Roadster Run to Norm Rapp’s Garage Sale


I woke up yesterday knowing it was going to be a good one. How good? Well, that was for me to find out. Before my alarm had time to sneak up on me, I hopped out of bed and opened the curtains. I looked out into the back yard. The sun was out and the air was warm.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly seven years, and I can count on one hand the number of days it’s been hot. Sure, we’ve had warm ones, but we’re talking Midwestern hot. Those instances where you throw on shorts and a T-shirt and spend the whole day outside. And the best part about those? Everyone around you seems to feel the exact same way.

So, with the mercury rising, I walked down the front steps. I threw on my bucket hat and opened the garage door. Moments later, I was behind the wheel of my Model A roadster. Sitting in the sun in my driveway, I went through my pre-fire up ritual.

Master power: on. Fuel: on. Fuel pump: on. Left foot on the brake, left toes on the floor-mounted starter button. Press toes down. Engine turns over. Rowruruttttt. I turn the key to the “ON” position. The ’banger roars to life, breathing through the homemade header. Puddupuddup puddupupppu puddddup. I listen to it idle.

I feather the throttle. Pwwwwpppppp pwapppppp. The car sways. I smell the exhaust mixing with the scent of the vinyl bench seat. I click down the emergency brake and push it forward. Left foot on the clutch, right hand on the shifter. Over, up and I’m in reverse. I look behind me and hit the gas. I’m in the street. I’m in first. I’m in second. I’m heading out into the world.

It’s Thursday morning and the city is very much alive. Folks are making the most of this pseudo summer day. Runners, walkers, urban hikers, and on-the-road bikers are out in full force. I don’t mind. I’m happy to see them. People wave. I wave back as I shift gears, climb hills and make my way across town.

For those of you who have been to San Francisco, you know there are hills. Lots and lots of hills. My route took me up and over one of the biggest of the bunch: Twin Peaks. On my way up, I swung by my old house on Corbett Avenue. Pulling up to take a photo, I realized how much the house had been updated. New windows, new paint and a glass (!) garage door. I imagined my past (fall 2015) self looking out the window.

What would I have done if I spotted a worn and weathered hot rod on my street back in those days? Plain and simple, I would have gone running after it like a madman. I would have asked the owner a million and a half questions, and I would have spent my life dreaming of building something just like it.

A Grand Garage Sale

By mid-morning, I had arrived at my destination: Norm Rapp Racing Equipment in San Francisco’s Excelsior district. Situated in a curved building on the corner of Cordova Street, the late Norm Rapp was the go-to guy for Midget racing parts during hot rodding’s Golden Age. He was a lifelong racer, and he worked out of that shop for more than 60 years.

That became immediately clear as I walked in the front door. Last week, my welding professor told me about the garage sale, and we both decided it would be best to get there on Thursday morning. So that’s exactly what we did. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of the Bay Area hot rod community had the same idea.

From floor to ceiling there were parts on parts on parts. Some were neatly organized in little metal drawers or Dymo-labeled racks while others were simply piled atop each other. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but my eyes scanned from one mountain of treasure to the next.

Magnesium wheels. M&H tires. Nerf bars. Quickchanges. Spindles. Knock-offs. Headers. Cowls. Gauges. Fuel tanks. Upholstery. Parts filled boxes and boxes filled shelves. Pieces hung on pegboard and spilled into every possible space. Even the bathroom was lofted with axle parts neatly organized in cubbies above the stall.

I planned to stay at the sale for about 15 minutes, but that didn’t hold up for long. As the morning went on, more and more people filled the space. “There’s a lot more people B.S.-ing than buying,” I heard one shopper say with a smirk.

I ran into old friends, made new ones and finally was able to put some faces to names. As I went to leave, I realized that there were still other areas that I needed to explore one last time. Up in the attic? Down in the closet area? What about all the tubing in the back area by the bandsaw? By the end of it, I bought a homemade box for Stromberg jets and a few other odds and ends. I’ll share more about those later.

While things were winding down, my welding professor poked his head back into the shop, “Hey guys, the street sweeper is going to be here in a few minutes,” he said. “You should probably move your cars.” Just like that, everyone stopped what they were doing and dispersed into the street. On my way out, I ran into John Rapp, Norm’s son, and I thanked him for hosting us.

With the sound of the street sweeper fast approaching, I hopped into the roadster and fired it up. The hot sun had kept the engine warm, and moments later I was on the road again.

Summer Daze in the Sunset

Originally, I intended to head straight home after the sale to work on my car. Instead, I grabbed lunch at one of my favorite little taquerias and then drove over to my buddy Yama’s house. We spent the rest of the day bombing around the Sunset in the roadster and catching up with friends. It seemed as if the entire city was outside yesterday, and I’m glad that I was too.

By the time I finally pulled the car into the garage, it was well past 11 p.m. My hourlong trip had turned into an all-day adventure, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Joey Ukrop

For those of you who are local, make sure to check out the sale on Saturday and Sunday at 5 Cordova Street in San Francisco. And if you’re around on Sunday, I’ll see you at the Soapbox Derby races at McLaren Park. I’ll be there with my roadster. 


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