1955 Building a Car from Scratch

In 1941 Kirke Leonard was growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He was starting his first year in high school.  A few months later in December, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II started.  His father, Parker Leonard, an accomplished pilot and designer/builder of gliders, moved the family to California and offered his expertise to North American Aircraft to assist in the war effort. 

While he was recognized as a talented aeronautical engineer, his expertise was in design and construction using wood and cloth, not the stuff of fighter aircraft such as aluminum and metal.  So back to Cape Cod the family went.  While there, Parker met with a person that informed him that the Navy was looking for someone who could design and manufacture training gliders for them and Parker was their man.  He moved the family to Connecticut, where the manufacture of the gliders was performed.  His son Kirke, was used to working around the Leonard foundry and machine shop back on the Cape as well as participating in his father’s aeronautical creations.

After completing high school Kirke went to Worchester Polytechnical Institute and graduated in 1951 with a baccalaureate science degree in mechanical engineering.  His best friend in college had gotten a 1951 MG-TD and Kirke enjoyed the sports car that was key to bringing road racing to America.  Within a week after graduation Kirke headed for California where he saw as the center of hot rodding, aircraft design, and racing.

He owned several cars including his own MG-TC and got a taste of road racing.  Several cars later he decided to try his hand at building his own sports car.  He liked the body style of the Jaguar C-type and built a clay model of a similar body for his own car.


He found a Jaguar Mark VII parts car and used the engine and transmission from it.

He also got to know a couple of guys who had come to California from England who had experience in fabricating bodies from aluminum and who had brought a metal forming tool known as an English Wheel with them.

Kirke built the wooden body bucks that they would use as guides for shaping the aluminum sheets into body panels.  Kirke learned how to use a body hammer and dolly to finish the job.

IMG_20200130_0010 IMG_20200130_0001

He built the frame himself starting with the main tubes that were six inches in diameter.  He had not been able to find such tubing in the thickness he wanted so he had them made from flat stock that was curled into a tube that he seam welded using oxy-acetylene gas welding.

The rear axle was from a Studebaker and he calculated what he needed for coil springs and had them made to his specifications.  He also designed his own trailing arm suspension for the front and rear.  



The front axle was built by Frank Curtis to use Ford king pins and spindles that would allow for Jaguar wheels using knock-off hubs.


Buick drum brakes were used front and rear as they were the most durable available at the time.  Disc brakes were not found on cars sold in America for several years.

Knowing that cooling was a critical element he used a large Ford radiator rather than the smaller Jaguar one.

With the frame and drivetrain completed the body was fitted.



Kirke cut out the head light nacelles and equipped the car with all the required bit such as horn, tail lights, etc. 



Kirke registered it as a Jaguar Mark VII sedan, to which it bore no resemblance, but it kept the DMV happy.

He drove it for a few years putting on perhaps 300 miles before he decided to start another project.  So he posted an advertisement in the LA Times and sold the car.  Who knows where it is today.

Kirke went on to work in the aerospace industry contributing to the Apollo project as well as constructing his brother-in-law’s prize winning human powered aircraft – the Gossamer Albatross.

Now in his nineties, Kirke still like to design aircraft and enjoy the California life.

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Another Car Magazine Bites the Dust

I recently received notification that Automobile magazine is ceasing publication.  I remember when it first appeared and eagerly bought a subscription. 

I suppose that commenting that it is a shame that this is occurring would be expected, but unfortunately I fear that it is just the beginning.  Magazines are expensive to produce and to mail and it is doubtful that subscribers, however loyal, will be interested in subsidizing the true costs, nor are there sufficient advertisers to underwrite the costs.

Time marches on and with it – change.

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PRI 2019–Friday!

One of the advantages of going to PRI as media is that I can get into the display area before the huge crowds do.  That gives me the opportunity to take photographs without getting in the way of the throngs of people who really are enjoying everything.  So this morning I had some time to wander and get some clear shots for you…


It is a real contrast from when all the people are here.

