News flash: An 80-year-old Omaha man was clocked recently at speeds exceeding 200 mph.
Was he cited? Well, of course — with a certificate, a trophy and a plaque. And why not? After all, he reached the speed while driving a 1941 Studebaker coupe.
No, not your grandfather's '41 Studebaker, though someone's grandpa must have owned it 70 years ago. The car, which George Roseland drove at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah last month, has been modified — it is one souped-up hot rod.
In recent years the car underwent various modifications to its body and innards, the mechanical equivalent of joint replacements, organ transplants and plastic surgery.
The better analogy might be Frankenstein's monster. George describes the process as bringing a car back to life.
“We threw a bunch of used pieces and parts in a pile at the Arbor Garage,” he said, “and made a car out of it. We said we wouldn't quit until we could get it to 200 mph.”
Among the car's parts are a '46 Ford front axle, a '69 Ford van rear axle, a '73 Chevy three-speed transmission and an '86 Chevrolet 350cc engine.
George admires the beauty of steel parts that smoothly work in unison like — well, like a well-oiled machine.
He has loved cars since he was 16, taking automotive mechanics classes at South High. He tinkered in a neighbor family's two-car garage near Hanscom Park before buying a gas station in 1953 at 32nd Avenue and Arbor Street.
He and wife Joan raised five children and will be married 60 years in November. George often worked at the Arbor Garage from 7 a.m. until 9 at night, repairing vehicles' brakes, transmissions and other parts.
He helped create lots of hot cars and dragsters over the years and used to race at the old Playland Speedway in Council Bluffs. For a decade, he and friends promoted the Midwest Autorama at the Omaha Civic Auditorium. He has long been active in the Omaha Soapbox Derby.
In the late 1970s, he moved the Arbor Garage to 2565 Leavenworth St., near downtown. His loyal customers included many widely known attorneys and judges.
In 1996 he sold the business to a former protégé, Kevin Nichols, who still runs it under the name Arbor Garage. But George is there almost every day, including the daily 8:30 a.m. coffee klatsch with buddies.
“I retain the right to work there any time I want,” George said with a smile. “I have almost unlimited access.”
The pals who have worked on the '41 Studebaker call themselves Team SOB — for South Omaha Boys. For five years they took the car to the Salt Flats in northwestern Utah, trying to achieve the speed goal. Last year their creation got to 198.
They modified it for better handling and tried once more on Aug. 12, part of the annual Speed Week. The Salt Flats long have been known as the site where people attempt world land-speed records on a remnant of Pleistocene Epoch lake.
George wasn't going for a world record but for that personal record, a round number starting with “2.” In some previous attempts the car spun out at very high speeds, but it didn't roll and he wasn't injured.
It's a straight five-mile shot, not an oval, with times recorded in mile increments.
On a 100-plus-degree day, he sat for 15 to 20 minutes waiting his turn, wearing his hot driving suit. Fire extinguishers sat next to him.
Finally, off he went. It felt good, and the speedometer reached for a new high. At the end, a parachute deployed to slow the car.
When the time was made official, George and his group of 25 family and friends cheered. Mission accomplished.
Two days ago, on a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Omaha area, far from the Bonneville Flats, a bunch of salty guys and gals celebrated outside Bushwackers in Ralston at a “200 mph party and auto show.”
There sat the '41 Studebaker, its reddish flat finish and decals making it by far not the prettiest and shiniest car in the show. But for George and some fellows whose names were painted on the car, such as Duane Jazynka, Harold Shuman, Larry Cain and Nichols, it represented a pretty shiny achievement.
A friend had created a handmade plaque, which included the time of 201.149 mph and the words “George Roseland, World's Fastest SOB.”
He still enjoys his life of cars, which he said has been “a wonderful ride.” But maybe he can finally slow down.
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