Pre­serv­ing a piece of North­east­ern drag rac­ing history.

In the 1950s, hot rod­ding was still con­sid­ered a four-letter word in many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try. In the North­east, the “out­law” hobby was grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity thanks to na­tional cov­er­age in mag­a­zines such as HOT ROD, Car Craft, and the ilk. How­ever, in stuffy New Eng­land, life just couldn’t be tougher on this bur­geon­ing new wave of mo­tor­sports. On-road shenani­gans, hooli­gan­ism, and speed­ing were of spe­cial con­cern to law enforcemen­t. Safety is­sues aris­ing from the home­built hot rods put the cops on alert, thus start­ing a crack­down on the some­times un­der­built cus­toms. The need for speed was a hard habit to break, es­pe­cially if you were a young gun with a hot ride try­ing to make a name for your­self out on the streets. But help was soon on the way.

In 1951, the Na­tional Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion was cre­ated in part to help take drag rac­ing off the street and bring it into a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. This helped to quell some of the fric­tion be­tween hot rodders on one side and law enforcemen­t and the gen­eral public on the other. But there was much more that needed to be done, es­pe­cially in the North­east. That touchy sit­u­a­tion would soon be smoothed out by a few brazen trail­blaz­ers who hoped to see the sport gain trac­tion (so to speak) in their re­spec­tive lo­cales.


Back in the mid-1950s, Frank Maratta Sr. owned and op­er­ated a body shop in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut. Though he was nearly 3,000 miles away from the heart of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia hot rod scene, he felt that his shop could be a home base for the pur­vey­ors of the hot rod­ding gospel right there in the heart of New Eng­land. He had made a name for him­self over the years, creat­ing top-tier cus­toms and pro­mot­ing car shows in and around the greater Hart­ford area.

Maratta had de­vel­oped a love of rac­ing, and was al­ready build­ing strip-ready rides for his lo­cal clien­tele. He re­al­ized that a pur­pose-built track was needed to cater to the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of drag rac­ers in the area. Up to that point, the only us­able dragstrips in New Eng­land were con­verted air fields, most no­tably in Charlestow­n, Rhode Is­land; Or­ange, Mas­sachusetts; and San­ford, Maine. All these strips were a pretty good dis­tance from his home base in Hart­ford. What was needed was a sanc­tioned track where Con­necti­cut’s rac­ers could do their thing, both safely and com­pet­i­tively, and without butting heads with the law.

Work­ing with the NHRA, lo­cal po­lice, and the newly formed Nut­meg State Tim­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, Maratta helped lay the foun­da­tion for what was to be­come the Con­necti­cut Drag­way, the state’s first and only sanc­tioned dragstrip. It was a daunt­ing task, but he had a plan to help turn the tide and change the gen­eral public’s view on hot rods and drag rac­ing.

What Maratta wanted was a corner­stone, a well-built ex­am­ple of a hot rod racer to start a mo­tor­ized move­ment. A car that would not only at­tract at­ten­tion to the hobby and be of show-car qual­ity, but also prop­erly out­fit­ted with the safety equip­ment that con­formed to the NHRA’S stan­dards. In other words, a shin­ing ex­am­ple of what a proper hot rod should be.

In early 1958 he bought a needy 1930 Model A for $35. He didn’t want to skimp on the process of build­ing a “true” hot rod, and so he be­gan the build just like many early rod­ding pi­o­neers

“I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about hot rod history and Con­necti­cut Drag­way history in par­tic­u­lar, so I’m just in dis­be­lief that this car found me.”

—Dean Schimetsch­ek

had done, start­ing their rods with sal­vaged parts and pieces.

The coupe was taken down to body and frame and re­built from the ground up. The stock Model A frame fea­tured boxed fram­erails up front and a 1932 Ford front sus­pen­sion set up with a 4-inch dropped axle on heav­ily mod­i­fied spring perches. The steer­ing box and front brakes came from a ’47 Ford.

With the deep drop up front, Maratta en­hanced the stance by mount­ing an An­der­son quick-change rearend on a 1937 Ford halfton truck sus­pen­sion out back, along with a stock Model A spring. Once the tall and wide 16x9 Ford truck wheels shod with pie-crust slicks were added, the ride was chris­tened the Rake.

