than comprehensive. The fact that she would “give them a length, then she [would] shut ‘em down” paints a picture of toying with one’s competition inconsistent with other accounts. Further, “everyone” (indicating more than her immediate colleagues) knew that there “was nobody meaner than the Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” which leads one to propose the hypothesis that her string of victories may have been more attributable to her aggressive driving style than to the merits of the car she was driving. There is no data to indicate otherwise.

            However, the actual performance of the LOLP’s vehicle was demonstrated on a comparative basis by the Beach Boys, who chronicled an encounter in which a fuel-injected Corvette Stingray convincingly defeated a Super Stock. (Shut ‘Em Down). From this record we learn additionally that the Super Stock had a displacement of 413 cubic inches, indicating a probable large amount of low end torque. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that the ultimate victor (the Corvette) initially lagged in the contest (“my Stingray is light, my slicks are startin’ to spin / But the 413 is really diggin’ in”). Perhaps due to an unfortunate choice in gear ratios leading to a loss of torque at higher speeds, the Super Stock ultimately lost to the fuel-injected Stingray. (Curiously, “now the 413’s lead is starting to fade” and “It’s understood I got a fuel-injected engine sitting under my hood” are the only indicia of the Stingray’s ultimate victory, but it is illogical to posit that the narrator would recount a racing loss in this manner.)

            There is no information, however, to indicate that the victory of Stingray over Super Stock was anything but narrow. Indeed, had the LOLP with her aggressive driving style been piloting the Super Stock, the Stingray might have lost. One may argue that the vehicle of choice for the LOLP could perhaps have been a modified version of the Super Stock with higher performance, but this is refuted by the fact that the LOLP, even if mechanically inclined, had not had sufficient time to perform the modifications (“parked in her rickety old garage / Is a brand new shiny red Super Stock Dodge” [emphasis added]). The clash of Shut ‘em Down, however dramatically presented, allows only is a limited basis for comparison, involving as it did no more than two vehicles.

            Another set of data provides a foreign flavor, where a Jaguar XKE challenges the Corvette driven by the narrator in Dead Man’s Curve (we are not informed whether the driver here is “Jan” or “Dean.” Perhaps one rode in the passenger seat.). Evidently the Corvette had the advantage at the beginning of the race (“all he could see was my six tail lights”), but was quickly caught by the Jaguar at the curve. Unfortunately, a definitive answer as to which vehicle was to prove faster is denied us: the XKE’s handling abilities failed to match its acceleration, and it seems to have flown off a cliff while attempting to negotiate a sharp turn, leading to the tragic waste of a classic automobile.

            We find a more comprehensive history presented by the Regents, wherein we learn that a “Little” Cobra defeated a number of cars in racing quite convincingly (Hey Little Cobra). This leads one to speculate as to whether Cobras were produced in other-than-stock sizes, or whether its small size resulted from modifications not approved by the manufacturer. In any event, the competition consisted of the above-noted competitors (“there were plenty of Stingrays and [Jaguar] XKE’s) and the lone Little Cobra. Despite the fact that the narrator trails in the early part of the race, the Cobra’s top speed more than compensated (“I hung a big shift and I got into high / And as I blew by the Stingray I waved bye-bye.”) The ultimate victory was by a wide margin (“The Stingrays and Jags were so far behind / I took my Cobra out of gear and let it coast to the line”), indicating that the Cobra was demonstrably the faster vehicle than the assemblage of Stingrays and Jaguars. Since the Cobra was capable of dominating several Corvettes and XKE’s (vehicles with similar performance, per Dead Man’s Curve), it would clearly have little difficulty handling a Super Stock, which itself was unable to match the fuel-injected Stingray (or, as we have seen above, was no better than comparable in performance).

            Ronnie and the Daytonas counter with some impressive claims for a “Little” GTO, perhaps modified by weight reduction (?). The machine, featuring “three deuces and a four speed, and a 389,” allegedly “beats the gassers and the rail jobs / really drives them wild.” This would indicate a high degree of street racing proficiency, considering that “rail jobs” at the very minimum are custom constructed for the purpose of drag racing. If indeed the “Little GTO” could manage to defeat non-stock vehicles, it would be a formidable competitor indeed, even to the similarly diminutive Cobra. Some other points, however, indicate that their evaluation of the GTO could have been less than objective. For one thing, it must be concluded that Ronnie and the Daytonas did not in fact actually possess a GTO (“Gonna save all my money, and buy a GTO”), which indicates wishful thinking, or at least the viewpoint of an observer rather than first hand experience. Further, their opinion may have been clouded by the obvious physical charms of the vehicle (“Take it down to Pomona, and let ‘em know, yeah yeah, that I’m the coolest thing in town, little buddy gonna shut you down...”). As can be determined from the syntax, “shutting down” a friend (“buddy”) on the race track was, to Ronnie and the Daytonas, of secondary importance to being “the coolest thing in town”( the latter a clear reference to the appearance of the vehicle). Although the claims made on the behalf of the GTO are extreme, we must discard this evaluation as lacking the clear objectivity and support available from other contemporaneous data

            The Beach Boys demonstrated their commitment to street racing by discussing the merits of two other vehicles, one described solely by its displacement (the “409”) and one by a generic term (a “Deuce Coupe”). Again, the appellation “Little” is used to describe the latter vehicle, leading one to conclude that a rough inverse correlation can be deduced between the actual size of a vehicle and its success in street racing. Clearly, a superabundance of curb weight was viewed as a positive hindrance, thus showing a progressive mind set far antedating the fuel-consciousness inaugurated in the 1970s.

