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Calgary hits the Salt

Calgary has a burgeoning land speed racing community. This is a follow-up to my post of Sept. 21.

Thanks to Liz Leggett and Joanne Meyer for the photographs.



Aerotech Salt Liquor LSR. Photo Joanne Meyer.

More than just a couple of readers were interested in learning, well, more.

In this column of 14 September I wrote about three Calgary teams who built land speed racers and trekked to the Bonneville Salt Flats.

I made mention of two other teams, but their stories weren’t included.

To rectify that, here’s an accounting of Aerotech’s Salt Liquor 1934 Ford and The Rod Shop’s Wingin’ It belly tanker. In mid-August 2012 both were first time salt flat participants.

“We were in a pub in Kensington, having a pint and watching Speed TV,” says Dave Meyer, president of the Aerotech Group of Companies. “That’s when Reed said we should build a 1934 Ford and hit the salt.”

Reed Sutherland is an Aerotech employee, and according to Meyer, the team was formed that very evening. Within a week, Meyer purchased frame rails to get started on the build.

“That’s when my wife asked if I really thought this was a good idea, because none of us had ever built a race car before,” Meyer says.  “I told her we could do this with Terry Graham’s help.”

Since 1963 Graham’s been involved with building vehicles that go fast, from oval track cars to tractors. Graduating from SAIT’s aircraft maintenance program in the early 1960s, Graham soon had a job in Edmonton at Faulkner Aircraft.

“In Edmonton Ron Fernworn and I raced a hokey Buick, and then a flathead on the oval,” Graham explains. “Then, I moved to Calgary and we got friends and investors to help build Stampede Speedway.”

That oval track in north Calgary later became Circle 8 Speedway, and Graham went on to open Airport Welding where he built successful race vehicles, including an Indy car, for Frank Weiss.

Airport Welding is where Meyer apprenticed under Graham’s watchful eye.

Terry Graham on the salt. Photo Joanne Meyer.

“He took me right out of high school, and excluding my parents, nobody’s taught me more,” Meyer says. “Aerotech’s got 60 employees, and without Terry’s mentorship, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Every Tuesday evening and Saturday afternoon Graham, Meyer, Sutherland, Paul Jolicoeur, Trevor Buckler and Matt Latrace met to work on the car.

“It was kind of a slow process at first,” Graham says. In 2010 the team took what they had built down to Bonneville and ran it through tech inspection. Both the inspectors and other racers made suggestions, and when the car came back to Calgary the team got serious, extending the chassis and reconfiguring the front of the vehicle.

Essentially, Graham became the crew chief when he retired from his job at Calgary’s Valley Metal and focused on the car, which features one of his built-up 490 cubic inch Chevrolet engines, saved from his tractor racing days. Plenty of sweat equity from the team meant they were ready to tackle the salt in 2012.

Salt Liquor. Photo Joanne Meyer.

“I’d never sat in a race car before, and it was a little unnerving because we’d never even put (this one) into gear,” Meyer says of getting onto the salt. “The fastest I’d ever driven before in my life was 70 mph in the truck on the way down.”

In all, 10 runs were made in the 770 horsepower Salt Liquor car in the AG/CC class. The best run was 318.7 km/h (198 mph) before they dropped third gear due to some shifting issues. Right now, the car’s apart and the gearbox is being rebuilt while the engine is on the dyno for more tuning. They’re going back in 2013, but are happy with their novice attempt.

Meyer says, “I think we did quite well for our first year, and Terry guided us through the process. Any credit rides on his shoulders.”

The other Calgary team hitting the salt was Tom Racz and his crew at The Rod Shop. They built a lakester from the wing tank of a Canadian T-33 jet trainer to compete in the XF/GL class.

The Rod Shop’s Wingin’ It lakester. Liz Leggett photo.

They got stated by cutting the tank in half, establishing the chassis perimeter, and planning just where the engine, transmission and rear differential would go. A chassis built of rectangular rails and round steel tubing soon took shape, with the 286 cubic inch stroked and bored flathead Ford at the rear of the vehicle.

In 2011 The Rod Shop planned to finish the build, get to Bonneville, pass tech inspection and run on the salt.

They ran out of time and did not have a completely finished vehicle, but just like the Aerotech team, took the car down for tech inspection.

They learned some lessons, and in order to become a record contender Racz replaced their single-speed gearbox with a two-speed Ford transmission. That change meant the rear of the chassis had to be lengthened some 10 cm.

