Fast Talk with Jeff Smith: Trinkets That Aren’t Trash

When you write two columns a month for a couple of years, you’ve told all your old stories and have to find new ones. The push today was to come up with a new column idea when I found myself staring at one of my more prized desk trinkets. They don’t look like much, just a pair of mangled valve heads –that clearly suffered a rather abrupt death. I immediately came up with the above title- and my column was off and running.

They say that each car you’ve ever owned comes with a story. So is true with my collection of little desk trinkets. Each one has a story. I chose a few of them that were close at hand and took a picture. I’ll save my prized valves for last. In the business they call that “building drama.”

If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice the little top is actually spinning. The top, the billet aluminum roadster, the dice, and the yo-yo are all purple anodized pieces from Boyd Coddington. These date back to the early ‘90s when I was editor at Hot Rod and Boyd sent these out as goodies at Christmas for four years. I believe they are the complete collection and somehow they have survived several office moves and now occupy a space on the trinket shelf.

The ridiculously large Champion spark plug is a latest addition to the trinket collection given to me by my buddy Ron Rotunno of Federal-Mogul – the parent company that owns Champion. This plug is for the Model A and B Ford flatheads from 1927. In the box is a set of instructions that proclaim “Tighten the spark plug firmly in cylinder but not too tight. Spark plugs too loose or too tight may cause trouble.” So much for torque specs…

I also recently learned from my avid automotive historian buddy Tim Moore that Albert Champion not only started the Champion spark plug company but then later also created the AC Spark Plug company for GM using his initials. It was later merged to become AC-Delco. Now you know.

Those tiny pistons used to be attached to key rings, and I’ve accumulated several of these from my pals at JE Pistons. When combined with the cool miniature billet aluminum Dart small-block Chevy cylinder head, it dawned on me that I was part-way to a little four-cylinder engine. The rods as you can see are pretty spindly – so Wiseco just came up with what they call their BoostLine rod which in real life is intended for 2,000 hp race engines. The BoostLine is a steel hybrid rod incorporating technology from both the I-beam and H-beam camps and is a very nice rod. So all I need is three more!

The little plastic vile also has a story. My good friends Matt and Debbie Hay decided to buy back their Pro Street Thunderbird they built back in the late ‘80s. The ‘Bird was unique in that it used a front-mounted supercharger to keep the stock hoodline at a time when everybody else was stuffing increasingly larger blowers through the hood.

The T-bird was originally multi-hued with a pink base that typical of the outrageous colors of that era. So when Matt and Debbie decided to buy the car back and restore it that obviously included new paint. During the restoration, Matt shot a photo of his garage driveway after a day of sanding all the original pink paint off the car. With the garage door closed, the photo was just of the driveway with a cool pink hue. It’s one of my favorite photos because that simple image says volumes about the work they did.

During that sanding thrash, Matt swept up some of the original paint and put it into these little vials and gave me one after I made way too much of a fuss over it. Luckily, he has a few left. There are many other trinkets in my office, but this one is certainly among Jeff’s Top Five just because of its story and my great friendship with Matt and Debbie. They are wonderful people.

That leaves us with the broken valves. Many decades ago, I used to spend a lot of my time at Edelbrock. I think I’ve written a column about my time at Edelbrock University with Jim McFarland. The technical material he taught me was almost like a condensed version of high performance mechanical engineering, offering a strong tech background that has carried me through dozens of stories for the magazines and also helped me through many puzzling high performance problems.

One Friday afternoon while we were probably discussing something related to valvetrain issues, he presented these two valves. Jim knew that I was a big John Lingenfelter fan and he told me that these were two mangled valves from one of John’s dyno test efforts at Edelbrock. What made them even more interesting was that these were from a Ford small-block. You have to know your Pro Stock history to know that Lingenfeler and Meyer raced an ex-Bob Glidden Cleveland-powered Pinto in IHRA Pro Stock in 1974. That only lasted about a year and a half at best if my research is correct.

These abused valves tell a not-so-great story about a failed attempt back before John built his own dyno in his shop that still bears his name in Decatur, Indiana. John was severely injured in a race crash at Pomona in October of 2002 and died on Christmas day, 2003. He was a great friend and a fierce competitor who was, more importantly, a great man whose friendship I morn to this day. So I keep these little bits of John’s history very close.

So that’s my walk through Jeff’s trinkets that aren’t trash. There are lots more. In fact, this has spawned an idea in the future to perhaps dig up some of the trashed and exploded parts that have dotted my experiences with high performance engines. As you can surmise – not all were successful! If you build enough engines, some will not survive. But we’ll save that for another column. In the biz, they call that a teaser.

About Jeff Smith

A clue into how long Jeff Smith has been writing technical automotive stories might be his following of second generation readers. Writing continuously for nearly 40 years, his focus with Xceleration covers all things technical. His collection of cars includes a bevy of Chevelles and El Caminos. When not writing about cars, he likes to spend time with his wife Valerye, children Amber and Graham, and granddaughter Celeste.