QA1 offers many suspension upgrades that can take some older vehicles and transform their handling.  This display shows the engineering they put into their upgrades…


Next is the Driveshaft Shop that is out near Charlotte, NC.  I had them make an aluminum drive shaft for my Miata track car project.



Next stop was the Wilwood display.  They make many race specific brake solutions as well as upgrade for your street or track day vehicle.


As you can see, they include master cylinder upgrades, too.  IT is another upgrade that went on the Miata track day car.

Tanner Racing Products has suspension goodies along with alignment and corner balancing tools.


All are vital to getting the most grip out of your track vehicle.

Then there was GB fuel injector service and diagnostic equipment.  With today’s direct injection technology along with the traditional fuel injectors this is getting to be vital.


When you think of filtration the K&N brand pops to the top.   They not only make great air filters, but also fuel and oil filters.


While we are all familiar with track alignments and corner balancing, Creative Racing has a precise way of measuring chassis height.


Check them out.

Pit Pall Products have a vast selection of all sorts of racks, gadgets, and pit tools to help you stay organized and efficient.



Here is another look at Swift Spring’s new bump stop replacement for racing conditions.


Ford Motor Sports was there with their performance products.  Be sure to pick up their catalog or go online.


Tchnocraft has a great line of cabinets and work benches. 


Here is an interesting one with a surface drain…


…and where does it all drain to?P1130040

Borg Warner had a great display of their turbos as well as some great cars…



BMR has some clever chassis upgrades for that advantage in handling that we are all looking for.


Wizard Cooling radiator products range from diesel trucks to European sports cars.


ACP Headers even has header chairs for sale!


Full Throttle has AGM batteries for many applications.


Katech had a V-16 on display.  Originally produced for marine racing applications it is now moving to vehicles. 1200 hp


Racing Rivets has – well rivets as well as battery powered rivet guns.


If any of you are F1 fans than you want to see the Haas product line and support America’s sole Formula One team.


3D printing is all the rage and for some very good reasons.  ExOne had a fascinating display.



Check out these printed V6 blocks – the smaller one is about the size of a house fly!  the scalability is astounding!


Fume Vac is just what you need for you fabrication welding.  Get those nasty fumes out of there!


If you are printing 3D then you must be able to scan in 3D.  Here is a big project to scan..


If you need to be certain your body complies with specifications…

This is the hand too you scan with –


– and it transmits to this


For smaller items..


The company is 3D Systems out of Cary, North Carolina.

Motion Control Suspension has several levels of tunable shock/strut absorbers.  From stage one up to 4-way adjustability.


They are out of Alpharetta, Georgia.  Check them out at motioncontolsuspension.com


The crowds for day two were enormous…



It was a great day and so much to see!

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Indianapolis and PRI 2019

I really do enjoy going to this trade show.  It was an early morning as the opening breakfast is not to be missed.  The shuttle bus had a heavy load of us to get there early this morning.


When we arrived the line was already very long.


It wrapped around several times, but soon we saw movement and then we were inside with the crowd of our brethren of the racing industry.


We enjoyed the breakfast and that gave us a chance to get to know each other.  People are from all over the country and have varied racing interests and experiences.  With our phone we were able to share photos and videos of our adventures and our passions.

Soon we had the introduction…


…and then the highlight of interviews from Ralph Sheneen.  There was Don Schumacher of racing fame and several of the racing stars that work with him.





The stories were entertaining and provided much insight into their racing lives.

Soon it was over and the official opening of PRI 2019 began and the crowds descended the stairs to the acres of display area.



The show was on and we started exploring.



Stage 8 has one of the most incredible products for ensuring exhaust fasteners don’t vibrate loose.  This is especially important in the all-to-common turbo applications where heat and vibration work to loosen just about any bolt and stud fasteners used.  Stage 8 ensures they stay in place.