Both the Ford flathead and the gearbox were built up by Calgary’s Trevor Landage – and the car was still being worked on this year when it was loaded for the drive to Bonneville.

“Just before we crossed the border the turbo blew in our Ford F-250,” Racz says. “But we ran like that to Ogden, Utah, where the dealership looked at the truck. We spent the day working on the car in their parking lot, getting all of the little things finished.”

When the team got to the salt flats they passed tech, but they had to replace their six-point harness with a seven-point belt, and Racz had to purchase fireproof underwear – seriously – before he’d be allowed to run the car.

Wingin’ It lakester. Liz Leggett photo.

Racz went through the rookie orientation, which he said gave him a bit of confidence before his first attempt at a two-mile run.

“It was our first run and I couldn’t get the car in gear,” Racz says. “So, we shut the car off and put it in gear, then started it again. Well, it started to roll immediately, and I thought the push truck was already getting me up to speed.”

Little did he know that the truck was nowhere near, and the clutch was grabbing, sending him down the track. “I just went for it,” he laughs, “And about three quarters of the way through the run I remembered to breath.

“I can’t describe the feeling — when the run was over I just started laughing uncontrollably. It was the craziest, wildest most insane thing I’d ever done.”

With the clutch properly adjusted Racz started to get into a rhythm, and he says: “The thrill of the ride exceeded the fear of dying.”

Their top speed was 257.7 km/h (160.113) mph, and they were chasing a 315.4 km/h (196 mph) record. Back home, the team has pulled the engine for disassembly, rebuilding and tuning and plan to clean up some of the car’s aerodynamics before heading back in 2013.

Racz says, “It was the most incredible time of my life, and I can hardly wait to do it again.

Here’s another little note.

If you go fast enough on the Bonneville Salt Flats you join a select group of folks — there’s a 200 MPH Club, and there’s also a 300 MPH Club. There are two Canadians in the latter fraternity, and they’re both Calgarians.

In 1996 Les Davenport made a 314.563 mph run in an AA/lakester (501 cubic inch or larger engine).

Most recently, in 2008, Curtis Halvorson of Extreme Engine Development helped an American family construct a diesel streamliner. Not only was he responsible for the drivetrain, he was also asked to drive the vehicle.

Halvorson says, “On the eighth and ninth run of the car I was able to eclipse the existing 36-year-old record of 236 mph with a new record of 307.876 mph. The next year (2009) I was still driving the car and at the same event, upped my existing record to 341.167mph with a terminal velocity of 353 mph on my one pass.

“This number made me the fastest Canadian in history on land as well as the fastest diesel on the planet.”

Salt attack

Trillion Industries Triumph Bonneville. All Trillion images courtesy Spindrift Photography.

Too much sodium is detrimental to our health.

Yet, a growing number of Calgarians have a penchant for salt.

But it’s not the tabletop variety that’s got local gearheads revved up. It’s the flat and level ground in Utah at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

For decades, speed junkies from around the world have traveled to the flats with their custom-built hotrod cars, trucks and motorcycles. On the dry lakebed, these enthusiasts attempt to set land speed records.

This year several teams from Calgary visited the salt, including one that’s been going down for the better part of a decade (Ted Allan and North of 49), one with three years experience (Gord Driedger), and another getting their first taste (Derek Pauletto and Team Trillion Industries).

There were other teams from the city, but we’ll focus on these three.

This was Ted Allan’s best year ever.

In 2002, Allan and the North of 49 team took a heavily modified 1928 Model A Roadster pickup to the salt, where the truck was competing in the ‘B’ street roadster category. Powered by a 427 c.i. (7.0-litre) big block, naturally aspirated Chevrolet engine the roadster was fast, putting Allan and the team past the 321 km/h (200 mp/h) mark.

However, at the time, they were chasing a 344.4 km/h (214 mp/h) record that eluded them. They returned in 2003 and 2004, sat out 2005, and then ran each year up to 2009. That year, a piston wrist pin seized, and Allan sat out 2010.

Somewhat dejected, he began to question the aerodynamics of the old Model A pickup.

“That’s when my wife said, ‘If you’re going to think about building a new car, I’ll buy the body and the metal for the chassis’,” Allan says.

Ted Allan and North of 49, image courtesy Ted Allan.

That perked him up, and he decided to create a rear engine modified roadster using the Chevrolet engine from the pickup. Construction started October 2010, and a running vehicle was ready for Speed Week in August 2011.

