The garage find of the century! How long have you been hot rodding cars--since the 1950's? Many of us got started in the 50's and 60's. (For you real old birds out there that remember hot rodding "T" roadsters with Roto-Faze ignitions, Ruxtell 2-speed rear axles, Riley 2-port heads and Laurel lowering kits, well what can we say you're a generation before us and we take our hats off to you 'original' hot rodders.) BUT for all of us "The Black Widow" is a serious piece of 1950's hot rodding annals and a benchmark for the industry!
In an article in Hot Rod Deluxe, July 2008 entitled, "Tangled Web" the full-story of Richard Riddell's quest to restore the original Black Widow had its public debut. Hot Rod Deluxe reported the car's winning the 2008 Grand National Roadster Show which was a dream come true, taking "Best Early Altered T Roadster". (See also Rod & Custom, June 2008.) It was also a contender for the Bruce Meyer award at the 'Grand Nats.'
Why do guys like Richard Riddell (and the rest of us) spend years (3400 hours in Richard's case) restoring a car we found in a barn? Answer: 'For the love of the sport!' All of us remember some other cars with similar names, for instance the 'Black Widow' Monogram model car ("1/24 scale model/Ford 'T' Pickup Rod/removable top" by Mattel quality hobby kits). Also, we remember General Motors/Chevrolet coming out in 1957 with their first racing version Chevy called "The Black Widow." But predating both of these historic cars is the "The Black Widow" built by Wally Olson to help keep his kids out of trouble in 1952 and first débuted in Hot Rod magazine, September 1954 in an article entitled, "Lil' Beau T", which read, "Wally Olson, Fresno, California, automotive machinist, is the lucky owner and builder. Duane Taylor was called in for the body work." It added as to why he built the car, "What with so much current upheaval in the teen-age ranks, Wally figured that a sure-fire way to eliminate those free-time, nothing-to-do troubles would be to interest them (his 9 & 12 year old sons) in a rod. So far the idea has worked like a charm." In time the family moved on to other projects and Bill Scott purchased the car and redid it with fenders, headlights and all the stuff to make it 'street legal'--as we used to call it!
The first documentation of the car being called "Black Widow" is found in the magazine Rodding and Re-styling, August 1957 issue. That article reported Bill Scott's changes to Wally Olson's car, "The front end was revised to incorporate a tubular axle and tube shocks. The new owners also equipped the car with a new power plant. The original mill is a '41 Merc bored out .100 inch over stock, ported and relieved includes 8.5-to-1 Offenhauser heads, a Weber full-race cam, and an Evans 3-caberator manifold." [Note: The several engines that were housed in this car later varied; see final Merc build details below.] Don't you love the sound of that "ported and relieved" and "full-race cam"-when's the last time you used those terms? By the time the 1959 Hot Rod Annual was published the car-title stuck for all time "The Black Widow."
According to long time race car builder Richard Riddell's log he states, "Sometime in 1955 Wally sold his roadster to Bill Scott. Bill again called on Duane Taylor to turn the car into a bonified street rod. With the additional of windshield, head lights, tail lings, and fenders it was finally able to jump into his little Hot Rod and go cruisin'. The pin stripping was done by none other than Dean Jefferies with the familiar cobweb and spider on the turtle deck." He reports that the car's first win was " a five foot trophy at the Sacramento AutoRama in 1957 for 'Best Roadster'. Yes, Bill's car was having the time of its life being one of the best looking early California street roadsters of all time." Richard states, "Bill Scott died around 1987...for several years the car languished getting worse and worse as is so often the case for old Hot Rods."
The garage find in 2005 notes, "At a glance the roadster didn't look that bad." But the Naugahyde and carpet were shot, fenders, original wheels and hub caps to name a few problems for the yet to begin restoration. Riddell notes, "Under a somewhat decent body and paint job lurked a mess that went beyond your worst nightmare." He adds, "I began wondering how I could salvage this little beauty in the rough. Not that many people have restored an old Hot Rod but, those who have know what I'm talking about. It's much harder than building a rod from scratch. But the roadster was begging to be restored and I'm glad that I was chosen to do it."?Richard died shortly after finishing the project but happily he was able to see "The Black Widow" win the 'Grand Nats' and have a feature center-spread article in Hot Rod Deluxe.
To quote his wife Pat, "Unfortunately, Richard passed away on March 18, 2008 and will not get to enjoy seeing the new owner drive away with a piece of automotive history." Richard's loyal wife Pat grew up around racing since she was 9 years old. Her maiden name was Rodriguez. If you grew up at Lion's Dragstrip, as she did, you may remember her father's rail? He and his brother ran an old top alky rail under the name "Rodriguez Brothers". Pat said, "As I was growing up I often wondered how I would ever meet someone to marry, since all that our family ever did was go to the drags. Then one day Richard came along and met me at the Winternationals." Well the rest is history. For Pat after Richard's death there are just too many memories attached to all the memorabilia, race cars and hot rods in their storage--she would like to sell "The Black Widow" to some deserving hot rodder.