The Jungle Jim Show: Tribute or
An Interview with Ernie Walker
By Bill Pratt
The Ernie Walker Jungle Jim show includes two funny cars and a transporter/museum.
Photo by Brian Wood
Funny Car purists and the Liberman estate are howling about Ernie and
Sandra Walker's Jungle Jim Show. Ernie and Sandra say they are not out
to make money on a dead man's name; they are just trying to show folks a
little bit of what it was like in the old days. Who's right? Is this
really one of Jungle's old cars? Even if it is, should Ernie race it under
the JJ moniker? I caught up with Ernie at
Ware Shoals Dragway to get the story on why he painted his Vega funny car
in the Jungle Jim colors.
Ernie says that Walt Weney himself certifies this car as the Swensen & Lani machine.
Photo by Brian Wood
Draglist: Ernie, you have two of history's most famous funny cars
here. As I'm sure you know, your running the Vega is very
controversial with hard core funny car fans. Before we get into that,
however, let's talk about the new car. How did you come to build or
acquire the Swensen and Lani Mustang?
EW: The S&L car was originally thought to be one of Lew
Arrington's Brutus machines. I called Scott Weney of S&W Race Cars,
who did not remember the car. I sent him some photos and he consulted with
his dad, Walt. After looking at the photos, Walt said it's not the
Brutus, car, but it IS the Swensen and Lani car. I did not remember the
team, but we built the car to match the Swensen & Lani machine based
on photos we found.
The Mustang features a 392 Hemi taken out of a 1958 Chrysler Imperial.
It has a 392 crank, heads, and block, .030 over on methanol with an 8-71
blower on top. It uses a Crawford Injector with an Enderle hat, an Isky
roller, and a Powerglide connected to a Dana 60 rear end. The car weights
1830 lbs. without driver. Driver Lonnie Partane has only made checkout
passes so far. We were supposed to go to the Funny Car Reunion and have
Jake Crimmins sit in the car but that didn't work out. Maybe next year.
Ernie Walker's Jungle Jim Vega raises the ire of JJ purists. Photo by Roger Richards
Draglist: Ok, Ernie, now the big one. What's the story on the
Jungle Jim Vega? This car clearly does not look like any of the Jungle Jim
Vegas I remember. In fact, the body doesn't even fit the chassis. What's
EW: When I first got this car, I had no idea whose it was. I
wasn't looking to build it in any certain way. Then my friend Dangerous
Don (crew chief for Shirl Greer in his World Championship year) told me
that he thought it was an old Jungle car. Don told me that it was one of
the first Jungle Jim Novas that went from the Chevy motor to the Hemi
According to Dangerous Don, one of the Jungle Jim team cars was booked
into a race in southern Florida, but the Nova body had been destroyed in
an accident. The team needed to mate the Vega body to the Nova chassis to
make the match race date. Dangerous Don and another guy helped the team
modify the cage to get the narrow Vega body mounted on the wide Nova
chassis. The car made the match race date, was run a few more times, and
The car went through several stints as a bracket car until I purchased
it. Based on what Dangerous Don told me, we restored the car as a Jungle
Jim car. [Dangerous Don confirmed this story online this past week.]
This shot shows the chassis of the Ernie Walker Vega. Photo by Brian Wood
Draglist: Assuming this was a Jungle Jim car as you described, why
are you out here racing it as Jungle Jim?
EW: I'm not trying to get rich off Jungle's name. In fact,
we are up here this weekend just for expense money [We confirmed this with
Classic Thunder promoters]. I just want to give fans at smaller tracks a
taste of the old days. I've had the Jungle Jim car for nine years. It's
an exhibition car that just gives fans a little taste of what it was like.
I run on 25 percent nitro and usually run exhibition passes in the low
eight second range at about 175 mph in the quarter. I am well aware of the
controversy. I nearly sold the entire operation last year, but my guys
talked me into bringing it out for one more year. If anyone involved with
the Liberman estate asks me to take the name off the car, I will.*
Draglist: Thanks, Ernie.
* Note: This may happen. Former Jungle Jim crony Berserko Bob Doerrer
drove down from Charlotte to attend the inaugural Southern Classic Thunder
race. One of his main reasons was to get a closer look at Ernie Walker's
operation. After interviewing Ernie about the car and observing the show,
Berserko announced online the following day that the Ernie Walker car was
a joke and a fraud and that he would join Jim Liberman's widow, Bobbie,
in legal action to get Walker to remove the Jungle Jim name and likeness
from his car. Stay tuned.