With the engine behind him, and a longer and more aerodynamic body in front of him, Allan was confident he’d be faster.

And he was. Putting a new car on the salt, he had to run the shorter 4.83 km (3 mile) course before being allowed on the longer 8.05 (5 mile) track. Right off the trailer, on a shakedown run, Allan qualified for a record, backing it up with a record-breaking run with an average of 370.1 km/h (230 mp/h) in the B/GRMR (B=engine less than 439 c.i./Gas Rear-engine Modified Roadster) class.

Nobody beat that speed by the end of 2011, and the team became world record holders.

That winter, the crew modified the engine with new heads and dual four-barrel carburetors. Spring 2012, they dyno tested the changes. The reworked heads made no difference, and the dual four-barrel carbs actually robbed them of horsepower.

They returned the engine to its original state, but swapped out the automatic transmission for a standard gearbox. Again, right off the trailer in Utah, Allan set a record of 387.5 km/h (240.8 mp/h) in the Fuel class –without the help of third gear.

Allan was shifting first, second and to fourth, as the gearbox was jumping out of third.

With the gearbox fixed by mid-week, Allan took on the Gas class, setting a 399.76 km/h (248.4 mp/h) record with a 402.97 km/h (250.4 mp/h) qualifying run, backed up by a 397.83 km/h (247.2 mp/h) run. For the first time, Allan broke the 402.33 km/h (250 mp/h) mark – an achievement that makes him a 200 MPH Club lifetime member.

“Our learning curve was a bit bumpy,” Allan says of his years on the salt. “And now, I’m just mulling my options about what’s next. But we’ll be back on the salt, that’s for sure.”

Another Calgary salt flat competitor, Gord Driedger, bought a 1953 Studebaker coupe out of California in 2010. The car had been built as a racer, equipped with a flathead Ford engine.

Chopped and channeled, the Studebaker has just 76.2 mm ground clearance. Front fenders and hood are fibre glass; the rest of the car is all steel.

Driedger, on his first run in 2010, managed 218.9 km/h (136 mp/h). Over the course of Speed Week Driedger made 10 more runs, with 241.2 km/h (149.9 mp/h) his fastest. The record for the XF/GCC (Flathead Ford/Gas Competition Coupe) class that year was 251 km/h (156.7 mp/h).

He went down in 2011, ran very close to 156 mp/h, learned more about the car and the salt, and returned again in 2012. Unfortunately, he didn’t break the record, although he had installed a closer ratio gear set.

“I’m maxed out at horsepower, and that’s as fast as I’m going to go in these conditions with that motor unless I make some changes,” he says.

Driedger plans to fabricate new ductwork to get cool, fresh air to the engine, and will install a crankcase vacuum pump. The pump will remove excess pressure from the crankcase, thereby making it easier for the pistons to travel on their downward stroke.

“The record now is 157.701 mp/h, and we made 156.066 mp/h,” Driedger says. “I’m very close; I’m bumping up against it.”

He’ll be back in 2013 for Speed Week.

“The salt is part of my life now, and I don’t have any plans to quit – there are only so many Speed Weeks left in a guy’s life,” Driedger laughs.

While Allan and Driedger raced Speed Week, welder and machinist Derek Pauletto of Calgary’s Trillion Industries attended BUB Speed Trials later in August. The trials are for motorcycles only.

Pauletto challenged himself, basing the build on the remnants of a 1970 Triumph Bonneville to run in the M/PBF (Modified/Pushrod Blown Fuel) class. He used the front frame loop, fork and engine of the Triumph, but everything was heavily modified. Pauletto designed and built the custom rig, but had plenty of help putting together and tuning the engine.

Basically, he took antiquated British engineering and pulled it into the 21 st century, outfitting his 650cc racer with current technology. He installed an aftermarket turbo for a 1.8-L Audi car, and modified throttle bodies from a 2003 Honda CBR for fuel injection. Custom cams, pistons and crankshaft went in the Triumph cases, and an HKS F-Con V Pro fuel management computer system was tricked into thinking it was running a two-cylinder Toyota Supra. That work was thanks to automotive computer tuning gurus Reg Reimer and Chris Hart of Calgary-based RCTS.

Pauletto and crew got the bike to start on Thursday, August 23, ran it on the dyno on August 24, and were on their way to the salt flats at 8 p.m. that night to make the Sunday tech inspection.

They made it, passed inspection, and squeezed two qualifying runs (171.94 km/h – 106.838 mp/h and 172.28 km/h –107.049 mp/h) out of the motorcycle before being sidelined by electrical gremlins.

