The Pacific Gun Sight Special is more than a picture-perfect Highboy roadster. It represents a four-wheeled ‘window’ into the history of a uniquely American hobby.
Kim and Mitch McCullough are consummate, hands-on car guys. They collect cars, but more importantly they drive and compete with the cars they have acquired. Trailer queens have no place in the McCullough collection.
Cars are the focus of both their vocations and avocations. Kim is Vice-President of Marketing for Jaguar Land Rover and has spent her career in the automotive industry. Mitch has been writing about cars and trucks and racing for more than two decades. He has won Pro Rally championships and has been competing in vintage road racing and rally events for years. Kim also has amateur racing experience and their latest adventure – without any sponsorship or support – was running their “preserved” ’54 Jaguar XK120 in the grueling Mille Miglia in Italy in 2015.
The two-inch chopped Pacific Gun Sight Special is the McCulloughs’ latest acquisition and first hot rod in their eclectic collection of imported sports, rally and road racing cars. Once completely sorted out they plan on driving it and competing in vintage hot rod events. They recently purchased a restored classic ’51 Ford Stepside pickup that could be used to tow the hot rod.
Kim and Mitch are crystal clear expressing the rationale behind their passion. “The first thing we ask before buying any car is, what would we do with it? Each of our cars has a role. Most of them are like keys that unlock doors to events and adventures. Different cars unlock different doors. Our emphasis is on period-correctness and authenticity. We want to experience a car like it was back then, not like it can be now.”
The Pacific Gun Sight Special Heritage
Roy “Mack” MacKinney: 1946-1951
Roy “Mack” MacKinney purchased it in 1946 after returning home from Naval service during World War II. It had been used previously as a landscaper’s work vehicle in the Menlo Park, CA area. Mack was managing a Union 76 service station in Palo Alto when he purchased the Deuce. He converted it into a Highboy hot rod and raced at drag strips in Salinas and Redwood City. Drivers included Tommy Cheek and Eldon Lang. Mack sold it to Leo Juri in 1951.
Leo Juri: 1951- 1961
Leo Juri was a Bonneville racer and competed with a ’47 Ford coupe. He transplanted his coupe’s highly modified Flathead into the ’32 Ford roadster so he could compete in B/Roadster at the 1952 Bonneville Speed Trials. The “built” Flathead featured a Harmon & Collins magneto and Super-T cam, Offy finned aluminum heads and an Edelbrock aluminum manifold with four Stromberg carbs.
The Pacific Gun Sight Company in Palo Alto employed Juri and they sponsored the roadster. After posting an average speed of 124.82 mph, he was presented with an SCTA plaque that is still mounted on the Highboy’s dash! A machinist/mechanic, Juri worked on hot rods, midgets and sprint cars and used his roadster for daily transportation and racing at local tracks. He sold it to Al Reynal and his son in 1961.
Al Reynal Sr. & Jr.: 1961- 1966
The father-son duo ran Palo Alto Radiator and showed and raced the roadster in the San Francisco Bay area. It was featured in the July 1963 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. The Reynals sold it to Steve Lawson, Los Altos, CA in 1966.
Steve Lawson: 1966 – 1968 or 1969
Steve Lawson showed the Pacific Gun Sight Special at the 19th Grand National Roadster Show in 1968, taking a Blue Ribbon. He also drove it on the street and showed it at a number of Northern California hot rod and custom shows. According to Lawson, “It was the nicest driving hot rod I ever owned.” He sold it to Jim Ladley, Santa Rosa, CA.
Jim Ladley, 1968 or 1969 – 1971
The Highboy roadster was driven regularly and raced at tracks around the San Francisco Bay area. It was sold to Jim Harvey, Palo Alto, CA in 1971.
Jim Harvey, 1971-1972
After purchasing the roadster, Harvey replaced the modified Flathead engine with a small-block Chevy. He kept the car for approximately one year before selling it to Jim Palmer and purchasing a coupe.
