Woodward Ave’s Legend, Jimmy Addison

Written By: Bill Stinson, published with permission.

Bill wrote this story in May of 2006, but it wasn’t until 2007 when I first saw the Silver 1967 (not 68) Plymouth GTX known as the Silver Bullet. The undisputed “King of Woodward Ave” drew a crowd for days at the legengary Woodward Avenue cruise and stirred up quite a controversy when there were two of them! (that’s another story about the Silver Bullet)

Please enjoy this story from a man who was there and knew the owner of the Silver Bullet, Jimmy Addison.

The Passing of a Legend

Jimmy Addison I first met Jimmy Addison around 1961. The McKay family lived down the street from me, and of the five kids in that family, there were the twins, Gloria and Gerri (Geraldine). They were (and are) about four years older than me. One of them (Gloria) had a suitor who drove a cool ’60 Chevy convertible, black with a white top, red and white interior, packin’ a hopped-up 348 4-speed.

That car was named “Restless”. Jimmy and his friend Ted White raced the car on the street and at the strip and it was very fast for its time, especially with Jimmy behind the wheel. Race driving requires a combination of skill, knowledge, instinct, and a healthy dose of courage, and Jimmy Addison excelled in each of those categories. He was an excellent and meticulous mechanic with amazing driving reflexes, and was quite at home in the driver’s seat at well over 130 miles per hour, on the strip or on the street.

He was born on August 19, 1940, the only child of Archie and Ruth Addison. Born with chronic and life-threatening asthma, Jim was of slight build and frail as a child. But that never held him back. If he wanted to make something happen, he dedicated himself to that task until it was completed; a trait that served him well all through his life.

Now, from the mid-‘50s through the mid-‘60s, the north Woodward suburbs were hotbeds for young rodders with something being built or hopped-up in at least one garage on every block, and, with no shortage of young talented mechanics in Birmingham, Jimmy found himself right in the midst of it all.
One such ‘talented mechanic’ back then was Ted Spehar. Barely old enough to drive, Ted and friend De Nichols rented a garage to work on their cars. The garage was just across Woodward from Jimmy’s house, so it wasn’t long before the like-minded young rodders hooked up and began a lifelong friendship that took them through many ventures and adventures that ultimately led them to unimagined heights in the realms of drag racing and engine building.

In the early ‘60s, Jimmy worked at a local Cadillac dealership and then went to Jerome Oldsmobile in Pontiac, where he bought and built up a ’64 Olds Starfire. It ran a very robust 394-inch motor in a very classy ride. It was also at around this time that Jimmy bought my ’55 Chevy and he and his friend Ted White began converting it into a B/Gasser with 10% engine set-back and all – that is, until a disagreement sent them in separate directions, with White taking his freshly built 327 and going home, leaving Jimmy with a half finished gasser and no motor. The car was sold.

Jimmy first went to work for Ted Spehar in 1965. Ted owned an old Texaco station on Maple a couple blocks west of Adams in Birmingham. Besides accumulating a brisk neighborhood business, Ted had become acquainted with Dick Branstner. I used to see the ’64 Color Me Gone Dodge sitting out in front of the station, along with a little red Dodge pickup with a full-race Hemi protruding through the bed just behind the cab. My first glance at the yet unlettered, carbureted Little Red Wagon, then driven by Jay Howell. It was at this time that Jimmy and Ted began their long affiliation with the Chrysler race program.

In late 1967, Spehar bought a Gulf station on 14 Mile Road just east of Woodward in Birmingham and (I believe) it was at this time, or shortly thereafter, that Jimmy assumed ownership of the now-famous Sunoco station. It was also at about this time that he bought a nasty-looking ’62 Dodge from the Mancini’s.
It was half dark blue and half red primer, and it shook and shuddered and clattered like crazy while in Neutral, but that was nothin’ compared to what it was like in first gear with Addison behind the wheel. I remember, once while we were sitting at a light out on Woodward, I asked Jim, “How the hell do you ever get a race in this thing?” Was it a Hemi? Nope. It was what Ted Spehar described as a “thrashing machine” Stage III 426 Max Wedge in full drag race trim with a manual-shift Torqueflite with a stout set of gears out back!
That car was simply a blast. Talk about an attention-getter! And Jimmy had no problem runnin’ it hard an’ puttin’ it up wet. In comparison with the Bullet, I’d say the Dodge was the vehicular equivalent of the slavering, snarling, unwashed, fairly deranged older brother who lived in the attic. The car was a raging radical handful. It was as though Jimmy was the only one the beast would respond to. Once he was on board, it was safe for you to enter, too. Frankly, I thought the Dodge was a lot more fun than the extremely smooth-running, very streetable and much, much faster critter that was to come next. No one could have predicted the legendary status that Jimmy and his biggest project would achieve.