“Our venture didn’t end on the best note, and we couldn’t make up the stuff that happened,” Pauletto says, and adds, “I definitely grew some grey hair and added a couple of wrinkles, that’s for sure.”

There’s no question he’ll be back, however.

“You get out there and you’re surrounded by the salt – it’s an eerie and surreal place, like nowhere you’ve ever been before,” Pauletto concludes, and adds, “For sure, there’s always next year.”

Calgary’s Spring Thaw and Terry Murphy’s 1949 Ford

Spring Thaw is Calgary’s first car show of the season, and this story first ran in the Calgary Herald Driving section on April 27 to help promote the event. Terry Murphy’s car was featured, and what a ride it is. Photos by Christina Ryan.

Car crazy Calgarians are revving up.

This Sunday, the 27th edition of Spring Thaw ushers in car cruising season.

“Our show has become one of the rites of spring,” says John Moore. “It’s generally the first car show of the season, and it’s all about getting the cars out, gassed and oiled up, and cruising.”

The Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary hosts Spring Thaw, and Moore says since the show’s inception in 1986, the intention has been to bring many of the city’s different car clubs together in one location.

Both clubs and individuals embraced the concept, flocking to Spring Thaw as it has moved to various locations around Calgary. Currently, the show seems to have found a semi-permanent home at Deerfoot Mall.

Capacity in the northeast parking lot is 500 cars, and Moore says if the weather is good, they often end up having to turn away vehicles.

Moore, in his second year as president of the Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club of Calgary, says he is just putting the finishing touches on his 1956 Thunderbird as he readies the car for Sunday’s show.

His T-bird is mostly original, but Moore has rebuilt the engine and transmission, and this year was working on the interior, having had the seats reupholstered.

“These cars are never finished, one always seems to be working on something,” Moore says.

Terry Murphy would agree.

Murphy bought his 1949 Ford Business Coupe five years ago, fresh from a farmer’s field near Three Hills, Alberta. The car was a rolling shell, sans interior and most of the engine.

Surprisingly, though, the body was in good condition and all of the factory glass was intact.

“It was my intention to keep the car fairly original,” Murphy says, and he restored the Ford’s running gear including brakes, suspension and steering. He left the paint alone.

Bert Curtiss of Competition Services in Crossfield built a 1950 Mercury Flathead V-8 for Murphy, and this he mated to the original three-speed Ford transmission.

Murphy was inspired to build his Ford as a ‘rat rod’ after he tagged along to help his designer/photographer son Chad of Lucky U Dezine shoot Viva Las Vegas, a rockabilly weekend in Sin City. Part of the festivities includes a car show, and the homebuilt hot rods captured his imagination.

The rat rod is itself an art form, as counter culture builders routinely thumb their noses at big-dollar painted and chromed up rides. There are no rules to the build, and it is completely up to the individual creating the car just what direction they go.

“It’s summed up by a saying I saw on a t-shirt down there – ‘I Do It Because It’s Wrong’,” Murphy says, and adds, “It’s all regardless of what the mainstream is doing.”

He continues:  “I was looking at these ‘underdone’ cars, and how they tie into rockabilly fashion,” Murphy says. “And the whole scene just energized me – the art of it all and how these mostly young guys are so passionate about what they are creating.”

So, for Murphy, the ’49 Ford became a canvas that he transformed into rolling art, adding pinstripes, stickers and paintings at his whim. Stylized Frankenstein interior door panels, for example, are the work of his son, Chad.

But he took the car to another level this past winter as he had the body stripped and painted matte black.

Murphy then had artisans from airbrushers to pinstripers showcase their talents on the outside of the Ford.

Calgary airbrush artist Ryan Vaness of Bloodshot Airbrushing created the rats on the doors, and although painted freehand, are almost exact duplicates.

And Bruce Ander, one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets, according to Murphy, pulled the pinstripes on the trunk lid. “That’s a spectacular piece of art,” he says.

One of Murphy’s friends calls him the ‘doo-dad king’, thanks to what would seem to be a hodge-podge of unique parts he’s added to the car’s interior. Pieces include an altimeter and a bomb drop stopwatch from a B-52 bomber that actually flew combat missions.

“The pilot had them sitting on his mantle, and I bought them from his estate,” Murphy says. There’s also a compass from a military Jeep.

“It’s got items in it that by themselves could be a story, and I can ramble on to people who have the patience to listen about each piece,” Murphy says.

