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Sun, Nov. 17

Local rodder never grew out of hobby

PRESCOTT -- Back in the 1950s when hot rods were a new fad, Prescott teens enjoyed cruising Gurley Street and the courthouse plaza, then making a pit stop at the local Dairy Queen to hang out.

Of course, hot rods were made to race, and teens such as Don Standhardt had their own favorite spot for drag racing too, on a strip of old Highway 89A between Prescott and Prescott Valley.

Being teens in 1950s hot rods, they couldn't help driving a bit too fast in town, too. The town was smaller then and the police weren't deputized, so the teens figured they were home free if they could get to the town limits at the spot where Checker Auto and AutoZone now sit in the middle of town along Miller Valley Road.

"It was a different world back then around here," Standhardt recalled. "All the policemen knew all the hot rodders, and if they stopped you, they just told you not to do it again."

Prescott teens in the 1950s also enjoyed hanging out at the Elks Theater, the now-defunct drive-in and the former pool at Granite Dells. Don remembers water skiing on Watson Lake too.

Illegal drugs were non-existent in Prescott schools back then, and some guys drank alcohol but they were the exception, Don said.

Don and his buddies in the Pipers car club got their "high" on hot rods. They often gathered in someone's backyard, taking apart a car and working on it. Don's job working for the Chinese owners of the Palace CafŽ on Whiskey Row helped finance his hot rod habit.

"Every little town had its own car club back then," recalled Don's wife Katy, who moved to Prescott in 1977.

Don went through cars like children go through clothes, buying and modifying a 1944 coupe with an Oldsmobile V-8 engine in high school, then moving to a 1956 Chevy in 1957 just before graduating from high school.

"Like they say, when we got to high school it was a babe magnet," Don said of the hot rods. He bought a brand-new 1960 Ford shortly after high school, but totaled it while racing a couple of motorcycles down Mingus Mountain, so he then moved on to a 1960 T-Bird.

Don is happily married now and doesn't need a babe magnet, but he never stopped buying and rebuilding hot rods, which people now commonly call street rods.

Katy understands the babe magnet concept well.

"If I'm in one of those cars, every other car is waving," Katy said.

Don is still in a car club, too. It's called the Mountain Top Street Rodders. Katy also is a member.

"I enjoy the companionship of a car club because they do fun things," such as cruise nights, car shows and other events, Katy said.

Don recently sold his 1962 Corvette so he could buy every street rodder's dream, a souped-up 1933 Ford three-window coupe. It's definitely something that turns heads, all peach with a fuel-injected Chevy Crate 350-cubic-inch engine, incredibly clean lines (the gas cap is in a carpet-covered box in the trunk), and all the modern conveniences -- power windows, air conditioning and tilt steering wheel.

He searched the Internet for months, then ended up finding the retro rod right here in Prescott.

In its original condition, the coupe had a four-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine that topped out at about 50 miles per hour. Now Don figures it cruises at 80 mph and easily could top 100, though he doesn't say whether he's tried it.

When he took it out for a spin this week, Don played music that he first enjoyed in the 1950s, but now it's on a compact disc.

Don recently bought a 1928 Ford Roadster too, but its condition is a world apart from the '33 Ford. When his son saw it, he threatened to call the "Pimp My Ride" TV show that restores beat-up cars.

Katy saw it while taking a walk during a Greeley, Colo., car show and ran back to tell Don about it, but he'd already sniffed it out and bought it.

It basically was a rusted-out, bent-up shell, but Don's rebuilding it from the bottom up. He's already added a new frame, 350-cubic-inch Chevy engine and 350 turbo automatic transmission.

It won't be ready in time for the Mountain Top Street Rodders' Rod and Custom Car Show that Don chairs on Saturday, May 7, but the '33 coupe certainly will do.

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