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Hot Rod - Chevy Dragster

Dragsters haven't been the same since racers started putting the engines behind the driver. Sure, rear-engine dragsters have been proven to be better for performance and safety, but the simple fact is that sitting in front of a nitro-burning Hemi is just nowhere near as manly as sitting behind it. Ever since Big Daddy Don Garlits put rear-engined diggers in the winning circle, starting in the early 1970s, front-engine dragsters have slipped into oblivion as far as the top ranks of NHRA drag racing are concerned. But among nostalgia buffs, their lure has never ebbed, and today, front-engine dragsters (FEDs as they're called) have developed quite a following among vintage drag racers.

Hot Rod's project starts with a $5,000 1980s-vintage, front-engine dragster that we found on eBay Motors near Portland, Oregon, complete with a trailer and a small-block Chevy engine. We also scored a set of vintage bicycle-spoke front wheels in a separate auction that fit the vintage vibe we're shooting for better than the wheels that came on our dragster. The dragster is mostly complete with a rear-end, steering and a Powerglide transmission, but we'll need quite a few things to get it into safe running condition: new rear slicks, headers, some safety equipment, and most importantly, a new engine. We're not kidding ourselves into thinking we're manly enough to sit behind a 3,000 horsepower Hemi ourselves, but we're absolutely brave enough to sit behind a gas-burning small-block Chevy with nothing between us and 500 horses of fury except about two feet and a fire suit. We may be able to salvage something from the 400ci small-block that's resting between the dragster's 220 inch-long framerails, or we might just sell the parts and buy a turn-key crate engine, plug it in, and run e.t.s that will embarrass every door slammer in the eBay Editors' Challenge.

But we're not just going for the speed record, we're shooting for an authentic vintage look too, and toward that goal, we've enlisted the skills of custom paint ace Justin Jones at Starbucks Customs to shine up the dragster's sheet metal bodywork in the gold-trimmed metal-flake style of the mid-60s heydays of the FEDs. And to complete the package, we're thinking about using the balance of our $25,000 budget to buy a cool old pickup truck to tow it with.

Hot Rod's Hot Shot Dragster will look cool, be fast, and best of all, we'll make everybody else look like a bunch of wimps. We don't need no freakin' doors.