“Some people say it’s too busy, while others love it. But there’s something in there that will help create a memory for someone, and that’s why my wife Jan and I built it.”

Murphy is looking forward to showing off his rolling canvas this Sunday at Spring Thaw.

“The car show is free fun for all ages, and I really enjoy the fun of watching the reaction of kids and newcomers (as they take in) all of the cars, because they’re truly art on wheels,” Murphy says, and adds, “After all, the future of this car crazy passion depends on the next generation; and we were all the next generation at one time. Experiencing the sounds, paint and chrome can ignite that passion and build life-long memories.”

Derek Pauletto: The man behind Trillion Industries

After writing the story about Derek Pauletto’s CB650 (which first ran in Motorcycle Classics magazine) it seems there’s a bit of momentum behind the builder. His work was featured on Pipeburn’s blog, and I thought it might be appropriate to post a recent Q&A with the man who operates Trillion Industries. Pauletto’s Trillion Industries is based in Calgary, Alberta, and the Q&A was written for the Calgary Herald’s Driving section as an introduction to the 2012 Calgary Motorcycle Show.

Derek P. of Trillion Industries with his 1979 Honda CB650. All photos courtesy Spindrift Photography.

Q: Did you grow up in Calgary? Was there a point when you realized you were interested in working with your hands?

A: Yes, we moved to Calgary in 1978, when I was five years old. We lived in Marlborough Park, in the city’s northeast. I was born in North York, Ontario but work brought my family west, and I’ve been here ever since.

My parents have Super 8 movies of me when I was four years old using a wood saw. My dad was in construction, and I loved to work with wood. I built my own toys, Star Wars Snow Walkers, airplanes, but mostly things with wheels. I was never satisfied with things unless they were perfect, and when I built with Lego, the most fun was building. I’d usually take it apart right after putting it together.

Q: What do you remember as a pivotal creative event in your life?

A: Shop class in junior high school. Our garage consisted of minimal tools — a vice, a hammer and a saw. Then I came to a place where I could release all of my ideas. Having access to tools was pivotal, without tools you can’t do much. You can use a rock as a hammer, but that only gets you so far.

Q:. What encouraged you to trade wood saws for a welder, and how old were you when you did that?

A: I took my first year apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker through high school, but when I turned 18, I just started to chill out with my buddies and kind of slacked off for a couple of years. I think I was sick of woodworking, as I’d been doing it since I was five. Also, wood had been a hobby, and I was probably thinking now I have to work with wood for a living.

I was working in an auto upholstery shop when I was trying to find myself, and they had a little welding machine. They told me I couldn’t use it, so I took a SAIT night course in welding. That opened my eyes. After that, I was allowed to use the welder in the shop. Then, I crashed my motorcycle and a friend told about a specialty welding shop where I could take the aluminum parts to get them fixed. I took the parts and also gave them my resume. That was on a Thursday, and was hired on the Saturday.

Q: When did you get your first motorcycle, and what kind was it?

A: I was 18, and I bought a 1988 Suzuki 600 Katana. Previously, motorcycles figured a bit in my life, but I was getting into muscle cars with a 1968 Cougar. Friends had motorcycles, and it was in high school when I twigged to bikes.

1979 Honda CB650. Trillion bar-end signals, Kawasaki ZX-636 inverted forks with custom machined triple clamp.

Q: What was the first motorcycle that you customized? Was it done out of necessity (was the bike missing parts that you had to make)?

A: Probably my 1988 Honda Hawk GT. I bought it from a friend, and it was in pieces in three boxes. I had to make my radiator from a Honda CRX car rad. It was $500 for a new one and I’m making $8 an hour, the math didn’t add up. I repaired the tank, and made my own fork components. This was in 1995 and 1996, working at my new job.

Custom-built v-twin project, Rovad.

Q: You built Rovad (a complete, frame up project) for a local client right after you branched out on your own with Trillion Industries; how important was it to have as much freedom as you did on that project?

A: I was grateful for that freedom. The customer had some pictures, and he wanted a big rear tire, a big engine, and he wanted it black. He didn’t want a chopper, but something a little more sporty. I literally drew up some rough sketches, and he said go with it. He encouraged me to just do it. I really was lucky for the opportunity to do what I wanted. Most of Rovad’s components are ideas of mine that, over the years, I could never do. For example, the billet rear swingarm.

Rovad swingarm, designed and built by Trillion Industries.

