Do you have the nerve? You have the car but can you drive it? If you drive it once, will you drive it again? What will you do when slicks, mere inches from your noggin, start mauling asphalt and belching smoke? When the differential, uncomfortably close to your bits and pieces, begins to growl angrily will you shed a tear? When the bark of an unruly, unmuffled SBC gnaws at your eardrums and threatens to change your heart’s rhythm will you bail before the 1,000-foot mark?
Why all the questions? If you’ve been following our Instagram or Facebook feeds you’ll know we — me and my buddy Kev Roberts — are building a Front Engine dragster. More accurately Lee Grant at LG Kustom & Speed in Victoria, BC is building a front engine dragster for us. It’s based on a rolling chassis and chute pack body we purchased at the Portland Swap meet years ago. It was a homebuilt 128” (approx) wheelbase chassis, partially constructed from exhaust tubing it turns out. It was rolling on JC Penny slicks on slotted mags with motorcycle wheels sheathed in Dunlop rubber mounted on a chrome tube front axle. It came with a trick 5-gallon Eelco aluminum fuel tank, some kind of tractor (I think) steering box and the aforementioned chute pack body with a cowl portion and two side panels. It was shabby and simply glorious but our dreams of joining the FED club soon faded into the background for all the obvious reasons.
A few years ago the dragster was dismantled and stored in three different locations at the CHR homestead. Late last year, during the meat of this covid pandemic I was trying to clean up the shop and shed and kept stumbling over dragster parts. The front axle, wheels and chassis shared space in a tent with my dormant 1962 Ford Ranch Wagon project. The body panels were in the shed loft, the front slicks and various other bits slept in the shop attic.
Stuck in an unruly mood the thought struck me it was time to sell this stuff. Luckily that thought was quickly punched in the face, kicked in the groin and wrestled to the ground until it agreed instead it was the perfect time to finally do something with this Golden Era pile of parts.
That’s when we contacted Grant, who not so many moons ago while still living in hometown Edmonton, AB, campaigned a vintage SBC-powered front engine dragster. From this tidbit you might think Mr. Grant is an old saw who grew up in the Golden Era, but in fact he is a 30-something dude who simply wishes he was living in the Golden Era and has the mechanical chops and expertise to help us pretend we are.
The first order of business was getting the old chassis assessed for possible use. As expected, it failed miserably due to the aforementioned exhaust tubing, rust and poor craftsmanship. We didn’t want a cackle car…we wanted to run this rail. The decision was made to use the old chassis as a dimensional template for a new, SFI-spec chassis. Grant built a chassis table and got to work bending the right kind of tube to build a similar, but safer chassis for that chute pack body to hang on. (Thanks Lewis Bot for the use of your tube bender and the help bending tube and then TIG welding the cage). We’ve almost got a rolling chassis and we’ll explore the project in greater detail in the August/September issue.
It’s getting exciting and terrifying at the same time. While working on this issue’s story on Jim Rini’s Ivo T-Bucket tribute (page 36) I had a few enlightening interviews with the 82-year-old Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Famer. From 1965 right up to the mid-’70s, Jim built and his brother Dan, also a Hall of Famer, drove a series of successful Top Fuel dragsters. “You talk to Danny and he’ll tell you he’s seen God and Elvis at the 1,000 foot mark,” says Rini. “Many times after a run he didn’t even talk. I’d ask him how things were going and he wouldn’t answer…it just knocked him out.” Of course in those days Dan was piloting a supercharged, nitro-fed Hemi capable of 200+mph. He was a freaking warrior. Do we have that kind of courage? I mean I love Elvis but I’m not quite ready to meet him or God yet. Our plan is for a fairly tame, mechanically fuel injected, possibly alcohol-fed SBC. Still, in a rail weighing less than 2,000lbs even with one of our lard asses in the driver’s seat, it won’t take much to make telephone poles look like a picket fence. I don’t think either of us is ready to go knock, knock, knocking on 200mph’s door.
Grant assures us it won’t take many passes to change our minds. I’d be happy with an eventual 8-second pass, but in six seconds lies glory…at least that’s what my idol Don “Snake” Prudhomme taught me. Hmmm…..