A pair of cruddy Vans and a vintage “Traction By Hurst” T-shirt graphic, along with a mocked-up rolled pan-slash-air scoop: a modern-day hot rod still life. All photos by the author, unless otherwise noted.
Remember last week, when I was belly-aching about things like fuel-injection fittings stopping me dead in my tracks on this hot rod build? Lots of people with good intentions were telling me to just go get a kit and make it work: “They make all this stuff–just go get a street kit,” or one of my personal favorites, “It’s old dragster crap: You’ll never make it work on the street…” While both of those sentiments are absolutely true, there’re much more powerful forces at play, here: 1) Restoration of a significant piece of drag racing history, 2) Making it all work on the street. These seem to be mutually exclusive. A motor that’s built to either be asleep or running WOT and using up all of its everything in less than 10 seconds, really can’t be run at low rpm, in traffic; or idling through the brew-thru; or loping along on a two-hour rod run… without chewing through its own thick iron skin, that is.
But I think it can be done. Yeah, the bottom of the block is filled with cement. True, the clearances are loose. And it’s only got adjustable pushrods. I think we can deal with all that stuff, as long as fuel, air, and coolant are carefully regulated, right?
Just about every modification ever made on this car started with a squinted eye and a thumb in the air. In this case, Conder had to make a “showerhead” out of the heavily-modified vintage Enderle bugcatcher that we scored. A showerhead couldn’t be a more primitive way to deliver fuel: just two tubes with 90-degree bends inside the hat with wee showerhead-looking nozzles that dump raw fuel down into the blower from the rubber lines anchored to the side of it.
The roughed-in threaded bung that Tim will finish off and mount the fuel lines to the outside of and the showerhead thingies to the inside of the hat.
Back to the fuel delivery: Conder looked at all the old photos of the Gotelli fueler we could find and figured that we could hide a modern EFI setup inside the bugcatcher and still make it look like a period-correct showerhead. All we had to do was run the correct gauge of rubber fuel line between the right fittings and through the two ports he would make in the side of the hat. Once inside the hat, the fuel would find an aluminum fuel rail that would carefully dish it out through the blower and to the combustion chambers. The whole thing would act just like one of those cool aftermarket EFI units, but look like the showerhead on top of the red-and-black Gotelli fueler. I get shivers just thinking about it, man. Truly.
The crowning jewel of the Gotelli fueler motor restoration that’s taken so many of Tim’s hours that he’ll never get back–his ride-or-die on the way up to Larry Anderson’s house and the home of the one-and-only Vagabond front-engine dragster for an R-and-D session. Precious cargo, that.
Robbie Morris’ restoration of the Beebe Vinson & Sixt fueler. Both live just up the road from Conder Custom in Northern California wine country, so Tim could drop by and talk to him about how he plumbed the fuel system. And see exactly how he did it.
The Vagabond in Bakersfield at the California Hot Rod Reunion in 2015. As a full-bodied fueler, this thing just epitomizes everything great about the Cacklefest: original body reunited with its original 392 Hemi after being separated for a generation. Never get tired of looking at this car and Larry Anderson gets to every show he can with it. Glorious.
Bruno Gianoli said that Terrible Ted got all his fuel fittings for his dragsters “…from the hardware store, where you think?!?” And Teddy Jr. corroborated that, but go to a hardware store these days, armed with nothing but a smartphone full of old, blurry photos and try to find run-of-the-mill brass fittings that match these things. It turned out to be a little harder than I thought. But, once again, California to the rescue: turns out, drag racer and Beebe/Vinson/Sixt cacklecar owner, Robbie Morris, lives in the next town up the road from Conder’s shop, and one of the earliest restored fuelers that helped launch the whole cacklefest thing nearly 20 years ago–the Vagabond–is sitting in Larry Anderson’s Sacramento-area garage. If we wanted to lay our eyes and hands on exactly how fuelers’ fuel systems were plumbed 60 years ago, all we had to do was drive over and hope the garage doors were unlocked.
The Vagabond in its nap chamber. As epic and historically essential as the car is, it’s also comforting to know that such a legend might get a laundry basket perched on its covered bugcatcher just as often as your snowmobile in the summer months. And that’s okay. Really.
