A.W. and the Straight Axles of South Dallas

October 30, 2015

 

 

 

Feature from The Jalopy Journal  •  By: Joey Ukrop 

 

 

There’s a little metal building, gray in color, that has sunken into the landscape about five miles south of downtown Dallas. It isn’t far from the freeways that pump into the city’s center, where modern structures of glass and concrete first sprouted from the Texas ground so many years ago. Depending if you keep the needle in the high-80s—as many tend to do in the greater Dallas area—it’ll only take a few minutes to reach the tired structure on the outskirts of town.

 

It’s different from the buildings around it. Different from the Lamar Motel with “Color TV" advertised on its plastic fence and a phone number that will transfer you to a locksmith’s emergency line. (Hello? Hi. Is this the motel? No, this is the locksmith.) It’s different from the Cornith Tire Center with fading yellow, white and coral walls and stacks of hubcaps scattered across the property. Hubcaps—Repair Wheels—Hubcaps.

 

A flaking white sign on the other side of the expressway reminds you you’re heading the right way. Large hand-painted capital letters announce: “Takat’s Welding, Car & Truck Frame Repair 4330 Bateman, 214-448-4472." A red arrow points down an alley of the same name. It’s narrow. And when the concrete turns to gravel and twiggy brush overruns one side of the roadside, you know you’re at the place you’re trying to go.

 

The building resembles a ribbed metal box with a pitched roof and a pair of bone-colored doors. Someone took the time to paint “4330" on the street-facing side next to the “BEWARE OF DOG" warning. Trucks, some old, some older, scatter the property. I count them. There are five and a half. As far as I know, this is A.W. Takat’s Welding shop.

 

My search for A.W. Takat started with an image I’ve had in my files for several years. The photo, which was taken in the mid-to-late ’60s, shows a ’57 Chevrolet hardtop—dubbed “Hustler I"— staging at an unknown dragstrip. For the most part, the car has been stripped of its non-essentials from front bumper to trunk lock. A single-hoop rollbar, spring-loaded wheelie wheel and chromed slot mags complete the package. This ’57s draw, however, came from its ultra-light front end.

 

The front of this car must have been built for something else. Something lighter, something fiberglass. The builder buried that thought as he installed the transverse leaf spring, dropped tube axle and hairpin radius rods, while a pair of magnesium 12-spokes finished off his weight-cutting crusade. No front brakes were used.

 

Although there wasn’t a class designation (nor was there any windows to put them on), the ’57 provided two overt clues on its flanks as to where it came from: Bill Jones Auto Parts and Takat’s Welding. Both phone numbers were no longer valid, but their addresses lead to South Dallas. After dialing Takats without any luck, I spoke briefly with the owner of Bill Jones Auto Parts. He informed me that Bill had sold the business nearly 40 years ago, though it still is operated under the same name. He said he knew nothing about Chevy.

 

Down the street (alley) from Takat’s shop sits Lenamond Auto Supply. It’s a honest-to-goodness Auto Supply store with a paintshop, machine shop and a five star rating on the Internet. Thomas Lenamond has owned the business since 1972—three years after graduating high school just across town. His dad owned it before him.

 

Thomas, now 63, knew the late A.W. Takats growing up. A.W. was eight years his senior and best known for his ability to put a straight axle under pretty much anything. During the ’60s, Thomas says dozens of cars moved though A.W.’s shop for front-end conversions. “There were lots of ’55-’57 Chevys running around here with straight axles," he remembers. But when it came to the Tri-Five in question, Thomas wasn’t able to remember the details. In an act of generosity, he directed me to his older cousin, C.A.

 

C.A. Wilder, 73, has deep ties to the South Dallas area. A longtime hot rodder, he used to hang around with A.W. during the straight-axle years, and he remembers the ’57 well. “Mr. Tak-kar," C.A. says. “That’s what they’d call him." According to C.A., his buddy A.W. was one of the first ones in the area to experiment with lightweight front ends. Hustler 1 served as a rolling test bed.

 

“The car didn’t handle worth a hoot," C.A. told me. “It’d hook to the right. If you weren’t careful, you’d put it right into the wall." A.W. took on the driving chores in the yellow Hustler 1, which was powered by a 327 Chevy with a single Carter AFB. As far as C.A. knows, the car always ran gas. The strip of choice: the outlaw Yello Belly Dragstrip (b. 1955). Thomas describes the area as “Kinda rough."

 

The Hustler 1 was a real homegrown Southern-style match racer that rarely ran in any sort of class. Flag starts and wall-to-wall quarter-mile blasts were the norm for A.W. and the wheel-spinning, front end-jerking, high-winding ’57. Neither Thomas nor C.A. knew what ever happened to the Hustler 1—it was just another car A.W. built during a time where the projects were interesting and the work was steady. As the decade came to a close, he shifted his focus to other types of chassis fabrication involving independent front ends.

 

After talking with Thomas and his cousin C.A., I discovered the metal building labeled 4330 was indeed A.W.’s shop—but not during his heyday. His other shop, I was told, was located just past Lenamond Auto Supply, past the Cornith tire center and beyond the Lamar Motel with its Color TV and emergency locksmith. It was on Sargent Road: a short walk from the simple gray structure. “He did hundreds of cars [there] in the ’60s," C.A. tells me. “He was the only one who could put it together."

 

 

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