Surrey Street Rodders' story and history - part 3

As told exclusively to

Grahame "Whiff" Smith's father worked with Sydney Allard and Grahame attended the 1st British International Drag Festival with him as a youngster. Grahame crewed for Russ Carpenter and came across Surrey Street Rodders at the track. Shortly after joining the club, which had over 140 members, Grahame agreed to join the committee on which he has served to the current day.

Grahame recalls the antics of some members, Christmas parties and shows at Alexandra Palace and London Olympia. There were many connections with drag racing from the members, several of whom raced regularly, and activities such as slot drag racing. After a few years away from the track, concentrating on hot rodding, Grahame returned to the strip in 2013 with Derek Thomas's Mustang which is still in his hands.

Pete Penfold became treasurer in 1975 and initiated the first Surrey Street Rodders Wheels Day Custom Car Show that year, also helping to arrange for six of the club cars to be on displayed at the Custom Car Show at Crystal Palace in January 75 and sorting cars for Hot Rod and Custom Shows at the Blackbushe Airport NDRC Drag Races.

Grahame Smith’s memories...

I was asked to make a contribution about the early days of the Surrey Street Rodders involvement with Drag Racing but I am not qualified to do so in as much as I wasn’t there at the start. So, this will be more of a personal view with facts gleaned from various sources...

My father passed away last year; amongst other ailments he had mixed dementia. He led an interesting life from our point of view. Some of my earliest memories are of waiting for him down on the seafront at Brighton, I was too young to realise that dad was working with Sydney Allard on all sorts of projects and we were in fact at the Brighton Speed Trials. Unfortunately, his condition in later years made it very difficult for him to relive his early memories of racing and I have only managed to grab the odd bit of his racing involvement.

Fast forward a few years from the Speed Trials and dad had a factory in the old Canadian (Air force?) camp at the back of Blackbushe Airport, he was still doing lots of competition vehicle bodies etc through his association with Allard and his contacts. It was a true family affair in those days; all of us were always at the factory. So, a bored spotty youth was given a pass to go and investigate the incredible noises coming from the airstrip with his Mum and I found myself at the 1st British International Drag Festival!!

I was already into Hot Rods via the 77 Sunset Strip show and the “Kookie T” which I was allowed to watch sometimes (good or bad dangled carrot!) I found out about the builder Norm Grabowski and in later years I was fortunate enough to spend a wonderful day with him wandering around Brooklands Museum, but that is another story!

Being too young to drive in the early Blackbushe days I’d cadge lifts from anyone, I even cycled the 14 miles to get there once. With the passing of Sydney in 1966 and a devastating fire at his factory dad changed direction of his work and concentrated on commercial vehicles and small boats. No more free passes and sadly loads of pictures and drawings lost forever.

Going to numerous meetings fuelled the fire and I soon realised I was not a good spectator. I wanted to be involved. Unfortunately (or should that be fortunately) an apprenticeship followed by the offer of a good job took me away from the south and trips to the drags became less often. As soon as I could drive, I was there (all the way from Newcastle!) hanging around the teams and met Russ Carpenter, Bill Haynes and The Travel Agent team (who would one day, only live a few doors from me!) and did a bit of crewing (sorry for getting in the way Russ).

Russ Carpenter at Silverstone

Bill Haynes' slingshot Quarterhorse at a show

Alan Sherwin's blown Jag T Travel Agent at Blackbushe

Travelling with Russ was an experience in itself, as on the track his foot would go flat to the floor and most of the journey getting his rig to the strip his foot was also flat to the floor at around 85mph! I spent many an hour with Russ in his workshop, rebuilding his or customer’s engines (even mine on occasions!) I learnt a lot from him but was still unable to commit to racing as I would have liked.

I also met others at the strip from a fledgling club with a name almost as long as the quarter mile – The Surrey Street Rodders. It was made up of a group of like-minded folks into Drag Racing and Hot Rods, Dick and Paul Lambert, Tony Allen, Keith Seume and many others. Talk was always about what was being done to each machine and how to make them go better; there seemed to be no distinction between road and track. Everyone was so into the cars and bikes meeting around each other’s houses (not everybody had garages then) and working on projects.

Grahame’s pics from Wheelsday 1979 and 1981...

