Edell’s fine find: John Gates’ Drag T
Story by Lou Leto
Photographs by Trent Sherrill: Trent Sherril Photogtaphy
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Marcus Edell practiced what he has been preaching for his entire life: music and hot rods. He’s been successful at both, as he still plays and records with the Rev Tones. When asked how many cool cars that he has found and owned since he started in 1988, his answer is a single word: “hundreds.”
This feature highlights the John Gates-built 1915 T, created in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1958. Back then, available T’s only came in genuine steel. Gates put this one together with the idea to go drag racing; when finished, Gates was able to fulfill that goal, racing it at White City Drag Strip, near Medford.
The frame was adapted, mostly from a ’32 donor. The Fifties were a time when big inch, big torque engines were the desired power; this one is a 1955 Cadillac that started at 331 cubic inches before the bore. Isky was chosen as the source for the solid camshaft and adjustable rockers. More power was desired, so the Cad was boosted by a blower; a GMC 4-71 supercharger topped with a wicked six-carb intake. “Gates spent a lot of money for the blower drive, choosing all-new (for the time) Cragar components. Expensive; probably cost as much as the rest of the project,” muses Marcus.
Edell elaborates: “Gates was good at engineering. Created a lot of trick stuff. All work was done in his small garage.” Examples include a small five-gallon fuel tank in the rear (“remember, the T’s purpose was drag race only”). A radiator was installed horizontally underneath the car, with a Gates-engineered system of trick hoses, with a cooling system that included two small heater blower motors! “All of this helped the T turn E.T.’s in the low 11’s,” Marcus reminds.
Drag racers never sit still for the combo that they have, instead always updating in the pursuit of E.T. excellence and superior speeds. In the late 60’s, the T was updated: a dropped front axle, with Volvo disc brakes was added. A smaller roll bar was substituted, ostensibly to save some weight while still trying to stay safe. Edell has some old 8mm film that helps to document the changes, including a different paint scheme.
After racing for a while, Gates started entering his T in some of the little car shows for a time. And like many old race cars, it finally got parked out-of-sight in the garage (in the late-90’s).
And like a lot of old ignored cars, it appeared on craigslist. This one showed up in 2009. Edell saw it on one of his searches, and emailed an inquiry. No answer. “This process of my emailing went on for 2-3 years.” Marcus recalls, “Never an answer.”
Then one day, Marcus hears from his own brother. “He calls to tell me that he is up in Oregon buying an old drag racer, and it came with a trailer,” Marcus moaned. “Don’t tell me that, I know exactly what car you’re buying!” But the brother was only buying the T with the intent to flip it. Marcus wanted it. Brotherly love tuned into brotherly bartering. Marcus’ brother decided he wanted a nice Model A that Marcus had. The A was in much better condition, and probably worth more than the T. The need for the T overcame the need to keep the Model A. Trade transacted.
The T ran, but barely. Of the six carburetors, only two were working. Off they came, with a trip to Dick’s Carburetion. Dick created a progressive linkage system, with the center two for driving, and the outward two pairs kicking in at high revs. The V-belts for the supercharger were changed, ignition was changed too. As were the plug wires that were probably leftover from the 60’s. Off came the slot mags, on went steel wheels with spider caps. Big and littles were slung to support the stance. 5.60’s on the front, tall slicks in the rear. Out came the “barf tan” interior, as Marcus called it. Installed were new carpet with a black interior.
When put back together and dialed in, “the first test run scared the hell out of me. “ Marcus recalled. Maybe because the blown Caddy now pushed enough power through the ’37 LaSalle tranny to the ’50-‘51 Olds rear with 4.10 gears! Quick, powerful, and with hardly any weight, near–deadly.
Steering was a bit sloppy. With no gas gauge and limited by the 5-gallon tank, Marcus called the T “a 5-minute car.” While he kept it for more than five minutes, his love for the T was temporary. Admitted that he kept it a shorter time than he chased it. The T was traded to a SoCal buddy, then it was later sold to a fellow in the Midwest, and now it’s lost again…
What’s the short sentence summary of this story? You choose: Be persistent until you get what you want, or, The pursuit was greater than the possession, or, If you want them all, know that you can’t keep them all.
Can’t blame him. Thank him for finding and fixing another history car. Happy hunting, Marcus.