During the 1950s and ‘60s, building and tuning a performance race engine was a different world from today. It was definitely more of a hands-on situation where the feel, sound and smell of an engine were important tools of early engine builders.
It was a time when there weren’t any dynos and drag strips were few and far between. It was a time that testing an engine was done on the street in wheel-to-wheel racing. Then, at the few real drag strips, it was necessary to trailer your car, sometimes hundreds of miles, to get there. And if that wasn’t enough, many didn’t provide ET data, which was really needed.
Just ask veteran engine builder Jack Hohl of Riverside, OH, who was one of the best in western Ohio. Not only was Hohl an engine builder, but he spent much of his time behind the wheel in competition.
Hohl, known for his Ford expertise, was interested in being an engine tech from his early teens and had a license when he was only 14. “My mom knew I was really interested in cars and she bought me a service manual during that time. I remember reading it cover-to-cover and sucking up all the information.”
His first car was a ‘38 Chevy Coupe and he immediately knew what it took to make it run. “Put on a pair of carbs and headers on it and it ran like crazy on the street.”
Next came a 239 Flathead powered ‘46 Ford Convertible. “It was my first serious engine build which I bored and stroked to about 286 cubic inches. I added three two-barrel Stromberg carbs, 9-1 Edelbrock aluminum heads, and headers. I tried four carbs, but determined that was just too much airflow. It had a top speed of about 80 mph. Back in those days I was tuning my engines for max rpm at about 5500 rpm.”
“The next project was a ‘53 Ford with the same type engine, but it was a lot easier to work on. I bored it to a 3 3/8 bore and 4 1/8 stroke which equated to about 301 cubic inches. It was pushing 90 mph at drag strips in Moline, IL and Akron, OH. But again, there was no ET data available.”
A 1955 272 cid Y-block powered Ford came next. “I wasn’t very pleased with that engine, but it was better than the smaller Flathead. It wouldn’t perform without a supercharger. I installed a McCullough blower, but had a head gasket problem.”
A huge step-up occurred in 1957 when Hohl acquired a 300hp supercharged 312 Ford. It was a rare engine and was used with NASCAR for a short time before being outlawed.
“I loved the engine and immediately tried to increase its performance. I installed a Ford ‘C’ cam and with the help of (Indy 500 star) Troy Ruttman, doctored up the blower which kicked the horsepower up to about 325. It could really run!”
Hohl ran and tuned the car for four years and won Super Stock titles at Indy Raceway Park, Kil-Kare Dragway (Ohio), Detroit Dragway, Thornhill Dragway in Kentucky, along with Edgewater and DAHIO both in Ohio. “I beat a bunch of ‘57 injected Chevys during the period and they sure didn’t like that! Most of the time I was right at 100 mph at the finish.”
During this time he was also working on customer’s cars concurrent with his own activities.
In the early 1960s, Hohl got into big block Ford performance with a 405 horse ‘62 406 Tri-Power Galaxie. Hohl massaged it to put out an additional 20 or 30 horses. The Galaxie won an NHRA Super Stock title in Detroit and was runner-up at Indy.
That Galaxie was followed by another Galaxie. This time a ‘63 model powered by an awesome 427 big block with a pair of four-barrel carbs. “I initially had trouble getting it to run, but when it was right it won a lot.”
There was also an interesting time when Hohl was asked to work on a Chrysler 300D that was apart of the famous ‘77 Sunset Strip’ TV show starring Ed Burnes. Would you believe that it had a pair of 6.71 blowers, one on each side of the engine. “That was a lot of fun.”
Veteran NHRA drag racer Ed Crowder fondly remembers Hohl’s engine building skills.
“I was preparing to run the 1959 Daytona Flying Mile on the beach,” he says. “I let him work on my ‘57 Chevy Fuelie. I was really amazed that it ran like heck and I finished second in class at 129.363 mph. One thing about Jack when he took on a job, he’d just lay back and think about exactly what he was going to do. Then he would do it.”
Hohl ran his shop from 1957 to 1971 with many drag racers knowing the exact way to get there. But, during the period, there was also another Ford engine builder of some note, one ‘Ohio George’ Montgomery. The two FoMoCo experts worked with each other on occasion. Montgomery did machining for Hohl.
Montgomery explained, “Jack was an Old School guy who worked hard at what he did. There were times when we shared ideas with
Hohl didn’t just understand the innards of an engine, he knew the complete workings of the powertrain. Several former customers noted that Hohl could really calibrate the rear end to maximize the performance in the quarter mile. One Chevy owner indicated that Hohl was able to cut a half-second off his ET.
When asked whether he had ever thought about being a member of a factory drag team he said, “You know, there was a time that might have been. I once had an opportunity to meet a Ford rep with the Tasca Ford Pro Stock Team. While I was waiting to see him, I watched some of the Tasca mechanics working an engine and I helped them.”
“Then I told the rep that his guys weren’t too sharp, “ Hohl continued. “It made him mad and he told me to take off. I have thought about that through the years and wondered what might have been. I should have kept my mouth shut!”