AT THE risk of gushing over yet another winged warrior on the Mecum Auctions website, we reckon Big Willie’s Daytona might be the coolest thing we’ll see this week (apart from Mad Max: Fury Road).
Big Willie Robinson was a veritable man mountain who used street racing as a way to bring the various warring Los Angeles communities together in the wake of the Watts race riots of the mid-60s. He was approached during the worst of the gang violence and racial upheaval in 1966 to take his status as a street racer and give the disillusioned Mexicans, blacks, Asians, the poor and the rich a focus. Officials at the time noticed how integrated the illegal street racing scene was, so Robinson started the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers. Ten thousand people turned up for the first Friday night running of the quasi-legal street events, double that the following week. “Ain’t no colours here, it’s all just engines,” Big Willie said.
Robinson was the ideal figurehead for the movement. He stood at six foot six, was built like the proverbial brick shithouse and had toured Vietnam as a Green Beret, so nobody was going to mess with him. Not that there was much inclination to. LA gang leaders reportedly sanctioned the initiative and largely kept peace – even after Martin Luther King was assassinated, which caused major unrest in other US cities.
Robinson also oversaw the creation of the Brotherhood Raceway Park (BRP) in LA, which became a neutral gathering point for LA streeters, and there he’d drag his 1969 Hemi Dodge Daytona with his wife Tomiko, who had a matching car. BRP was also the birthplace for the import scene throughout the 80s and 90s, but it was closed when the venue became too valuable to other commercial interests and, despite Robinson’s protests, became an import wharf. The street racing legend died from an undisclosed illness in 2012, aged 70.
Big Willie and Tomiko owned three different Daytonas, which isn’t bad considering only 503 were built. Big Willie’s ‘King Daytona’ was green, Tomiko’s ‘Queen Daytona’ was red and the third car was this cream-coloured ‘Duke & Duchess’ Daytona seen here, which they campaigned with a Keith Black Hemi until the late-70s. The car has been completely restored to reflect its racing history, right down to the hand-lettered signwriting, but the Keith Black is gone, replaced by the original numbers-matching 440ci big-block.
The car represents an amazing piece of American history, not just for its racing career, but also for its significance as a racial and social peacemaker, and should bring over $200,000 at auction. How many cars can lay claim to that?