Life’s a Gasser!
Everybody loves a gasser. Young or old, there’s something about the look and style of one of these old-school drag machines that gets the blood pumping. You could be from Mars and take your first look at a gasser and tell that it’s something very special and exciting. I first saw gassers as a kid in magazines, as model kit box art, and in the Donruss series of Odd Rod trading cards that were drawn in the style of Ed Roth by artist and musician, Bob Taylor.
Growing up at the tail end of the baby boom made guys my age hungry for all car-related stuff, and gassers provided a lot of daydream material. The thing about my love affair with gassers is that by the time Donruss came out with Odd Rod trading cards in 1969, the gassers had begun their exodus from drag racing. I always wondered why there were cool muscle cars on the road, but you never saw any gassers. By the time the Pro Street style emerged, it was so significantly different that even we youngsters knew they weren’t the same thing—we just didn’t know why.
The “why” was because the technology of racing, engine building, tires, and chassis design were on a meteoric rise. The look of the gasser—fat piecrust slicks sticking out from bodwork, skinny front-runners, solid front axles, belching fenderwell headers, mile-high front stance, induction through the hood, and wheelie bars were the recipe every kid used to draw a hot car, and it was gasser all the way. Bob Taylor and Donruss knew this. But race teams wanted to win, and when that meant changing the car’s design to take advantage of new developments—such as better tires, more power, and good suspensions—the look of competitive race cars changed.
By 1968, gassers were out, and by 1970, Pro Stock had taken over, changing forever the look of the fastest gasoline-powered production-based drag racers. Gone were the sky-high frontends with the top-heavy look, now replaced with sleek ground-hugging bodies over enclosed wheels. Driven by technology, the look of competitive doorslammers—now called Pro Stock—changed overnight, but I never got over my love of gassers.
The funny thing is, gassers look like they do for a reason, and it’s because the racers of the era did whatever they could within the rules (and sometimes beyond) to gain an advantage. That meant shifting the weight balance of the car and optimizing everything for traction. Those tricks might not be cutting-edge today, but the rules of physics are still the same, so they still work. Consequentially, solid front axles, ladderbar suspensions, radiused wheelwells, fenderwell headers, and lightweight fiberglass body panels are the stock and trade of the gasser look.
For that reason, Car Craft has combined forces with Speedway Motors of Lincoln, Nebraska to build a gasser-themed project later this summer. It’s a dream come true for me, as all these years have passed and I’ve never put hands on a real one. We’ll be bringing you all the action of the build-up and completion of a Chevy Nova gasser in a special Week To Wicked presentation that takes place at the Car Craft tech center the week of August 12 – 16. (Make sure to check back then!)
Speedway Motors has been proactive bringing to market a dizzying array of suspension kits, engines, and other parts for the gasser comeback movement, and they want all of you to know what can be done affordably without access to a fabrication shop and a staff of chassis builders. As builders of racecars themselves, Speedway has taken a lot of the “experimentation” out of the equation that happened back in the day, creating a range of kits with assistance from powerful CAD programs and real-world testing.
We’ll be building a Chevy II gasser with Speedway Motors using their Chevy II gasser kit and other supplies, but our strategy will be one of compromise: we’ll be fully acknowledging the fact that many projects start out as heirlooms and rare vintage finds that would be ruined if the same tact was taken as in 1960, so we’ll be stopping short of altering the wheelbase or slicing up the factory sheetmetal. The entire transformation from stock to gasser will happen in a week’s time, but prior to that, we’ll be bringing you the assembly of a gasser-centric big-block Chevy we’re stuffing between those narrow fenders.
This is shaping up to be an amazing summer!
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