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Here’s a first for our Classic Kit Cars & Specials series as we cross the pond and take a look at some heroes and icons from drag and short oval racing. We kick off with the automotive industry’s pioneer of mail-order shopping Charles Card Jr better known as Honest Charley. STEVE HOLE is our guide.

There are several things that make Charles Card Jr a very notable figure in the automotive aftermarket. He was the first to offer a mail-order service for go-faster speed parts. He was the second inductee into the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s (SEMA) Hall of Fame after ‘slipper’ clutch inventor, Paul Schiefer, in 1970.

Incidentally, without Schiefer’s clutch system, drag racers would have struggled to get going on the strips of America.

A motorsport diehard, Charles began by visiting race meetings at the weekend with his boot laden with all sorts of speed equipment he’d sell to drivers and team bosses in the paddock. He opened his Honest Charley Speed Shop in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1948.

It didn’t take very long before others were also offering a mail-order facility, but Charley was definitely first. This was a gift for drag racers and muscle car owners as they could have the parts they wanted delivered to their door. The market became hugely crowded very quickly but there was room for everyone.

Another USP for Charley was that his catalogues were always entertaining and unique, often with little cartoons in the margins. Card was an enthusiastic and benevolent sponsor he was made a lifetime member of the USAC.

Card’s dad was born in Scotland but had settled in New Jersey in the twenties and opened a wholesale business that ran for 48 years before the family moved south to Tennessee, namely Chattanooga, which had become a hotbed for industry and manufacturing in the forties.

Charley worked for his dad’s firm for seventeen years and in later years he ran the company’s fleet of trucks.

Striking out on his own in 1940, he opened a restaurant in downtown Chattanooga. Always looking for an angle to increase covers, he removed the payment desk to allow for another table to be squeezed in. When the customers were finished, he would ask them what they had ordered and charge them accordingly relying very much on trust.

One day, a lady said: “Ooh, you are honest Charley,” and little did she know that she had christened his automotive business – Honest Charley Speed Shop. An evolution of ever-increasing stores would finally result in a 30,000 sq/ft distribution depot in 1964. Card didn’t open his own branches but he did offer franchise opportunities so there were Honest Charley stores all across America.

Card and his business partner son-in-law, Robert Espy developed great relationships with the big performance part manufacturers such as Vic Edelbrock, George and Earl Holley, Phil Weiand, Ed Iskenderian and George Hurst. This meant he never had any stock shortages and always had new products first. This gave him an edge as did having several of the companies produce their own brand parts for him.

Among the drag race drivers to receive sponsorship from Honest Charley were ‘TV Tommy’ Ivo and ‘Jungle Jim’ Liberman.

When Card died in 1974, Robert Espy continued to run the company in the same way that Charley had and it was doing nicely until times and tastes changed and rivals became more aggressive. Sadly, the company closed its shutters for the last time in 1990.

After laying dormant for some eight years, in 1998, leading drag strip and hot rod tyre manufacturer, Coker Tire acquired the rights to the Honest Charley Speed Shop name and resurrected the company. They concentrated on mail-order via an internet parts store.

They did this until 2022 when they closed the parts side of the business and concentrated on car restoration and merchandise. You can find out more via