Previously, I had been in a phase where everything was welded, but I was learning that you can bolt things together and still be a welder. There was more to it than just being a welder, there are all kinds of ways to fasten stuff together. Welds are nice, but in certain places welds look kind of chunky.

Rovad allowed me to combine the machining world with the welding world, and I learned the possibilities are endless.

Q: You’ve moved on to build custom British-based machines; isn’t that ancient technology, or is that motorcycle history important to you?

A: Calgary’s Bob Klassen was a big influence, as I was working on his British motorcycle stuff. I just got a twitch, the technology was just so simple and everything I was doing was more complicated. I built a supercharged Triumph custom, and created my own rear frame and front girder fork. It was simpler technology, and I got to chill out a bit.

It’s getting harder and harder to do something completely different; there are a lot of paths, and I just took a different one.

Q: How much riding do you get to do? Or, is the actual construction process what you enjoy the most?

A: I definitely enjoy the construction process. This year, I didn’t get to ride very much at all. Work is just busy, and being a family man, I’m not there enough for my wife and kids as it is. I do want to slow down a little more, and I’ve got some projects finished now that I can ride anytime. I don’t ride enough because I’m building my own bikes. Work comes first, and then the personal stuff gets fit in. Leading up to the motorcycle show, I’ve been working seven days a week for more than a month.

Q: One of your current projects is the construction of a fuel-injected Triumph motorcycle to compete on the Bonneville Salt Flats – can you provide some details on that machine?

A: It’s a 1970 Triumph 650 engine, with a 1971 Bonneville head. I had a scrap 1970 Triumph frame that was butchered pretty bad, and I will modify the front hoop, build a hardtail, and run a conventional Triumph front end. The bike will be lower, sitting 3.5” off the ground.

I’ve always had (going to Bonneville) in the back of my mind. Ten years ago I’d heard about it from mostly car guys (for whom) I helped make parts. And then, Roger Goldammer built a land speed racer on an episode of Biker Build-Off, and I thought that was pretty cool. We went to Wendover, Nevada in April, 2011, and took a Bonneville Salt Flats tour, and then we went down to see BUB Speed Week in August. We watched the races for a couple of days, and I asked all kinds of questions. We plan to enter the Modified 650 Pushrod Supercharged class.

Q: What inspires you to get up each morning?

A: Coming to work and starting on projects gets me excited. And I get excited about learning. I get to see my family every morning, and I’m always looking forward to holidays. Every day is one step, and always one step forward.

Honda CB650, above and below.

2011 Millarville, Alberta Classic and Vintage Motorcycle Swap Meet

Motorcycle enthusiasts won’t want to miss the 2011 Millarville Classic and Vintage Motorcycle Swap Meet — our Ninth Annual — on Sept. 11. Hosted by the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group — Rocky Mountain Section, this grassroots event takes place in the riding arena at Millarville Racetrack, a venue nestled in the rolling foothills of Southern Alberta. It’s a short 30 minute ride or drive south of Calgary, and the meet has become a destination for all gearheads.

Why? Millarville Swap Meet has become something of a legend, as most of the tables are filled with Real motorcycle parts — dirty and rusty, sometimes crusty — but good for something.

Table bookings are now being accepted, and cost to non-paid up members of the RMS section is $25 each. If you’re a paid up member of the RMS, good news. The cost of one table will be covered by the group. Contact Bobby Baum at 403-230-9269 to book, or email him at

Doors are open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., and it’s $3 to enter the arena. Vendors welcome at 8 a.m.

Red Devil Rods and Custom Paint profile with George Bordas

Story first published in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section 25 March 2011. Photos courtesy Red Devil Rods.

George Bordas was 17 in 1985 when he started working at Carline Muffler in Calgary’s Forest Lawn.

The job was a life altering experience, and it set him on a different path than what he had intended.

His parents wanted him to be a pharmacist, and he had plans to study medicine. From medicine to metal, some 25 years later, Bordas is the man behind Red Devil Rods and Custom Paint, Calgary’s newest fabrication and paint shop.

And he has his friend Marty Robertson to thank. In 1985, Robertson was an employee at the Carline Muffler location. After Bordas was given a tour of the shop he was quite literally written an uncommon prescription.

“Marty was into rods and cars, and I wasn’t a gearhead at all,” Bordas said. “But when Marty showed me the underside of a hotrod on the lift, I could see the (car’s) frame and then picture in my mind how all of the custom bent exhaust tubes would have to come together. I went over to the tubing bender, and went at it.”

