- Written by webmin
If there’s an unsung hero of American performance cars, it’s Francisco “Fran” Hernandez, the Southern California hot rodder turned factory racing facilitator. He’s known variously for being one of the contenders in the first drag race, one of the pioneers of nitromethane use in drag cars, the guy behind Mercury’s Trans-Am efforts, and one of the lead developers of the Boss 429 Mustang. Yet his biography remains unwritten, and few people outside of the Ford racing and hot rodding worlds recognize his name.
His sons, Randy and Rick, are trying to change that. Since Fran died in January at the age of 88, Randy and Rick have been memorializing him on Facebook with photos from Fran’s career in automobiles, covering everything from his hot rodding days to his time at Autolite to his accomplishments at Ford. Randy and Rick have graciously allowed us to repost some of those photos here.
We’ll start with this shot of him posing with his 1932 Ford three-window coupe, most likely the same one sporting a 296-cu.in. Mercury flathead V-8 that he used to beat Tom Cobbs at the first Santa Barbara Acceleration Association’s legal drag races at Goleta airstrip on April 10, 1949.
After a few years working with Vic Edelbrock, Fred C. Offenhauser, and Bill Stroppe, Fran went to work for Autolite in December 1959. Here he’s shown (left) at the 1960 Pacific Grand Prix in Laguna Seca.
It wasn’t all racing at Autolite, as we see from this shot of the 1961 Rambler Run.
Ford bought Autolite in 1961, and Fran moved over to the parent company the next year, where he took part in activities such as the 1964 Comet 100,000 Mile Durability Run. The lead photo, by the way, comes from the 1965 Comet Durability Run.
While drag racing formed a substantial part of Fran’s time at Ford, these three photos show that he was heavily involved in Trans-Am racing as well. With Fran by the Trans-Am Cougar are, from left, Parnelli Jones, Ed Leslie, and Bud Moore. In the center photo, Fran is seen conversing with AMC’s Jim Jeffords in Sebring. The inscription on the Trans-Am Javelin photo reads “Fran and Bud – We learned this from you, but it didn’t help. -Roger Penske”
Fran had a hand in product development at Ford too, in a way. On the left, we see Fran with Roy Lunn and Boss 429 Mustang #1 in January 1969 at Kar Kraft’s facility in Brighton, Michigan. On the right, a less successful proposal, the Boss Maverick.
Interestingly, Fran’s collection also included shots of two different vehicles called the Mach 2. The first two are dated August 1969, while the third apparently dates to 1967. Caption for the third reads:
The Mach 2 two-seater sports car in its original form was based on the 1967-1969 Mustang underbody, 351 engine and ZF transaxle. Three prototypes were constructed and used for development during 1967. Further design studies are currently being conducted on alternative approaches to the Mach 2 program.
Finally (for now), a shot of the ultra-rare Autolite inline four-barrel carburetor that Ford produced for Trans-Am racing in 1970. The comments on this shot indicate that Fran carefully arranged the photographs of these carburetors for SCCA to make it seem as though Ford produced enough of them for homologation.
Thanks, Randy and Rick, for making these priceless photographs available.