Bonneville via Custom

 

BONNEVILLE via CUSTOM

 

In 1953 Car Craft editor Dick Day joined Chuch DeWitt on his trip in his Barris Custom 1950 Ford convertible to the Bonneville Speed Trials. Custom Car Road-Trip, Bonneville via Custom.


Taking  a long road trip in a full Custom Car has always been something special. We know that most of the Custom Cars – up to the rise of the major car shows in the mid ’50’s – were often used for daily transport, and also for the longer trips. I have heard personal stories of Jim Skonzakes who took his ’41 Ford convertible and ’49 Buick full customs on trips all across the US and several times from Dayton Ohio to Los Angeles. Jim also drove the Jack Stewart Ford from Los Angeles to his home in Dayton. Jimmy Summers drove his full Custom 1940 Mercury all over the place together with his friend Doane Spencer in his famous 1932 Ford Roadster. We have heard about Marcia Campbell driving here ’42 Ford Coupe long distances, and many more stories that were told about these long full Custom Car road trips back in the ’40’s and ’50’s. Great stories about these guys and girls driving their dream cars, enjoying the cars in their natural habitat. Sadly only very few of these stories were  published back in the time these trips happened. The most famous road-trip story in a full Custom Car must have been the Kross Kountry trip in the Hirohata Mercury as it was published in the October ’53 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine. This published stories most likely inspired many young guy to go on similar road trips with their friends and Custom Cars.

One other published Road-trip story in a full custom that made an impact, but is often overlooked these days was in the December ’53 issue of Car Craft Magazine. Car Craft Associate Editor Dick Day documented a road trip he took with Chuck DeWitt and a friend in Chuck’s Barris Kustoms created 1950 Ford convertible from Los Angeles to the ’53 Bonneville Speed-Trials. A 1600 miles round trip documented in 6 pages, with some nice on-the-road photos of Chuck DeWitt’s beautiful Fuschia-Orchid-Metallic painted Carson topped convertible.

Chuck DeWitt’s 1950 Ford Convertible was restyled at the Barris Shop in ’52-early ’53. According the Barris Kustoms Technique book Chuck had already replaced the stock Ford engine with a hopped up Mercury unit and he had driven the car up to 118 mph before he took it to the Barris brothers for the full Custom treatment. Chopped windshield, ’53 Pontiac taillights in modified wind-splits, custom grille surround, typical Barris built grille, custom side trim using ’52 Buick and ’53 Olds component, a beautiful deep organic purple paint job and a white perfectly shaped padded top by the Carson Top Shop.



The Car Craft Article

CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-car-craft-articleThe December 1953 issue of Car Craft Magazine 6 page article on the trip from Los Angeles to Bonneville in the Barris Kustom Shop built Chuck DeWitt 1950 Ford full Custom.
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Bonneville via custom

– Transcript of the December 1953 Car Craft magazine article –

By Dick Day

What happens when you take a radical customized car away from it weekly mooring at the local drive-in, and head it out onto the open highway for a sixteen-hundered mile trip? These weremy personal thoughts as I slid into the plush interior of Chuck deWitt’s beautifully restyled ’59 Ford convertible and departed for the Bonneville National Speed Trials.

As I sat wondering what experience lay in store for use, considering the car’s roadability, comfort and the reception it would receive from the neighboring states, CHuck began relating some of the car’s technical points. The body itself has undergone some very extensive alterations by the Barris Custom Shop of Lynwood, California. The top has been  chopped three and three-quarter inches and replaced with a beautiful white padded Carson type lid. Inside, the little jewel is one mass of soft airfoam, covered with black and white rolled and pleated leatherette upholstering, which at the time was providing itself most comfortable. A quick overall summery of the car could be it has the distinction of being one of the “Ten Best Customs in the Country”.