Another great product that I was glad to see at the show was Jack Tech USA.  They make the fastest and safest strut spring compressor I have ever worked with and this show they introduced a heavy duty version.



They have several great products that use their unique system of gears and transmissions to raise and lower in complete confidence.

Many other familiar faces were there such as Eibach and AP.




Hunter was there with their products.


Their latest tire changer is almost completely automatic to the point that once the TPMS is indexed and the dismount operation is initiated the operator can walk away and balance the previously mounted tire.


They demonstrated their Road Force balancer as well as their latest alignment machine.  It was all very impressive.  I did my best to torture them with my most difficult operational questions, but they had done their design homework and their machines showed off how well they can deal with today’s challenges.

DSC Sport was there with their adaptive suspension technology.


Penske Racing shocks was also represented.


We are all holding our collective breath to see what Roger Penske does with having newly acquired the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy racing series.  If his past performance is any guide it will be a huge acceleration of the improvements that have already taken place in Indy racing.

Kittyhawk has a process by which they can remove the porosity in castings and additive manufacturing.


Aegeus was one of several Chinese companies that were at PRI for the first time and showing of some impressive products.


SCW Driveline was there from Australia with their products.


ALITRAX showed off their Connected Racing Intelligence.  With things such as in-car flagging and Race Control notification.


Swift Springs was there with a new product that replaces the common bump stop technology with springs!


These go in place of the plastic bump stops that generally get over compressed with springs that are far more resilient and predictable.  Swift also had their usual vast catalog of springs that work for stock replacement as well as for many coil-over applications.


The folks from Hawk brake technology were also present with an impressive race car display as well as improvements to their already impressive brake pad options.


Streamlight had a vast array of LED work and task light technology.


AGI roll cages have many products available that allow quick and safe roll cages to be installed without custom welding.


Liland Global showed off their many products for cooling and for replacement stainless steel gas tanks.  Along with their oil pans.


In the Lucas arena were many types and styles of racing trailers and motorized race car transports, but the one that really caught my eye was the open trailer that makes loading and unloading so very easy and practical.


No more ramps.  Just lower the entire platform.

tomorrow we will take another look and share any gems we come across…

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Coming Soon – PRI!

Wednesday we travel to Indianapolis for the 2019 Performance Industry Industry show…

PRI 2019

More to come!

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The Last Autoweek Issue

Back when I was in high school it was Competition Press and Denise McCluggage had started it.  She was not just an automotive journalist, but she was also a race car driver in her own right.  At that time it was newsprint and came weekly.  To start, it was only a handful of pages and then later it became Competition Press and Autoweek.


Over the years it became a magazine for enthusiasts and fans of the racing scene.

It went through several iterations and its latest was an excellent one, even if it was no longer a weekly publication.  But now it has succumbed to the 21st Century and the Internet of everything.  Hearst, which now publishes both Car and Driver, and Road & Track magazines has purchased Autoweek.  The result is that it will no longer be a tangible publication.  It will continue as autoweek.com.

No longer will you be able to share it with your car friends or leave it in the bathroom for study.  Not unless you bring your iPad into the toilet with you.

I have had some great automotive adventure thanks to Autoweek.  I’ve been to two Fantasy Camps that allowed me the privilege of testing cars at Ford’s Dearborn test track.  I’ve had the pleasure of attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on the day prior to the official opening and in the company of many of Autoweek’s editorial staff.

No doubt I will enjoy what they post on their web site, but I will definitely miss the thrill of the tangible.  Turning pages and becoming so absorbed in an article that I end up with ink on my fingers.

Magazines, like newspapers, find it hard to compete with how the internet can provide infinitely variable advertising that conforms to all the AI data on the humans that peek into it domain.  When it is printed the advertisements are static no matter how cleverly they are designed and executed, but the internet can post all kinds of ads that pop in and out of your screen all based on your internet behavior.  While you may find this annoying at times, it means that ad revenue is far more enriching to publishers.

