Prowlers Car Club History

San Diego Prowlers making Hot Rod History – The 1940’s

In the spring of 1947 several young San Diego area hot rodders got together and decided to build cars they could take to the dry lake beds east of Los Angeles and run for speed tests.  It was a lot of fun and a lot of work.  

This desire to build cars and help each other with their project cars, was the reason that the Prowlers formed as a club.   In those days the only organization for this kind of speed running was the Southern California Timing Association.  This was the start of hot rodding.  Later toward the ’50s, the Prowlers would join with others and form the Russetta Timing Association so they could run coupes and sedans in the speed trials.  This is an original program from 1948 for the El Mirage races.  This has been kept it excellent condition by our club historian Andy Bekech.  This program looks like it was bought yesterday.  There are 3 of  the Charter  Member Prowlers listed in this program. Bill Carpenter,  Rich Sawyer #2 and the late Frank Wilkinson #7.  Where would you get a program like this today for 25 cents? Below will be the pages in this program.

1948 El Mirage Program

Bill Carpenter listed here with the “A” Coupes.

Rich Sawyer with the ‘C’ coupes

And the late Frank Wilkenson with the “B” Streamliners.  See anyone else you recognize?

Quite a keepsake wouldn’t you say?

Here you see Frank running his roadster.  Sadly, Frank passed away on Good Friday, 2005.  Frank was one of our charter members.  We still have one active Charter member Jim “Ace” Carnahan and a few others holding on as Associate members.

Great shot of Frank’s motor that he was running at the Dry Lakes.

This is Cliff Crane at the Lakes in 1948.

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Some were running 4-bangers that came with the cars.  But soon we decided to start using more powerful engines.  The V-8 was becoming the “rage” and they soon made their way into our cars.  Of course, we had to hand fabricate all of the brackets, adapters, and mounting hardware.  But it was worth it.  A 4-banger is nothing compared to the sound and feel of THE V-8.

L-R Gene Nichols, Hoot Gibson, Ed and Bob Stewart, Harold Speltz and Norm Urban. When we weren’t running at the dry lakes, we got together and drove the cars all over San Diego county.  Driving together was more fun.  It was also a good idea to go with a buddy who carried tools, just in case.  We began to call these trips together “cruises”.  Here we are in front of the store at Palomar Mountain.  We made this trip so often that some called it our first clubhouse.

Dick Wilson (member #1), started it all at the Prowlers.  Although not very active today, he still has his original Prowlers Car Club Jacket.  Photo taken in 1947. See news section under Prowler run to Pine Valley, 4/9/05. Yes, Dick is working on another hot rod and soon, we hope he will become an active Prowler once again.

Prowler meeting with some guests Jan 13, 1949 at Frank Wilkinsons house. There are 22 members present in this photo.

Another great shot of the members and their gals at a club outing in 1949.

This is Charter Member #1, Dick Wilson’s first roadster in the late 1940’s.

Dick Wilson’s “A” Ford roadster and his newly built channeled pickup yet to be chopped also from the late ’40’s.

Here’s Dick with his pickup from picture above after the chop job.

This mean look’n coupe belonged to Charter Member #2, Rick (Dick) Sawyer.  Great shot of Dick sitting in his ’32 5 window coupe waiting his turn for a run at the dry lakes in late 1948.

You will notice the cars at the dry lakes have a very fine coating of lakebed dust on them. It was a badge of honor like coming home from the mountains with snow on the roof. The talcum like dust was pretty cool for a couple days until it got all fingerprinted. 

Charter Member, Chuck “Hoot” Gibson’s ’27 “T” roadster at the dry lakes, circa 1948. “Hoot” was the first of 4 Prowler members to own this roadster. The 2nd was Carl Burnett and the 3rd was Bob Smith.  This is the same car that was on the cover of the 1958 March issue of Hot Rod Magazine when Bob got through with it. Take a moment and look at our “Prowlers on magazine covers” in the history section.  It’s interesting to see the change from racer to show car. The 4th Prowler to own this historic roadster is John LaBarre. John is almost finished with a complete rebuild – can’t wait, John!

