After an uneventful trip back home from Oregon, we took stock of the eBay dragster back at the Hot Rod shop. The bodywork was complete, albeit dressed in a pretty garish 80s paint scheme. Apparently, back in the 80s, you had to have checked flag graphics on your race car to be a winner.|
The trans yoke is coupled directly to the pinion yoke with a pair of U-joint flanges. A Greek coupler is stronger and more "correct," but since we trust this setup to work, we'll keep it for simplicity's sake.|
To get this project rolling we had to make a couple of quick decisions about the direction we'd take for power, and since engines are easier to find on eBay than dragster-style zoomie headers to fit them, we bought the headers first and the engine second. Virtually all of the zoomies we found up for sale were for small-block Chevys, so that's what we focused on, and the fact that the dragster already had a small-block in it didn't hurt. But we didn't want to wimp out with a weak 400hp 383 crate motor either, so we felt really lucky when we found a local guy selling a brand-new, never fired 415ci small-block built with a list of top-of-the line parts including a Crower crank and rods, ported Brodix aluminum heads, Jesel belt-drive and shaft-mount rocker arms, Edelbrock Super Victor intake, Hamburger oil pan, and an enormous Comp Cams solid-roller camshaft. How enormous? How about 288/292 at 050 lift enormous with 0.700 lift! Flat-top Ross pistons with low-tension rings combined with seriously angled milled heads combined with the 4.060 bore and 4-inch stroke add up to 13:1 compression. Being that the engine was local made us feel better about shelling out the $7,200 we had to pay to win the auction, since we wouldn't have to pay shipping and we knew where to find the guy in case it blew up! So we won the auction on a Friday, picked the engine up the next Tuesday, and dyno'd it that Thursday. And when it made exactly the 650hp the seller claimed, we even left positive feedback!|
Hot Rod - Chevy Dragster During the Build
Hot Rod's Hot Shot
We're building an old-school front engine dragster with 25 grand from eBay Motors
Our cover feature last month on John and Don Ewald's BankAmericar front-engine dragster got us to thinking about the days when regular guys could go Top Fuel racing on a blue-collar budget. What ever happened to those days? We guess they got lost with inflation and the inevitable ratcheting up of the competition and money that comes with all forms of successful racing. It would be simple to say that's the reason we decided to break with decades of the magazine's musclecar and street rod tradition and to build our own dragster. But it's more complicated than that. Actually, it wouldn't be too far from the truth to say "the ad guys made us do it."
Projects like this often start the same way: an enterprising salesman pitches an ambitious concept to a big advertiser, sells the deal to his client and upper management, and then comes to us editorial guys to follow through. Usually we pitch a fit, whine and complain, and get told to shut up and just do it. But sometimes, even while we're complaining out of one side of our mouth, we're secretly holding back our honest excitement over the project. This is one of those times. Of course, we can't roll over too easy, or the next time the ad guys will have us building Honda Civics (uh, wait... that already happened), so we have to make a token show of resistance. We did that this time too, but our objections broke down pretty quickly as heroic images of tire smoke, gas masks and a silver flame-retardant Deist firesuits along with the sound of cackling zoomies flashed through our heads during a meeting with the big shots from eBay Motors.
In addition to personal glory, this project also has an interesting hook. It's not just Hot Rod building a project car; virtually all of our vast publishing empire's automotive titles got swept up into the eBay Motors Editors' Charity Challenge as part of a 10-team shootout. Each team, some consisting of single titles like Hot Rod and Motor Trend, others consisting of groups of similar magazines broken down into categories like off-road trucks, Ford and Chevy teams, plus a motorcycle team and a couple of Import car teams, each got a budget of $25,000 to buy and build a project vehicle. The only catch is that each team has to buy the core vehicle and the bulk of the parts to complete it from the eBay Motors website. There's an allowance that about 25 percent of the total budget remaining after the purchase of the vehicle can be spent on outside labor, paint, and parts that are just too specialized or generic to find on the website, like hoses, gaskets, spray paint, you knowall that stuff you have to buy in the million-and-one trips you make to the local Pep Boys to finish any project. Each team's project will be documented in its respective magazines and on a website dedicated to the whole shebang www.editorscharitychallenge.com complete with online forums where you can kibitz over our shoulders, and at the end, there'll be a dragstrip shootout to declare a winner before all ten projects are auctioned off sometime early next year with the proceeds going to charity. All we had to hear was that part about the dragstrip challenge to know we needed to build the most brutal, fire-breathing project car ever to assure Hot Rod's dominance at the track, and we dare you to name anything quicker down the quarter-mile than a 1,500-pound dragster. For nothing more than pure nostalgic freak value we settled on a front-engined dragster. And to make it even more attractive to potential bidders, we'll throw in a matching vintage pickup to haul the whole rig away.
