(Another One Saved)
This page will chronicle the
finding and restoration of a race car. Not any race car ... it
was our race car - the last front engine Top Fueler John Buttera
ever built. If it seems personal, that's because it is. We have
had a lot of help in this venture and many requests for "the
rest of the story". This is not a case of bragging or self-service.
It's simply a chance for us to share an incredibly neat thing
with our friends and the fans of WDIFL.
Phoenix - 1970
Prologue: In the Fall of 1968 I contacted John
Buttera in Wisconsin and told him I wanted a "big brother"
to the Jr. Fuel car he'd built for Richard Lockerman. It was
a magnificent piece but too small for Top Fuel. Buttera informed
me he already had it - a 173" wheelbase Top Fuel car he
had built for himself but was not going to race. He was relocating
to SoCal and would deliver it when he came out. In November of
1968 the car was delivered to us in Long Beach and our expectations
were met in spades. It was virtually complete less engine (below).
The price tag: $1,750!
John Buttera: The car was originally built
for John himself, it had a lot of "trick" parts (like
the steering wheel, brake handle, throttle pedal, chute release,
brackets etc.) which were all chromed. The Lakewood bellhousing
and custom fuel tank were polished. All the aluminum Hanna body
parts were anodized gold and other parts red. And the kicker
was a complete Strange Eng. full floater 8 3/4 rear end with
chrome housing. Dual Airhart disc breaks and a Simpson chute.
Basically, all we had to do was add paint, a plumbed engine and
Paint & Lettering: Dick Olson
and Kenny Youngblood: The late Dick Olson (my partner in the
F-Troop Jr. Fuel car) insisted on painting the car. He asked
what colors I wanted and took it from there. It was pearl white,
candy blue with candy gold trim. It all came together when Kenny
Youngblood did his magic on the cowl. At the time the was a new
deal and I had used mine to the max getting the car done (mostly
at Reath's). When I told Kenny that, he came up with the "Bankamericar"
logo. Here Fred Smith and myself pose with the car when it was
race ready in March of 1969.
Engine: The original 392 engine was a real mutt - but
parts were all good. We bought a ton of stuff from Lou Baney
just after he retired as a car owner. We also got a lot of parts
from Reath Automotive. A boneyard A-1 block and crank were prepared
by Gary Slusser. Ed Donovan kicked in the valve covers and valve
train. Larry Ofrea at the then new Valley Head Service did the
heads. Joe Pisano supplied the pistons and rods - Crower the
cam and clutch. Paul Schiefer gave us a magneto. Cragar supplied
the blower manifold.
More Help: Bill Simpson and Fred Crow gave me a
new firesuit, belts and chutes. Bell Helmets sponsored me then
and for years to come. Champion stepped up for plugs and Valvoline
the oil. Sid Waterman gave all the help we could afford. Cyclone
sponsored the headers and brother John and his team (J&M
Racing Photos) suppled us with "ink".
Thank You List
The people who are making this
happen - either by contributing parts (big or small) or giving
us deals that are too good to be true......
Bruce Dyda -
Dyda Race Engineering: A
superb fabricator who took a pile of photos and perfectly restored
the Buttera chassis and Hanna body. Although he had access to
Buttera for collaboration, he didn't need any help other than
the pictures. If you have any fabrication or restoration in mind
call Bruce at 310.768.3163
Lynn Kane - stepped up "just because he wanted
to be part of the project".
Kent & Evelyn Fuller
John Jennings -
Leroy Shaver - Centerline Welding
Larry Ofrea - Valley Head Service
Dale "The Coyote" Smith
Ronnie Rapp (crew chief)
Baer's Canvas & Upholstry
Jerry Sweeney - Brooks Rods
Dean LaPole - LaPole Headers
Ken Rappaport - Race Car Research
The Long Road Home
I bought the car in late 1968
and campaigned it until mid 1971 (Best ET & speed ... 6.38
@ 228 in 1971). We went to the rear engine deal in mid 1971,
this car was sold for $750 in 1972 and headed east (Indiana).
In 1998 I started searching for it. Your proverbial needle in
a haystack. After posting photos of the car on WDIFL I finally
got a lead in 2000 when Mark Polson of Atlanta contacted me saying
he thought they had my old car. I saw the car at Darlington in
2001 and confirmed it was THE car. But Polson wasn't ready to
sell it - they were racing it! I put first bid on the car when
they were ready to sell - in November of 2002 they were. Brother
John paid over twice what the car cost new to get it back very
used. What follows is more of the details with photos.
The car in 1997 with Mark Polson
at the wheel. Obviously it had gone through several changes since
it left Cerritos in 1972. However, at this point the chassis
is still "virgin" (almost). Oh, we have no clue where
the car was or who had it from 1972 to 1997.
