“I want you to have my little race car,” LeFever remembers his grandfather saying. “I know you have the ability and will finish it someday. Put it in your garage and one day you’ll walk into the garage, think of me, and finish the project.”
The “little race car” is a built-from-scratch model or replica of a Harry Miller race car. The Millers are best known for their contribution to the Indianapolis 500. Miller-built cars won the Indianapolis 500 nine times.
The car is now known as a 1928 FWD (front wheel drive) LeFever Special Family Heirloom.
And it happened just as his grandfather said it would. David walked into the garage and knew it was time to start finishing what Cecil Allman had started some three or four decades earlier.
The frame sat in the Allman Bros. Garage in Churubusco for several years.
Work on the car was halted around the start of WW2 when priorities changed for the entire country and frivolous spending or projects were kept in check.
The car was moved to Allman’s basement until it found a new home in LeFever’s garage.
The process has been a slow one, and is not quite yet complete.
David and his wife Monica looked for 10 years to find a body that would work. But he knew he was on the right track because it “felt like grandpa was standing right beside me.”
The body was found while walking through a swap meet one day. David started sifting through a pile, slowly revealing a major piece of his car. “We’ve learned that “if it’s chrome, we walk on by. If it’s rusty, it deserves a second look,” commented Monica.
The cars were not mass-produced, so parts are not interchangeable, have been difficult to find and in some cases just needed to be manufactured.
When David and Monica found someone to manufacture the wheels, David struggled with the purchase of one or two and Monica reminded her husband there were not a lot of places to find these. She suggested four and a spare. They were hand-delivered six months later.
David has had to make some modifications to his grandfather’s work.
It was Cecil who built the rear-end which had to be re-built so the body would work. But LeFever knew his grandfather would approve.
The Hartford Fricton Shocks took almost 13 months to get. (Partly because the manufacturer’s dog literally ate the first order.)
The air pressure gauge came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The oil pressure gauge, from Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Tachometer came from Iowa and was hand-painted by a man who lives on Stellhorn Road in Fort Wayne. The radiator was four months in the making.
When David makes a trip to check out a specific part, he still uses his Grandpa’s steel ruler and micrometer.
Local machinist Gabe Van Avery is not only a good friend and “almost like a son” to the LeFevers, he is responsible for any machine work that has been done for the car.
“If we design it, he (Van Avery) can build it,” commented the LeFevers.
David gained the admiration of several “old timers”when he received an aluminum Nardine Oil Pan from Monica one year for Christmas.
And the car’s gas cap was purchased from the co-founder of the Harry Miller Club, Chuck Davis.
“My mechanic in Chicago has the cap,” said Davis from his vacation home in Florida. “I’ll send it to you and if it works, we’ll talk price. If not, keep it on your shelf until I need it.”
It was Davis who invited the LeFevers to the Miller Show, a Vintage Indy Car Event. David questioned whether his car should be included since it was a replica of a Miller.
Mr. Davis informed the LeFevers that if they were trying to track down an original gas cap and other parts, they were welcome at the show. He wanted to see what they had.
When show officials called the LeFevers the week prior to the event, they too questioned the legitimacy of the invitation. When it was explained that Mr. Davis had extended the invitation, David and Monica were told they looked forward to meeting them at the show.
It was the first time the car was viewed by the public.
Since then, the LeFevers have added a trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Bonneville, Utah.
In addition to looking for parts for the race car, the LeFevers also look for “period pieces” or racing memorabilia from the early 1900’s.
One such find is a racing cap. It was interesting to hear the purpose for the white caps worn by drivers in the early days of racing.
Monica explained that while they offer no protection as would the helmets of today, they do serve a purpose. In a wreck with multiple vehicles, emergency workers responding to the crash would determine who needed attention first by viewing the caps. The person who had the bloodiest cap, indicating a head wound of some sort, would become the priority.
It may sound like this project has consumed every waking hour of the LeFever’s lives since that phone call from Grandpa Cecil.
That certainly is not the case. Admittedly, there have been times David will disappear from the house with an inspiration. But Monica knows he’s in the garage.
Monica said it was Chuck Davis who reminded them “you own the car, the car doesn’t own you.” He encouraged them “to have life beyond this car.”
And they do have a life outside of finishing the project. Family, children (son Terry, daughter Laura), grandchildren, and school are important pieces of the LeFever’s life. Monica is a retired school teacher and David enjoys his job driving truck for a local company.
David admitted that if he didn’t have the car, he would probably be into airplanes. Monica gently suggested there be no new projects.
The “LeFever Special” has yet to be driven. The engine runs while on the stand, but some work remains before the first in-car test occurs.
Monica was clear the family has decided David will be the first to drive the heirloom when that time arrives. But I’m thinking if his granddaughter is old enough to drive by then, a smile might just get her the first trip behind the wheel.