UKDRN

Anything Nostalgia Related.

Moderators: timetravel, ukdrn

 #37569  by ukdrn
 Sun Dec 28, 2014 10:21 pm
Keith Pilling has very kindly sent me some very interesting information about two pieces of UK drag racing history

Some old drag cars never die!
Where do old drag cars retire to? Stashed away in garages and lockups or languishing in dusty commercial premises up and down the country? Should we be looking for them? If we rescue them from their resting places are they just more museum fodder? This website, UKDRN, Norm Wilding, Chris Hartnell, and all the current and previous Wild Bunch racers, countless restorers and drag strips in the U.K., U.S.A. and Australia suggest that rescued drag cars still provide excesses of excitement and tremendous pleasure for both owners and fans alike. If you’ve attended The Hot Rod Drags at Shakespeare County Raceway and experienced this excitement and pleasure you will have seen and felt the history of British drag racing. It's still alive and it's great fun. In the U.S.A Nostalgia drag racing is accompanied by Jalopy drags both of which are visual reminders of the cars that epitomise this living history of our sport. To experience from your armchair what fully restored early cars in racing trim sound and look like take yourself to that ‘other time and place’ by searching for ‘nostalgia’ or ‘jalopy’ drag racing on YouTube etc.

Mr Shifter
MR SHIFTER 3.jpg
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I have owned and tried to restore two older drag cars and succeeded with one of them - one got away!
Restoring that first car got off to a very wobbly start and ended unsuccessfully. In a nutshell the car ‘Mr Shifter’ had been bought in 2000 with the intention of bringing it back to life again but it proved not to be the project for me. The car had been advertised in Custom Car and after seeing it in Northampton agreed a price with John Atkinson to purchase it. Several other people had tried to bring Mr Shifter back to the strip including, notably, Terry Sands. The chassis, which originally used a Chrysler engine, had, by the time I purchased it, engine mounts for both a Rover and a BB Ford etc. At that time many pieces (NOS, wing structure etc.) had been removed from Terry Sands previously restored version that is shown in the pictures that accompany this article. The car I purchased had a nine inch Ford, four link with coilovers and a beam front axle with coilovers and Panhard rod. The original front wheels had been replaced by Jag road going alloys and the rears by circuit-racing three piece Image multi bolt alloys. The body had been painted pink with darker pink flames and the chassis was covered in candy metal flip flop with many smaller metal parts finished in coppery gold anodising. The motor was a BB Ford 460 with Edelbrock Victor manifold and Predator carb (although there is a photo of the same motor sporting an Offy 360 manifold and plumbed for NOS). The Predator leaked profusely as the fuel bowl had a warped side plate whilst many other parts also had ‘difficulties’, which could have been overcome, but which contributed to my gradually reducing enthusiasm. Terry Sands provided the original pink cloth, stitched and ready for insertion into an as yet to be bought seat and provided several contacts for Ford based parts such as ported cast iron heads etc. and the prints from which scans have been taken for this article.
MR SHIFTER 4.jpg
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In 1999 I had started a business and by 2004 only a little had been finished on Mr Shifter as the business consumed so much time and effort. After removing some of the pink paint on the body and popping the engine out for inspection, I realised how heavy the mild steel chassis was and how weighty was the iron block BB 460. Restoring the car would have been a labour of love requiring time and dedication which admittedly I had started to undertake but which was halted after years of not finding the time to devote to it. From 2004 onwards, I think, the car was sold in sections (chassis with body, front beam axle with Panhard rod/coil overs, transmission with shifter, manifold and racing carb etc.) from which a small profit was made with some parts retained for the new car. The body and chassis were sold to a man called Max from Preston and some years later they turned up, sporting new alloy wheels, in the marquee at SCR’s Hot Rod Drags and offered for sale again. Since then I have lost track of the car. Maybe readers can shed some light on its whereabouts!
MR SHIFTER 5.jpg
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Whilst owning Mr Shifter such items such as the front disks and calipers, coilovers, front axle, Powerglide etc. had been restored. An advert had been placed in Custom Car for a torsion bar front suspension to replace the heavy coil over sprung front beam axle and Panhard rod assembly and a response was received from Allan Corrie in Scotland who offered to cut one off a funny car chassis he owned. Some of the chassis’ history was discussed with Allan and I obtained the Thirsk address of one of the two lads he had bought the chassis and unrelated funny car body from. From there my story took a very different direction as the funny car chassis in question was last campaigned as the Panic Flopper/Fuel Altered. This rekindled my enthusiasm and today, December 2014, I am about to complete my altered using that same funny car chassis
MR SHIFTER 6.jpg
MR SHIFTER 6.jpg (1.32 MiB) Viewed 4625 times
An altered called ‘Harry’
HARRY PIC 12.jpg
HARRY PIC 12.jpg (1.1 MiB) Viewed 4625 times
My altered, named Harry after my deceased father, began with the successful bid for the whole ex. John Woolfe, ex. Panic chassis on the proviso I also collected it from near Prestwick airport - about 250 miles from Chester! The price agreed with Allan Corrie included the two piece seat, the side tinwork, body tinwork (two sets) the steering tie rod (no steering box) and the front torsion bar axle and supports. Allan had bought the chassis, and the unrelated funny car body, into which he’d intended to drop one of two helicopter jet engines he’d restored. The jet engines proved to be too wide for the chassis and it lay discarded in the garden whilst the body was cut longwise in two - one side mounted to his outside garage wall and the other became a garden play item for his children. Allan had then redesigned his project and imported a fibreglass pickup truck body from the U.S. which was then undergoing lengthening in his garage - his chassis was to follow. Some of my chassis’ history was discussed with him and I obtained the Thirsk address of one of the two lads he had bought both the funny car body and chassis from. My assumption at that point was that the car had been bought from owners in the South of England and brought to Yorkshire before going on to Ayreshire but that is just my guesswork.
HARRY PIC 10.jpg
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My piece of rescued drag racing history had languished in several places including Yorkshire then Ayreshire where, had fate not intervened, it might have had its last resting place prior the scrap yard. The chassis was bought from Ayreshire but the matching Monza body had never reached Scotland and had been sold much earlier to another then unknown buyer. At the earlier date the body had been purchased by Dave Ward who then campaigned it as Rampage. At the time of my purchase I knew the chassis was light in weight but wrongly assumed that not being in Cro. Moly that the seller, Allan Corrie, was correct in saying that it was not legal for class racing. The chassis began life as the John Woolfe Racing/Insurance in Motion funny car and ended its fuel career as the Panic funny car/fuel altered. The rolling chassis, at some time in its history, had been bought from Dennis Priddle by Charlie Draper who informed me that at John Websters place he had added a new rollcage. I am assuming it then came into the hands of the Panic Team but I am not sure. Some of the cars history, after it stopped racing as Panic and before it came into my possession, is also shrouded and my own research uncovered only small amounts of information all of which was provided verbally and anecdotally. It’s been impossible to locate any written or published information to back this up so hopefully readers will bear this in mind as they go through the article.