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Our first stop for gas proved to be a ritual that was to follow us throughout the entire trip. It was the question and answer routine that every radical custom owner goes through with the average gas station attendant and his assistants. It runs like this: “Where’s the gas filler spout? How come you got it positioned in the trunk? How do you get inside without door handles? What color paint do you call this? The most pointed comment of all referred to the ground clearance, which was four-and-a-half inches all the way around, “What happens when you drive over a piece of gravel?” Once back on the highway again, we checked out the added weight necessitated by the trip and figured that the already taxed suspension was supporting approximately seven hundred punds. This included the passengers, as limited amount of camera and clothing gear and thirty gallons of gasoline. A third of this weight was towards the rear of the car. Chuck has installed in the rear deck compartment a thirteen gallon auxiliary tank for just such trips as this. When combined with the stock tank’s petrol capacity, the car is able to travel an average of Five-hundred miles without stopping for gas. This for non-stop purpose works out wonderfully, but for a car that has been drastically lowered, the extra pounds of the gas added to the rear of the car, can spell the difference between a comfortable ride and one that feels as though the body was bolted to the rear axle.

CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-03Chuck De Witt’s Ford at one of the stops during the trip.
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We negotiated about every type of road surface conceivable, except possibly one of a muddy nature (thanks, but no thanks). The car responded differently with each one. On a smooth surface the car’s response to bottoming was nil, but herex as larger amount of rocking and pitching from side to side was encountered at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. This action could be suppressed considerably, in Chuck’s case, by installing a sway bar at the rear of the car to counteract the radical side sway ad spring twisting action. On a tar-strip road the car averaged out a ride nearly equal to that of any standard production model.

A twisty mountainous road, for approximately thirty-five miles, was under construction and proved one of the most interesting roadability tests of the entire trip. The surface was of a granite gravel substance, just about ready to receive its asphalt top coating. To add a little incentive to the whole bit, a highway construction truck pulled in behind us at the summit. To stay in front of him we had to average a good fifty-five miles an hour or otherwise we’d be forced to eat dust from his rear wheels. Rocks being trown back could easily have damaged the paint on the front of the car. Strangely as it may seem, this was the smoothest ride of the whole trip, but jst a bit clamorous. Small rocks and gravel were bounding off the underneath side of the car like bullets. When we reached the floor of the canyon and the pavement once more, we stopped to examine the lower edge of the body for damages. No dents were visible, but Chuck now owned to of the most beautiful sandblasted rear fender skirts that I had ever seen. The gravel had obliterated all paint from the lower leading edge of each fender skirt.

At this point of the trip we should have realized that all had done too well, for from her on the highway was simulated obstacle course for the custom’s suspension. The ride that we had been enjoying without any aches and pains for the last four or five hundred miles went sour. The road pattern went something like this: sharp turns with wrong cambers, straight stretches had tapers from the middle of the road down to the shoulder that made us think we were running on the outside of an amusement park motordrome. Then to test Chuck’s driving skill without the price of a nickel, every fifteen or twenty feet a small knoll or slight pocket would appear for either the left of the right side of the car to go skimming over or dive into. By placing one hand up against the headliner, the left leg around the steering column and stuffing the right foot into the heater I could retain my position without too much hassle. We didn’t mind this too much because we knew it could have been worse. I could have lost the freedoms of my right arm which would have been cut off our supply of cigarettes and matches!

At Bonneville the car attracted almost as much attention as the famous 256 mph Kenz streamliner. It also gave many out of state spectators their first opportunity to see a radically customized car in the flesh.

The return trip home was repetitious of the first eight hundered miles, except for a slipping fan belt that necessitated repairs shade tree style. From this point it was only a matter of hours ’til we were rolling into Los Angeles and the cross-country trip in one of America’s outstanding restyled custom cars was coming to an end. The big question was “did the custom fail for roadability?”

