Pete Condos is the man who coined the term Off-Road. He was one of the major organizers behind National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA), International Desert Racing Association, the Off-Road Drivers and Owners Association and the Off-Road Equipment Association (OREA).
Born on May 8th, 1925, Condos grew up in the suburbs to the north of Chicago. He spent many hours of his young years at a local speed shop learning the skills needed to customize cars making them into hot rods. At the garage he helped to hop up Model A’s and B’s. During this time he took additional classes and earned his certification as a welder which would further allow him to modify cars. His time spent at the garage came to a quick end with the beginning of World War II.
In 1942 he joined the United States Navy. He served in the Pacific on the U.S.S. Nevada as a seaman. After the war Condos returned to the Chicago area. He completed his high school education and resumed his interest in hot rods. On the GI bill he started attending classes for a degree in Commercial Arts; however his interests kept drawing him back to the vehicles. He began building and racing roadsters and coupes. His first Roadster being a 1934 Ford that he completed in 1948. He became a charter member of Andy Granitellis Hurricane Hot Rod Racing Association.” In 1948 Pete moved to Southern California. He fell easily into the California car culture and joined “The Throttler Hot Rod Club” a dry lakes racing group. While Condos raced he has stated that he always found fabricating the race cars the more enjoyable of the two related activities. His building skills led him to an early career as a fabricator. In 1950 Earl “Madman” Muntz hired him to assist with the fabrication of the Muntz Road Jet car. Condos worked for Muntz building the high-end custom cars which were purchased by some of Hollywood’s elite. With the Muntz company Condos made the move back to the suburbs of Chicago. There he met Carol Jean Wood and they married in 1952. The couple has one child, Victoria. With Muntz closing the doors on the car building business in 1954 the Condos family returned to Southern California.
Once back in California, Condos continued fabricating cars and working in a metal fabricating shop. In 1961 Condos purchased his first I.H. Scout a move which would eventually change the path of his career. He purchased the Scout so that his hunting trips to Nevada, Montana and Idaho would be easier. On the trips he realized the need for different accessories for the Scout. With his welding skills he began making accessories for the Scout. He worked with Frank Ferro and the two would discuss accessories that would be useful for both Jeeps and Scouts. The two men started their own company, Con-Ferr in 1961.
Con-Ferr made specialty off-road items for Scouts and with the 1962 arrival of the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover; they began making accessories for those vehicles as well. The business grew quickly and by 1963 Con-Ferr had dived into the business of selling Land Cruisers in addition to accessories. Around this time Ferro bowed out of the business. With Con-Ferr already being an established and incorporated name, Condos kept the business name the same. Con-Ferr became one of the largest Toyota dealers in California. Condos operated the Burbank dealership with an accessory store for four wheel drive vehicles as well as a factory down the street where the accessories where made and custom fabrications took place. Both national and foreign manufactures of four wheel drive vehicles adopted many of the Condos’ original ideas as standard features. Condos continued his interest in racing cars and making the necessary modifications to speed them up. In 1964 he joined a group of racers at the Riverside race organized by Southern Californian, Jeep dealer, Brian Chuchua (ORMHOF 1976 Inductee). Condos raced his “Convert Cougar” along the semi- dry riverbed. His driver, Bill Haddad took Condos’ vehicles to 18 victories in the 21 races he participated in. In the early 1960’s Ed Pearlman came into Condos’ dealership and introduced himself. The two men formed a friendship based around their love of four-wheeling. Pearlman owned a Land Cruiser that needed some attention. They would take weekend runs in rural California. There was enough interest in the runs by other four wheelers that Pearlman and Condos formed a club called the “Stump Jumpers.” In 1966, Pearlman, intrigued by the timed runs of motorcyclists through Baja talked a group of friends into a small race of their own in their four wheel vehicles. Condos sponsored one and prepared both of the Land Cruisers in the race. Claude Dozier and Ed Orr. Pearlman and Dick Cepek drove theToyota Land Cruisers with Chevy engines. Bruce Myers donated a Myers Maxx buggy for the press vehicle, driven by Drino Miller and John Lawlor a journalist. Pearlman and Condos came to the conclusion that there needed to be a more organized way of putting on four wheel races and standardized timing of the events.
Once back in Southern California Condos, Pearlman and friends got together and discussed the idea. For the first time “Off-Road” was used to describe what had been previously been termed “four wheeling.” Condos felt that the term off-road captured the sport and found the term more all encompassing than four wheeling. The term would allow for the inclusion of dirt bikes and buggies. At the meeting Condos came up with the name, National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) and truly coined the term “Off-Road”. “Off-Road” is now apart of the American vocabulary. Only Condos came up with the initial $500 to match Pearlman’s to start the organization and therefore became a fifty percent owner of NORRA. As a fifty-fifty owner Condos actively participated in the planning of the early Baja 1000. In the beginning Condos and Pearlman worked together running NORRA. In 1969 they amicably went their separate ways and Condos sold his share of NORRA. Condos took on the organization of the Mint 500, sponsored by the Mint Casino in Las Vegas. The race remained popular for two decades with one of the biggest cash purses of any race.
While Condos actively ran his business Con-Ferr and worked as a race promoter, he still continued to fabricate race vehicles. He helped build cars for famous drivers such as Steve McQueen and James Gardner as well as his own Class One unlimited vehicles. He ran the “Brick Privy” named so for its solid construction in less genteel terms by McQueen. Condos actively participated in the off-road racing scene until 1973. SEMA named him the “Off Road Man of the Year” for the 1979-1980, a career highlight for Condos. In 1998 Condos sold Con-Ferr and retired. He maintained a small fabricating shop, designing and fabricate accessories and cars on a hobby basis, until his death in July of 2009.
Condos is partially responsible for the formation of the Off-Road Hall of Fame’s existence, in that he passed on the idea on to its creator Ed Pearlman. Condos stated that one of his favorite things is that he had the fortune to see the formation of off-roading from its inception to the sport which it has grown to today.
Sources: Telephone Interview with Pete Condos, May 2006.
Notes from Pete Condos, July 2006 Fiolka, Marty. 2005. 1000 Miles to Glory, The History of the Baja 1000. Pheonix, AZ.: David Bull Publishing.