And that’s exactly what Tim did. Called up Larry Anderson, told him what we were doing, and he said, “Sure, you really need to see what we did—not rocket science, but you wanna make sure it’s right. I get it. We did the same thing you’re doing now.” Robbie said the same thing–he’d even gone so far as to make sure the fuel lines were sorta tangled up in the same way that they were in all the old photos of his car. It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes the vintage drag racing crowd rule so hard and weird at the same time. But, hey–it’s no different than what the vintage guitar and amp nerds or the furniture restoration folks go through. Really, now… You wouldn’t go to a Renaissance Faire and expect to see a Mossy Oak-ed composite crossbow being carried around by a wench with a stone mug of port wedged in her cleavage, would you? No, ye would not.
A close-up of what Conder went to Anderson’s shop to see first-hand: the showerhead plumbed for savagery.
An even closer shot of the Vagabond’s barrel-valve plumbing. This kind of wizardry seems so simple when it’s explained to me, but I’m never able to recall it later, when asked. Usually whiskey is involved, so that’s not necessarily my fault.
So, Tim put the heavily worked bugcatcher in his truck’s passenger seat and went to see the Vagabond. It–and Larry–did not disappoint. Much like what we were going through at the moment, Anderson had found the Vagabond’s original Chrysler 392-cu.in. Hemi and had lots of old photos at his disposal to reference for its restoration. The difference was that he had done it all in the basically analog days of the late Nineties. But there it was, in all its un-anodized blue/red glory: From the barrel valve to the fittings and the fuel lines to the showerhead, Tim was able to drink it all in, compare notes, ask advice and actually get his hands on one of the cars that created the vintage drag-racing scene.
The top of the Vagabond’s bugcatcher is surprisingly devoid of any structural ribs. But, sure enough, historic photos of the car seem to show no ribs at all in the original hat’s casting. Wonder if these things blew all to bejeezus when the motor coughed back then?
And, speaking of vintage fueler culture, here’s something worth noting: It’s a really, really small world that ain’t necessarily out there gerrymandering for a younger constituency. Is that a polite-enough way of saying it? For the old guys who made drag racing with their own hands, and are still with us, it’s their thing. If I, as a youngster, want a piece of it, well, then I’d better come to them, on their terms, before the 4-p.m. prime-rib special, and I’d better not screw around, by god. They don’t have time for it. I’d better show up out in the desert or some remote drag strip or a gathering listed on some janky Web 1.0 site unrecognizable to Google and sit at their feet and pay attention, dammit. That’s okay with me–I’ll gladly do it, wide-eyed and bearing cases of diet beer, smartphone on blast. But I also know that if I can bolt this restored Gotelli motor into this Model T, then get it to the shows people like me actually go to, tell its story in a native tongue, I think it’ll do more to get the kids stoked on this stuff.
Back at Conder Custom and all that field research paid off: The seemingly simple showerhead setup on the Gotelli motor is a little more challenging when we’re creating something that didn’t exist when we started this journey. Sounds dramatic, right? It IS, kid.
Lookit all that raw beauty: These days, most of the parts you see in this photo come conveniently coated in some anodized blue or red finish. Which is the enemy of a period restoration. The things we do for love.
Ah, the finished product. JUST LIKE 1963, BRO.
Anyway, between generous amounts of Larry’s and Robbie’s time, as well as a call to Jim Rehfeld at Enderle Fuel Injection, Tim got the fuel line sizes and fittings figured out. The Gotelli fueler showerhead officially looked on-point. Sometimes, it takes the eye and patience of an artist to think of a project like this as “anything is possible” and guys like Bruno, Jim, Larry, and Robbie to understand that, implicitly.
The paper pattern of the rolled pan Tim laid out to test fit the idea for a scoop that ram-airs the trunk-mounted radiator. It’ll all make sense when you see the metal bent-up.
The paper pattern mocked-up on the rear of the car starts to make the pan more envision-able. Remember, most of this will only be seen directly from the rear, since the giant M&H Racemasters will cover everything on either side of it.
