Lifelong Windsor resident Ed "Bing" Binggeli turned 90 the other day. His favorite birthday present was something he made himself.
It's a car. Oh, quite a car — a very yellow replica of the hot-rod coupe he piloted 50 years ago on a string of way-in-front victories at drag strips in Santa Rosa, Cotati and beyond.
What a moment it will be when Binggeli buckles himself into his clone of a pre-World War II Willys dragster at Sonoma Raceway. His goal will be to blast past the speed record he set for such cars in 1963 at Half Moon Bay in his original Willys: he hit 106.38 mph and covered the quarter mile in 12.65 seconds.
Binggeli, who honed his mechanical skills and standards while working on AT-6 trainers, B-17 bombers and other aircraft in the U.S. Army Air Corps, visualizes a substantially faster run at the Sonoma track.
"I hope it's over 110," he said.
He unveiled his dream car at a community birthday party Saturday at Fred Stoke's Ranch just south of Windsor. The turnout was huge, more than 200 people, many of whom brought along their souped-up, decked-out cars and regard "Bing" the master of the custom engine.
"Everybody loves him because he's been so helpful and humble all of his life," said friend Jack Helmke, 68, of Santa Rosa, who considers Binggeli his mentor and who helped build the replica Willys.
"If you say 'Bing's Speed Shop' anywhere on the West Coast, people know what it is," Helmke said.
Binggeli built racing engines and hot-rods at the shop from 1953 until 1976. The specialty garage operated on South A Street until Binggeli moved it to Barham Avenue.
Prior to the speed shop, he performed general auto mechanics and sold gas at a garage that he and his brother, Walter, opened in 1951 in central Windsor, across from the landmark Pohley's Market. Walter's now 93 and living in Washington state.
Ed Binggeli was drawn to mechanics by a love of speed and a deep-seated aversion to following his father, George into farming. The elder Binggeli began working 22 acres on Starr Road in 1916.
"We raised everything you could on a farm," said his son the mechanic and race-car driver. "To me, it was endless work."
Ed Binggeli graduated from Healdsburg High School in 1941 and the following year enlisted in the war. The Army Air Corps sent to him to school to teach him to repair and maintain airplanes.
What he learned while working on the engines of bombers and other combat aircraft would be invaluable to him once he switched to high-performance automobile engines.
"Everything there (in the Air Corps shops) was precision-done," Binggeli said. "And everything was perfectly smooth and strong, but light."
After the war he returned to Sonoma County and in 1947 began making and racing hardtops — souped-up sedans stripped of their fenders, door and glass — at the former track on Russell Avenue in Santa Rosa and at Petaluma, Calistoga, Ukiah, Vacaville and Lakeport.
His specialty engine was Ford's flathead V-8, and he did well with it. But his enthusiasm for full-track racing dimmed considerably the day at the Santa Rosa track in 1954 when he won race after another until he found himself upside down and rushed unconscious to a hospital.