Another shot of Hoot awith his roadster at the club picnic in 1949.

This great shot was just given to us by our latest new member John LaBarre. This is a shot of Hoot Gibson sitting on one of his rods horse’n” around.  I don’t think you’d catch any of the rodders today sit’n in this position on their ride.  Thanks for the picture John and welcome to the club.

Charter member #4 Bob “Stubby” Even at club picnic in 1949.

Charter member #9 Gordy Wells in the late 1940’s.

Three Charter members, Bob Stein #13, Cliff Crane #25 and Bill Franken #6 at an S.C.T.A. meet on April 25, 1948

Dick Bartlett, Charter Member with his ’39 Ford coupe at the Russetta Lakes meet on Sept. 12, 1948.

Here’s another Charter Member Dick Bradford with his 1940 Ford convert. at the S.C.T.A. meet on April 24 & 25, 1948.

Charter Member Bill Carpenter with his ’34 Ford. This was taken Sept. 12, 1948 at the Russetta Lakes Meet.

The Lakes course starting line. As you can see a Lakes meet drew very large crowds. This photo is circa 1948.

Leaving the starting line looking east at the dry lakes, circa 1948

The following shots are a history of Charter Member #16 John Brown.  These are some truly great and priceless pictures showing just how hot rodding began and that the Prowler members were definitely some of the “Rod Fathers Of Hot Rodding”.







Johns first rod that he built in 1947 and joined the club with.




Here’s a great shot of John standing next to his roadster.  Looks like John was a pretty classy dresser too… check out the saddle shoes!





This is 1947. John is second from left.

John is third from the left here.  Check’n out the back drop, looks like this was a regular park’n spot for John. Looks kinda like some of the stores here in El Cajon where this rod would look just great on a Wednesday night.


The next couple of pictures are of John’s next custom job. Man what’a sweet little ’36 3 window coupe. Beautiful inside and out.

This little guy is in a couple of these shots.  He is John’s little cousin Don Walrod.  Boy is that a rodders name or what.  John says Don was always hang’n around.  Don became a truck driver. Thanks goes to Andy Bekech the clubs historian for finding out who this little guy was.




In 1948 John had this 1938 Ford coupe. Check out the skirts, spots and the white walls. What great days those were!

Even in this old black and white that baby shines!  Great job, John.

By 1949, John was back to a Hi-Boy roadster with this ’31 Ford.  Note the custom grill shell. No big and littles here. John was in El Centro when this picture was taken.

By 1949 John was building a ’32 sedan.

The yard in these pictures tell a lot!  John tells us the final look of this sedan was a 4″ chopped top painted metallic midnight blue. This sedan was sold immediately on completion and he never got any finished pictures. Man, that’s gotta be a heart breaker.  John says he felt this was his best one. I don’t know John – they all looked like show winners to me!

John found the club was still going in 2003 and is now a regular at the Prowler annual picnic.

And here’s a great shot of our Charter Member #16 John Brown as he stands today. He still has his “original” Prowler jacket and regularly attends our annual Old Timers Picnics.  Not to bad for 56 years and he can still get in it.  Good go’n John! 

Thanks for the great walk through time John.  Still kinda wondering what your next rides gonna be?  Thanks also goes to Andy our historian for getting these great shots to us for the web site.

Heres a great shot of Milt Mitsingas with his ’36 Ford coupe.

 Here’s Ed “Axle” Stewart in his ’28-’29 Ford roadster just outside of Temecula Calif.  This was taken on an obscure country road that was found so that all the “Hot Rodders” could race.  The rodder to the left is Willie Pebbles. This photo was taken in the late ’30s or early ’40s.

This was at the dry lakes. Ed’s shop truck before is was flamed. Ed’s on the left. Unknown friend on the right.