1979... Mike Halls heads for home in his '55 Chevy

1979... Martin Bonner's high riding '55 Chevy

1979... Dave Fisher's Mk II Zephyr

1979... John Jemmett's Heartbreaker 351 Mustang ahead of Les Cozens' Discotrucker Anglia van

1979... Rob Whitwell's Jago '32 5-window ahead of Richard Fox's TR6 and Martin Kelly's Jag T Desperado

1979... Geoff Caves' V6 Pop called Sit up & Beg

1979... In front the Harris bros' 302 powered Mk 2 Zephyr

1979... Camaro, Firebird or Mustang, take your pick

1981... Tony Hill's Tequila Sunrise T

1981... Dave Finch's True Britt in front of Phil Skoyle's yellow Pop

1981... Two more Pops, that's Gary Stevens' Popcorn at the rear

1981... Hot 'n' Bothered and Mark Tanner's 1934 Hillman Minx

1981... Phil Rutherford's Jago '32 roadster

1981... Pete Fowler's imported Model A

1981... Ian Dawes' high riding Pop

1981... Heading back to Brighton Archie McDiarmid in his Pop and Phil Moules in his Standard

1981... Pete Leddy's T-Bird

1981... Ray's Rods Plymouth coupe

It was difficult getting to see them, but my career was gradually migrating south, and I managed to get to some of the SSR Club meetings, in a weak moment on about my second actual visit I joined the committee and have been on it ever since! The club at that time was 144 members strong; the drag racers featured the likes of Bob Glassup, Russ, Bill, and Steve Dunn with Tokyo Toy, Rob and Mandy (drag bike) and others not to mention the irrepressible Terry Gibbs with the Black Magic Camaro.

It’s a club night on a cold winter’s evening and Terry Gibbs turns up. Full of it he performs a substantial burnout in the road alongside the cemetery in Black Magic; it sounded really strong and probably turned a few in their graves! He had had so much trouble trying to get it to run properly and was determined to wreck the hides on it. “I can afford them now” was his comment “should be getting four instead of two miles to the gallon now”

Custom Car March 1979

Custom Car March 1979

As Pete Penfold (I seem to recall Pete giving me part of a chassis once for a project) said, the Christmas parties are etched into our memories, Cinderella’s in Guildford, man handling a rail (Golddigger I think) into the night club and the raucous after party. Shows at Ally Pally and Olympia. As he said, we were young!

The link between Drags and Street was always strong, hence Jovial Sailor Pub, Whitmoor Common “Street and Strip” night. This was always a good club event, eats, drinks and Russ doing a flame out on the private road that runs alongside the pub. Almost as though it was scripted for a film, one session nearly ended in disaster! We used to position people at each end of the short straight whilst Russ did the Flame out and shutdown; those of you who ever saw Russ do a flameout will know how good these were! On que an old lady comes round the corner in an old Morris Minor meeting the fire breathing monster. We all thought that was it, big trouble, her only comment was “you don’t see many of those on the road” and she carried on her way!

Russ Carpenter ready for action on the road

Jolly Farmer "Street and strip" trophy

On one of these occasions Russ asked me if I would like to sit in Glacier Grenade and launch it with what fuel was left in it. Stupid question or what? Now Russ is a big lad and I’m not, so there must be well over a foot in height difference. We are at the annual “Street and Strip” do, me strapped in but I can’t reach the pedals! Many coats, anoraks etc. are stuffed into the back of the seat and the loud pedal is touching my foot... Now G force comes into play; all the others there knew what was about to happen but being caught up in the moment I was totally oblivious! I mashed the pedal to make a good effort and at a launch, the rear tyres bit the tarmac and I was thrown back into the seat and then up the back of the seat into the roll cage covered in a mass of coats, the loud pedal far removed from my foot. The whole spectacle had been prearranged and they were rolling about laughing, still got to push the loud pedal though!

Russ Carpenter fires up his dragster at Wheels Day (click to view)

Carrying on the drag racing tradition the club ran a 1/32 scale slot car drag strip, Trevor, Gary and myself built the scale 40ft plus strip whilst John Hutchinson built some cars and Robin Choularton built a complete electronic working tree and timing system. We hosted meets, both club and Nationals meetings, the cars were quick, could do real burnouts and flame outs using lighter fuel. They were also dangerous, made of brass and piano wire, they became bullets if they left the track, once making a young woman who was leaning over the track end up wearing a scar on her hip.

Grahame Smith pic

These pictures were taken by Andy 'Tog' Rogers who went to the Custom Car Show at Olympia with his slot car club to help out the Surrey Street Rodders who were displaying their track...

Two Altereds from Tog's club

Corvette Funny Car was also from Tog's club

Two Surrey Street Rodders’ dragsters

And yes, they did do fire burnouts

The track appeared at the Custom Car Show Olympia and other shows around the country with a dragster on show as well, it also appeared in a few magazines. Around ’79 I managed to win the Funny Car class at a Nationwide meeting but the cost of a pair of magnets for a competitive car was £80 (about £350 today!) so the cost of 1/32 scale racing was on a par to 1/1 drag racing and I quit, concentrating on Hot Rods and Custom Cars. The model was originally painted as the Hillbillies Scimitar.

