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Wally Shatkus' Bill Von Esser Von T

by Joseph Alig and Stephen "Spike" Kilmer

Wally has collected and gathered just about every part needed to return Von T back to original. Here is Von T in its current streetable form. (Photo Courtesy Wally Shatkus)

Chicago is fortunate to have Wally Shatkus. He has preserved much of that area’s automotive past.

As a kid, Wally was intrigued by a hot rod named Von T. It was constructed by the legendary Bill Von Esser who also owned and operated the once-famous Von Esser’s Speed Shop.

“When I was around ten years old, I would do anything I could to get a grownup to take me to the indoor custom and rod shows around the Chicago area. I even convinced my Cub Scout leader to take our whole troop. It was the first time I laid eyes on this white T-bucket dipped in chrome.



Von Esser speed parts are a rare commodity these days. Bill was known to stamp his name on everything he sold even if it was made by another manufacturer. (Photo Courtesy Wally Shatkus)

“In the 1990s, I read an article in Rod & Custom by Pat Ganahl based on tracking down the cars from your childhood that made an impact on you. It inspired me to start searching for a car with some history. I happened to be flipping through the pages of Auto Trader and a car from my past jumped out at me. I checked my collection of old car magazines and I found one picture in Car Craft to compare it to. It had to be the 1960s show rod built by the once famous speed shop in my local area. Upon seeing the street rod, I questioned the owner about specific parts and finally he spit out that it was once Von T. He was embarrassed to admit that he had sanded off all the gold-leaf VonT lettering. I feel as if Von T had California heritage and if it were resurrected, it would be a big deal.

“Von T’s construction began in 1959 and was refined over a number of years until it was completely finished by Bill Von Esser in 1963. It sported a 6-71 belt-driven blower and radical mechanical fuel injection by Scott. Von T had a 4-speed manual, chromed transmission, and radiator. The meticulous frame and suspension was constructed by famous midget race car builder Max Reichenbach.

“The only place where there are visible welds on the car is on the header flanges. Bill Von Esser used to hype kids up at the car shows by telling them, ‘If you can find a visible weld, I’ll give you $50.’ He would have kids at the shows crawling all over Von T.

“Bill was a crafty self promoter and loved to stamp his name on everything he sold, even parts from other makers such as Edelbrock. People often paid more money for speed parts with the Von Esser name because it had a mystique about it. He sold everything from racing equipment to custom car accessories like ripple-disc hubcaps. Bill was very successful and when he passed away at a fairly young age in 1974 he housed two Ferraris and Von T in his garage.

“Bill Von Esser’s nephew Jimmy Cimmer ended up owning the car years after its heyday. He added a roll bar and disc brakes. It showed up right across the street from my house one day at a car show in the Chicago suburbs. There were a bunch of guys hanging around and I wanted to ask what ‘Von T’ meant but I didn’t want to look like a punk kid in front of those guys. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to them. From there the car changed hands a number of times and that was the last I saw of it until I was lucky enough to track it down.


When Von T was originally built using a Scott fuel injection and blower it boasted 550 hp to the rear slicks. Von T allured google-eyed customers as a rolling advertisement of Von Esser’s finest speed equipment. (Photo Courtesy Wally Shatkus)

“At the moment, Von T is in a semi-restored drivable state with an automatic transmission. My goal is to restore it to its original show condition of 1963 but I’m having too much fun driving it. The car has most of its original chrome, but some of the nickel has worn through in places. There was even a plastic model kit that you could purchase and build to resemble Von T.”

Wally has documented many more amazing stories for the rest of us to enjoy. Finding Von T is a big deal to us and we share his passion! Wally will be the first to tell you, it is about preserving the legacy of hot rodding.



Bill was the consummate marketer and his decals were visible on the most successful race cars of the day. (Photo Courtesy Wally Shatkus)

Taken from Joseph Alig and Stephen "Spike" Kilmer's East vs. West Showdown: Rods, Customs & Rails (published 2012)

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