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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Why and How We Did Things in the Stone Age

By Gary Peters

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 youngsters.

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 and water.

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.

Gary Peters


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