Soon after, Bordas was working at Carline Muffler — his first paying job out of high school — and he learned to weld and to work on engines. To further his automotive apprenticeship, Bordas moved to Winnipeg where he approached the owner of a local hotrod shop. He was told that the shop wasn’t hiring, but his spark of enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed, and he was soon employed.

Bordas paid his dues in this Winnipeg shop, spending two years cutting and welding nothing but custom frames, and then another two years fabricating replacement fenders and quarter panels from sheets of steel.

“I used to draw a lot,” Bordas said of the next step in his education. “And I wanted to see if I could paint like I could draw, so I bought a $20 airbrush kit.”

He did a few samples of airbrush art, and showed them to his boss, who was suitably impressed. Bordas was then taken into the spray booth, and asked to paint a fender and a door.

1941 Willys project.

“I’d never done prep for painting before, but I got it together and painted it perfectly, and from then on was doing body work and paint jobs,” Bordas said. He became known for custom blending one-off paint colours, and for the quality of his finished products.

In 2009, because he loved the mountains, Bordas moved to Invermere, B.C. Simply looking for something to do in his new hometown Bordas began working on a 1949 Mercury, and this led to similar jobs. Not long after, Bordas opened Valley Rod and Accessories, a small three bay shop where he customized vehicles, and painted everything from boats to jet skis and dirt bikes.

“I was finding, though, that 90 per cent of my customers were from Calgary,” Bordas said, so late last year he moved back to Calgary, and recently opened the new shop.

Red Devil Rods is located in an eight bay facility in southeast Calgary. The location could hold 16 or 17cars, although it would be a tight fit.

“Here (in the new shop), I get to do more of what I like to do – and that’s work on the older stuff.”

That being said, Todd Angus and Freddy Sanders are employed to take of collision and insurance work. Bordas tries to stay on the fabrication/hotrod/painting side of the business.

Bordas sprays only the latest environmentally friendly water borne paints from PPG, and said he had to learn to work with the new products himself – he adopted the paints before many others in the industry.

A number of unusual projects on the go at Red Devil Rods, including a 1941 Willy’s pickup truck Bordas purchased from an estate. The owner died in a house fire before he had the opportunity to finish the truck, and Bordas bought the Willy’s with the intention of completing the project and then giving it back to the daughter.

1950 Buick Dynaflow sedan project.

Bordas has a 1950 Buick Dynaflow sedan set aside for himself. He plans to chop the roof 6.5 cm, blast and paint the frame, and install an LT1 Corvette powerplant in the massive engine bay. It will be done in a lead sled style, with a custom red and black leather interior and flat black and pinstriped exterior. He plans to have the Buick on the road this summer.

“I feel I’m not working at a job when I’m cutting, grinding or painting,” Bordas said, and added, “I just love doing this.”

Millarville Vintage Motorcycle Swap Meet

Millarville is just a few minutes south of Calgary, Alberta. This swap meet usually draws vendors with real parts, not a bunch of leather and bandanas. You owe it to yourself to come and check it out.

NOTE: UPDATE for 2010 — EVENT is on Sept. 12. Same times and contact info. See you there.

Click on the poster for more details, and check


Or, click on this other poster for a map to the Millarville Race Track location.

2009 Swap Meet - pad 1

Calgary Herald, Hotrodder Don Siewert makes Hall of Fame, by Greg Williams


Photos by Greg Williams

Top photo: Don Siewert on the left, Ted Allan on the right. If memory serves, these photos were taken in the fall of 2002 after the North of 49 returned from Bonneville.

This story first published in the Calgary Herald Driving section Friday, July 10, 2009

