By Terry Shea
Image courtesy of Graffiti Publications.
On June 11, legendary hot rodder and journalist LeRoi “Tex” Smith passed away in his adopted country of Australia after a “lingering illness.” He was 81.
Not from Texas, but Oklahoma, Smith was born in 1934 and claimed both Cherokee and Choctaw heritage. Still in grade school when his mother remarried, Smith took his stepfather’s surname and the family moved, first to Texas and later west to California and, finally, Idaho. After a stint in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, Smith joined Hot Rod as an associate editor in the early years of the magazine.
Tex Smith’s award-winning hot rod, the XR-6/Photo courtesy of Evan Klein/Highway Earth
Smith not only wrote about hot rods—he made them and raced them, becoming a fixture at Bonneville from the 1950s right through to recent years, though his actual racing there was limited to those early ears. After a few years at Hot Rod, which included his creation of the XR-6, an aluminum slant-six-powered modernistic car that took home the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award in 1963, Smith went out on his own as a freelancer.
Along with countless articles for a variety of magazines, Smith, a prolific writer, penned dozens of books that many budding rodders enjoyed in the Sixties and Seventies, including such titles as How to Chop Tops; Complete Book of Engine Swapping (updated several times over the years); The Complete Ford Flathead V8 Engine Manual; How to Build Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge Hot Rods, and others. Perhaps his biggest seller, however, was a short book released several weeks after the crew of Apollo 11 first touched down on the moon in July of 1969. Titled We Came in Peace, the book generated a reported four million in sales.
Smith also worked with other publishers in starting up several magazines, including Street Chopper and Street Rodder for McMullen Publishing. Though Smith was long gone from Tom McMullen’s business by the mid-1990s when McMullen died, the courts ruled that Smith held a 20 percent share and the subsequent sale of the company gave him a small fortune.
Smith continued to be involved in the hot rodding scene, even after moving to Australia about 10 years ago. He still maintained a home stateside, in Idaho, and was known as a regular at various hot rodding and street rodding events. Coincidentally, his autobiography, published from Australia, began shipping this month and is now available here in the U.S.