This writer interpretation could be summarized possibly like this: the roadability and comfort depended largely on the condition of the road and at what speed we were traveling. This particular cars’s handling qualities were below average because drastic sacrifices were made on the front and rear suspension units to lower it to the desired level. At the same time comfort was destined to suffer from the fact that the car bottomed easier. Lately there have been some revised devices for lowering a car to a maximum degree without sacrificing handling qualities, and bottoming troubles have proved practically nil. In the near future Car Craft will feature these stories in a step-by-step version of ho they were performed.

The question, “did the car meet with any reception”? is fairly east to answer. I ‘ve never until now, found anything that would attract the attention of a die-hard gambler at a hot die table, nor anything to sway the one arm bandit friend to pear away from a triple plum, but DeWitt’s Ford had ’em falling out the doors from one end of Nevada to the other.

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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-02They made it to the Bonneville Salt Flats for the 1953 Speed Trials.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-barris-spreadThe Barris Kustom technique book shared this really great photo of Chuck driving the Ford in Las Vegas watched by a young kid on the side walk. Who knows seeing Chuck’s deep purple custom might have changed this kid forever…
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-06Dick Day and Chuck made many photos of the Ford during the road-trip, some of them were used in Dick Day’s published article. This side view shows the low stance of the car and the beautiful shape of the Carson Top Shop created padded top.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color-rhkFrom my own personal collection comes this rather faded and discolored photo taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1953. The deep purple paint must have looked absolutely stunning on the white salt.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color02-rhkRear quarter view shows some of the people at the event taking special notice of Chuck’s Custom Ford. Notice the location of the antenna on the rear splash pan.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-via-custom-color-trjThis is one of the best color photos of the Chuck DeWitt’s Ford that we know about. It was also taken at the ’53 Speed Trial event at Bonneville. It shows that the car sure made an impact with several photographers.
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Chuck’s Ford next to the Barris Kustom Auto bodies Chat Herbert “Beast” lakester.
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-07Several more glamour photos were also taken to accompany the road-trip photos in the article. Some made it to the final cut, others not. This low angle front view gives us a great look at the well designed front end on Chuck’s Ford with the molded in round tube grille opening and unique Barris grille. Notice the Southern California letters in the windshield, a typical trend in the 1940’s and early 1950’s when the car owners proudly listed the school they were at, or went to. 
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CCC-chuck-dewitt-bonneville-trip-05Barris created the stunning looking rear of Chuck’s Ford using 1953 Pontiac taillights set into extended and reshaped wind-spilts. Both front and rear bumpers are 1951 Ford an use Kaiser overriders. The rear units were modified with exhaust tips in the bullets.
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I wish there were many more articles published like this Bonneville trip and the one of the Hirohata Mercury Cross Country trip to Indianapolis. Road trips in the 1940’s and early 1950’s with Custom Cars. Road trips with many snapshots taken during the trip. Snapshots from people admiring the cars along the trip, snapshots taken from the car capturing the experience these guys had back then. And of course the stories about the trip itself. If you have ever been on a long road trip in a Custom Car, or know about some of the old guys who took trips like this back in the 40’s or 50’s. Please let us know. We would love to hear them, and share them here on the Custom Car Chronicle in our Road-Trip section.

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Resources and more info

  • Car Craft, Magazine December 1953
  • Barris Kustoms Techniques of the 50’s, Book volume 2, 1996

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2014 A-Bombers Road-trip Part 3

A-BOMBERS ROAD-TRIP 3

In 2007 my wife organized my best birthday gift ever… a trip to the A-Bombers show in Sweden. In 2014 my good friends Palle Johansen and Tim Kirkegaard thought they would try and top this gift. They invited me to join them on their trip to the A-Bombers show in their 1939 and 1947 Custom Cars with matching tear-drop trailers! This is Part 3 of the A-Bombers Road-trip story.