Always a smile on Ed “Axle” Stewart’s face.  Lakes picture from the ’40’s

Ed pumping up the right rear tire before his lakes run. Bob “Lil Axle” Stewart, his son, on the far left.  This is from 1947.

Ed waiting in line at El Mirage Dry Lakes to make a run.

Great shot of Axle coming right off the line.

Another great shot of Ed’s rod taken at the El Mirage Dry Lakes.

 Ed “Axle” Stewart with his famous roadster back in 1948 with son Bob.

Heres a picture of Ed’s roadster while at the lakes in ’48. This was set to us by Roy Cariola. Thanks Roy!

Shot of Ed “Axle ” Stewart’s High Boy Roadster at the lakes in the late ’40’s.  Bob (Lil Axle) standing behind the roadster with sunglasses. Note the driver at the left in the cloth helment!

 Here’s a picture of Ed and Bob’s Speed Shop. The 1939 Ford convertible was owned by Marty Moore and he never sold it!

Note: the address of 3210 Congress is now the site of Old Town Park and a trolley station.

 Ed’s shop truck at Paridise Mesa Drag Strip.  Ed’s truck has been flamed with them “Wild” flames.  Unknown person at right.  Taken early ’50’s

This is Ed Stewart with his ’32 Ford Hi-Boy roadster at El Mirage Dry Lakes. Ed was a member of  S.C.T.A., R.T.A., San Diego Roadster Club and the San Diego Prowlers.  Ed owned Stewarts Speed Shop too.

Ed’s famous ’32 Ford roadster was restored by his son, Bob “Lil Axle” Stewart. This picture was taken in June of ’02.  Bob has painstakingly restored the car to it’s original build (except prettier).  Ed and Bob were both members of the Prowlers Club.  We want to say thanks to Bob Stewart for all the family pictures he gave the club. The car was still in the family in 2019.

Thanks goes out to Frank Lurry for the following shots.

The “Wha’ Hoppin Special” built by the Downey Bros. here in San Diego. This turned into Clark Geffe’s Roadster. We’re not sure where this shot was taken but if it was in color you’d think this rod was here today with its style.

Man what’a great shot of the timing tower at El Mirage Dry Lakes.  Could that be a  J. Otto Crocker clock with Mr.Crocker sitting with it on the end?

Just look at all the Hi Boy Roadsters !!  Note the S.C.T.A. tower in the background.  Thats the same tower as in the previous picture above only this time its has an umbrella. It can get really hot in the summer months there.

Wow, what’a crowd !!  So many great roadsters, Henry Ford would be proud ! Note the military style ambulance at the right.

Crowds lined up to the starting line at the Dry lakes.  You know this was an S.C.T.A. meet as only open cars were allowed in the early years of S.C.T.A.

1947 S.C.T.A. meet right at the starting line. 

Check out those timing lights hang’n across the starting line.

This is Ed “Axle” Stewart’s Hi-Boy Roadster. It looks like he’s going through some sort of inspection. If you check out the guy to the right has some sort of official arm band on.

Another shot Ed’s ’32 roadster.  Check out the cool tonneau cover. Once again want to thank Frank Lurry for sending us these great pictures of the past.  Our website wouldn’t be the same without guys like this.

Here is a fun cartoon we think originated very early as part of a birthday card for #28. The highest member number shown is #36, Don Purdy which places it in 1947 or 48. A close look reveals member numbers on each of the carefully individualized characters. Their obvious love of hot rodding shows as they excitedly inspect #28’s latest ride!

ps: It isn’t clear in our records exactly who was #28. Call us if you know!

Here is a fun cartoon we think originated very early as part of a birthday card for #28. The highest member number shown is #36, Don Purdy which places it in 1947 or 48. A close look reveals member numbers on each of the carefully individualized characters. Their obvious love of hot rodding shows as they excitedly inspect #28’s latest ride!

ps: It isn’t clear in our records exactly who was #28. Call us if you know!