At the other end of the car, Tim has started working on that bellypan scoop that’ll force as much cold air as possible into the radiator, so we can keep that partially clogged Hemi block as cool as possible, as long as possible. We’ve seen a few different ways to do the same thing over the last few years: Dave “Littleman” Lohr had installed louvers into the rear quarterpanels of his Model A coupe, Death’s Doorstep, just ahead of the rear wheels to get the same effect. With the body of this T kicked up enough at the rear, Tim knew we could use that geometry to create a scoop that’ll hoover air through the tilted radiator like a baleen whale through a krill swarm. Neat!
From Conder: “To mimic the 4-inch radius curve for the roll pan/radiator scoop, I used a 4-inch mailing tube.”
With the mailing tube in place for the radius, the paper pattern was transferred to a sheet of aluminum, the cut out and brake marks indicating where it has to be bent.
The aesthetic benefit of this scoop is the “rolled pan” look it’ll have from the rear of the car. Rolled pans are a style cue used as early as the Sixties, making the rear of a pre-1933 hot rod body more of a complete thought by finishing off the abrupt bottom edge, rolling it into a pan that extends forward under the body about a foot or so. Which is great and all, but it also hides the hard-won, period-perfect, shortened ’62 Olds dragster rearend. In this case, ‘twas better to keep the motor as cool as possible, over the bragging rights of that rear end. No use in talking about a vintage rear housing on a car that doesn’t run, right?
That’s a 4”-diameter pipe that’ll be pressed into service for the radius in the aluminum sheet.
From Tim: “Cut some angle iron off for a clear brake, lined up the radius center on the aluminum and clamped/welded the pipe down tight.”
“Heated the area to be shaped with a MAP gas torch, grabbed the edge and rolled the aluminum up around the pipe by hand.”
Another unexpected and amazing byproduct of this project: Across this series, you’ll notice a kid showing up in some of the photos. His name is George and he’s 15 years old. Tim has him in the shop a few days a month, and he’s getting some real quality time up against some of the coolest car projects to come out of Northern California, at Conder Custom. He always seemed enthusiastic about getting his hands dirty, but I had just assumed it was a passing interest, at best. Look, this is California: You can surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon, ride dirtbikes between the coast and mountains… Point is, there’s more than enough to compete for a kid’s attention, and it’s not like every pre-driver’s-licensed kid is hording plastic model kits in 2018. And I certainly didn’t think George could give less of a rat’s ass about my car, much less its motor.
But George is different.
The rolled pan and ram air scoop taped into place. A constantly recurring ritual with this car is fitment: Stuff is mounted, removed, tweaked, mounted, checked, measured, mounted again, pondered, cussed at, removed, and the whole process repeats. That’s George mounting those slicks and magnesium Torq-Thrusts, once more. Just think, those wheels, alone, are 39 years older than George. Like, those wheels are his dad, man. So cool.
I got a call from the same buddy who introduced me to Bruno Gianoli and Gotelli’s Speed Shop: “Hey, who’s the kid who works for you?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “There’s a kid here at Gotelli’s with his dad who says he knows you and works on your car for you. You don’t know him?” The fog lifted and I asked, “Tall kid, sandy hair? Goes by George?”
“Yeah, that’s him. Bought a Gotelli’s shirt and asking questions about the fueler…”
Now, look: You have to realize that while Santa Rosa and South San Francisco are both considered “Bay Area,” there’s roughly 100 miles between them and some of the most clogged 12-lane highways and bridges outside of L.A.. But George and his dad made the trek south from Santa Rosa just to experience the speed shop that gave birth to this motor–and the culture of drag racing–when he could’ve spent his day doing just about anything else that a 15 year-old might be doing. How might he explain this trip to his buddies? Where would he start? How would he relate? I have no idea, but couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it. I don’t consider myself an old guy just yet, but I’m amazed that a kid like George has been inspired by what he’s seen this car become and that he’s had his hands in it. Will he build his own T someday? Will he take it to Japan, or run it across the sand at Pendine? Drive it through Times Square and to prom? Here’s hoping. Till then, we’ll concentrate on getting this car plumbed and the wiring figured out…
From Conder: “Basics are done. Time for corners and tighter flange edges. With the wild body dump angle and radiator angle, this big scoop oughta run some big air through the radiator at-speed! I think.”
To catch up on other installments of the Stoner T build, click here.