The sign on the yellow racing car said “1938 Hal Sprint Car. Complete nut-and-bolt restoration with a few track days since. Equipped with a full Hal racing engine (aluminum block, 5 main bearings, rare Winfield racing carburetors), a very unusual quick-change rear end and proper Dayton racing wheels and tires. Known as the ‘Poor Man’s Offy” or fake. Runs and drives excellent with great cosmetics. $35,900. ”
Obviously the Poor Man’s Offy isn’t something that fits in a poor man’s budget today. However, more than a few people who saw the car sitting in the paddock at Road America wondered what it was about the tiny yellow sprinter that made it special and valuable. The secret is in the engine.
The HAL engine company evolved when Harold “Hal” Hosterman, an Akron, Ohio, speed equipment dealer, started manufacturing overhead valve conversions for the Model T engine in the 1920s. Hosterman’s “Akron Hed” design used ball bearings inside curved tubes to replace the traditional OHV push rods and rocker arms assembly and Williams Foundry in Akron cast the heads.
Hosterman started making the heads around 1926, producing 1,500-2,000 of them over several years. Hosterman once said that he and his friends would hop up their cars with his head designs. Then, they would wait at the foot of a hill in town for owners of big cars to start up the incline. After allowing them a “third of the way” lead, they would take off and pass them as though they were standing still. Hosterman sold the heads with special exhaust manifolds through various distributors including the Montgomery-Ward catalog. Twin-cam cylinder heads for Ford Model As and Bs followed, and HAL heads started to garner quite a buzz.
Sprint cars fitted with HAL engines were considered capable rivals to the better-known Offenhauser powered cars. HAL wasn’t as well-known as some of the other brands, but cars using HAL engines were still being built in the years 1954-1955 when Hiram Hillegass, of Allentown, Pa., put a HAL sprint car together for Charley Sacks of Allentown. The power plant in that particular car was the first HAL engine fitted with Hillborn fuel injectors. It produced 240 hp and was one of the last Ford conversion cars to compete successfully with the Offys.
This car is even mentioned in the book Eddie Sachs: The Crown Prince of Racing, by Denny Miller. It seems that Charlie Sacks gave the “Crown Prince” one of his first opportunities to get involved in racing and eventually slide behind the wheel.
In this fascinating You Tube video featuring a circa 1931 HAL sprint car owned by George Albright of Ocala, Fla., two men discuss its features as the car idles with one of the men in the cockpit. The car has a Ford Model A/Model B four-cylinder block with the HAL double overhead cam conversion.
The Poorman’s Offy sounds like perfection. No wonder the values of these classic racing machines are climbing today. For more information about HAL Racing Engines contact HAL Registry, c/o Steve Hammatt, 16593 McLean Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. You can also call (360) 428-8882 or fax (360)-428-8884.
(The car pictured, discovered at Road America, is from Mershon’s Collector Cars of Springfield, Ohio.)