Sweet Home man loves vintage speed

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Paul Ingram has always liked cars.

The 1933 Ford sedan sitting in his shed bears witness to that. He had it when he was a teenager in Baker City.

More recently, he’s gotten interested in old cars that go fast – vintage racecars.

Ingram, 70, of Sweet Home, has two right now, a 1953 Atlas/Ford Roadster and an English Clubman 1965 Ladybird Mark VI.

“I’ve always played with cars,” he said. “It’s been a hobby of mine.”

Ingram lives with his dog, Sarah, on a well-kept property just outside of town off Pleasant Valley Road. His wife, Nina, died suddenly and unexpectedly last fall after an operation.

He keeps his race cars and a few restoration projects in a clean, neat shop that’s decorated with old automotive signs and other mechanical paraphernalia.

Ingram grew up in Baker City and, after high school, attended Oregon Institute of Technology where he took an automobile mechanic’s course.

Back home, he spent a year as a mechanic, but it wasn’t always fun as a job.

“I was under cars in the middle of winter in Baker,” he said. “I had ice ripping me in the face, and cold sores.”

Deciding to pursue another line of work, he went to Oregon State University for five years, earning a degree in fisheries and wildlife management. He then went to work for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, spending nearly 10 years in salmon research in reservoirs, then worked as a field biologist before working in various office positions.

He started racing about 10 years ago with a 1965 Mustang that he borrowed.

“I thought I’d see if I liked it,” he said.

A friend of his was racing a Formula Ford Marlin with a 1600 cc engine, such as the ones in 1970s Pintos.

Ingram decided to get one of his own.

“It was a very popular series,” he said. “They still race them today, though the suspensions are a lot trickier now.”

Ingram said he spent several years racing the Marlin, “then some guy came along with more money than good sense and he bought it out from under me.”

He purchased the Atlas in 1997 and started racing it in 2000, beginning at the Mary Hill Loops near The Dalles.

In recent years, he’s raced six or eight times a year.

“I’ll probably do eight this year,” he said.

He’s a member of SOVREN, the Society of Vintage Racing Enthusiasts, which puts on meets solely for vintage racers, and he also races in Sports Car Club of America events.

This year he plans to race twice at the nearly two-mile Portland International Speedway. He also plans to travel to Bremerton and to Laguna Seca, near Monterey, Calif.

Last year, he and a group of fellow racers traveled to Laguna Seca, then hit Thunder Hills, near Willows in northern California, on the way home.

“Most of the tracks I go to are within a two-day drive,” he said.

He said the top speed he’s hit is about 140 mph, “which is about as fast as you can go at the end of the straightaway, going into a curve.”

The fastest track he’s been on is Sears Point, with Laguna Seca a close second.

He said there are still some tracks he’d like to race on – one in Bakersfield and the other in Las Vegas.

Ingram said he races both the Atlas, which he said was built by Mickey Thompson and Roy Kinch, and the Ladybird. The Atlas has a 239 V-8 engine that’s been bored out to 296 cubic inches and produces 180 horsepower. The Ladybird has a four-cylinder MC Sprite engine that churns out 120 horsepower.

In addition to racing cars, he enjoys fixing them up. He has a 1954 Studebaker hardtop that he bought off E-Bay and fixed up.

After he retired from ODFW in 1991, Ingram said, he got into the used car business.

“I’d buy totals and rebuild them,” he said. “I did that until it became a job.”

These days he has a few restoration projects in the works – a 1954 Ford Club Coupe that he’s building into a show car with his son Michael, who lives in the Sweet Home area. He also has a 1946 Ford woody station wagon that he said he wants to get done “before I die.”

“I’ve done the engine and the running gear,” he said. “Now I have to do the hard part. I think I’m going to start hiring out some of the work that I need done,” he grinned.

He said he doesn’t do paint any more.

“I found out early that I ruin paint jobs,” he said.

He also buys and sells old Ford parts, and rebuilds transmissions and rear ends for vintage Fords, hauling them to swap meets.

“I’ve always just liked tinkering with cars,” he said.