 
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ts Friday night, we made it back to the camp-site from the best ever road trip, with six fantastic Custom Car. The image of these beauties floating the curvy Swedish West Coast roads, is still on my mind… and I know these will never fade in my memories. But we are back now, and the camp-site has been filled up completely by now. Hot Rods, semi stocks and Custom Cars from Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands have gathered… and the party is on. The bands have started to play music in the large tent, and wonderful smells rise from the burger – wrap – noodle -stand next to it. Period dressed-up people are walking the site, just to enjoy the cars, the people, or to parade and enjoyed to be looked at and photographed. People are drinking, eating, and gather around with old friends, creating new friends, and just having a good time.
 
CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-24Darren Chapman originally from Australia, now from Norway brought his in progress ’49 Buick Chopped Sedanette. Darren explained that the car will have restyled front and rear fenders as well as some other changes for the next season. It was already great to be able to walk around it and see the flow of the chopped top.
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I met up with some old friends, Per Webb, Janne Kutja, Klaus Gardan, Christer Ehrling, and had great time talking with them and a lot of other people. We ate some grilled Swedish sausages on toasted bread with loads of Swedish mustard and ketchup and discussed with Wolf which cars he would pick for the Custom Car Line up this year.  It is the second year Wolf is organizing the Custom Car Line-Up with the CCC, at the A-Bombers Show. Wolf is trying to get a series of period perfect Customs at a photo-shoot. The cars can only be chosen by Wolf, and to be a candidate they have to have a period look, preferably with fender skirts, chopped top and Appleton Spotlights. But there are exceptions to these rules as long as the overall look is period, and Wolf likes it enough. We will do a separate CCC-Article on the Line-Up soon, stay tuned.

CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-30The 2014 Custom Car Line-Up flyer Wolf was handing out to the owners of the Customs he thought might look good on the Lin-Up. Only period looking Customs make a change of being chosen by Wolf.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-23Wolf also invited Tomas and his white primered in progress 1939 Mercury. Sadly Tomas could no be found early the next morning at the agreed meeting time when we headed out to the Line-Up Location.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-25Wolf (center) asked Miikka Salminen (right) if he and his ’36 Dodge Coupe would like to be part of this years Custom Car Line-Up… Miikka was thrilled to be part of it.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-26People having a good time, enjoying some food, drinks, the cars and their friends.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-01When it got dark I took a few night time photos with long exposure time on my tripod. 
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When we where out on our road trip some really great Custom Cars had arrived so together with the guys we went wandering around looking for the new cars, taking photos and talking to the owners. When the sun was setting I went back to my tent, took my tripod and took some long exposure car, people and overall photos. They are always fun to do, with all the nice lights and people walking around looking like ghosts.

CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-04Early Saturday morning… if you want a shower, you have to get up very early, since there are only three showers on the whole camp-site. The good thing is you have a very long day ahead of you. Palle is heating up the grille to have some toast made and boiling the water for some fresh coffee.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-02Early morning dewdrops cover the Oldsmobile taillights on Andrea’s Ă…berg’s New Panoramic Ford.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-05After breakfast Palle downloaded the photos from his camera from the days before to his laptop. He now could check them out full size… and was very happy with the result.
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Saturday morning we had an early rise again… the Line-Up photo-shoot candidates would gather at the gate at half past 9, and some of the guys wanted to give their car a quick wash to clean off the dirt from the drive the day before. I was pretty excited about the Line-Up thing. Last year I had to wait for the guys to get back home again to see the photos, but this year I would be there in person.. and help out Wolf getting the car lined up etc. The weather was absolutely perfect, nice blue skies with a few clouds here and there, and nice and warm. The nicest day so far. There would be two Line-Up photo sessions today. Wolf had scout two locations, the first one, was the same as last year. A nice restored old cobble stone road with a nice hill in front  of it for perfect photo opportunities. The only disadvantage this location has is the that the sun comes from behind early in the morning. But it worked out fine anyway. The second location was a wonderful simple grass airfield across the street from the A-Bombers camp-site. It was the first time Wolf was going to use this, and for this he planned to have the cars sit in a circle and also do a semi Ayala 1951 Motor Trend cover redo.

CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-06At around half past 9 we left to the gate were we would meet with all the Custom Car guys that Wolf invited for this years Custom Car Line-Up.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-07We had to wait for a little bit… some of the guys were not quite ready after staying up late for the big party last night.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-08We were on a tight schedule, since there were two locations for a Line-Up this year, and most of us wanted to go to the hill-climb early in the afternoon. So we ended up leaving with 8 period looking Customs. Here we just arrived at the old road, location number one.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-09The last three cars patiently waiting before they were called to park their Customs next in line.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-10Wolf made sure all the cars are parked at the same angle, and with the front end on one line. The cars were parked with a bit more space in between them than last year. This way more of the cars would show up in the photos.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-11When all the cars were parked, the owners and helpers climbed up the hill for the perfect view, and to allow the photographers to take as many photos of the Customs with no people around them as they wanted.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-12Camera turned 180 degrees from the previous photo. This is the hill where we could all look down to the Customs and take photos.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-14View from the top of the hill at the moment the owners of the cars were “ordered” to take place next to their Customs and take on the Sam Barris position.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-13Another behind the scenes photo. Palle is taking some photos using the ladder Wolf brought. There is a small hill in the middle just next to the road and you have to stand tall to be able to shoot the photos over that small hill. Lars and Stefan made sure the ladder is not falling over… teamwork.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-15When everybody had taken enough photos we all got back into our cars and headed to the second location.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-16And there we go again, back to the A-Bombers camp-site where the second location was at the small airfield across the street from the show.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-17I just cannot get enough of these wonderful custom cars on the roads. This u-turn leaving the Line-Up location, was perfect for getting the best view of the cars as well as hear the engines while taking off.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-18Wolf was the first one to get to the second location. Wonderful colored empty space background… perfect for the Circle of Custom Cars Wolf has planned next.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-31It took some effort to get all the cars in the right position for this photo-shoot, but in the end it was all worth it. The Circle of Custom Cars looked amazing.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-19It then was time to sort of re-create the famous Ayala Shop Motor Trend magazine cover from October 1951. Wolf drove his ’51 Merc into the center of the circle, and the car owners were asked to take place next to their cars again.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-27Wolf sat on the cowl of his Merc, just as Al Ayala did in the Motor Trend Cover and the others stood with their own cars. It was not intended to duplicate the scene exactly… just inspired by it.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-20Then it was time to hurry back to the camp-site to have a bite to eat and get ready for the hill climb which was another 20 minute or so drive from there.
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After the Line-Up photo-sessions we went back to the camp-site for a quite bite to eat, and then it was off to the hill-climb. The location for this is about a 20-min drive from there. We were a bit late and it was already very crouded there, as well as on the parking space reserved for it. So we parked our Customs a little further and walked back to the race track. Palle wanted to shoot some action photos from the cars at the starting grid. We arrived a little late at the race, and by then the hill road sides were filled with spectators already. So instead of getting back in line hoping to see some action on the road we went to the parking lot to look at the cars and shoot some more photos. After the race we went back to the camp-site, walked around and went to the food place at the site for a really tasty burger. Its now Saturday night… the biggest party night of the weekend, with many bands performing in the music tent.

 

CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-21On our way up to the hill climb we stopped for gas. The gas-station was filled with Hot Rods and Custom Cars… so many that I saw several regular cars who wanted some gas leave the place looking for a more quite station.
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CCC-roadtrip-a-bombers14-p3-22Custom Car Parking close to the hill-climb. Palle ended up being the only one going to the actual race, the rest of us hung out on the larger parking-lot down at the hill, to check out the cars there.
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We had to get up a bit early on Sunday, I think the camp-site has to be left by ten in the morning or so. And we had to be at the ferry back to Denmark at eleven. But we also wanted to make a quick visit to Wolf’s place which is on the way to the Ferry. I tried to wrap up the trip in this third part… but there is still so much to tell and show that there will be a part four.
 
 
Go to Part ONE, or continue to part Four of the 2014 A-Bombers Road-trip Story
 
 

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