Dean Batchelor: Car Designer, Driver, Mechanic, Auto Journalist and Hot-Rod Historian
There’s a reason that, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the nation’s premiere collector-car competition, the permanent historic hot rod class-winning trophy is named after Dean Batchelor. A car designer, driver, mechanic, legendary automotive journalist and hot-rod historian, Batchelor did it all.
An active hot rodder before World War II, Batchelor served in a B-17 in the U.S. Army Air Corps, was shot down over Munich in 1944, and became a POW for a year. With his postwar degree in industrial design, Batchelor designed the innovative, record-setting So-Cal Streamliner (with Alex Xydias, founder of the So-Cal Speed Shop) and survived a terrible 150-mph crash when it flipped at high speed. He also made his mark designing the winning Hill-Davis and Shadoff Special Streamliners. These cars, which set FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) records, were hand-built by backyard California hot rodders and were faster than the vaunted pre-war land-speed-record cars built by Germany’s Auto Union.
The So-Cal belly tank that was last ran by Xydias and Batchelor in 1948. Itching for more speed, Xydias and Batchelor decided it was time to get seriously innovative. It was time to build an honest to goodness streamliner – the purest form of speed imagined. They started by teaming with Valley Custom.
See, Dean Batchelor worked at Valley Custom and he well knew the capabilities of Niel Emory and his brother and law, Clayton Jensen. They were tapped to build the streamliner body that was destined to go on the former belly tank chassis. It was a combination that would see both success and failure.
At the first Bonneville Nationals in 1949, the car flat out flew. With Batchelor driving, the streamliner ran the fastest speed of the meet at 187.89 mph and set two class records: the ‘A’ class streamliner at 156.39 mph and the ‘C’ class at 189.745 mph. Their success continued throughout 1949 and the team picked up a 2nd place award in the SCTA points championship. Rarely do inaugural outings go so well.
The year of 1950 would bring a change in luck. In May, Batchelor was on a return run when a persistent cross wind subsided. Dean tried to reverse his correction, but it was too late. The car skidded across the salt and eventually rolled, landing on all fours. During the ordeal, Dean knocked his head on the steering wheel and was rendered unconscious. The terrifying ride would never leave Dean’s imagination and, as a result, he would never race again.
The car, however, was salvageable and destined to run at the 1950 Bonneville Nationals. And, yet again, the So-Cal streamliner set the pace with records in both the ‘A’ and ‘C’ classes. Further, their 210.89 mph one-way speed was the fastest speed of the meet.
In February of 1951, Xydias and Batchelor decided to take the streamliner east and head for Daytona. The Daytona Beach Speed Trials were known to be murderous and this year was no different. Bill Dailey would be the driver. The results would be disastrous and final. The streamliner was lost to the world after rolling over hard. Only later to be revived by Dan Webb.
Dean Batchelor's post-racing career included work as a mechanic, as a historian at the National Automobile Museum in Reno and an influential car journalist, including a stint as editor at Road & Track. Later he wrote critically acclaimed books on Ferrari, Porsche and racing pioneer Briggs Cunningham, along with the definitive history, The American Hot Rod, completed the night before he died.