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Yesterday's Heroes
Dec 10, 2009

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Brian Beattie has Great Expectations

By Bud De Boer

Brian Beattie and son Rob stand beside the culmination of a nearly five year project. Even though certain items were replaced because of their condition, the car is still 87% original.

Little did Brian Beattie know that when he worked as a writer/photographer for Madison Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, during 1966-67 (where he met many drag racing greats), that one day heíd own a car that was campaigned by one of his favorite teams, Jim & Alison Lee. Although Brian would wait over 30 years for the opportunity, Great Expectations II became his in 2004. But the journey didnít end there. It would take nearly five years before its restoration was complete and Beattie did it right. Unveiled at the California Hot Rod Reunion in October 2009, it was one of the most talked about cars at the event.

Tom Raley puts the original car through its paces at Englishtown in 1970. Best clocking when the Lees ran it was 6.51 seconds at 226 MPH.

The car originally was built for the Lees by Don Long in 1969. With a 185 inch wheelbase, its rails were enclosed in a Tom Hanna body with paint by Cerny. Add a blown 392 hemi on healthy dose of nitro for power and you had a racer that could cover the 1320 in record time. Like at Indy in 1969 where it took part in one of the quickest side-by-side races of the time when Tom Raley defeated Steve Carbone, 6.51 to a 6.54. But that was just the beginning. The Lees also set the NHRA E.T. records for top fuel three times over the next two years with their best being a 6.54 in 1970 at Dallas, TX. In addition, they won NHRA Division 1 championships in 1969 and 1970 and scored wins in WCS meets at Atco, Englishtown, and York during 1970. The year 1971 would bring a special highlight to their racing career, as the car became the lead attraction in a motorsports show hosted by President Nixon at the White House. Sold in 1973 to the Top Alcohol team of Cottrell & Speelman, the car was the last of four front motored cars the Lees owned. It was time for them to join the crowd and move on to a rear engine dragster.

Move the clock ahead to 2004. Living in North Plainfield, NJ, at the time, Brian Beattie received at call from a from a guy who knew he was the track photographer at Englishtown back in the 60s and was wondering if he had any pictures of his fatherís dragster. Beattie told him no, but he did have a photo of his fatherís altered. So Brian made the picture up and delivered it. While there, the two started bench racing and the conversation eventually got around to front engine dragsters. Beattie said he would love to own one, not to race, just to have, even though he never raced and no desire to do so. Camera shutter speeds were more to his liking, not making high speed runs down the quarter mile. It was then the guy he delivered the photo to informed him about Jim & Alison Leeís Great Expectations II in a garage just 20 minutes from Beattieís home. Being one of his favorites that ran at Englishtown, Brian decided to check it out and asked for the car ownerís phone number.

Garage find reveals a top runner from back in the day.

A short time later, Brian made a call to the owner and during their conversation, determined that the car might be for sale. So Beattie made arrangements to see it. While there, Brian took photos to identify the car. It was then that the carís current owner made a decision. After talking with Brian and seeing his strong interest in acquiring the car, the owner decided that he would sell it only to him. Contact was made with Jim Lee and based on the information and photos provided, Jim confirmed it was indeed the original Great Expectations II. Beattie again contacted the seller and a deal was made. The car had gone though a total of four owners since the Lees sold it in 1973 and it would soon be his. He couldnít wait!

Dragster was assembled with pieces Beattie acquired when he bought it. This way there was no guess as to what was still needed for the restoration.

2005 was a busy one for Brian. Aside from showing signs of age, the car itself was nearly complete. Also, as part of the deal when he bought it, Brian acquired several engine components and other items needed for its restoration. Beyond that, Beattie made a list of what he didnít have and went about gathering the parts by visiting swap meets, flea markets, and looking on e-bay. In November 2005, Brian sent the car to Bruce Dydaís shop in Gardena, CA, where it had to wait in line to be completed while Dyda was deeply involved in the reconstruction of Tommy Ivoís four-engine Buick.

The following photos show some of the processes done on the dragster during its restoration:

Chassis was cut so it could be restored to the original length of 185 inches.

Original roll cage being reattached to the restored chassis.

Car is pictured upside down in Bruce Dyda's shop to show the newly formed body panels on the original Tom Hanna body. This was done at Dyda's suggestion because the original panels were bent and cracked.

Although the car was at Dydaís shop for nearly four years, the actual restoration took only two, beginning in 2007. The dragster was completely disassembled and put back together from the ground up, making sure the nothing was overlooked that would jeopardize its safety and performance (even though it would be used just for cackling). The only delay in the process was the engine, which Beattie had built in Pennsylvania. It wasnít done correctly and had to be completely redone by Dyda, which took about three additional months. The last thing on the agenda was paint by Estrus and lettering by Jones.

Rob Beattie has all the candles lit on the restored fueler's debut cackle at the DoubleTree hotel.

This was the not the first time Beattie and his son Rob had been to the reunion at Bakersfield. They had made the trek in 2003 and the journey had left a mark on both of them. But this time it was special. The trip was to debut a restored dragster from back in the day at the CHRR.

With veteran top fuel pilot Art Marshall at the controls, the car waits ready for pre-Cacklefest fire-up.

Not only were the Beatties on hand to witness the carís first cackle, but a contingent of friends from the East Coast also joined them. Life doesnít get much better than that. The only disappointment came when the carís in-and-out box jumped out of gear during push-down for the Cacklefest and the car failed to fire. But things like this happen and with 2010 just around the corner, there will be plenty of opportunities to share the car with fans who remember the early years of drag racing (or with newbies who want to know more about it). 



Brian Beattie is now retired and a resident of Macungie, PA. Itís a place where he and his wife of 42 years, Lois, fit right in. Thatís because itís also home to one of the countryís largest antique and classic car shows each August. Speaking of family, Brian and Lois have two children and four grand kids. Their daughter Stacey and her family live in Branchburg, NJ, where she works as an actuarial analyst. Son Rob and his family reside in Green Brook, NJ, where he follows in his fatherís footsteps as a paid firefighter.

Itís a family that Brian gives much thanks to for accepting his passion to restore the Great Expectations II.

PHOTO CREDITS: The Brian Beattie Collection and Paul Hutchins


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