Long before the Internet, there was a man with a vision – and a catalog
When Roy Richter wrote, “Here it is”on the inside cover of his 1949 Bell Auto Parts Catalog, he probably didn’t realize what he started. He said it was, “the most comprehensive and up-to-date catalog of racing equipment.”
Bell Auto Parts started in 1923 when George Wight opened a salvage yard in Bell, CA, and put up a building to sell speed equipment, mostly for Model-T Fords and racing cars. He handled Miller, Winfield and Edelbrock parts. Crane Gartz, of Cragar, had the rights to a Model-A overhead-valve cylinder head. Gartz was in financial trouble, so Wight bought the design and improved it.
Wight passed away in 1943 and Roy Richter, a successful racing driver and creator of the Richter Streamliner, bought the company from Wight’s widow in 1945. A year later, he launched his first mail-order catalog with the nation’s leading racing equipment. Richter called his catalog “Racing’s dependable source of supply.”
Speed equipment from Offenhauser, Weiand, Navarro, Meyers, Tatterfield, Knudsen, Harmon and Collins, J.E. Pistons, Thomas, Halibrand and Burns was listed. Items ranged from Adjustable Cam Gears to Winfield heads.
Customers were asked to pay with postal or express money orders and were expected to pay cash with orders or cash on delivery. Shipping charges were the customer’s responsibility. Air freight or air express shipping was extra.
Paul Schiefer’s dry lakes racing car was among many cars pictured in the catalog. Its Merc engine had Edelbrock heads and a Harmans and Collins cam. Edelbrock’s Super Manifold for ’49 Fords and Mercurys sold for $43.75, but you had to add $6.50 for a Ford installation kit or $7.50 for a Mercury installation kit.
Charts and graphs showing compression ratios and power curves surrounded illustrations of a variety of Edelbrock heads for Fords. Then came the Offenhauser heads section, led off by pictures of Fran Hernandez’s ’32 Ford coupe that clocked 122.04 mph at El Mirage in Russetta Timing Association competition. Hernandez’s heads, manifold and ignition lead plate came from Offenhauser and were teamed with a Winfield cam and Kurten ignition system.
The catalog listed Weiand manifolds and heads made for Fords, Mercurys and Studebakers and Navarro, Meyers and Cyclone heads for FoMoCo V8s, but there were other choices on other pages, such as Knudsen’s go-fast goodies for the Ford six and Tattersfield dual intake manifolds for inline Chevrolets, Chryslers and De Sotos. The Harman and Collins cams for Ford and Mercury V8s, Ford sixes, Chevy stovebolts and Lincoln, Mopar and Studebaker engines were listed.
The fastest car that had ever run at a SCTA meet up to that time was another vehicle pictured in the catalog. It was used to promote speed parts like Harman and Collins camshafts and an Edelbrock manifold and heads. The car was the Burke/Francisco streamliner that Wally Parks drove to 153 mph in 1948.
Winfield offerings in the Bell catalog included speed equipment for the Ford V8-60 engine that was used in many oval track racing cars. These could be ordered with semi-, three-quarter-, full- and super-race cams. Ed Winfield’s legendary company also sold special Ford/Mercury V8 valve springs, adjustable tappets for the Ford six, V8-60 valve spacers and adjustable cam gears.
Bell also sold hot-sparking ignition systems from Kurten and Spaulding, rajah ignition terminals and Kong dual-coil ignitions (the latter cost $67.50). Mallory, DSM Electric and Barker offered other ignitions with prices up to a steep $133 for a dual mag drive type. Ignition wire looms made of chrome-plated steel tubing were available for Ford and Merc flatheads for $7.50.
Piston makers in the catalog included J.E. and Grant, A 3/8 Mercury Stroker crank kit sold for $198 complete. It could also be purchased piece by piece. A Halibrand quick-change rear end for roadsters, big cars and midget racers sold for $514 with six changes. No wonder they’re rare today. Schiefer offered an aluminum flywheel for big Ford and Mercury flatheads, Gould 6-volt batteries, Champion spark plugs and Air Maze and Hellings air cleaners were other items in Bell’s inventory, as were Douglas dual-tone mufflers.
The catalog included legendary versions of products like those that Speedway, JEGs and Summit Racing sell today: pressure pumps, headers, carburetors, water pumps, racing engine hardware and, naturally, Bell helmets.
It would be safe to say that most items in the catalog sold for under $100. Some were only a few bucks in 1949. Shipping probably ran about 10 percent of the retail prices, a ratio that used to be the norm in the mail-order business.
Today, some of the $10 items are worth hundreds of dollars now and a Halibrand quick-change rear end might even bring thousands of dollars. Many of the Ford V8 heads and intakes are so collectable that they may never go on a car again. Fortunately, many cases and modern reproductions are available.
Roy Richter became a member of the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1973 and retired in 1978. He died in 1987. The Bell name survives today and is probably best known to the public for manufacturing sports and racing helmets.