Sadly, there was a fire in the Shackleford Clubhouse, destroying the dragstrip which was stored above the stage. Shortly after this the Clubhouse was sold and the new owners evicted us and destroyed the remaining club memorabilia and trophies by putting them in a rubble skip. Very little early stuff exists, but I do still have an orange jacket!

Grahame's Jacket

And yes it still fits!

The slots still continued though with the next generation, my son Kieron and his mates formed a club which was even sponsored by Scalextric. Even today we hold an annual grownups (doubtful) evening called “Drink and Drive” just before each Christmas. As with all recollections we tend to remember them through tinted glasses (read orange Perspex windows) I know I will have forgotten stuff and people’s names, sorry.

Street Machine Jan 1988

Street Machine Jan 1988

Street Machine Jan 1988

Drag racing gradually became less of an interest to me, life got in the way, both Kieron and I were building Hot Rods and even restoring classic cars, it was the not being a good spectator thing again. That was until a phone call in 2004.

A colleague of my son, Kieron, who worked at Dzus Fasteners, had unfortunately died. Derek Thomas had been building a 1966 Mustang to drag race with his father. It had an Andy Robinson roll cage, home-built chassis, and choice of rebuilt engines, gearboxes, boxes of new parts and more. The price was nowhere near the value of the unfinished project but there was one condition, if we bought it, we had to race it at least once!

At the time life was again in the way, we both agreed to shelve the car, slowly rebuilding it when we could. Again, fast forward, 2013 and we had run out of excuses! It ran, moved and made a wonderful noise. Time to go racing again. We have so far achieved a best of 11.02, I once managed to beat Kieron’s time and speed (video proof) but youth is on his side (just) but now No1 grandson is waiting in the background for his licence. The “need for speed” has once again sunk its teeth in a bit further and I am currently making glass fibre moulds and panels, having saved over 100 kilos in weight so far, could high 10s be achievable?

Video link (click here)

I was amazed at the track camaraderie, we broke a few times but there was always advice, help and even parts given, a real time shift back to the days at Blackbushe. We have three generations of family involved, plus a group who still have a name as long as the quarter mile “the Surrey Street Rodders” Over the years the club has had many members involved, notably Jason and Kevin, racing and others regularly as spectators. So the association with Drag Racing is still strong.

My present Rod is the ‘39 Ford Coupe that Robbie Sterling brought into the country and raced as a gasser in the ‘80s, regularly appearing at Gary’s Picnic at the Pod. Robbie was also an early Surrey Street Rodder. Whilst rebuilding the car I found a couple Santa Pod inspection tickets stuck to the inside of the glove box. It is not a Gasser now but I suppose what you would call a Custom Rod but as a nod to its heritage I have left the cut out inner wings and built equal length headers to fill the holes. Oh, and they have electric cutouts on the exhausts so it will run with open headers.

Robbie Stirling's high riding '39 coupe

And now with Grahame Smith

I have seen what the need for speed can do to people’s lives and relationships so we only do it for fun, but then all that work lightening the car and there is a nitrous system down in the shed waiting...

Once in the blood! Hope to see you at the track or at Wheelsday, ‘Whiff’ aka Grahame Smith...

Peter Penfold’s memories...

From the best of my memory the Surrey Street Rodders were formed in 1974 and was originally the brainchild of Dick and Paul Lambert.

My brother Ian and I had moved to Ash Vale near Aldershot in around 1974 and had just completed work on my brother's 1954 Morris 848 side valve Minor. Ian had completed all the mechanical mods including race tuned 1500 engine and I had aided and abetted him with the mods plus interior. Just so happened that a neighbour of ours a few doors up turned out to be Keith Seume who was into his beetle and an excellent airbrush mural artist. Keith created the murals on the Morry and we in turn lent him a hand with his project.

Dick Lambert, Paul Lambert, Keith Seume, Ian Penfold and Peter Penfold pose with their cars

We had taken our car, the Prowler, out on a run one day and just happened to drive past this jacked up Morris Minor sitting outside a garage in Ash. It was chocolate brown and glittering with a heavy metal flake and we stopped to take a look. It turned out to be Paul Lambert's car and we soon struck up a conversation. He introduced us to Dick who had built a Hot Rod based on a 1933 Plymouth and we all arranged to meet up at Dick's flat in Yateley for what turned out to be the first Surrey Street Rodders committee meeting.

First club night was held at The Queen in Blackwater, Camberley but soon moved to The Lamb in Eversley. People involved at or around that time were Robin Choularton, Andy Croft, Bob Roberts (who as Bob Rob and Andy were known as BRA - we were young) and Harold Martin. And of course, Bill Haynes and Russ Carpenter.

