The Early days of Hot Rodding in BC

-By Ron Latham

My initial involvement with hot rod clubs began in 1952 when Chuck Chapman, Ron Clark, several others and myself started the Norburn Auto Safety Club. We had 10-12 members at the start, most with cars, some just expectant. The RCMP sponsored the club by providing the meeting space at the beginning ( but no funding and we didn’t get off on tickets! ) The club was quite sophisticated with its own letterhead, an active social program – we raised enough money at one dance to buy a set of welding torches for the club. At that time, my car (my first, acquired in grade 11) was a ’30 A- 2 door coach.

In 1953 I moved to Quesnel for 2 years and during that time I acquired a ‘32 Ford Victoria – bought it stock from Bill Stack, making me the 3 rd owner. This is the car in the photo – known as the Red Witch. I built it with a ’53 Ford flathead and hydraulic brakes while in Quesnel and then returned to Vancouver, with the car.

The Norburn club had gradually faded away during the years I lived in Quesnel, so on my return to Burnaby in 1955, some of we old Norburn members got together and started the Dragons. Initially we had a member nucleus of 8-10 and grew over time to 25-30. We acquired our own clubhouse, on Hastings Street, appropriately located between a drive-in and an auto wrecker; and just 2 doors away was a blacksmith with welding equipment .A perfect location for a bunch of ambitious young hot rodders It was the first club to have its own club project – a dragster that was club raced for some time.

In 1957, I was invited, as the president of the Dragons, to attend a meeting called by the BC Custom Car Association to bring together the local hot rod clubs; the police were putting pressure on, as they were concerned about the proliferation of car clubs, some with possibly perceived dubious aims. 6 or 7 club reps met, and over the course of a couple of meetings BC Hot Rod Association was born – an umbrella organization for the legitimate hot rod clubs. I was honoured to be elected the founding president. As more clubs joined, we extended BCHRA’s territory to include clubs from as far as Prince George and Vancouver Island.

The Dragons lasted until 1962/3 when it fell victim to the pressures of the muscle cars and family responsibilities as members got married and had kids ( no more irresponsible Saturdays spent with the guys!) The Red Witch by that time ( the time of the photo ) had a 322 Buick with home made blower kit, ’39 Buick transmission and rear end. In1961 I sold it to Murray Cannard, also a BCHRA past president. He in turn subsequently sold it to Ron Wenger and I understand he recently sold it to an American for $70,000 US! ( I should have kept it – a better investment than some stocks these days !)

I have always been very proud of my involvement in the founding of BCHRA, and have always included it on my resume (I don’t think it lost me any jobs!). I am delighted that it has been resurrected and will be reaching its 50 th anniversary in 2007. It will be great to share again those early memories with old friends.