One of the participants at the very first NHRA national event in 1955 was West-Coaster Jim “Jazzy” Nelson with his flathead-powered Fiat altered coupe. That car made such an impression on another entrant, Dallas teenager Karl "Buddy" Anderson that, even though he returned in 1956 to take a win in the C/Altered class with a ‘32 Ford, the young Texan began an earnest search for a similar Topolino (Italian for “little mouse”) coupe like Nelson’s.
One eventually surfaced in nearby Duncanville, but with his college fees and $45-a-week earnings at a local grocery store, it was priced out of Anderson’s budget. Buddy continued to save and a few months later when he went back to make an offer on the car, much to his surprise - and joy - the owner told him he had sold the chassis and engine to another party, but would be happy to sell him the bare body shell for a fraction of the original price.
Believe it or not, the coupe you see was built in just over a week. It features a narrowed ’30 Model-A frame and front suspension on a 96" wheelbase, steered by a ‘40 Ford box. A hefty roll bar sits over the center-mounted original Fiat seat. Buddy laughs when he mentions that it took him almost as long to drill the lightening holes in the chromed axle as it did to build the entire car. A puzzling sight for younger admirers of this piece are the vintage knee-action shocks. And if you guessed Halibrand or even Hildebrand mags for the front, you’d be wrong: they’re a pair of very rare Palamides 12-spokers, now shod with Pirelli radials.
Buddy spinning the Widdle White Wabbit’s M&H slicks off the line at North Star Dragway in Denton, Texas
In the rear, slung under coil springs, is a Halibrand quick change, built in the original Culver City shop, which transmits power through cut-down Buick axles out to the 1960s American mags and 9.00x15 M&H Racemasters. Stopping power is provided by later model Ford binders.
Calvert Automotive in Denton, Texas built the original engine, a high-winding 265 cu. in. Chevrolet, with an Engle cam, J.E. pistons, Vertex magneto, and a six 2-bbl manifold. Hooked to it was a ’38 Ford tranny using second and high only. In the rodder’s eternal search for more power, however, it wasn’t long before a 327 found its way into the engine compartment, with a hotter Isky cam, Enderle fuel injection, and Venolia pistons. The tired Ford shifter also was replaced by a 4-speed B&M Hydro Stick.
Fostered by the North Texas Timing Association, the old all-concrete airport just down the road from Dallas at Caddo Mills launched drag racing in the early 1950s (many say it was the second such organized strip next to California’s Santa Ana) and became the Southwest’s hot-bed of NHRA drag racing for many years. Soon after, new strips opened in San Antonio, Houston, Temple, and Amarillo. Those, along with the popular AHRA-sanctioned Green Valley Raceway near the Fort Worth end of the D-FW Metroplex, greatly expanded the opportunities to race in Texas.