A Tribute To Dick “Goldie” Guldstrand
And The Pioneers of Power & Speed
Among the reflections we have seen as we roll forward into a year that has already stirred the nation are the recaps of stars and luminaries we lost in the past year – and some exceptionally bright lights have certainly disappeared. From the entertainment world we lost Leonard Nimoy and the wisdom and that intergalactic logic of Spock from Start Trek – and in the sports world we lost the one-of-a-kind humor and wit of icon Yoggi Berra. In the automotive world we also bid farewell to a few more of our own leaders of the pack – and one of our best was Dick “Goldie” Guldstrand.
“Cars and motorsports” – Some people do it for the money, some do it for the fame, and some do it for the best of their own abilities. In the process of harnessing torque and unleashing horsepower, the late Dick Guldstrand did it first from his own love of speed. He went on to inspire others as he shared his talents as a professional race-car driver in competition and enhanced the industry along the way with his unique engineering contributions.
With Goldie’s departure last year at 87 years old, some might say he crossed his finish line with a checkered flag. It seems to me that he may have finished his race and ‘pulled into the garage’, but the force of his wind on the track carries on. Everyone who knew Dick personally, or knew of his journey and achievements, has to miss his presence on the planet.
The positive impact of Guldstrand’s life continues in a truly profound way – and his legacy strikes me as worthy of being recognized as a genuine role model for generations. He came from an enclave of pioneering Southern California gearheads who changed the world by igniting a sub-culture of hot rodding while tinkering in their home
garages. These guys literally hand-fabricated their cars without today’s ease and relative simplicity of ordering engines, drivelines, accessories and suspension parts off the shelf from online outlets or through speed catalogs.
“I was just very fortunate to be a Southern California hot rodder and to have the privilege of all these wonderful people who taught me the engineering side of how the hell to keep a car together,” Guldstrand once told me in an interview. “Because it really wasn’t easy back then. You had no money and all you had was your two hands and a welding torch.”
In fact, when you swoop way back to the 1930s into the 1940s when these guys were hanging out with each other prior to the earliest of the speed shops in Los Angeles, the term “hot rod” hadn’t even been invented. When I spoke with legendary camshaft grinder, Ed “The Camfather” Iskenderian, founder of Isky Racing Cams, he said that when he was a teenager in the mid-1930s they used to call hop-up cars by an earlier made-up name: “Gow Jobs”.
“We’d see a fast car go by and say, ‘that car’s got a lot of gow,’ which meant ‘get up and go’ – and that became ‘gow’. So when I was growing up, we didn’t even have the term ‘hot rod’,” Iskenderian added.
ARRIVAL OF “HOT ROD” SUB-CULTURE
SoCal Speed Shop founder and land speed legend Alex Xydias noted that early hot rodders were first considered more renegades than role models. “When we first heard the term ‘Hot Rod’ arrive, it was really a mostly a derogatory title because of the early newspaper reports that came out and they used the term ‘hot rods’ negatively, as they related to street racing,” Xydias said.
“And, of course, it was Pete Petersen who really had the insight to go with his magazine by that name (‘Hot Rod’, first published in 1948),” Xydias added. “But we didn’t consider something a real ‘Hot Rod’ unless someone actually did something significant to modify the car – such as putting a later model V8 into an earlier Ford Model A.”
In the 25th Anniversary issue of Hot Rod magazine, senior editor Steve Kelly observed that the roots for the term ‘hot rod’ very likely came from the combination of ‘hot’ and ‘roadster’, both terms that had emerged in early automotive “hop-up” culture in the 1920s. Reflecting on his earliest memories, Isky noted, “I do also remember hearing another similar term at that time – ‘hot iron’. They’d also say, ‘they’re driving some hot iron.”
Revisiting history can sound like reminiscing about a different time, and certainly it was, yet the kind of character that these role models reflect is as relevant today as ever.
When The Auto Channel joined to co-sponsor the special plaque and announcement publicity when Dick Guldstrand was named The Car Guy of the Year title back in 1997, we were grateful to have the endorsements of a select committee of auto industry committee members. A special highlight for Dick and all of us was when Tim Allen joined in the radio show as a surprise guest to make the announcement to him and the audience.
“We were proud to help salute Dick Guldstrand as one of most accomplished heroes of the motorsports and car culture communities, and we feel like we’ve lost a friend,” said Gordon. “We had a memorable time with him and were even fortunate enough to have TV legend and fellow ‘car guy’ Tim Allen join as guest in the program to deliver the announcement as a surprise to Dick during a radio/webcast of The Car Guy Show here on The Auto Channel!”
HEROES, ROLE MODELS WELCOME – APPLY WITHIN
Heroes, true heroes – those inspiring and original innovators and folks who are courageous enough to do things they believe in, even when others may view their efforts as daydreaming, are hard to find today. Dick Guldstrand was someone whom I considered a genuine hero and part of a special breed of “can-do” Americans who project a timeless message for all of us: Work hard to discover your own unique gifts and continually grow and contribute to polish your talents beyond your comfort zone.
Guldstrand once said that one of the most memorable tests outside of his own ‘comfort zone’ was when he raced to sustained speeds approaching 180 mph on the 3.5-mile Mulsanne straightaway in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “Driving an L88-powered Corvette with the blur of guardrails within feet of your front fenders at those speeds was a whole new level of fear for me to overcome,” he said with a laugh.
Today we have dozens of great new celebrity car builders and custom-car TV “stars” who are extremely talented. Yet the millions of new-generation car buffs in today’s national TV audiences can benefit from being reminded that “once upon a time” there were only a few dozen hot rodders who had no TV, or even the first of the eventual variety of hop-up car magazines.
[Join me for Part II of this visit into the wide world of car culture ahead — yet here in this moment, on the chance that you may wish to take in a “vitural” stop with Dick Guldstrand from an earlier shared moment with him, please click on the video below. Now, with a warm farewell as I used to say to Goldie at the end of a phone conversation and update, “Keep it between the rails!” To which Goldie would say with that classic chuckle, “Yeah, that’s it – ‘sunny side’ up!”]