Link Wray

Rock’n’roll musician Link Wray reigns supreme as one of the best, most important, influential and innovative guitarists to emerge from the 50s. Wray was the creator of the power-chord and was one of the first musicians to experiment with both distortion and the burning fuzz-tone guitar sound in his instrumental recordings; his harsh and raw, yet potent and effective simple guitar style inspired such rock music genres as heavy metal, punk, thrash, and alternative rock. Link primarily recorded instrumentals during his peak years in the 50s and 60s, but also did some singing as well in his distinctively rough’n’growly voice.

He was born as Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. on March 2, 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina. He was the second son of Fred and Lillian Mae and was three quarters Shawnee Indian. Wray was taught at age eight how to play guitar from a black man named Hambone. Link served as an Army medic during the Korean war and contracted tuberculosis during his tour of duty (he lost a lung to the disease in 1956). Wray played guitar in a band with his brothers Doug and Vernon following his stint in the Army. They performed country and western music at local clubs in Virginia. The entire Wray family moved to Washington, DC in 1955. In 1957 Wray formed a new rock’n’roll band called Link Wray and the Raymen. Link scored his greatest and most vital hit in 1958 with the extremely intense and moody instrumental classic “Rumble,” which went to #16 on the Billboard charts and sold over a million copies. Wray’s follow-up tunes “Rawhide” and “Jack the Ripper” likewise did well. Alas, such latter excellent and exciting hard-rocking instrumentals as “Dixie-Doodle,” “Run Chicken Run,” “Deuces Wild,” and “Ace of Spades” all failed to crack the pop charts. However, Wray nonetheless amassed a huge and loyal worldwide cult following.

In the late 70s Link recorded two albums for and toured with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon. His songs have been featured on the soundtracks to such films as “Riding Giants,” “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind,” “Independence Day,” “Desperado,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Breathless,” and “Pink Flamingos.” Link continued to record albums and perform at concerts all over the world right to the end. Link Wray died at age 76 from heart failure on November 5, 2005 at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.

By Woody Anders

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957, but the 1957 Bel Air has been called ‘the most popular used car in history.’ This Bel Air Sport Coupe has the iconic 1957 Chevy color combination of Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige. It is equipped with the popular ‘Power Pack’ option, which added a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts to the 283 cubic-inch V8. This car is not equipped with the optional heater, which is rather unusual for a Bel Air.

From 1950 through 1952 Chevrolet hardtops in the Deluxe model line were dubbed the ‘Bel Air’.  It took a few more years before it would become its own distinct series.  In 1953, the Bel Air became its own model and was applied to Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line model range.  By 1955, the cars were offered with an optional V8 engine which greatly improved the cars performance.

In 1953 Chevrolet had three new models and 17 body styles to select from.  This was the company’s widest range of offerings in its history.  The introduction of the Chevrolet was stirring press for the company, but so was the Bel Air, considered the company’s Crown Jewel.

The Bel Air Series consisted of a two and four-door sedan, sport coupe, and a convertible coupe.  Everything that was standard on the lower priced series was standard on the Bel Air, plus so much more including comfort, convenience and styling options.  There was a one-piece curved windshield which added superb visibility.  The luggage compartment was massive and the 115-inch wheelbase provided plenty of interior room for its occupants.  The 115-horsepower Blue-Flame six-cylinder engine was new and the most powerful engine in Chevrolet’s history.

In 1954, the Bel Air was launched as a 1955 model and brought with it a fresh new, elegant look for Chevrolet. With bold features that included hooded headlights, tailfins, wrap-around windshield, and rear fender skirts, the Bel Air was able to out-style the competition. The base engine was a six-cylinder, 115 horsepower power-plant. At a base price of $1095, it was a bargain. It is considered America’s first low-priced ‘hardtop coupe’. The most famous of the Bel Air engine options was the 283 cubic-inch V-8 small-block, with Ramjet Fuel injection. It delivered one horsepower per cubic inch, a first for production cars. Along with style, the Bel Air was a fast machine. Chevrolet quickly ascertained a reputation for building performance vehicles.

A full-width grill, redesigned front and rear fenders, gas cap behind the left taillight, larger rectangular parking lights, and sweeping side trim were just a few of the changes that set the 1956 Chevrolet apart from the 1955, which had taken the country by storm with its all new body re-design.

For the performance-minded public, the 1956 Chevrolet offered three 265 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V-8 engine options: base 170 hp, 205 hp 4 bbl and the 225 hp dual 4 bbl.

Chevrolet produced 1,574,740 cars in the 1956 model year, of which 41,268 were Belair Convertibles. The 3,320 pound car cost $2,443 with the base V-8. You could literally load your new Chevy with factory options and accessories and stay under $3,000.

In 1957, the Bel Air grew in length by 2-1/2 inches and received a wider and taller grille. Additional options became available including two-tone interior, power convertible top, shoulder harnesses, tinted glass, seat belts, tissue dispenser, and ventilated seat pads.

In total, there were seven body styles to select from.  In 1957, a two-page Chevrolet magazine ad proclaimed that ‘Chevy puts the purr in performance’. This Bel Air Convertible, with the optional 245 HP 283 CID small block V-8 equipped with two four barrel carburetors, would certainly deliver on the promise made by the ad copy noted above, delivering a hearty purr from its dual exhausts.

Over the years these popular cars became an icon for the entire generation and they have gone on to become one of the most desirable and collectable post war cars of all. 47,000 Bel Air convertibles were produced in the 1957 model year.

The Chevrolet models grew in length in 1958 and increased in size.  The Chevrolet Impala became their top-of-the-line model, followed by the middle-range Bel Air.  The front end featured a broad grill with quad headlights.

By the later part of the 1960s, the Chevrolet Bel Air moved into the territory of a fleet vehicle.  It was a basic machine built on Chevrolet’s large platform and outfitted with few thrills or options.  It was a good car though it lacked the prestige of times gone by.

The 1964 Chevrolet Be Air (Series 1600) was Chevrolet’s mid-priced line between the basic Biscayne and the Impala.

The Biscayne was discontinued after 1972 and the Bel Air was moved into its place, becoming Chevrolet’s low-level model.  Production in the United States continued until 1975 though production continued in Canada until 1981.
By Daniel Vaughan  | Dec 2007

Drag Racing at Santa Ana

Before it was called “John Wayne Airport” it was called “Orange County Airport”, and during the 1950’s it was the place for drag racing.

A man named C.J. “Pappy” Hart was credited as having built the world’s first commercial drag strip, named “Santa Ana Drag Strip” or “Santa Ana Drags”, and held races there every Sunday.  The drag strip operated from 1950 to 1959, until the County of Orange forced it closed due to increasing air traffic.

“Before it was called the John Wayne airport and before it was called Orange County Airport, it was just a sleepy little landing strip used by private planes, charters and the Martin Aviation Company. When I was a teenager in 1955 the airstrip would close down on Sundays and NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) sanctioned drag races were held on the runway. I remember seeing the “Green Monster”, Art Arfons jet powered drag racer, screeming down the runway. It was probably the first jet to ever “land” at SNA. The drags moved to Lyons Speedway in Long Beach sometime in the late 1950’s. They did return later on, for a few years, as the Orange County Raceway located at the I-5 and Sand Canyon.”

By: Richard M. Cowan, 10 Aug 2002