Al Abrahams of Bloomington, Minn., is the builder, owner and driver of the F. Davis Engineering-Hillegass Studebaker Special that showed up at the 2014 Harry A. Miller Club Meet at the Milwaukee Mile. The car is a pre-World War II full midget oval dirt track racer that had been sitting for over 30 years. Abrahams resurrected the car over a seven-year period, reverse engineering it from a roller (a mostly complete car with wheels, but no engine) that he had acquired. A new frame had to be designed to fit the existing body, then Abrahams and his helpers added updated versions of components that would have typically been added to the car during its active years to allow it to run competitively up until the early 1960s.
The pre-World War II all-aluminum body was built by Hiram Hillecass of Allentown, Penn., and is finished in a silver gray with burgundy numbers. Daryl Galazen of Precision Auto Upholstery stitched up the 1940s racing style upholstery. The car has a tiny windscreen, with bright metal nerf bars front and rear to protect the lightweight aluminum panels.
A tiny 169-cid 1940 Studebaker Champion in-line flathead six powers the car; and while it lacks a transmission, Hallibrand in-or-out dog box engages the driveline. At 880-pounds the car is a lightweight, sporting a small 74-inch wheelbase. It is fitted with aBen Ordas-madehigh-compression finned aluminum cylinder head which helps generate an estimated 140 hp from the diminutive Champion motor. A four-gallon aluminum fuel tank burns methanol fuel.
Abrahams combined a 1950s Tecalemit-Jackson fuel-injection system with Kinsler racing components. The engine also has an track grind cam. Machined by Ed Iskendarian. A Bendix Scintilla aircraft magneto supplies the spark. Other underhood features include a crankshaft driven Eggers & Vetting racing type water pump and a baffled and gated extended capacity oil pump. Construction features of the car include an F. Davis Engineering double worm type Duplex steering gear with no tie rod. The continuous curve (Smiley) front axle was fabricated by Saleen Engineering. It was formed from 1-3/4-inch diameter mandrel bent chrome moly and has a left-front radius rod attached to it. The transverse front spring incorporates Shilala pivoting eye mounts. There is a weight jacker, and Houdaille hydraulic lever action shocks are mounted up front. Another neat touch is the Hallibrand 12 x 5-inch magnesium front racing wheels.
The car has quarter elliptical rear springs with adjustable, pivoting mounting pads, rear radius rods and a pivot at the axle. The axle has an F. Davis Engineering quick-change center section. Hallibrand 12 x 8-inch magnesium wheels are mounted on the rear. The Lockheed rear drum brakes can be actuated hydraulically or mechanically. Hartford friction shocks support the full floating rear axles, which have angular contact hub bearings. Craftsmen involved in the car’s resurrection (in order of the time they put in) include David Saleen of Saleen Engineering, Rich Kleinschmidt, Tommy Porter of Adelmann Engine Machining, Pat Mandell, John Ford, Superior Plating, Randy Rennaker of R & R Brake & Suspension, Davey Hoska of D & D Engineering, Randy Hillmeyer of Hillmeyer Radiator, Duane Nelson of Photo fab Engineering, Dave Bruder and Robert Battin.
How fast will the little car go? “100-150 mph is as fast as you want to go,” said Lightnin’ Lou Fegers of Delano, Minn. And Fegers should know, since he’s been in racing since 1948. People say his nickname was earned by his ability to run a car as fast as it would go. He also understands how fast a prewar midget can be expected to go—safely at least.