Showcase: 1959 Simon Ladawri-Packard Special

1959  Simon  LaDawri – Packard
Body  Design  By  Les  Dawes
Built  by  David  Simon  with  Assistance  From  Gene  Simon
Owner:  Undiscovered  Classics

This  Site  Is  In  Process  of  Being  Built

—   Only  Known  Postwar  Packard  V8  Race  Car  Built  and  Raced  —

History  of  This  Car
Story  Below  by  Gene  Simon  (August  16,  2023)

Much of what I know about the car is already documented in the article published in the “1960 Sportscar Specials” magazine, so I won’t repeat it. Some of the same specifications were on page 46 in the Vintage American Road Racing Cars 1950-1969 – Harold Pace & Mark R. Brinker.

The owner and builder of the car was my uncle, David N. Simon. He lived on Indianola Road in Youngstown, Ohio. He lived with his parents (my grandparents) and just next door to my family. The Simon family involvement with Studebakers started when my father bought a cream colored new 1953 Studebaker Commander Coupé. To my mother, this purchase didn’t make sense, because we
were a family of six (four kids).

My Uncle David must have liked our 53 Stude, because when he graduated and came home from college at Kent State, he bought a new all green 1954 Studebaker Commander Hardtop. He then traded in the 1954 Studebaker, for an all-black 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk, that essentially came with 352ci Packard engine. Except for the wheels, the car below looks the same, but it is not his.

Over the next couple of years, he drag raced the car at Howland Dragstrip with pretty good results. During this time, the engine was modified in steps to the configuration indicated in the magazines stated above. Before the two 4-barrel Carter carbs, he had a log manifold with six Stromberg 2-barrel carbs.

With this configuration, the hood would not close all the way, so it was propped up a little with a block of wood and held down with a strap. I remember Uncle David porting the heads in the cellar with a grinder. When drag racing with this engine, it blew at least once by spinning a bearing. I think these Packard engines inherently have an oiling problem that he somehow solved.

While drag racing the Golden Hawk and possibly before, David became interested in sports car racing and mentioned Max Balchowsky’s Old Yeller. I think he also mentioned the possibility of building a race car with multiple helicopter engines and went to Akron to talk to the Arfon brothers.

Uncle David was an architect by trade, but designed the race car, utilizing the modified Studebaker/Packard engine from the Golden Hawk. The race engine came out of the Hawk and was replaced with a stock engine. I believe there was probably a lot of collaboration in the car design between Uncle David and Dave Dangerfield, who did the fabrication and all the welding.

Dave Dangerfield had a race shop in Youngstown, along with building and racing dragsters himself. For a while, he ran a twin Pontiac-engined AA/D, then transitioned to a single engine AA/FD supercharged nitro Dodge Hemi with sponsorship from the Dog House Restaurants chain.

Unfortunately, in 1965 on his way to Pomona, he stopped to race at Beeline Dragway in Scottsdale, Arizona. His car crashed after passing the finish line at a speed of 195 MPH. It was speculated that he either was overcome by fumes or that there was a stuck supercharger linkage. The car disintegrated on impact and he died soon after being taken to a Scottsdale hospital. He was one of the first drivers to break 200 mph. Don Garlits did it first in 1964.

Dave Dangerfield fueling his AA/FD dragster

Side note: Dave Dangerfield also modified the engine in my Tri-Power 1957 Pontiac (street car) prior to me owning it and there was a Dog House Restaurant on South Ave. next to where I was working on the LaDawri and the owner used to come over and talk cars while I was working on it.

The write-up and photos in the “1960 Sportscar Specials” magazine, were done while still at Dangerfield’s race shop. I don’t have additional photos during the construction or drawings for the car, but went there a few times to see it being built. My involvement primarily started after Uncle David ordered the fiberglass LaDawri Conquest body from California.

If possible, it would be nice to contact Joan Dawes to see if she has a record of when David Simon purchased the Conquest body and when it shipped to Ohio. When it was dropped off in the driveway, the open shipping container/frame was broken and the flimsy fiberglass body was sagging. I don’t remember if it was the plan all along (doubt it), but I think he paid me $1.00 an hour to install the Conquest body on the race space frame.

Except for a little Bondo work on our street cars, I was just a kid with zero experience working with fiberglass bodies, cloth or resin and neither did my Uncle. Some books and magazines helped along with the instructions that came from LaDawri with the body. The racecar chassis was transferred from Dangerfield’s shop to my Dad’s kitchen cabinet shop on South Ave. in Youngstown, along with the crated Conquest body from my Grandfather’s driveway. My Dad’s cabinet shop had the below windowless building behind it used for storage that he let me use. Uncle David may have also paid him rent to use it.

Because I was a one person operation doing the body installation, I rigged up a method of raising and lowering the body with a rope block-and-tackle that my Dad had. The first step was to get the body back to its intended shape. Because the shipping crate broke, the shape was squashed and nonsymmetrical.