In the late ‘60s the Sunoco had become a nightly hangout for what was to become Chrysler’s “Direct Connection” gang. An assortment of Chrysler engineers that included Dick Maxwell and Tom Hoover, the man affectionately known as the “Father of the Hemi.” They were there to test speed parts on the street, plain and simple.
426 Hemi in the Silver Bullet Well, one of the cars that were used as rolling test labs was a blue 440-4-barrel powered ’67 Plymouth GTX that was used for drag testing. The car had never been titled. It was snatched right off the back lot, used and abused, and eventually given to Jimmy Addison. The 440 came out, in went a lightened Hemi K-member, followed by a heavily massaged 1968 426 Hemi, the manual-shift tranny, and a Dana 60 rear end with a set of 4.56’s and a pinion snubber for traction.
In initial drag tests in ’69 at Motor City Dragway (rented by Terry Cook, then editor of Car Craft Magazine) Jimmy ran a low e.t. of the meet thru-the mufflers 11.89 at 121 mph and an uncapped 11.34 at 127. Not too shabby, eh? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

As the weeks went by, Jimmy began making the new car into the quintessential street runner of the day. To make it lighter he took several hundred pounds of weight off the body by using fiberglass body parts and drilling huge holes in anything he could. He then modified the rear wheel wells by slitting them and forcing them outward, in order to fit a wider slick in back. And he worked evenings removing metal (with a hand grinder) from the interior of the Hemi block so the half-inch CSC stroker crank would spin freely, and a set of A990 aluminum heads and a Racer Brown roller cam were added for good measure.
The trick exhaust system was fabricated from three-and-a-half-inch pipe with two runners coming off each header and running through four reworked Cadillac mufflers. The body was then finished and prepped and the car was painted silver.

One day while Terry Cook was at the station, Jimmy took the car out for a little run off the 14 Mile light. As Cook watched Jimmy launch, with virtually no tire smoke, he mentioned that it looked like a silver bullet being fired from a gun. The name stuck, and the legendary team of Jimmy Addison and his Silver Bullet was born.

In January of 1970, I came home on leave from the Navy just before I was to be discharged. I met up with Jim and his then wife Gloria, told them I was looking for a job, and Gloria made Jim hire me. For the next few months, I pumped gas and did oil changes while Jimmy handled the mechanic work.
Now, for those of you who may have come by the station back then, to check out the Bullet or other cars being worked on there, you were probably summarily ordered off the property in a far less than gentle way. Jimmy had a business to run with a lot of time, money and sweat invested there, and he wasn’t about to waste time with kids who came to ogle the race machines. He was not a warm and fuzzy guy when someone seemed to be interfering with him providing for his family.

To Jim, family was everything. And providing the best he could for them was his main goal in life. He once told me that the primary reason he street raced was to supplement the family income. The gruff exterior was a survival tool. But there came a day when I found out what the real Jim Addison was like.
One day a guy brought in his tricked out Dart for an oil change. I did the job, but apparently didn’t tighten the oil drain plug tight and, as the guy drove off, oil began leaking out of the motor at a fairly rapid rate. Thankfully he caught it and came back to the station before he did any internal damage to the motor, and he was pissed!

He began rippin’ on Jimmy and I knew I was as good as dead. When the guy left, with a fresh oil change done by Jimmy, he took me into his office, sat me down…and calmly explained what had happened, what could have happened, and how I had to be extra careful from now on…and he gave me a raise in pay. That was the real Jim Addison. It’s a shame that few people ever knew him like I did.

Well, soon the escapades of Jimmy and the Bullet began being written about in virtually every rodding magazine across the country (and eventually, many different countries) and Jim’s reputation grew and grew, and stories about the undefeated street racer spread far and wide. There was even supposed to be a race set up between Jimmy and Big Willie Robinson, head of the L.A. Street Racers.

Jimmy Addison, 2005 Willie drove a Hemi-powered Dodge Daytona. The race was to be somewhere in the Mid-West, half way between here and California, and was being organized by Terry Cook. But nothing ever came of it. Years later, when Jimmy told me the story, he said he’d have won the race anyway because Willie’s car was set up all wrong, the car weighed too much, and the Hemi was an original 426 and fairly mild compared to the Bullet.

Finally, after having done everything he could to the now infamous Silver Bullet, Jimmy sold the car in ’73 or ’74 and began work on the Silver Bullet II, which would have been a Hemi-powered Plymouth Duster. Work was begun on the drive train while the body was being acid dipped, but the car came back with too much damage due to the extreme weakness of the ultra-thin metal, and the project was scrapped.

By the mid-‘70s, with the Arab oil embargo in full swing, the Sunoco station saw less and less performance work and Jimmy sold the station in ’77 or ’78 and he stopped building cars. He continued to work at different gas stations as the Big Three got out of the performance business and, as his asthma worsened, he began to look for a less strenuous line of work. One where he could keep his oxygen bottle close at hand. Eventually, in 1993, he began driving a cab for a living, and found he thoroughly enjoyed the slower pace. He was sitting in his cab in his own driveway when the disease that nearly killed him as a child, tightened it’s grip on him for the last time. He was 65 years old.

Jimmy Addison worked hard all his life and he was fortunate enough to earn a living for most of his life doing what he did best: making engines run better, and often much faster than they had previously done. He was honest and forthright in every way, modest about his successes (which were many), and absolutely devoted to his children, Dawn and Michael, and to his beloved Donna, his wife of eighteen years.
It’s said that people come and go in and out of our lives for a reason. Jimmy Addison gave me a chance that I will always be grateful for. I’ve always been proud of him and I’ve always bragged about his accomplishments, even though he used to get mad at for doing so. And I will be forever proud and honored to have called him friend.

Bill Stinson

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