By the time I saw the car at
Darlington in 2001 Polson had upgraded the chassis to meet the
7.50 specs and installed a blown alcohol big block Chevy. This
35 year old car was going 200 mph in 2002.
Fortunately the chassis updates
only included a new cage, kidney bars and a new cowl. But, they
kept the original cage and cowl which we got back with the car.
Removing the kidney bars and extraneous brackets will be no problem.
Getting the car back to SoCal
from Atlanta proved to be almost as hard as finding it in the
first place. After several delays, Rick & Matt Stambaugh
finally got their rig together and headed west in April. This
is what the car looked like at John's house after they took it
out of the trailer and a set of "Flyin Phil" wheels
were installed for mobility. What a sad sight!
In early May, John (Ewald) took
the car over to John Buttera for a damage assessment. We can't
print what John said about his last FED, but the bottom line
was it was well within the salvage range. John no longer has
a shop but offered to do the "small stuff" and said
he'd advise Bruce Dyda (who's next door to Lil John's buddy,
Don Long) on the chassis restoration.
The car arrives at Dyda's shop
in Gardena. He had the same reactions as Buttera - the difference
being they weren't personal about it.
Bruce pours over the stack of
photos to assess what the car looked like when it was ours. Fortunately
brother John took a lot of photos that will allow the reconstruction
to be dead nuts perfect.
The original cage sans the kidney
bars made all the difference in the world. But note how far the
main rails were stretched to get the friggin BB Chevy in!
This is where is stands as of
05-12-03. Check back often as the chassis will move along at
a rapid pace. In the meanwhile, its all about collecting parts.
Some Of The Parts
Thanks to Kent Fuller, Gene Mooneyham
had a brand new, stone stock, 6:71 blower to start with.
Talk about the ultimate make-over!
And I'm not talking about Gene and Dorothy!
When they're for a race car,
parts go in the garage. When they're for a restoration they stay
in the living room.
All dressed up with nowhere
to go - yet.
Bruce Dyda sets up the
392 back in place
Bruce cut off the front end to
ensure that the engine alignment was perfect. Dyda will weld
it back on and straighten the "age wrinkles".
Front axle waiting for
the main rails to be reattached.
in one piece...
Bruce Dyda is
a fabricator and restoration expert. Being a student of the classic
dragsters (which can be seen in the "look" of his Surfers
Paradise NE1 car). He studied the many photos of the Bankamericar
carefully to determine the original configuration and made it
match. He had to replace many damaged parts with fresh pipe as
there was no way to repair parts that have been raced for over
Bruce's job is
getting close to done. Once the car leave his shop it will be
blown apart for powder coating, chrome and anodizing. The body
will go to the painter and then - stay tuned.
Dyda is moving right along with the restoration.
along, Dyda repaired or replaced the parts needed to replicate
the original controls (steering, throttle, clutch, chute-fuel
handles and brake).
end has been repaired and reinstalled.
machining brackets for the front wing plates.
push bar has been reinstalled.
Rick Kepler tries out the seat
nailed the clutch pedal and linkage.
pedal and throttle pedal & linkage.
What were finding
with Dyda Engineering is that Bruce not only does perfect fabrication
but he does it without lunch breaks! As you can see, these photos
are only three days after the last.
the throttle linkage exactly as it was.
Never knew if they were all that functional or not but we used
The body has
been anodized gold again and here Dyda attaches the windscreen.
Next stop for the tin, Jerry Seivers at Paint-n-Place who just
recently did Prudhomme's Mattel Funny Car restoration and of
course, is John Force's exclusive painter.
The chassis is
done and electro-painted black (a process we didn't have in 1968).
clutch and other hardware is refinished.
Dyda's the man!
Nobody, not even Buttera himself, could have done better.
a period correct pushcar. Again, with a lot of help from our
friends, here's John's "Bankameripushcar" prior to
its metallic blue (1966 Corvette blue) and silver paint job.
It is a '58 Chevy
Biscane. The engine is a 383 Stroker with twin 4's on top, a
700R4 tranny. We dropped the front end 2 inches, added power
disk brakes, power steering, power windows, air conditioning,
and shaved most of the emblems. It has a Posi rear end and old
drag racer Dean LaPole did the header system. Cragar S/S wheels
with Firestone Indy 500 Firehawks for the rubber. We estimate
the engine will put out around 475 horsepower.
The entire '58
project is being done by John Jennings at Outlaw Garage (714-420-5037)
in Anaheim. John's business is restoring and repairing custom
cars and hot rods. When it is debuted all the photos taken from
it's very humble (and sad shape) beginnings will be seen. It
has been through as much work as the Bankamericar has had to
go through. Between Jennings and Dyda we are sure everyone will
appreciate the quality of their work.
All the custom
flamed polished parts were made by Flaming Engraving.
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