Regular contributor and master fabricator Roger “Riceman” Lee passes along to our readers
some great information to those who may want to join the highly popular movement known as “cackling!”
So you want to build a Nitro Cackle Car……
You just love those old Front Engine Top Fuel Dragsters…right? Presently you’re merely a “fence hanger” at the drag races, watching from 20 feet away as your heroes are at the top end ready to push start or up on the line preparing to crank off their nitro-fueled engines. Now that you have seen and experienced these fire-belching, tire-smoking, monsters – many times louder than the uncorked headers on a street car – and can truly devote your time, energy, and dollars to fuel your desire for one, strap yourself into this world of nitromethane and hold on tight as a AA/ Fuel Dragster seems likely in the cards for you!
Have you decided what time-era Top Fueler you want to build? Go ahead and pick a year from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Will it be your “dream” dragster or a replica of a favorite you liked? You may even luck out and find a real Top Fuel car that has been raced and has some history to it. Remember this before you spend any money, however - there isn’t enough spare change to build one of these! Ask yourself: Would I be happier buying a new Corvette or building the vintage Top Fueler? The cost just may be the same. You can’t go to the bank and get a car or recreational vehicle loan for one of these. Now, I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m pretty sure your banker, with a friendly smile, will shake his head from side to side as he ushers you back out the door.
It’s time now for you to do some homework and investigating. This means lots of phone calls, internet searches, and scanning of websites to get information on your AA/FD. Even if the car you are going to build has no history of racing behind it, knowing the year or era of parts that will be used will make it more period correct. The same amount of detail and research goes, of course, if you are going to build a well-known and well-documented dragster.
What is the benefit of building a known and historic AA/FD? In a case like this, the car had been a big part of some people’s lives every day of the week, spending time and money to go racing with it on the weekend. You may hear never-before-told stories about drag strip experiences with it, races won and lost, and maybe the biggie – about the day they “ruled the race!” With an unknown or “dream” car you have none of this. Zero.
For the all-important information and background on your car, you will get in contact with the owner(s), driver(s) or crewmen, families, the builder and yes, the other racers who raced against it. It is also very important that the owner or closest living relatives know that they are not legally or financially responsible for what you plan on doing. A signed document stating these facts helps getting approval to go ahead with your project.
“Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go,” was a quote Ed Donovan often used. My twist on this is: “cackle cars cost money, how accurate do you want it and how fast do you want to get it done.” How much of this reconstruction or build can you do yourself? You can also take your dragster to a professional shop, of course, and have them fix it to your liking. It’s just money. BUT, if you do choose for some shop to do the work, you better have good reference material for them to work off of as well as to be sure and decide in advance the exact condition you expect the car to be in when it leaves their facility. The other alternative is to have a whole new “roller” built. Again, how much of the fabricating can YOU do to build your AA/FD? A lot can be learned from the internet, but putting all this acquired knowledge together can be a real jigsaw puzzle. Did you miss some small details or dimensions? Did you buy the right material to do the job?
What about those “they don’t make them anymore” parts? Need a pair of 11x16 Halibrand magnesium 5 large kidney hole Sprint wheels and Goodyear Blue Streak 11.00-16 slicks? P&S steering box and spindles? How about the Cirello Frankenstein Magneto and two 2.25 x17 Avon Speedmaster tires for the front spokers? You can easily spend $9000 or more for just these parts!
How is the old piggy bank doing? Even though you haven’t spent a dime yet, I’m urging you to take time and really do all the proper research on your cackle car. Document, retain, and commit all the knowledge and information you can to the project, because you are doing something very special - recreating the life of a AA/FD! …….. to be continued
Roger “Riceman” Lee
Nostalgia Drag World - by Roger Lee