Buying any project car sight unseen is a scary and risky proposition, whether it's on eBay, in the Recycler, or any other online source. But we took the plunge on a front engine dragster we found listed on eBay up in Oregon. The seller knew very little about it other than that it was last raced in 1999 with a injecyed big-block and that it now had the partial remains of a 400 small-block with a Powerglide. The chassis and body were complete with most of the parts needed to make it run, and it came with a trailer. So we pushed the Buy It Now button for $5,000 and owned it. Then we had to figure out how to get it. A friend of Publisher Ira Gabriel who lived nearby in Oregon was decent enough to offer to go fetch it from the weeds of the seller's backyard, get the trailer axles regreased and shod with new tires, and store it at his place for a few weeks until we could send someone up to retrieve it.
Upon the dragster's arrival in Los Angeles, we were surprised to find it was far from the basketcase we expected was going to land in our laps. Well, maybe we should just say it wasn't any worse in person than it appeared in the online photos. There was a shocking amount of butchery going on, including hose clamps holding parts to the frame, some seriously suspicious wiring and plumbing, and so many hardware-store grade nuts and bolts holding things together that it seemed impossible to imagine the car had ever run down a dragstrip in that condition. Good news: most of the parts needed to get the car back into running condition were there. Bad news: it was very unclear just how many of those parts would actually be reusable when it came right down to it.
The first major decision we had to make was whether to keep the engine we had or start from scratch. Based on an outward examination, we definitely had a 400 block, and it had the right flexplate and balancer to go with it. The heads were smog-era castings, and the whole long-block had the look of a junkyard-fresh rattle-can rebuild. But we had no intake, carb, valve covers, ignition, so we made the executive decision to scrap it, or at least shuffle it off to another project once we pull the heads to determine if it's even a usable core. The Powerglide attached to the engine didn't look much better, but since it was at least bolted up to the rearend and had a semi-functional shifter, we made the rough-cut decision to either keep it, rebuild it, or swap it for another Glide.
With the drivetrain triage complete, the next decision was what to do for power. We scrapped the early suggestion of a blown fuel-burning Hemi as too expensive, too complicated, and too life-threatening. After all, an actual member of the Hot Rod Magazine staff will be making his maiden voyage down the strip in a front-engine digger as part of this project, so we need to have some assurance of living to tell about it, and a 3,000hp fuel-burning Hemi cuts those odds pretty thin. We reeled off possibilities until the blown and injected big-blocks morphed into a more manageable naturally aspirated small-block.
If we were just dropping a crate engine into a fully restored Nova, bolting a blower to a late-model, or lifting a 4x4 pickup, we'd have done the whole job ourselves. But restoring an NHRA-legal vintage-style dragster is admittedly a bit over our heads, so we enlisted the help of an expert, Alex Mikkelson of American Roadster in Placentia, California. Alex's shop is full of FEDs and altereds, including the Ewald's BankAmericar and his own 27 Model T-based altered. Alex is on top of the NHRA's rules for vintage chassis, and he gets the vibe were going for: authentic in style if not in every nut and bolt detail. We want the traditional look of a vintage FED, but for reasons of cost, time, and practicality, it won't be a letter-perfect clone because the fact is that historically correct cars like the Ewald's Lil John Buttera-built dragster can't meet the safety requirements that allow them to be raced anywhere anyway, and we have to make at least one monster pass to crush our competition.
So we stared at our new dragster on its trailer in our shop for a few weeks before we trucked it on down to Alex's, where we stripped it to the bare chassis in a scant 3 hours in preparation for sandblasting, updating, and powercoating before we put it all back together. We also inventoried the parts on hand, made a list of what to scrap and what to buy, and let Alex get on with the task of updating the chassis tubing while we starting spending money on eBay. This month we present round one: the arrival and disassembly of Hot Rod's Hot Shot slingshot dragster. Next month, we'll put it back together and run it down the track. We can already smell the glory.