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 Tatum Special photo

1953 Tatum Special

Chuck Tatum, Phil Hill, Sam Weiss, and Doug Trotter were enjoying a beverage and discussing the results of a race held earlier in the day at Stockton, California. Their conclusion was the dominant cars circling the course were mostly from Europe. Tatum felt he could build a car that could outpace all the foreign machines that were consistently capturing the checkered flag. Just like Briggs Cunninham, Tatum began designing and working on creating an all-American race car.

Tatum had a resume that included stock car racing, sprint cars, and competing with roadsters built for track racing. His Tatum Special would be comprised of many features from his racing past. Work was done in his shop located behind his house during the winter of 1952 and 1953. He began with a rigid frame using thin and lightweight tubing that measured just 2-inches in diameter. The vehicle would be built from spare parts and proven American lineage, including the suspension which was a combination of 1932 and 1939 Ford components. A 1941 Ford pickup truck rear suspension was fitted but later replaced with a coil-spring setup. The gearbox was a Lincoln three-speed unit.

Mounted in the front was a GMC truck engine with six-cylinders and bored out to 302 cubic-inch displacement. It produced an impressive amount of horsepower for the time and its six-cylinder setup meant it was lighter than comparable V8 units. The engine setup was similar to the Sprint cars of the era.

The engine received several important modifications, including three side-draft Carter carburetors from a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette.

Initial testing showed the car had two areas requiring attention, the brakes and the transmission. The Kinmont disc brakes were replaced with finned drums while the Lincoln Zephyr transmission was swapped for a Jaguar unit.

Jack Hagerman of San Leandro, California was tasked with clothing this Special in an all-alloy body following the designs of Arden Farey. The completed car had cycle fenders which, after falling off on several occasions, were removed. The car was sent back to Hagermann to be fitted with more conventional fenders.

The cars inaugural race was in 1953 in an SCCA event at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The car was driven by Chuck Manning as Tatum was unable to compete in the all-amateur event due to his status as a professional Sprint Car driver. Manning skillfully drove the car ahead of the competition and to its first victory. This was the first of many successful outings, including three more during the 1953 season.

For 1954, Tatum was qualified for racing in SCCA competition. He was able to secure sponsorship and support from Wayne Engineering who provided an engine. The engine was a GMC unit fitted with Wayne 12-port cross-flow cylinder heads. The engine breathed through three Zenith two-barrel carburetors aided in the production of an much-increased horsepower output over prior engine.

To determine the cars true top speed potential, Tatum brought the car to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1954 where he achieved a very impressive 157 miles per hour run.

In 1955 the engine had been sent to a garage for repairs. While there, it was stolen and never recovered. Tatum ran the rest of the 1955 season with a Ford flathead unit he borrowed.

The car has had several owners during its lifetime and has received many modifications, including the use of various engines. During the early 1980s, Tatum recovered the car and performed a restoration. The engine and transmission were no longer with the car, but its frame, suspension, and body were mostly intact. With the help of his son, the car was restored and continues to race in vintage and historic events.


by Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2008
Vehicle Profiles
1953 Tatum Special vehicle information

Roadster

Chassis Num: 001

In 1952, Chuck Tatum attended a sports car race in his hometown of Stockton, California. That evening, in the bar at the local hotel, Chuck and some friends were discussing the fact that the front running cars at the races were all imported from Eng....[continue reading]

Roadster
Chassis #: 001 


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