Performance Tune. It counts down in standard cadence, then kicks off the line like a jubilant Baptist gospel rave, upshifts with a frenzied speed metal slam, hunkers down to a soulful romantic devotional, then decelerates in three-quarter time to a blissful lullaby coda, all the while remaining a love song of operatic gravitas.
Let’s take it from the top: And a one-a, and a two-a… The timeless aria of the Green Weenie was written in three-part harmony by three generations of Dave Orrs. Eighteen-year-old Dave Orr Senior composed the intro to this opus in 1959 when he caught wind of a decrepit ’31 Ford coupe through the grapevine and promptly tracked it down to a Milford, Ohio, backyard.
Its owner, a Mr. Robert Surber, was hell-bent on hoarding it for a “someday” restoration, but Dave’s persistence ultimately triumphed (though Mr. Surber was not amused by what he perceived as Dave’s blasphemous intent to bastardize Henry Ford’s original design). Dave scored the coupe for $500, thanks to a $250 loan from his sister Ethyl. Dave’s sidekick Geoff “Godfry” Overly helped drag the hulk to Dave’s father’s Cincinnati driveway, where it was hastily tarped.
Literally working undercover, Dave immediately slipped the 303-inch Super 88 engine from his daily driven ’53 Olds into the coupe’s now-fortified original chassis (employing an adapter to accommodate a Ford three-speed transmission). A relatively beefy ’54 Olds rearend completed the drivetrain. Orr and Overly’s mutual pal Bob Osborne ran a body shop on Bramble Avenue in Cincy, and he allowed the part-time employees off-hours access to the shop and equipment. Orr, Overly, and some high school pals commenced sanding on a Friday night, and the coupe was painted Bolero Maroon by Monday morning. Elapsed time for the chassis, drivetrain, paint, and bodywork upgrades was an efficient 30 days.
Once the coupe became mobile, some challenges ensued. For one thing, Dave had to constantly swap his only drivetrain back and forth between the Olds and the coupe to keep both cars animated. For another, Dave Orr met the future Gerri Orr at Fairfax, Ohio’s Park More Drive-Inn restaurant, while making a pass through in buddy Tom Wolf’s ’57 Chevy one night. When dating a month later, Gerri was finally introduced to the hot rod A-Bone, to which she responded, “So you’re the guy who was giving all the girls rides, when I was too shy to ask for one!” They married in Orr’s 20th year, 1961.
In 1963, the Orrs packed up the coupe and moved to South El Monte, California, where Dave Senior’s father now lived. After cold-calling on several shops, Dave was hired on at Ernie’s Mechanical and Body Shop in El Monte. When challenged by Mr. Ernie to re-wire a Model A for his audition, Dave got it running and drove it out of the shop by closing time.
While Dave was soaking up Southern California hot rod culture, the coupe’s venerable Olds mill and three-speed were replaced with a 383-inch Mopar wedge and Chrysler four-speed combo, in anticipation of some hot drag race action. While they were redecorating, the Orrs changed the maroon body pigment to green over a silver basecoat. It was wife Gerri who then dubbed the coupe, “the Green Weenie, of course!” Daughter Cheryl Orr was born in El Monte at this time, and it was unanimously decided that a return to Ohio would be in the family’s best interest. The Orrs and their now-D/Altered race car left California in November of 1964, and picked right up where they’d left off in Cincinnati.
Dave Senior got serious with the coupe in the summer of 1965, building a stout ’55 331-inch Hemi with pal Bob Glazer. Alas, the stock oiling system was not up to the task, resulting in a spun bearing. The ensuing rebuild featured some sleight-of-hand cylinder head work by Huck’s Machine Shop (in Madisonville, Ohio) under the stock four-barrel intake. That freshman season produced some humbling but valuable lessons, which promptly transferred into evermore motivation.
With the racing hook now buried deep in his gills, Dave stepped up to an injected ’56 354-inch Hemi for the 1966 season. Again, stock heads were deemed serviceable, but most other OE parts were replaced with hard-core aftermarket and hand-fabbed components. At this point, the pump-gas guzzling Weenie was dialed-in at various Midwest strips, piling up trophies in the process.
By 1970, Dave found himself sneaking a mortgage payment to feed his race habit and could hear the crescendo of his racing career approaching. When an exploding clutch disc resulted in a final round redlight against his arch rival, wife Gerri met Dave at the shutdown area with a fury, prompting the track announcer to call for security over the PA, but no one dared enter the fray. From that day, the Orrs became “occasional racers,” and shifted their primary focus to the family business.
To the Orr’s son Dave Junior, the Green Weenie was akin to a family dog, which he dutifully cared for while simultaneously developing his own purebred pedigree.
“Dad was done racing by the time I was old enough to really help out,” he recalls. “He had opened Orr’s Auto Body Shop and didn’t have the money to race. I don’t really remember him racing it, [except for] a few times in the ’70s. I do remember the first time I raced Dad in the Weenie, with me in the ’68 Chevelle that I’ve had since I was 14. We were at Kil-Kare [Xenia, Ohio], and I was 16. We launched together, and with every shift, he would drop back, then pull back next to me. I won the race. Dad stopped running the car when he spun in the middle of [Hamilton, Ohio’s] Tri-State Dragway in 1979, and Mom told him he was done racing.”
Junior took the Weenie’s reins for a while, but his wheel time was also scaled back drastically following yet another pinball ride at Tri-State in the late ’80s. “I came back into the pits and told Dad that I was done racing it, as I didn’t want to take a chance on wrecking it.” But growing up with the Green Weenie inspired Junior’s involvement with myriad other quarter-milers, most notably, the Dave Orr and Sons Green Weenie Model A roadster.
These folk tales and more were later relayed from the elder Orrs to Junior’s son Dave III, who took them to heart and was inevitably drawn to the flame. “I’ve only driven the car once,” he says. “To be honest, it scared me a bit. I’ve been behind the wheel of some faster modern cars, but [the coupe] is so much more raw and unhinged. For most of my life it has been locked away, occasionally being brought out for car shows. I have only seen the car go down the dragstrip a few times in my life. I would usually be the one to get it cleaned up, making sure not to rub through the paint on the body. That paint is the original single-stage lacquer that my grandfather sprayed, some 51 years ago.”
Thus, three generations of Orrs have been defined in part by their association with the Green Weenie. Consequently, the Orr’s achievements with their Green Weenie and Mudrunner roadsters, Don Adams’ blown Donovan Orrville’s Toy altered, and a pair of NHRA Top Dragsters, have gone relatively unheralded. Regardless, Dave Orr Jr. states, “We still have all of these cars. Some are together and some are not.”
Equally as satisfying as the Orr’s history with the coupe is the fact that every track it raced on enjoyed unusually long lifespans, as if the hot jams emanating from the Green Weenie’s headers had somehow anointed each of these strips with immunity from Father Time (and from the consternation of original owner Robert Surber, wherever he may be).