Bob "Li'l Axle" Stewart was born into the life of hot rodding in 1934. He was the son of Ed and Tilly Stewart, and grew up in San Diego, California. Bob's father Ed, nicknamed Axle, was by training a machinist and heat-treat specialist, but became a committed hot rod builder. In the late 1930s, Ed started caravanning out to Muroc in the Mojave Desert with other San Diego and LA hot rodders to run cars through time traps on the dry lakes. Ed got involved with the Southern California Timing Association, and in 1941 he became a founding member of the San Diego Roadster Club, along with Johnny Vesco, Bozzy Willis, and J. Otto Crocker.
While Bob was in his early teens, his father Ed started up a speed shop called Stewart Speed Automotive in their garage in Suncrest, about 30 miles from San Diego. Ed collaborated with Abe Kobeck at Rogers Auto Carriage to learn how to make 1932 Ford dropped axles by the drop hammer method, which made them tougher than taffy-pulled axles. The modified axle lowered the stance of the desert racers for less wind resistance and faster times and became a signature hot rod part known as the Dago Axle after the locale of San Diego.
During WWII, Ed and his friends were making their runs on the salt flats at El Mirage and Ed raced his 1929 Ford Model A with a V-8 flathead. Then he started building a 1932 Ford highboy with a low-stance Dago axle. In 1945, young Bob, only 11 years old, turned a 98-mph time in the deuce at El Mirage! That same car would become the famous Stewart Roadster in the 1990s, owned by the Stewart family for 63 years.
In the early 1950s, the father-son Stewart speed shop was moved to San Diego. Young Bob became expert at boring, honing, port-and-polish work, and made deliveries of the Dago Axle and other speed parts to Los Angeles. His customers nicknamed him Li’l Axle after his well-known father. Bob was also a member of the San Diego Prowlers car club.
Bob Li’l Axle has three kids: Cindy Lou, Bob Jr., and Ed. Bob Jr. is a hot rodder too and he and his dad finished the Stewart Roadster in 1989. Bob’s life history and the car were featured in American Rodder Magazine October 1997. The Stewart Roadster was sold in 2006 to a private museum in South San Francisco where it is in good company with 17 Dearborn cars and some Barris customs.
These days Bob lives in Grants Pass, Oregon, with his smart and energetic wife Kathi, his number one supporter. Their house and garage is like a mini hot rod museum. Their prized hot rod, a collaborative project with son Bob Jr., is a 1950 Mercury.
Bob Stewart's Cars
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