Farewell to Autoweek as we once knew it.  I hope that it will continue to provide an opportunity to all their great editorial staff to share with readers their adventures and perspectives.  We will see.

I will miss the issues popping into my life through the US Mail and allowing me to get some ink on my fingers.

the last Autoweek cover

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What Has Formula 1 Become?

This past Sunday’s Russian GP has opened up many questions as to just what this pinnacle of racing has become.  Many in the racing world have questioned the direction that this competition has taken in the recent years.  Others have wondered as to its relevancy and future.

After watching the Russian GP after seeing what occurred the previous weekend in the Singapore GP one has to wonder just what is real racing and what is contrived.  Sebastian Vettel’s win in Singapore clearly angered his teammate, Charles Leclerc, who felt slighted by the team’s tire strategy and felt he had deserved the win.  For many watching it was nice to see Sebastian able to demonstrate the capabilities that this four-time world champion still has.

Within the first laps of the Russian GP the radio traffic between the Ferrari team and the drivers it certainly appeared that there was an understood agreement between management and the drivers that the lead in the race was to transfer to Leclerc and that Sebastian was expected to let Charles pass him.  At the time Leclerc was not able to keep pace with Sebastian and could not even come within the the one second requirement for DRS to be used to pass.  Instead Charles complained of not having his way and that Sebastian continued to behave as a racing driver.

Eventually there came the inevitable pit stops to change tires and it was structured in such a way by the  Ferrari team to ensure that Vettel would not be able to come out ahead of Leclerc.  Essentially letting Charles pass Sebastian anyway.  Sebastian immediately returned to the track only to suffer a failure – his kinetic energy recovery system.  While this may have been genuine, it could also have been interpreted as Vettel giving Ferrari a big F* You. Saying okay, give the young guy what he has been whining for but now you will only have only one team car winning points.

We then watched as the Mercedes team took the first two steps on the podium.  Leclerc standing on the third and Ferrari having to live with far fewer constructor championship points than it could have enjoyed.

We can also speculate about Mercedes and what they are doing within their team and how they are managing their drivers.

Early in the season Bottas came to the new season with a refreshed attitude and confidence that was reflected in his driving performance.  Within the first few races that changed significantly.

After less than a handful of races it was Hamilton in the lead and Valtteri acting much like the follow-up driver that was there to simply provide interference for the chosen team leader.  You could detect it in his demeanor during interviews and when he was on the podium. 

A few races ago it was announced that Valtteri’s contract was renewed and one wondered what possibly had taken place behind closed doors as the assurance for another year’s employment was taking place.  Was more money provided to assuage Bottas’s feelings of being used as a second class driver? 

What has Formula 1 become?  Is it still a competition between racing drivers and teams?  Has it become simply a contest of contrived tire strategies and preordained driver standing?

One would like to have an honest conversation with some of the “best of the rest” drivers and learn their perspective without the fear and influence of the top team managers and their budgets of nearly half a billion dollars a year.

Many positive changes have occurred in Formula 1, including massive improvements in driver safety.  The technology used can be not only very effective, but monetarily prohibitive.  The caliber of drivers is astounding, but they have become remote and reclusive personalities that fans are only provided a very brief and limited glimpse of. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to allow fans to understand the amount and types of physical training that the drivers must endure in order to cope with the physical and mental demands of be a top level driver with a “super license”?

How about having far more revealed about the technology used amongst the teams?  The technological edges they enjoy appear to be fleeting as so much is often revealed as they are photographed at speed and in and around the grid and garages.

Formula 1 is under much pressure to keep its fans engaged and expand its base. The current formula has it critiques and many are suggesting several changes to improve this pinnacle of motor racing.

Perhaps Formula 1 should keep in mind that it is a sport and that racing is at its core.  That is difficult to remember with the billions of dollars involved, but if the powers that be don’t understand the basics of the sport they risk losing it all.

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