            The only description we are given of the 409 specifies that the vehicle sported a “four-speed” (i.e., manual transmission, as four-speed automatics were not available at that time), “dual-quad” (dual-quad what is not specified; one assumes this refers to two four-barrel carburetors, amply sufficient for street racing), and “Positraction” (limiting the potential rear-wheel slip). It should be noted that the presence of Positraction would augur well for the 409’s chances against the fuel-injected Stingray cited earlier, as the advantages conferred by the latter’s “slicks” (non-treaded tires affording greater surface contact) were negated by its inability to take advantage of the extra grip (“to get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch / my pressure plate is burning, the machine’s too much”). It may be assumed that the 409 involved a substantial cash investment (“I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes ... [to] buy a brand new 409”); as it is unlikely that a high-performance vehicle could be purchased, even at that time, with an aggregation of “pennies and dimes,” one must assume this to be a metaphor for a considerable sum. It is asserted positively that “[n]othing can catch her, nothing can touch” the 409. Further, that when the car is taken “to the track” it “always turns in the fastest time,” which proves that the 409 was sufficiently competent to engage non-stock, or street competition. The troubling factor regarding the 409 is that no specifics as to competition is given, meaning we must reserve judgment for the present.

            For final consideration, the “Little” Deuce Coupe (henceforth “LDC”) presents some impressive credentials. Again, the rough description is a miniature vehicle with two (“deuce”) seats and two doors (which is a trifle redundant, as the author has yet to witness a vehicle with two seats and four doors). We are only given a few tantalizing glimpses of the components of this vehicle: a “flat head mill,” “stroke-end bored,” and a “competition clutch with four on the floor” indicate some non-trivial modifications to the stock machine. Obviously, “she purrs like a kitten ‘till the leg pipes roar” is hyperbole, but does document a non-standard emissions system, doubtless further increasing horsepower. The LDC’s emphasis is on street racing (“And coming off the line when the light turns green / Well she blows ‘em out of the water like I never seen”). Although the “light turns green” could potentially refer to a commercial drag strip, the fact that the LDC is cited as “the fastest set of wheels in town” militates against that being the correct interpretation. Finally, the assertion that “I get rubber in all four gears” demonstrates that the LDC’s engine produced sufficient torque to spin its tires throughout the power and speed spectrum, indeed an impressive accomplishment. The fact that the car will only do “140 in the top end floored” also tells us the LDC was outfitted with low gear ratios for quick acceleration. Again, as with the 409, there are no details given as to specific victories, excepting that “she’ll walk a Thunderbird like she’s standing still” proves the machine to be far superior to that somewhat indifferent racing machine. Without further qualification, the statement that the LDC is “the fastest set of wheels in town” will have to be accepted.

            There is no evidence to indicate whether the 409 or the LDC would prevail in head-to-head competition. It is the thesis of this paper that such a competition would be impossible, because the 409 and the LDC are the same car. Doubtless this theory will be dismissed as radical speculation, but consider the evidence:


          Both vehicles were undefeated. In the relatively close-knit community of Southern California of the 1960’s, competition between the two would certainly have occurred. If so, a defeat and the corresponding victory would have been tallied.


          Both vehicles are chronicled by the Beach Boys, who had sufficient information to indicate whether the 409 could outrun the LDC, or vice versa. See Shut ‘em Down for purposes of comparison, where a vehicle’s defeat is specifically demonstrated.


          Both had four-speed manual transmissions (this point is not dispositive, as the Little GTO also sported a four-speed), and there are no points of difference between the vehicles stated (unlike the 409, fed by dual four-barrel carburetors, versus the fuel-injected Stingray; or versus the GTO, which had 20 fewer cubic inches in engine displacement).


          Both had high torque engines: the 409 (obviously, due to its displacement) and the LDC, from whence one could “get rubber in all four gears.”

            The only countervailing evidence to this theory may be dismissed. First, it may be contended that the documented modifications to the LDC (“competition clutch” and “leg pipes,” for example) could not have applied to the 409, cited as “brand new.” However, we are informed that “I saved my pennies and saved my dimes... before I knew there would be a time / when I would buy a brand new 409.” The use of the past tense indicates that the 409 is not considered to be brand-new contemporaneous with the account. (Unlike the LOLP’s Super Stock, which was described in the present tense as “brand-new, shiny red.”) Further, the “pennies and dimes” saved could have been utilized both for the purchase of the vehicle and for funding the modifications, if the modifications were not in fact performed by the dealer. More research needs to be done on this point. The fact that two separate accounts are given of the same vehicle is explained by the fact that the 409’s exploits are recounted in a track setting, and the LDC’s on a street setting. Clearly, the 409 was the LDC’s designation when participating in organized competition, for which a more formal moniker than the affectionate “Little Deuce Coupe” would be appropriate.

            Whether the LDC/409 could outrace the Little Cobra is debatable. One detects a note of uncertainty in the description of the Cobra (“Hey little Cobra, don’t you know you’re going to shut ‘em down?”), which connotes a lack of confidence entirely absent in the descriptions of the LDC and 409. Either the Cobra had not been in competition for a sufficient period to develop confidence, or had suffered past losses of which we are not apprised. Further, one can point to the marked lack of low-end torque demonstrated by the Cobra, which lagged behind a Stingray, whose initial acceleration was problematic. The Cobra demonstrated its worth on a road course (“the Stingray had me goin’ into the turn” [emphasis added]), where it could possibly best an LDC/409, but in a straight drag race it is doubtful it would prevail.

            The conclusion of this paper is that the most effective street racing vehicle of the early Sixties was the Little Deuce Coupe/409, which we have demonstrated to be the same vehicle. The author hopes that this paper will prove to stimulate further research on this essential topic, since the field has by no means been exhausted. Federal grants will be eagerly accepted.

— Michael A. Koenecke,