It would interesting to know from Joan Dawes if this was a common problem after shipping. Plywood was used as baffles and mounting points for the body to tube frame. The aluminum floor was already installed, but I did some of the aluminum around the engine compartment.

Even though the dash with all gages were not hooked up yet, the engine could be started and the car driven in and out of the building. Of course I did this much more often than necessary to do the job. This probably wasn’t appreciated by the some neighbors, but the cops never came.

The below color photos were taken outside the building on South Ave., shortly before permanently installing the body on it and electrical wiring. Notice, different wheels and Goodyear Blue Streak tires now rather than white walls. The body came from LaDawri with black gel-coat.

Up in my Dad’s main cabinet shop building, he had a paint spray booth to finish cabinetry with tinted lacquer. It wasn’t big enough for a car, but I probably hauled the body up there to spray it with white primer. David’ intent was to have the car painted yellow like the wheels, but it never happened.

In 1961, my Uncle David and Aunt Jackie were married. It was around that time that Uncle David went to SCCA Driver School at Watkins Glen in order to get his completion license. I’m not sure exactly why, but we took both the Simon-LaDawri-Packard racecar and Aunt Jackie’s Triumph TR-3 that she autocrossed before marriage.

They towed the racecar with the Studebaker Golden Hawk and I drove the Triumph TR-3. I don’t know if it was planned all along, but he went through school in the TR-3. It almost didn’t happen because the TR-3 didn’t have an SCCA approved roll bar (not even close). Even though it was just a simple non-braced street type bolt-in and padded, they somehow let him use the TR-3. While there, the racecar probably got teched and a log book.

Not long after marriage, they moved from Youngstown to Bethesda, MD outside Washington D.C. During the next two years, I believe he raced at Watkins Glen and Marlboro Raceway in Maryland a couple times, but I was only there for one race at Marlboro. I don’t think it was the 2-Hr Enduro that is in the magazine.

One funny thing I remember is the pits were dry grass instead of being paved. We were pitted near Roger Penske and my Uncle’s car exhaust pipe caught the pits on fire. Later after the race, we went to the “Old Europe” German restaurant in Washington DC. The Penske group also happened to be there and one of the guys saw us and said something like “hey, there’s the guys that tried to burn us up today”.

That was the last time I saw my Uncle or the racecar for over 20 years. In 1963, I joined the Air Force and ended up staying in California after my 4 years was up. In 1986, my wife, son and I went to Washington DC for a vacation and while there visited my Aunt, Uncle and their three kids. When there, I learned that Uncle David and their oldest son planned on converting the racecar to street car. The race engine was removed, sold, and a stock engine put in.

I was disappointed to see the kids had written all over the car and there was bodywork damage. Before leaving, we all went to the Old Europe restaurant for old time sake. Also learned my Uncle did a frame off restoration of his Studebaker Avanti. At the time, I was racing a heavily modified Datsun in SCCA class GT-4, so we talked about that. 1986 (37 years ago) is the last time I actually saw any LaDawri with raw eyes.

Sometime between 1986 and around 1994, my Aunt and Uncle got divorced. Their oldest son who was into various thrill sports like go kart racing and white water kayaking, was in a bike race accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. My Uncle was also stricken with Parkinson’s disease. Around 1994, Uncle David contacted me saying he was taking a trip California and could we get together.

He stayed with us for a few days and it was over a weekend that I was racing at Laguna Seca. By this time. I was racing a Spec Racer Ford in SCCA. When at the track, he got into some trouble with SCCA because he was trying to go places to take photos, where spectators weren’t allowed. We talked about the possibility of me buying his racecar and restoring it for vintage racing.

I learned that the car sat outside for a while and had a cracked block. I asked if he still had the log book, build drawing, etc. and found out it all got lost or destroyed at the time of their divorce. I also took measurements in our garage where the Spec Racer Ford was and discovered the LaDawri was considerably larger and a problem.

Not long after being here in 1994, his health declined further and went into a nursing home full time. His little house was sold and his son sold the Avanti and Simon-LaDawri-Packard on Ebay. I didn’t hear about this until afterward, but had already pretty much decided not to pursue the racecar restoration. Uncle David died at the nursing home in 2013. From what I have been able to determine, this is the racecar history since being sold by my cousin:

  • Purchased 6/25/03 on Ebay by Daniel Rapley in CT. (203-778-2601)
  • Sold on 7/20/03 to Jerry Bensinger in N. E. Ohio (330-759 5224) for $6850
  • Learned from Geoff Hacker 9/12/07 that the car now owned by Robert McKeown (724-736-8200)
  • Later learned from Geoff Hacker that it was actually Robert Signom II at America’s Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio that purchased the car.
  • Learned from Geoff Hacker that the car was purchased by Myron Vernis in Akron in 2020
  • Learned 9/21/22 from Geoff Hacker that he bought the car and plans to restore it. Yay!

After over 60 years, the whole experience has faded in my memory quite a bit and probably not 100% accurate, but this is about all I remember in 2023.

Gene Simon, 8/16/2023

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