By Ken Paulsen
Photos courtesy Lloyd Hutchins Jr., Tom Tucker and Ken Paulsen
For some drivers and car owners, change is not part of their vocabulary particularly when it involves the number on their racecar. How that number gets selected can make for some interesting stories. In Lloyd Hutchins Jr. case, the number choice was simply a matter of timing. Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont was about to host its July 4th event in 1962 when Lloyd, having just completed construction of his first stock car, needed to apply its identifier. Car numbers were registered with the track to avoid the inherent confusion caused by duplicates. With his inaugural race as a car owner occurring on Independence Day, the number ‘76’ stood out from the rest. Lloyd built a couple of #76 cars but one in particular brings back fond memories, so much so that he had to preserve the spirit of the car that won the 1963 Labor Day weekend Championship race at Thunder Road in a replica.
Finding a driver was the easy part. Henry Montandon was already working for Lloyd when he began his racing career driving a Plymouth six-cylinder coupe for C.V. Elms at the Rumney, New Hampshire track. He switched to Lloyd’s cars in 1962-1963 and continued racing on his own through the mid 1990s.
The first #76 was a ’35 Ford Coupe built in late 1961 by Lloyd and Henry. It ran just the ’62 season with little success and was sold. During the winter, Lloyd wanted to build a truly competitive car. He chose a rare 1932 Ford three-window coupe that was already being raced. It had a better weight distribution than the later model Fords and was lighter. The car was completely rebuilt over the 62-63 winter season. A stock Mercury 255ci flathead bored .040 over provided the power.
Right side view shows the cutaway door. Openings were very small on the three window model.
The roll cage was unique. Lloyd felt that the best stock for its construction would come from drive shafts used in GM cars during the decade of the ‘40s. They were much lighter than standard stock being used at that time and super strong. A torque tube covered the drive shaft during this era. The problem became finding enough parts. As he and Henry would go about their daily business, they would make mental notes of qualifying vehicles throughout the countryside that looked like they were no longer in use. After the sun went down, they would return to the car and acquire the needed part. Essential tools included two handyman jacks, flashlights, a fifth of liquor and case of beer. Once several pieces were obtained, they started putting the roll cage together but came up two parts short. Details of how the last two drive shafts came into their possession won’t be explained. Let’s just say, somewhere, two people were very late getting to work the next day. Once construction was completed, the car weighed in at a very light 2100 pounds.
The ’63 season saw the Hutchins-Montandon team compete at Thunder Road on Thursday nights and, occasionally, the one-fifth mile at Northeastern Speedway near St. Johnsbury, VT Saturday nights. They had better success at Northeastern where Henry normally finished the feature in the top three and on more than one occasion won the qualifier, semifeature and feature events. Thunder Road, however, offered better competition. With Harold Hanaford, Norman Chaloux, the Ingerson brothers, Larry Granger, Mutt Dexter and other top drivers in the field, Henry had his hands full finishing in the top ten.
A young Henry Montandon and the Hutchins coupe.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon September 1, 1963, over 4,000 fans filled the Thunder Road stands to watch the seven race card. Henry, still recovering from an industrial accident that kept him out of racing several weeks, would place second to Fred Mills in the second heat race. This qualified him for the Semi-Feature where he led Mills across the finish for first place giving the team a good starting position for the feature.
When the green flag waved the feature field off, Henry charged to the lead by the second lap. Restarts on laps eight, ten and twenty-seven would bunch the field up again, but each time, Montandon would stretch out his lead. On the final lap, Hank hit some water and nearly lost control. As the checkers waved on lap 35, he would have a commanding lead over Merlin Bean who grabbed the runner up spot. The local newspaper reported that Henry would have easily set a new track record in garnering his first career Thunder Road feature win had it not been for the restarts.
Although it was only raced that one year, the coupe would remain in Lloyd’s possession until 1970 when he gave it to Henry. It sat at Buzzie’s Garage where Lloyd allowed them to cannibalize parts for their stock car during the ’64 and ’65 seasons. When Henry received the coupe remains, he kept it in his junkyard until it was sold to Leon Adams who restored it as a street rod in 1998. The trunk lid on the stock car was hand made which would not have worked on the street rod. Likewise the original firewall needed to be replaced on the rod to accommodate the later model Chevy engine. Lloyd was able to retrieve both parts along with the roll cage and nerf bars to be used in recreating #76.
The original racecar body and frame is now part of this throw back to the 50’s street rod.
Henry and Lloyd appearing at Thunder Road in Barre, VT August 2003.
Like other builders, Lloyd had a spare car body and frame ready should anything happen to the 76. When he left racing, the parts were put out in the woods to deal with the elements. Trees growing up through the roof had to be cut before the car could be moved safely inside the garage where Lloyd and longtime friend Kenny Morris began recreating the original car.
Lloyd’s roofing business meant that construction would be restricted to winter months. Even so, a late fall 2000 start would seem to allow sufficient time to meet the target of September 1, 2003 – 40 years to the date when the Labor Day race was won. Doors had to be made from scratch. Leon Adams applied his talents in crafting them using ’34 Ford truck doors as the starting point. Another restoration project took up the 2002-2003 winter months while the coupe was put on hold. With the anniversary deadline fast approaching, final work began in earnest in June 2003 and the car was rolled into the paint shop August 18 where Tom Tucker did the prep and painting. Lettering and numerals were applied a week later by Chris Ford of Ford Signs & Graphics.
The completed car appeared at the Thunder Road Labor Day race in September 2003. Henry rejoined Lloyd for the occasion and made a few hot laps around the oval before pulling into the TR victory circle for photographs and award presentations. Forty years after it first appeared at TR, the spirit of the original #76 deuce coupe lives on in both a street rod and, now, Lloyd’s growing collection of vintage stock cars.