Enthusiasts these days are a spoiled bunch. Ordering a new third member by simply calling Summit Racing Equipment or JEG'S is an expected luxury, and the notion of scoring a 9-inch out of a junkyard and adapting it to fit is even more preposterous. Why should anyone have to hack up housings, re-spline axles, and relocate shock mounts? However, as those who have been in the game long enough can recall, things weren't always so simple. Pioneering the concept of modular rearend parts replacement took a man with a great vision, and that man is Frank Currie.
Growing up in Southern California during the '50s and '60s, Frank got sucked into the hobby at an early age. In his circle of friends, he quickly earned a reputation as an expert wrench, and Frank was the guy to go to for challenging engine swaps. MGs got V-8 power, and one of his most memorable antics is fitting an airplane engine into a '33 Ford. When his older brother went into the armed forces, he gave Frank his Model A, which he promptly hopped up and took to the dry lakes. Between bouts on the land-speed circuit, Frank kept himself entertained by racing jalopies at the local tracks.
Upon returning to the States after serving in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Korea, Frank began building rear ends out of his garage for Taylor-Dunn in 1959. Turning his mechanical savvy into a business venture, Currie Enterprises was born. Taylor-Dunn needed durable rear ends for their poultry carts-used to drive through hen houses to collect eggs-and Frank had the perfect game plan. He pulled rear ends out of '49-54 Plymouths and cut them down to fit, figuring that if they held up in a behemoth of a car, they'd certainly work in a chicken cart. Frank's design proved very successful, and by the mid-'60s Frank was building rear ends for electric golf cars, among them the Ford 9-inch.
The '70s brought big change to the electric specialty vehicle industry when less-expensive Japanese golf carts invaded the shores. It was a big blow to Currie, cutting the company's production volume in half. However, the same resilience Frank demonstrated in building his company helped him through the tough times. Adapting to the changing market, Currie started building custom rear ends for local hot rod shops. Word got out quickly about these durable 9-inch rear ends that just bolted into place, and more and more shops ordered them for their kit cars and street rods. Customers soon wanted a 9-inch for their Chevelles and Tri-Five Chevys, and Currie infiltrated the musclecar market to meet demand. Currie soon moved into a larger 7,000 square-foot shop to facilitate the rapid growth, but as the product line expanded, the company had to add another 4,000 square-feet just a few years later. The added space allowed for cutting-edge cleaning and tear-down capabilities.
Frank can't take all the credit, though. His four sons John, Ray, Charlie, and David were instrumental in transitioning the company's focus from industrial to automotive when they entered the business full time in the late '70s. In addition to the company's endeavors in the street rod and musclecar markets, the sons integrated their passion for off-roading into Currie's portfolio as well, building aftermarket rear ends for Jeeps. Eventually, this led to adding the Dana 60 and Chevy 12-bolt into Currie's product line.
Nonetheless, despite the fine work of his sons, it is ultimately Frank's influence that was responsible for the company's success. Although his business ventures kept him busy, Frank never neglected his duties as a father, and instilled the importance of having a positive work ethic in his kids. As children working in his machine shop, Frank paid his sons not by the hour, but for each piece they made, teaching them the importance of working efficiently. He has also passed down his vast management experience in dealing with different personalities, and how to put the right group of people together. "An important lesson he taught us is that regardless of how much you pay someone, you can't make someone work for you," says John Currie. "You have to treat them right and make them want to work for you."
Still family-owned after 46 years, Currie Enterprises is an aftermarket rear end powerhouse headquartered in a 27,000 square-foot facility in Anaheim, California. As a testament to how far the practice of building aftermarket rear ends and components has come-an art that Currie almost single-handedly invented-Currie rebuilt its final salvaged rear end last August. Over the last 46 years, the company has rebuilt over 300,000 Ford 9-inch rear ends, and maintained a two-acre inventory of cores stacked 12 feet high. With the number of quality cores dwindling (simultaneous with the company's ability to build complete rear ends from scratch using parts superior to the factory originals), the event was a significant milestone.
Today, after passing the business on to his kids, Frank is for the most part retired and enjoys spending time with his wife, Evelyn. He's currently working on a '32 full-fender Ford roadster and a '34 all-steel roadster as well. To take a break from wrenching, Frank likes to take road trips to Colorado and Nevada in his Jeep searching for old ghost towns and driving on dirt roads until they end. However, whenever his sons need some advice regarding the business, Frank is always there to share his wisdom. Frank is a true pioneer in the automotive aftermarket: Anyone who has ever ordered fresh rear end components or a complete bolt-in assembly has Frank Currie to thank.