I took on the role of treasurer and we initiated the first Surrey Street Rodders Wheels Day Custom Car Show at South Hill Park, Bracknell Berks in 1975. My one everlasting memory of the event at South Hill Park is cars doing burnouts in the bus lane! Wouldn't happen today. In 1979 Wheels Day moved to Slyfield Green Guildford. Grahame ‘Whiff’ Smith organised the first Wheels Day at Slyfield Green. The manager of the site agreed to his proposals, spat in his hand and they shook on the deal! The last one Whiff organised some five years ago at Rushmoor Arena had an Event Management Plan of some 169 pages plus Risk Analysis, Method Statements, etc. etc... how times have changed!

Some of the trophy winners at the first Wheels Day 1975

Bob Swansborough lights 'em up in Mr Torquer

An early highlight was being asked to exhibit as a club at The Custom Car Show at Crystal Palace in January 75 where six of the club cars were on display. (See news article below)

We also supported and helped sort out cars for the Hot Rod and Custom Shows at some of the NDRC drag races at Blackbushe Airport.

Hot Rod and Custom Shows at Blackbushe 1977-1984. Nick Pettitt pics...

1977... John Jewell's 1500cc Ford T

1977... The Olds Rocket powered Nykilodeon built by Nick Butler in 1973 and owned by Geoff Heald

1978... Mike Halls' 327 '55 Chevy imported from New York

1978... Matt Matheou's all steel 327 Chevy powered '32

1978... Nick Butler brought along his blown rat powered Revenge

1978... Mark Stevens' Ford V6 powered Minor van

1978... This is Herb Andrews' Blydenstein powered HB Viva

1978... Nick Pettitt's black Sunbeam Rapier in the middle with L plates on

1978... Andromeda drew the crowds

1978... This is Keith Harvie's Model A Pick up

1978... Krud Clifford's Shorrocks supercharged 1600cc Ford powered Anglia

1978... Paul Hobby's Custom Vauxhall PA Velox

1980... Wal Barter's 3-window '32

1980... Chris Boyle's '32 Jago Roadster

1980... Bob Rothwell's 1300GT Model Y and Ken Bonner's Chevy powered '39 Hudson

1980... John Hall's grey Pop, Peter Gottleib's Speed Freak and Mervyn King's Lemon Popsicle

1983... The nostalgia flathead hot rods of Brian Lucas and Bernie Chodosh

1983... Paul Mortimer was there with his street legal T altered

1983... The Nick Butler built Wolfrace Sonic powered by twin Rover V8s

1983... Kev Moules' chopped Prefect and Malcolm “Buzzbee” Chant's chopped A40

1983... Surrey Street Rodder Dave Worron ran this Jag powered Pop

1983... Gary Jenkins and Roger Fulker's T buckets

1984... Adrian Sidwell was there with his '36 Model Y powered by a 1600GT crossflow

Other events which were notable were the Christmas parties at Cinderella Rockerfellas in Guildford where we used to manhandle a dragster into the building for display and atmosphere.

Manhandling Richard Jarman's Stripstar slingshot

Bill Haynes' slingshot Quarterhorse

Up the stairs it goes!

John Hunt's Golddigger dragster at Cinderella Rockerfellas

Quarterhorse, Stripstar and a chopper

Keith Stacey's V6 slingshot and Rod Turner's Matchless chopper

Tony Allen showing off the Surrey Street Rodders T-Shirt

Names and dates may have been changed to protect the innocent and due to a scrambled brain...

Tony Allen’s memories...

I was born in 1936 with engine oil instead of blood. Cars have been my life and I was 14 when I had my first car and that’s the reason why I became involved with the Surrey Street Rodders in the early 70s.

I used to go to Blackbushe when it first started with the Drag Festivals in the 60s and then in the 70s when the SSR club members helped to marshal the events. I met ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits there in ‘64 and many of the other American racers. I had the luck to meet Don’s daughter a while back and spent the day with her. She remembered going to Blackbushe as a small child and was thrilled to hear the club was still going and said she would try to come to our show but I guess things changed. She loved talking a lot about drag racing.

Don Garlits' wife Pat with two daughters Gay Lyn and Donna at the 1964 Drag Festival. Paul Hicks pic

Pat, Don and TV Tommy Ivo. Paul Hicks pic

I’ve had a lot of American V8s in my life including a delivery van. Gill my wife was also interested in cars, especially her Mercury Cougar and in the early days drag raced her car and won. My big interest was with the SSR and with the other members we managed to build up a big show which is still going strong now, we had a lot of fun in those early days. Everybody was great friends and we all mucked in together. It was interesting how different people joined the club over the years with their different types of vehicles. The biggest breakthrough was when they went from Bracknell to Slyfield which grew fast, then after that moved to Rushmoor Arena where the show doubled again. Many congratulations to all who run the shows now.

PS. Lots more has happened, but my brain only remembers so much, but it was great days.

Tony and Gill.

Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.

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