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.”
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.