Open Menu
Open Menu

Funny cars kick off series of racing exhibits at Automobile Driving Museum

Published in

“Jungle Jim” Chevrolet Monza funny car. Photo courtesy NHRA.

While the Automobile Driving Museum has historically focused on American cars and the on-road driving experience essential to those cars, this weekend it will branch out from that concentration with the first of a planned series of exhibits on cars built exclusively for racing, starting with a season-long retrospective on funny cars.

“We’re trying to get into car culture in general, especially the car culture in Southern California,” said Tara Hitzig, executive director of the ADM. “We initially looked at doing drag racing, but with their 50th anniversary this year, the exhibit evolved into funny cars.”

While Eddie Schartman took the first Funny Car title in 1966, establishing the moment the term “funny car” entered the popular lexicon, drag racers had been experimenting with elements of the funny car for years prior. Altered wheelbases that gave cars a funny sort of look dated back at least to the mid-Fifties and featured prominently in Factory Experimental cars of the early Sixties. Jack Chrisman introduced the supercharged fuel-burning engine to stock-bodied racing in 1964. And fiberglass had become accepted, if not commonplace, for bodies by the mid-Sixties.

It took Chrisman and Ford racing honcho Fran Hernandez to put it all together in 1966 with the first “flopper,” a Logghe-built tube chassis with a one-piece body hinged at the back and a severely set-back engine that forced Chrisman to sit with his back against the rear window.


Photo courtesy Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

“NHRA had no class for such machines, but it did allow them to exist,” wrote Robert C. Post in his book “High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, 1950-1990,” in which he noted that many early funny cars were forced to run as dragsters. “Soon hundreds of veteran Super Stock machines were being updated in varying degrees and dozens of specials were completed to join the most exciting, most rewarding new facet of drag racing.”

The success of the funny car since then can hardly be overstated. Professional drag racers flocked to the style, and fiberglass shops across the country laid up hundreds, if not thousands, of body styles. A 1974 documentary, “Funny Car Summer,” followed one funny car driver and his family as they raced across the country. Even today, some of the fastest professional drag racers drive an evolution of the basic Chrisman-Hernandez funny car formula.

Hitzig said the ADM’s exhibit will span the entire history and innovations of the funny car, partly through vintage funny cars themselves such as the “Crazy Horse” 1971 Ford Mustang, and partly through the photography of drag racing photographer Steve Reyes, who penned the book “Funny Car Fever.”

The Automobile Driving Museum’s funny car exhibition will run from this Sunday through December 16. Hitzig said the museum is hoping to follow it up with an exhibit on land-speed racers early next year. For more information, visit