Even at age 80, Turk Dale still has a few items to check off his bucket list.
“I want to see if I can go 200 mph while I’m 80,” he says, launching into a description of the Cadillac-powered 1997 Pontiac Firebird he thinks will make that happen at the famed Texas Mile.
“My goal is to hit 200 in the standing mile. A lot of guys are doing it, but there ain’t nobody 80 going 200,” he says with confidence born of more than 65 years of hands-on hot rodding.
“I’ve been doing this since about 1949. I got my first Cushman in 1950.”
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After seeing an article on how to regrind camshafts in one of the earliest Hot Rod magazines, he disassembled the engine in his scooter and, using a small wood lathe, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, he tried his hand at it. The first try didn’t go so well, but after he had a welder add some material back to the cam lobes, he got it right.
“It actually helped. It was four to five miles an hour faster after that,” he said. After graduating from high school, he went to work at Boeing and bought a wrecked Triumph motorcycle, which he soon had bad in running shape.
“All the motorcycle hoodlums were hanging out downtown, across from the train station. There was Arky, and Frenchy, all the guys got nicknames,” he said.
He decided he needed one, too. So he asked his mother what nationality they were and when he learned he was 1/128th Turkish, he had the monicker that he uses to this day.
“I painted `Turk’ on the back of my motorcycle jacket and went downtown and I was `Turk.’ I was self-invented. When you’re going downtown and your name is `Larry Lee,’ that ain’t getting it,” he explained.
He has built numerous custom cycles, including one that he piloted to a top speed of 165 mph at the Texas Mile in 2011. In the last five years, he can count five cycles and four cars he has built.
“It’s all I do, 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
One of his signature builds is his 1927 Model T hot rod, a roadster powered by a 429 cubic inch, supercharged Cadillac V-8 engine. It sits inside the office portion of his shop, looking low and mean.
“I built the frame and everything on that car. It’s plumb dangerous. It weighs about 2,000 pounds and puts out about 600 horsepower. I have no idea how fast it’ll go,” he says.
He built the chassis to replace one under another T roadster he owned, but ended up selling that car and buying a Precision Fiberglass body manufactured in Augusta, which had previously been installed on another frame.
“All the wiring was done, the doors were hung, and the floor board and (transmission) tunnel done. It just sat right down on the frame that I had built,” he said.
Dale has a thing about Cadillac engines from the late 1960s, noting that they are about the same weight as a Chevy 350 V-8, but pack a lot more displacement and, thus, power potential. It took him three tries to come up with the correct supercharger for the T roadster, a Detroit Diesel 6:53 unit that he modified to fit the Cadillac, machining a new rear case cover and the front drive snout. It is fitted with a pair of Edelbrock carbs and runs eight pounds of boost.
Dale built the three-tube header system himself, since Cadillacs of that vintage used siamese exhaust ports for the middle cylinders, and also crafted the side pipes, which contain glass pack mufflers. He used a Turbo 400 automatic transmission shifted by a handcrafted 11-ball shifter and mated to an 8.8 inch Turbo Thunderbird differential. He built his own 4-bar triangulated rear suspension system, too.
Four wheel disc brakes were used, along with reproduction Halibrand mag wheels and 15-inch Firestone radials.
Back in the main shop sits the Pontiac Firebird he will use for his Texas Mile record attempt. He chose that body because at the time it was sold, the Firebird was reportedly the slipperiest shape being built by an American manufacturer.
It will be powered by a 514 cubic inch Cadillac V-8 that now sits on an engine stand, awaiting fabrication of mounting brackets and tubing that will add a modified turbocharger to its intake/exhaust system. He figures with 2:40 gearing, the Firebird should top out at about 216 mph.
There’s also a recently acquired 1938 Packard business coupe that he plans to rebuild as a street rod, replacing its current 350 Chevy V-8 with either a classic 392 Chrysler Hemi or, what else, a big block Cadillac V-8.
So, although he already has 80 years if life under his belt, it appears that he has plenty to keep him going for another decade or so.
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org