Well kiddies, and I do mean you younger folks, this is how and why we
old folks started out building dragsters and such back in the Stone Age.
You older folks will relate to this also, but you've probably been there
yourselves. This is a short tale of how one day; a leisurely drive got us
back into the sport of drag racing.
Tom Rose and I had known each other since 1959. We both belonged to a
hot rod club called the Piston Pushers. Originally, he had worked on a
1932 Ford sedan that he owned since his days in the Air Force. Tom was
building it for the street and strip, but was running the car as a
B/Altered, as he never quite got it street ready. Also, another club
member, Karl Santa, and I had just sold our first dragster after Karl took
it through a ticket booth at a local track. I'm not quite sure what Tom
had done with the ‘32 Ford, but it was also gone.
So all three of us are out of the racing scene again, but still
traveled together. One day Tom and I decided to take a drive up into the
Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. It was early spring and not much was
going on. We all worked at a local drag strip through the hot rod club.
The track wasn't going to start racing for two more months. Tom and I
jump into my ‘57 Corvette (yes, we really drove them every day; I paid
1800 dollars for it in 1961) and headed up route 145 north. We were
cruising along right outside of Palmerton, Pennsylvania, right past a car
salvage yard. Tom looks over and says, "Turn around; I think I saw an
old Crossley piled up in the yard. If it's an English version, it will
be right hand drive. The steering gear is perfect for a dragster." We
just couldn't pass up such an opportunity, could we?
I loop around and we stop into the junkyard. We stay clear of the dogs
and walk into the garage. We ask one of the guys if we can take a look at
the Crossley. If it has right hand drive, how much for the steering gear?
He tells us it is right hand drive and if we pull it, it would cost five
bucks. Out of the back of my Corvette comes the little toolbox I always
carried. We pull the gear instead of taking the drive to the mountains.
Next, we're ordering the steel for the frame the following week. And we're
back into the racing scene again. Innocent enough, what do you think?
We make a list of what we needed, and started trying to figure out
where the heck we're going to get the money from. Hey, when you get a
deal on a prize like that steering gear for five bucks, what's to stop
you from spending an additional five thousand or so to make it all
worthwhile? Karl and I still had the motor out of the B/Dragster we sold
as a rolling chassis to some club members. It was an Olds V8, 324 cubic
inches. The other guys who bought the chassis wanted to run a Chevy. What
good would 327 cubic inches be in a dragster, we thought? We were sticking
with an Oldsmobile. We also sold the 324 cubic inch Olds engine to another
club member for 450 dollars complete, injection to pan. We were going for
more cubes. So here is the part that might be of interest to you
We're building the whole frame from scratch ourselves. Cost of the
steel and aluminum: about 300 dollars. We pick up a rear from another
junkyard, a ‘58 Oldsmobile, 15 dollars, and the complete engine for
another 35 bucks. It's off to the man we called the baby factory. He had
about 13 kids and a small machine shop behind his home. He would narrow
the rear and re-spline the axles for 25 bucks. That's right, 25 bucks.
We buy 4:30 gears from the speed shop, and set up the gears ourselves.
Another 80 bucks spent. A torsion bar out of a VW beetle for a front axle
we make ourselves, and we're just about finished spending money on the
chassis, except for wheels and tires. We buy a ‘39 LaSalle transmission
from another club member for 20 bucks. It would bolt right up to the Olds
bell housing. We take it apart and pull first gear out of it. We will run
2nd and 3rd only. We build a steel blow shield for the bell housing.
Now came the bad part; we needed an engine. We tear down the stock
engine and take it to the speed shop. We clean it up in the hot tank, bore
it .250 over and install new cam bearing and freeze out plugs, etc. Cost:
about 125 bucks. Now, for the important internal goodies. We order a 5/8th
inch welded stroker crank, Chrysler boxed steel rods, 13 to one forged
pistons and an Engle cam, just like Stone, Woods, and Cook ran. Total
cost, about 1200 dollars. This resulted in a 460 cubic inch engine. A set
of Hilborn injection and a magneto are next, about another 1000 dollars. I
cash in about seven years of savings bonds for my share along with the
cash from the old dragster's engine.
Tom comes into the garage one day with a set of head gaskets. I ask him
what they are for. He says he picked them up at the Olds dealership. They
are from a ‘60 Oldsmobile. He checked the parts manual and saw that the
‘60 heads had bigger valves than a ‘58 Olds. Would they fit on the ‘58
Olds block? We take the gaskets over to the block and lay them on the head
surface. Sure enough, the bores match perfectly. Only the push rod holes
are misaligned along with two end water holes on the heads that stuck out
further than the matching holes in the block. No big deal, with the
availability of a little hot rodding ingenuity. We install the cam and
lifters and try the push rods. The push rods hit the head bolt hole bosses
in the block. I get my trusty pencil grinder going and spend about a week
grinding the clearance for the push rods. We wash the block down with soap
It's off to the junkyard again to look for a ‘60 Oldsmobile wreck.
Now remember, this is 1962, so that's an almost new car. We finally find
one after about two weeks of searching, and the heads cost us another 100
bucks. Wow, that new stuff is sure expensive, I'm thinking. I ported and
polished the heads and did a complete valve job. Cost was nothing, zero
for the labor. We make our own copper gaskets for the heads to eliminate
the end water holes. We finish the car and spend about an additional 1000
dollars for wheels and tires, fuel tank and hoses, new brake pads, and
safety stuff like a parachute and leather jacket and helmet. We paint the
whole thing ourselves and letter the cowl. We build a flat bed trailer for
about another 500 dollars and we're ready to go racing.
So my friends, your part of this story is to add up all the costs to
see what it took to go drag racing in 1962 with an A/Gas Dragster. The car
ran for a couple of years in the high 9-second range at about 145 miles
per hour. We sure had fun with this car, and we learned a lot. The engine
lasted until we tried to step up to run Nitro one weekend. Welded
crankshafts and steel rods couldn't handle that combo. We retired again,
licked our wounds, sold off what was left, and waited for the next little
urge to strike us. It didn't take too long; this time it was a Fiat
steering gear we found.
Sure would be nice for you young folks to contribute to the history
lessons. I just think you don't need to sell the farm to get a dragster
on the track. I'll bet if you looked around for some used parts though,
and found a used chassis, put a little elbow grease to work, you could
write your own story in about 40 years. You don't need to be a big
winner right away. You can play sandlot baseball; you don't need
uniforms and a little league with managers to play baseball. Go ahead,
have some fun; you'll come out ahead of the folks wasting their time on
the other foolish stuff that goes on today. I just saw a complete rolling
chassis for 3100 dollars. It's front engined and only 118 inches long,
but it will work. I'd buy a big cubic inch motor like a 455-inch Buick,
stuff it in, and go have some fun. I'll bet you didn't know that a 455
cubic inch Buick engine in a Buick car was the quickest factory hot rod
straight from the big three ever. Jeez, I wonder what one would turn in a
quarter mile in that little dragster. See you at the races. If you see us,
come on over and say hello. We'll be easy to spot; we'll probably be
the guys with all the used stuff.