Mike Maez ©2018, courtesy of Gooding & Company
  • Among the most historic 1940s California dry-lakes roadsters
  • Built by Albata Club members Chuck Spurgin and Bob Giovanine
  • 1948 SCTA Class A Roadster Champion: perfect 1,800-point score
  • Featured on the cover of the March 1949 issue of Hot Rod
  • Displayed in the Historic Hot Rod Class at Pebble Beach in 2010
  • Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame inductee
  • Grand National Roadster Show Class Winner

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1925 Spurgin-Giovanine Chevrolet Roadster
Years Produced:1925, 1947
Number Produced:519,229 (all production, 1925)
Original List Price:$525
SCM Valuation:$212,800 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$200 (approximate)
Club Info:Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)
Alternatives:Other ’30s-to-’40’s-era period dry-lakes and Bonneville racers
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 115, sold for $212,800, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale, AZ, auction on January 19, 2019.

Starting in the 1920s, mechanically minded young men started stripping down old cars and modifying engines. They couldn’t wait to see how fast their home-built racers could go, often racing each other on the street, which led to a negative public perception of these “hot rodders.”

In 1937, when the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) was organized, hot rod clubs in Southern California banded together, under the SCTA’s auspices, to improve the image of hot-rodding, and to compete legitimately (and safely).

The location? A network of flat, expansive dry lake beds, located in the Mojave desert about 2,800 feet above sea level, well to the north and east of Los Angeles.

The lake effect

Known as El Mirage, Muroc, and Harper’s, the dry lakebeds were dusty and susceptible to high winds. The lake surface was made up of alkali-laced, hard-packed dirt. It took several hours for dedicated racers to make their way to the open, largely deserted areas.

As timing gear evolved and top speeds climbed, the SCTA and several competing organizations such as the Russetta, Cal-Neva and Bell Timing Associations, set up straight-line courses, marking the start and finish lines, as well as acceleration and run-off/braking areas. Racers often had to wait hours for each individually timed run, but it was safer than illegal street racing.

After World War II, racing exploded in popularity among young men, many of whom had service-honed mechanical skills. Classes were established for stripped-down street roadsters, but it soon became obvious that higher speeds on the dry lakes required more specialized cars.

In 1949, SCTA classes were divided into both stock-bodied and modified roadsters. The latter always featured open wheels, channeled bodies, and eventually, full belly pans and more streamlined noses. At the time, the fastest modified production-bodied cars at the lakes were channeled, low-slung mid-1920s Model T Ford and Chevrolet roadsters, such as our subject car.

A Chevy, not a Ford

This iconic racer mated Spurgin’s 1925 Chevy roadster with Giovanine’s 183-ci Chevy 4, built in 1947 and 1948.

Before the flathead V8 ruled the lakes, clever machinists and engine builders mixed and matched parts to optimize horsepower. This engine had a sturdy Ford Model “C” crankshaft, Curtiss OX-5 aircraft engine connecting rods, an Olds OHV three-port head milled for a sky-high 16.25:1 compression ratio, a Winfield cam, Mallory ignition and twin Duke Hallock-designed side-draft carburetors. It cranked out about 150 hp — quite a lot of power for a relatively small engine with a lightweight, streamlined body and chassis.

The S-G roadster first ran at the October 1947 SCTA meet, turning 118.89 mph and finishing 15th that season. Prior to 1948, it was streamlined with an aluminum track nose and hood, and a full belly pan. The Chevy front axle was replaced with a ’32 Ford I-beam, and hydraulic brakes were installed on the rear wheels.

By the final 1948 SCTA meet, the roadster turned a two-way average of 123.655 mph, achieving a perfect 1,800-point score and the Class A Championship by setting a record at every meet.

In March 1949, the speedy roadster made the cover of Hot Rod, and was included in the SCTA Hot Rod Exposition at the Los Angeles National Guard Armory. Spurgin sold the car in 1954 to Carl Borgh, who installed a GMC 6 and turned 141.73 mph at El Mirage.

Re-engineered, it topped 149 mph at Bonneville, ran its last race at Lions dragstrip in 1957, and then disappeared for four decades.

Back from the dead

David Lawrence found the derelict racer in Apple Valley, CA, in the late 1990s. Fortunately, the frame, streamlined body and other trademark features were still intact.

Dr. Ernie Nagamatsu acquired the car in 2004 and commissioned a superbly accurate restoration, with research help from the families of the previous owners. Completed in 2009, the roadster won class awards at the Grand National Roadster Show and Palos Verdes Concours, and was shown on the lawn at Pebble Beach.

The Spurgin-Giovanine Class-A dry-lakes roadster remains one of the most beautiful and successful of the early post-war SCTA racers. Don Montgomery, whose hot rod pictorials helped preserve the early racing era, wrote that the Spurgin-Giovanine’s flawless performance in the 1948 SCTA Championship season “was an incredible milestone feat in land speed history.” For collectors, its dry-lakes honors and Hot Rod cover-car appearance make it a very special survivor.

Gooding & Company estimated a $250,000 to $300,000 range for this car at its Scottsdale auction. But that’s largely uncharted territory with few sales to compare.

When the now-deceased Ralph Whitworth paid $385k for the ex-Jim Khougaz ’32 Ford racer and $440k for the ex-Tom Beatty belly tank in 2007 for his stillborn museum in Winnemucca, NV, he was pretty flush, and he arguably overpaid — as both of those cars sold for substantially less in subsequent auction sales.

Ross Myers owns a superb collection of historic hot rods at his Three Dog Garage in Boyertown, PA. He recently bought the ex-Norm Grabowsky “Kookie Kar” — and he purchased the Spurgin-Giovanine roadster. “I was intrigued by its early history,” Myers says, “and the fact that its original parts were still intact. Most racers of its era were either wrecked or robbed of their originality over the years.”

I think the price paid was very fair for both seller and buyer. Very few early historic racing hot rods from this era have survived, and this is one of the best of all time. Well bought and sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.)

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