Jim Palmer, 1972 – 2017
Over the years, Jim Palmer restored the roadster twice, the first time included replacing the small-block Chevy with a bored and stroked 24-stud Flathead built by Cub Barrett. It was later yanked out in favor of a bored and stroked 286-incher with ELCO twin-plug alloy heads and an imported S.Co.T. (Supercharger Company of Turin) positive-displacement blower built by Paul Gommi. He also repainted the car, detailed the undercarriage and re-chromed under-hood accessories. After the first restoration, Palmer showed it at the 1984 Western Hot Rod Nationals in San Jose where it won the coveted Stroker McGurk award.
Harvey drove the hot rod regularly all over California for shows and track events. At one point it was used as a push-car for a Junior Fuel Dragster at nostalgia track days. It was the last hot rod to go down the Fremont Drag Strip before it closed. In 1988 Palmer, with a group of friends organized by Dave Wilkerson, started on the second restoration with plans to return it to 1952 Bonneville Salt Flats specs.
The body and frame were prepared and painted by Brian Hill, San Ramon, CA. The bored and stroked 244-cubic inch engine had its final machining and was assembled by Neil O’Kane at Hubbard’s Machine Shop, Hayward, CA. It featured the same equipment as originally installed in 1952, except they were not able to locate a Harman & Collins magneto and Super T cam. It received a Howard M-8 332-inch-lift and 258-degrees-duration cam and an updated high-performance ignition system. Other modifications include a ported and relieved block, 9.5-to-1 forged aluminum pistons and period finned aluminum Offy heads and Eddie Meyer intake manifold with a pair of Stromberg 97s on a Y-adapter allowing the stock mounting of the generator. Custom-crafted chrome headers and Lakes-style collectors, made from ’36 Ford driveshafts, complete the dual exhaust system.
Backing up the stout Flathead are a ’40 Ford three-speed transmission with Lincoln Zephyr gears and a modified Ford rear with Halibrand quick-change center section with 3.27-to-1 gears. A column-shift ’40 Ford steering column was retained.
Gary Hubback, Los Altos, CA fabricated the 16-inch chromed wheels that replicate those installed when the car was built in 1946. The tires are Firestone Deluxe Champions. High Lustre Plating, Hayward, CA did the chrome work while Tri Valley Interiors of Pleasanton stitched the interior. Jim Palmer went to great pains to insure that the roadster was restored as closely as possible to its 1952 specs. The Highboy roadster was finished in time for the special 50th Grand National Roadster show in 1999 and won First in its Class (Vintage Race Car and Outstanding Restored Antique Vehicle). It was later invited to be part of a group of nine historic hot rods showcased at the 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It was also shown at Blackie Gejeians’s 41st Fresno Autorama and the 2001 Grand National Roadster show where it received The Bruce Meyer Hot Road Preservation Trophy for a Hot Rod Built Before 1955.
In 2002, Palmer showed his hot rod at the Petersen Museum for the 70th birthday celebration of the 1932 Ford in the Bruce Meyer Gallery of Historic Hot Rods. After 45 years, Jim Palmer sold the Pacific Gun Sight Special to Kim and Mitch McCullough. They are the current caretakers of this iconic hot rod.
Along with the Highboy, the McCulloughs received its original Edelbrock four-carb manifold, paperwork dating back to day one, trophies and awards, and a metal box containing spur-gears for the Halibrand QC rear. The box had been painted to match the car and pinstriped. Priceless!
“This Deuce reminds me of the period when guys like Mack MacKinney came home from World War II and built hot rods that served as daily drivers and racecars,” said Mitch McCullough. “This June we plan to enter it in The Race of Gentlemen (TROG) in New Jersey and next year Kim and I hope to run the Hot Rod Hill Climb in Colorado.”
Kim added, “In short, we plan on driving the Pacific Gun Sight Special to celebrate its heritage and then prepare it for the show circuit in 2022 for the 90th anniversary of the ’32 Ford.”
A vintage road racer, collector and veteran automotive journalist, Mitch McCullough is Editor-in-Chief of New Car Test Drive. Check it out at https://www.newcartestdrive.com/