Everyone has something they love to do.
But it’s not very often that we are lucky enough that our passion and our life’s work are the same.
Calgarian Don Siewert is one of the lucky ones. Hotrodding has long been Siewert’s obsession, and just about everything he has ever done has given him the skills necessary to build cars.
Now, Siewert is being recognized for his passion. When he opened his mail last week Siewert, 74, was overwhelmed at news he will be inducted into the Canadian Street Rodding Hall of Fame (CSRHoF).
“This is something that I never thought would happen,” Siewert said during a telephone interview from his home in southwest Calgary. “You just do what you’re doing, and life kind of goes on. But this award does elevate you, and makes you realize life is very good.”
Siewert was born on a farm just north of Drumheller. At 17 he wanted to drop out of school but his parents insisted he get an education. After graduation he enrolled at SAIT in what was called the Farm Construction program – Siewert said this related to all of the machinery found on the farm.
At much the same time Siewert was looking for a set of wheels. He was 18 or 19 when the first car he had, a 1933 Chev coupe, blew its motor. A 1935 Ford truck was his next vehicle. The first thing he did was yank out the original 60 horsepower, 136 cubic inch Ford motor and install a 110 h.p. 255 cubic inch Mercury engine.
“I had a hotrod,” Siewert said, and laughed. “That little Ford truck was the indoctrination.”
The Farm Construction program gave Siewert time towards his apprenticeship, and at 20 he left SAIT with his journeyman ticket as a licensed mechanic. That led him to a job at Currie Barracks, where he could quickly grind a set of valves on a Bren gun carrier – not an easy task.
From servicing engines Siewert moved on to autobody work, and he eventually received his ticket in that field. He then worked for the City of Calgary as a vehicle painter for two years. Next, he became an insurance damage appraiser, and then he worked again as a painter, but this time he finished wooden desks and furniture.
“That kind of rounded out my trade career,” Siewert said.
He used to rent a garage in Sunalta where he built hotrods and lead sleds. Now he has his own double car garage as a workshop, and he has even performed some restorations. In fact, he went from building hotrods to restoring some Ford Model As and Ts to bone stock original. Siewert also restored more than a dozen early Mustangs.
“I’ve always had the hotrodder instinct, but I like my old original stuff, too,” Siewert said. “I’m not content with buying pieces and putting them on a car, I’m content handcrafting pieces that are made to fit, and there’s a lot to be said about that. I like to have my signature on a car in the parts that I build.”
He turned hotroddng into a family affair. Siewert has built cars with his sons, and now the grandchildren are getting involved – especially now that he has been racing with the North of 49 Bonneville team ( The Bonneville Salt Flats are legendary in hotrodding circles – the flats offer a venue where a builder can find out just how fast the car or motorcycle they have built will really go.
“At the Foothills Street Rod Association meetings a fellow would talk about Bonneville,” Siewert said. “I said I don’t even want to go down and look, because I knew I would be hooked if I saw the flats.”
Siewert once read about Bonneville in a 1950s Hot Rod magazine article.
“I never forgot about reading about the salt,” Siewert said. “So, in 1998 I went and looked. It’s such a self-rewarding sport, everything is measured by your ability to build, and I fell in love with the idea and decided maybe I should try and create a salt flat racer.”
He realized he couldn’t do this by himself, so in 2001 he took Ted Allan of Allan Rod & Custom down to Bonneville – and the salt bug bit Allan.
“I had a 1928 Ford Model A truck body, and we hit everybody we could hit for parts,” Siewert recalled. “A great group of friends wanted to be a part of this, and they became committed to helping us out.”
A race truck was fabricated in less than a year, and the team raced in 2002 and learned some valuable lessons. While they didn’t break 200 mph, they came close, and when they got home they regrouped.
The truck that the North of 49 team built currently features a 427 cubic inch Chev engine capable of pulling 840 h.p. Backing up the engine is a 350 Chev automatic transmission. In 2007 at Bonneville Siewert piloted the truck to its fastest recorded speed of 210.5 mph.
Each year the team has raced at Bonneville Siewert has driven his 1930 Ford Model A Roadster hotrod down to the event.
“We drive it in the rain, it’s no big deal for us,” Siewert said. “Bonneville, for me, was all about driving down to Utah in the Roadster, being on the salt, and driving the race truck. And, for us Bonneville was a family affair.”
For the last 10 years Siewert has also shared his passion with students as a teaching assistant in high school auto shops.
In early October Siewert heads to Waterdown, Ontario to collect his accolade.
According to the CSRHoF website ( the Hall of Fame has existed since 1993, “To help guide the future of street rodding by recognizing the individuals, groups and corporations who have made a significant contribution in the past to the development of the hobby in Canada on a local, regional or national basis.”
Siewert said: “It’s really quite an honour.”

City of Calgary and free motorcycle and scooter parking

The City of Calgary has offered cyclists and scooterists a whopping break in the fee to park a powered two-wheeler in six select downtown designations.

How much of a whopping break? It still costs $2.50 per hour.

But that doesn’t go far enough.

Calgary, like that city in the east, Toronto, should encourage two wheelers to roll downtown — and park for free.

Come on, sign this petition. Show some initiative here.

And no, it’s not my petition. I just think it’s a good idea.