8 funny cars that stole the show at Concours of America
Seventies flip-top funny cars are a nauseating array of metal-flake colors splashed over a tremoring, fiberglass shell. They are a purpose-built steel tube chassis gingerly cradling a nitro-fueled engine like a hot potato. These cackling beasts are the last thing you would expect perched on the lawn of a concours d’elegance. But there they at the 2018 Concours of America at the St. John’s Inn in Plymouth, Michigan.
In the early 1970s, innovation in drag racing rose at an exponential rate, and rocket ships disguised as muscle cars competed to set the newest fastest time over 1320 feet of blacktop. Still new to the landscape were the flip-top funny cars. Lighter bodies, bigger tires, and stronger engines shoehorned the funnies into the record books. Spectators also witnessed the departure of factory-based efforts and the rise of younger, private teams willing to lay it on the line for a piece of quarter-mile glory.
Why are these nitro-fueled animals allowed to dine at the same table as a pinky-out Duesenberg or Delahaye? It may be for the spectacle, the fireworks before an afternoon cocktail. Or maybe for the historical significance, a page from the “Golden Age of Drag Racing.” Regardless, we’re glad these eight monsters were invited to the party.
John and Raina Lipori’s Gran Sport is one of only two Buick-bodied funny cars to race in the late ’60s. The car was built in 1966 with support from multiple New York Buick dealers. The word “ingénue” appears in French literature to describe a young woman as innocent or wholesome. The Ingénue funny car is anything but that. Giant slicks waiting to grab asphalt sandwich the driver, who is sitting upright with a 430-cubic-inch Buick engine in his lap.
Prior to the 1967 season, the Logghe Brothers, from Clarkston, Michigan, built a new Stage 2 chassis for funny car racing that placed a priority on driver safety, with the roll cage closer to the driver and refined safety harness points. Doug Thorely successfully campaigned a Stage 2 Chassis wrapped in a fiberglass Corvair shell during the ’67 season. The pairing resulted in wild success including a class win in the 1967 NHRA U.S. Nationals. A 427-cu-in Chevrolet V-8, original Logghe Stage 2 chassis, and Fiberglass Trends body are used to replicate the Thorley’s flip-top Corvair.
In 1967, Bruce Larson reached out to the Logghe Brothers in request of a Camaro funny car. Larson, sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet, previously found success in other drag racing ranks with Chevrolets and wanted to make the jump to flip-top funny car racing. USA-1 was born, and in its first year of competition the Camaro racked up numerous wins in crown jewel events. Many tributes to the iconic car exist, but this is the original car from 1968.
A unique body choice, a supercharged 427-cu-in SOHC engine, and a Logghe chassis, combined with its performance down the quarter mile, made this Ford Torino funny car a standout in the 1968 season. Equipped with top-of-the-line equipment, the Torino was nearly unbeatable in national competition. The Coleman Taylor Ford still resides with the Coleman family over fifty years after its inception.
The Air Lift Rattler is a unique sample of the race teams backed by Lincoln-Mercury. Built by Logghe Stamping, and campaigned by “Fast Eddie” Schartman in 1968, the Mercury Cougar tore down the strip powered by a supercharged 427-cu-in SOHC Mercury engine. After the ’68 season, the car was sold and disappeared until it was discovered by current owner Kevin Beal.
Before the first green light of 1970 season, Dick Harrell placed an order for builder Don Hardy to construct a new tube chassis and sheath it with a new-to-production 1970 Camaro body made of fiberglass. Consistent with most funny cars built in the early ’70s, the new era of tube chassis was safer and stronger than previous dragsters. The body was recently discovered with a replacement replica frame and equipped with period-correct components.
King Rat was spawned in 1972 by brothers Gervase and Johnny O’Neil after they retired their second-generation Corvette with the same moniker. The Camaro was a standout, not for its success, rather its 427-cu-in small-block V-8. The Chevy power was a contrast to the typical Hemi that shuffled the majority of its competitors down the straight. The Rat’s restoration began in 2017 and debuted at this year’s Concour of America in all of its flamed glory.
The Ramchargers Demon was the first funny car to exceed 230 mph. A group of Dodge engineers achieved new, breakneck speeds thanks in part to the debut of a lighter chassis ordered from the Logghe Brothers. The sharpened knife paired with veteran driver Clare Sanders made the team a force to be reckoned with during the early seventies. The car was completely restored to its former glory with all-original components.