The Rock & Roll of Holman & Moody

Posted April 15, 2020

By Jeff Bruss

Photos: By Jeff Bruss and millerracers2000 - originally posted to Flickr as 2008-Hershey-Dan Gurney-NASCAR #28, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/...


Some remember when they first heard Zeppelin, Hendrix or Nirvana. I remember the first time I heard a Holman & Moody.

Off in the distance, the barely audible rapping drone of a small block working overtime. Rhythmically thumping like a runner's heart on the final stretch. It draws closer. Straight exhaust amplifies the sound and sends vibrations through my skin. I think I smell gasoline, or maybe it's my imagination. Multiple senses erupt caused by nothing more than a cam rotating and pistons pumping.

Standing in the grass, scanning the horizon I finally see it coming toward me. The driver turns hard, it sounds like he never lets off throttle, now hammering away from me the sounds are magnified. Holy Mary. He makes another hard lap around and then effortlessly floats up to the dock at idle. A soft cam lopping like John Bonham's bass drum pushes the internal combustion carnage out the stainless through-hull exhaust. I did smell gasoline. This was no race car, it was a boat.

My first Holman & Moody experience wasn't from a race-proven pavement star, rather an early 1970's Correct Craft Mustang. The Mustang was a 16-foot ski boat barely large enough to hold four ’Murican-sized adults. While the Holman & Moody -powered Mustang didn't offer any substantial performance gains over a standard marine engine choice, it did offer a more free-flowing exhaust that simply made is sound faster.

Holman & Moody's ties to marine engine building ran nearly as deep as those of the asphalt tracks. The engine performance division would build both small and big block powerplants for off-shore racers and runabouts. Correct Craft wasn’t the only boat builder featuring the sexy NASCAR engines in a hull. Don Aronow, famous for coming up with some of the most iconic off-shore powerboats ever built, offered Holman & Moody engines as options in Donzi "Sweet" models.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, John Holman along with co-founder Ralph Moody hammered out some of the most ferocious factory-Ford racing engines of the 1960s. An impressive list of credentials included NASCAR championships in both 1968 and 1969 under driver David Pearson. Together the pair manufactured engines that won 92 NASCAR Grand National races. Indeed, the tagline "Competition Proven" was merited.

Holman got his start as a mechanic and chase vehicle driver with legendary off-roader Bill Stroppe. In 1957 Holman would team up with seasoned stock car racer Ralph Moody. Funded by a $12,000 loan taken against Moody's airplane, the duo would become one of the premier race-engine builders of the next decade. Going full-circle, in 1965 Holman & Moody even invested in Holman's old boss's shop (Bill Stroppe's organization was still chugging along building off-roaders on the west coast). The all-star engine, racing and off-road coalition even led to a one-off 1969 Holman-Moody-Stroppe Bronco.

Gurney 28

In 1971 Holman and Moody eventually parted ways. Moody sold out his portion to his co-founder and would open his own operation in engine research and development. Sadly, only four years later in 1975, John Holman would die of a heart attack while testing a new truck intercooler he was developing. Holman & Moody would putter along for a few more years under bank ownership. Eventually ownership with no engine expertise nor passion would sell out the company's assets. The majority of the assets were acquired by Holman's son, Lee, who still operates the company today.

While I have rock and roll favorites, nothing beats the sound of a vintage Holman & Moody 302 marine engine. The sexiness of the Ford blue paint, original decals, h/m casted parts and "Competition Proven" history are my favorite album cover artwork of all-time.


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