In the early 1950s, sports car road racing was beginning to blossom in America. A few Southern California hot rodders started turning their attention to road racing, but because they didn’t have the money to buys European cars such as Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar, they built their own. Some had fairly simple frames, American V-8 engines and a functional, if sometimes ungainly, body.
In 1952 Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes designed and built a sports-racing car that had a lightweight tube frame and a Ford flathead V-8 with high-compression heads and three carburetors. It weighed 1,854 pounds. A simple but elegant aluminum body wrapped front and rear transverse leaf springs, Halibrand quick-change differential, Ford-Bendix drum brakes and an MG rack and pinion steering box. The transmission was a Ford three-speed with Lincoln Zephyr gears. The Troutman-Barnes Special competed in its first race in 1954.
When Troutman and Barnes formed their own shop in the mid-1950s, they applied what they had learned from their car to the first Scarab racer for Lance Reventlow, wealthy playboy and heir to the Woolworth fortune. Reventlow’s Scarab sports-racing cars had stunning aluminum bodies designed by a young Art Center of Design graduate named Chuck Pelly. Power was from a fuel-injected Chevrolet V-8. On American road courses such as Road America in Wisconsin and Continental Divide Raceway in Colorado, the Scarabs often beat Ferraris, Maseratis and Jaguars in 1958 and 1959. The Scarab’s success led Texan Jim Hall to have Troutman and Barnes build the first Chevrolet-powered Chaparral sports racer. It is because of this lineage that current owner, Mike Sheehan of Hawaii, calls it “Momma.”
Sheehan was 13 years old when he saw the Troutman-Barnes car compete at Dillingham Field in Oahu. Chuck Daigh, a California engineer and racer, drove it. Daigh raced the Troutman-Barnes car more than anyone else and they were often successful. Daigh went on to race Scarabs as well.
“The Troutman car was really neat,” Sheehan said, “and I thought I would like to have one of those when I grow up.” Little did he know how that wish would materialize just a few years later.
After the Oahu race the car was sold to local racer Jimmy Pflueger who kept it in Hawaii. The Ford Y-block engine was removed and sold. In 1959, with a “Scarab” Chevrolet engine installed, Daigh raced the car at Riverside International Raceway in California. If not for a flat tire on the last lap, it would have beaten its “babies,” the Scarabs.
Sheehan bought the car from Pflueger for $500 in 1963 when he was still a teenager. It had no engine, no transmission and the left rear axle was broken due to overheating. Sheehan remembers taking the car to a Japanese machine shop to get a new axle, and the owner made him wait for three or four hours before he would see him. A new axle was made from the same steel used in samurai swords and it is still in the car.
Sheehan drag-raced the car with a Chevy V-8, but in 1992 he had Dick Troutman restore the car and install a Ford flathead V-8 like the original. It has high-compression Navarro heads, three carburetors and a crossover exhaust system that boosts horsepower by 18 percent. The car has been displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles and at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Sheehan was recently in Kansas City to purchase a continuation Scarab built by Scarab Motorsports of Prairie Village. He brought the Troutman-Barnes car with him, and it will be shown alongside his Scarab at the Art of the Car Concours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 22 at the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick. Tickets are available in advance at www.artofthecarconcours.com.