On any given Summer weekend, Kansas is ripe with opportunities to get your fix of top-notch examples of classic cars like Ford Model Ts, Plymouth Belvederes, Dodge Chargers, Thunderbirds, and Pontiac GTOs, Bonnevilles and more. And while the cars themselves are testaments to the tender loving care of their owners, each car comes with its own unique story. Saturday morning, Great Bend was the place, featuring Barton County Historical Society’s annual Rolling Sculpture car show. Al Denning was on hand to share the story of his Ford UK Anglia with enthusiasts.
From shop to field
Denning’s family originally bought the Anglia in the early 1960s to fix up for a school car. While the Anglias of the 1940s (especially the 1947 and 1948 models) and early 1950s were coveted by racers, the completely different body style of the 1957 was plain by comparison. Still, one neighbor wanted to trade his project car, a two-door Ford coupe, for the Anglia, but Denning’s dad was adamantly against it.
Dad has been gone for 27 years, and finally Denning has his hot rod. He painted it his dad’s favorite color, red, in his memory.
Mechanical problems with the 4-cylinder motor, and difficulty finding parts eventually resulted in the Anglia being sidelined. It ended up sitting by the chicken house for ten years before he sold it to a friend for $25. There, it sat in a barnyard from 1978 to 2010.
“When I went out and looked at it, it was so rough, I wasn’t sure I could save it,” he said. Still he purchased it back from his friend for $50.
From field to shop
It took Denning five years to bring the Anglia back to life.
“I wanted to build it old school so I could work on it myself,” he said.
He spent about as much time sitting in a chair looking at it as he did working on it. Questions like, “is this going to fit,” and “will this work,” ran through his head. The car still had all the glass, though the rear winshield had fallen into the car when the rubber gasket wore away.
“All the side windows were up, and over all those years of it sitting out there, no one shot them out,” he said, a fact that surprised him.
But for the parts that were broken and missing, he had to order many from England.
The windshield was broken and required replacement. The new one made a world tour, going from England to New Zealand, then to Wisconsin before he finally received it.
One of the many challenges was coming up with a hood scoop. A hood scoop is a raised area on the hood of a vehicle, which sits over the engine, and directs fresh air to the engine for greater combustion. This translates into higher horsepower. Most, he said, are big and bulky, and many racers don’t like them because it’s hard to see the tree (where the starting signal lights are at the starting line) from the left lane. He wanted something low profile. It was his wife who led him to a rather unique idea.
He heard about a consignment sale at Great Bend Expo 3, where a wire welder was going to be auctioned. It was just what he needed to do his bodywork, so he loaded his truck with junk from his shop and went intending to bring back the welder.
Before the auctioneer finally took bids on it, his wife won a bid on an old school desk, picking it up for $1. She thought the neighbor children would like it, but Denning wasn’t surprised when they didn’t. He figured he’d disassemble it, trash the wood and take the metal to the scrap yard. Luckily, he didn’t act too fast.
“I pulled my van into park it one night, and I looked at it,” he said. He saw it in a new light. “There’s my hood scoop!”
The bottom of the old school desk sits atop the hood of his old school Anglia now, the low profile providing just the ventilation the new 350 Chevy engine needs to go from zero to 103 mph in 12.85 seconds.
The car, which can be raced in both sportsman and street legal classes, is Denning’s toy. The 88-inch wheelbase is really squirrely, so driving perfectly straight is critical, he said. As another layer of protection, he added a roll cage, one of a handful of conditions imposed by Mrs. Denning. Wearing a helmet and purchasing a burial policy were a few of the others.
Denning can usually be found volunteering as the assistant starter at the SRCA Drag Strip west of Great Bend. He finished the Anglia in 2015, and only occasionally takes it to the strip, he said. He prefers the Test and Tune nights, rather than racing — except for the occasional grudge match between friends.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said. “It pumps you.”