It’s sat around long enough. I have pushed it in and out a thousand times… okay… maybe 20.
Kids and adults have had their pictures taken in it. A couple adults barely got back out after sliding into their cocoon. People who normally buzz past the shop have slowed for a look. The requisite queries, “Where do you race it? How fast does it go? The sign business must be pretty good, huh?“ But, it always seems to put a smile on their faces. Throw in a story about its past and what it looked like. Tell them the legend of Hippo and his admirers and friends. You have a few minutes of a day spent captivating their imaginations. They’ll go tell someone what “that crazy sign guy” is up to now….all is good, in the big picture. It takes the focus off the daily BS and it lets another of the unwashed learn a little of what “Our World” encompasses. I’ve had funny cars sitting around the shop for several years. Most people have no clue what they are. Some even think they are Nascar related. But a dragster seems to be a little more familiar to the everyman. They know they go in a straight line and go fast. Whatever the case, it’s a cool part of an even cooler era.
There were some loose ends that I had to tie up before I dug into this. My boys were on summer vacation, the shop was busy and the headaches of self-employment were all ingredients in the delay of starting on it. My 14 year old son, Kody wanted to help. I had been talking it up for the couple previous months and he waited patiently. One morning, they were waiting for me to finish, then head off to lunch and a movie. I knew I was in for at least another hour’s worth of work. I told Kody to grab a couple wrenches and take out the fuel tank, air tank and those ugly damned canards. He went right to work and proved he was the man for the job.
As an aside, this is the same kid who at 5, was bugging me to help do something. I had 3 sign post kits that needed put together. I grabbed one and set it up on the floor with the bolts and nuts loose enough for him to tighten. Like any other kid, he starts the job and I figure the 5 year old attention span would kick in… Nope. He assembled all 3…on his own. I had 50 year old men who couldn’t figure it out!
Once the pieces started coming off, we were finding the updates made over the years ranged from professional… to crap. The cage was updated and properly fitted by Mabry’s chassis shop, out of Texas. They had also lengthened it by 6 inches behind the axle. Judging by the height of the cage and the reach to the pedals, the driver had been a giant. The addition of the canards was definitely the work of a lesser pair of experienced hands. Choppy welds, misaligned tubes… and did I say choppy welds? At some point in its life it had a small block Chevy installed. Upon further examination, it appears the idea of pinching the top rails together, to facilitate fitting the engine was their M.O. I’m guessing they did this, then welded in the canard paraphernalia and battery box. After a day of cutting, grinding and filing the forward part of the chassis was back to where it was when it left SPE. The cage removal was a piece of cake. After all the finishing of the metal, the original attachment points of the 3 point cage were visible. It’s all bent and ready for Brian at King Chassis to work his magic, once the 6 inch stretch is cut out.
The Sorrell built body, is still pretty much intact after 46 years. They trimmed the cowl to apparently give unfettered access to Stretch Armstong. So, we will be replacing it. The little tweaks they performed over the years, along with the dents and dings it has accumulated are manageable. The nose on the other hand, according to stories I have been told was the victim of a staging lane mishap. The stream lined reptilian nose was replaced by something akin to a sugar scoop. This is where we sharpen and hone those metal shaping aspirations. Corey Conyers has nothing to fear.
As for the rolling hardware, the original Olds rear with its M/T mag center section and Airheart brake system is still intact. Up front the SPE front axle was spared from the earlier damage. Along the way, the bellcrank steering was removed for some unknown reason. Steering was rerouted to an arm on the spindle, with the original arms inverted to relocate the drag link. Thanks to Bruce Dyda, at DRE, there’s a gennie bellcrank waiting to resume service. When it came to us, it was in need of correct front spoke wheels and tires. Jeff Gaynor came to the rescue, producing a vintage pair of rims with near perfect Goodyear fronts, like they came out of a time capsule a little polishing ad re-chroming will have us looking good. I’m still searching for a pair of 16’ Champs for the rear, to round out the return to correct rolling stock.
What still remains the most exciting part of this restoration, is the number of people who knew or worked with Hippo through the course of his racing career. From his early days to his landspeed days, no one has ever had one bad thing to say. Dan Horan had told me he had driven this at the Last Drag Race at Lions. A couple weeks ago, I received a message from Dan’s former partner James Ballantyne with a photo of it, indeed at the Last Drag Race. Troy Glenn tells of Hippo picking up iron 392’s up off the floor and putting them on the bench…by himself.
I’ve attached links to a couple You Tubes of my boys working on the disassembly. The most important thing here is the history being preserved and camaraderie it is generating. I would like to thank all the generous offers of help, the unexpected donation of rare parts and the eagle eyes watching out for the missing pieces.
Stick with us here… we’re just getting started. If I can get it to a point that I feel comfortable presenting it “in progress” I may take it to display at CHRR this year.
Time to quit pushing it in and out. The day we started turning back time for the Hippo.
Canard mounts. Misaligned, bulky and just plain ugly.
Kind of reminds me of some dirt cars I’ve seen over the years.