The roof was kept at stock height and filled. A vi­sor was added over the wind­shield, and full fend­ers were used front and back, aug­mented by a stock Model A rear bumper. Once the look was achieved, he basted the car with metal­lic gold paint and white scal­lops, and pin­strip­ing by lo­cal artist Fred Luck.

The in­te­rior fea­tured a cus­tom dash with a full set of Ste­wartWarner gauges, a 1958 Chevy steer­ing wheel, and cus­tom bucket seats with gold and white up­hol­stery to match the paint out­side. A fire ex­tin­guisher and a set of lap belts were added to live up to the safety stan­dards that Maratta was try­ing to achieve.

Maratta didn’t skimp on the car’s mo­tor-va­tion, ei­ther. He started with a ’57 283 V8 he pulled from his in­fa­mous pink Mys­tery car. It was stroked and bored to 352 inches (a 3½-inch stroke and a 4-inch bore), and Jahn’s pis­tons with Grant rings were in­stalled run­ning at 10.5:1 com­pres­sion. A Weiand Drag Star in­take with six Stromberg 97 car­bu­re­tors were placed up top, and a Howard M2 cam was added to keep it thump­ing.

Ported and pol­ished heads were as­sem­bled with large valves and added to the mix. To light it up, a Grant Spalding Flamethrow­er ig­ni­tion was used, and a set of Hed­man head­ers with lake pipes (changed to side-exit drag head­ers in 1959) got rid of the spent

> Maratta took the Rake to the 1958 NHRA Na­tion­als in Ok­la­homa City, where he fin­ished run­ner-up in A/gas—the car’s first dragstrip de­feat. The Petersen Pub­lish­ing Archive didn’t turn up any pho­tos of the Rake on the track, but we did find this photo of the Model A dur­ing a pre­race pa­rade. > The Rake got quite a bit of ink in its day. Rod­ding & Restyling magazine pub­lished a fea­ture on the car in its March 1959 is­sue, and it was also right in the mid­dle of the photo that opened the magazine’s cov­er­age of the 1959 Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut, car show in the June 1959 is­sue.

> Frank and the Rake were also fea­tured in the Oct. 1960 is­sue of HOT ROD. Editorial Di­rec­tor Wally Parks (who was also NHRA chief) likely made sure Maratta’s safe­and-sane ap­proach to build­ing the car was prom­i­nent in the head­line and sub­head. The sim­i­larly painted truck shown on the sec­ond page be­longed to a friend, who lent it to Frank to tow the prized hot rod from show to show. > The Missile was the sec­ond in­car­na­tion of Maratta’s Model A and was a pur­pose­built drag car. It was def­i­nitely a prod­uct of the times, sport­ing chrome ac­cents, mag wheels, and the Moon tank up front. Another key re­vi­sion was the sec­tion­ing of the front and rear fend­ers and the run­ning boards. It would run the lo­cal strips un­til the Chevy pow­er­plant fi­nally gave out on a pass while try­ing to set a new A/gas record. > Cur­rent owner Dean Schimetsch­ek bought the Rake in 2015 af­ter it had sat in the New Eng­land el­e­ments for nearly 40 years.

> From this an­gle it’s ob­vi­ous where Maratta’s hot rod got its name. The stance is a prod­uct of sev­eral sus­pen­sion fac­tors, and those big mag wheels and slicks out back. This is the re­vamped Missile ver­sion of this wild ride. The sus­pen­sion setup un­der the car when it was the Rake would have added to the steep gra­di­ent from back to front. > Orig­i­nally the Rake was dressed with Moon alu­minum discs over its wheels, but those were re­placed by Amer­i­can Rac­ing mag­ne­sium wheels dur­ing the trans­for­ma­tion into the Missile. Up front is a pair of 15x4 Le Mans rims shod in Fire­stone skin­nies. This view also shows one of the cutouts in the fend­ers from where a set of chromed head­ers with 6-inch col­lec­tors was in­stalled in the early 1960s. > Orig­i­nally the Rake sported a ’32 Ford front sus­pen­sion with a 4-inch dropped axle. When Maratta changed the coupe over to the Missile, he added this chromed straight axle from a Model A.

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