The next few months were spent tracing missing parts by phoning and writing to the previous owners. One previous owner, John Brown, lived in Yorkshire in a caravan located beside a disused mushroom tunnel/shed which had contained at one point two funny cars, mountains of parts, two U.S. muscle cars, numerous body panels, and a grass track racer. By the time I visited the shed some of it had been sold but photographs supplied by John for me to copy show the two complete funny cars (one equipped with a Chevy motor with high rise manifold and carbs) and a separate Topolino body. I succeeded in buying from John more incomplete assemblies from my chassis - a narrowed Ford 9" casing, one floater shaft, two rusted rotors, two heavily corroded and irrepairable antique Airheat rear calipers, one rotten master cylinder, wheelie bars without wheels, half of the accelerator assembly etc.,etc. You get the picture! To be honest it was pleasing that the owners had been able to locate so many parts for my chassis in such a mesmerising array of cars, bodies and widely scattered parts each meant for different purposes - drag racing, grass track, street etc. I now owned many incomplete bits of some parts of a 1980’s funny car with a remote promise of complete assemblies, provided I could locate by some magic, from somewhere in England or the world, the missing sections!!!!!!!!!!

Some of my chassis’ history was traced through old Custom Car articles on the Insurance In Motion/John Woolfe Racing and Panic funny cars and help from Charlie Draper, fabricator and one time owner of the chassis. After meeting him at SCR I felt I was near the end of the line in discovering the whereabouts of any more original parts so I stopped looking. The 9" axle had been produced by The Summers brothers in California who sadly didn’t still produce parts for it so it was completed using Charlie’s knowledge, help from my local bearing and seal warehouse, work completed at a local machine shop and timely advice from Andy Robinson about suitable steel from which to machine some replacement, not commercially available, rotors.

When I first sat in the funny car chassis the openness of it was alarming, particularly that my knees and legs would be so vulnerable outside the protection zone of the cage. Seeing funny cars at the strip had never provoked the question of why drivers legs were not protected. The dreadful experience of John Force’s horrendous crash in the U.S., where his knees were badly damaged and he was hospitalised, only reinforced my determination to ‘protect my walking assets’ at all costs. New Imperial sized tube was bought, John Webster bent them to my specification, and Alunox welded the new additions to the cage to protect my all important ‘assets’, support the dashboard and give strength to the extended steering column. The small amount of new T45 tubing for the changes cost way more than I paid for the whole chassis and also necessitated precision TIG welding by a coded welder. The main problem with the tubing was finding a company that had the mandrels to bend Imperial diameter tubing.

Once I felt shrouded and safe within the new cage area most of the old brackets were carefully cut off and used elsewhere on the chassis. One set of mid plate brackets, one set (suitably located for my lengthy BB Ford) of front engine mount brackets and what was assumed to be the chute release cable bracket were left in place. Some old Custom Car magazine photos had helped to pinpoint where the odd item on the chassis originally belonged, such as the placement of the dual oil filters, but the glamourous centre spreads with naked women didn’t focus on mundane (critical to me) details such as engine mounts, fire bottle brackets and chute release!!!!! Similarly the position of why tubes and crossmembers on the chassis are placed where they are is not recorded. In order to amend the chassis, or to add to it, required T45 tubing and informed guesswork in order that it was not compromised or lost its original flexibility. The Panic and John Woolfe cars used a hand brake and master cylinder on the right side of the cockpit to facilitate hand brake staging and launches. With the change to a bracket car, and left foot braking, all that had to be relocated to the other side of the cockpit, the hand brake removed, and a Line Lock and Transbrake installed.

It was intended that the motor use C14 for fuel but the price went up and up during the build. With advice from Chris Hartnell and several Pod racers Methanol became the chosen option - racing or cleaning Methanol, hmmmm? This new fuel was outside of my knowledge zone but luckily an altered that was being offered for sale on http://www.racingjunk.com provided the solution. Having contacted the Canadian owner, Brock Gillis, we exchanged many emails that included photos of his car’s setup. Brock also used a BB Ford and a Powerglide but ran the car on Methanol using two flying toilets (carb style injectors). For an easy startup his car used a small low pressure electric carburettor pump, a 1 Litre tank for racing gas and 4AN lines (usually meant for hydraulic brakes) to pump fuel to the two toilets for startup. My completed ‘startup tank and pump’ made my altered increasingly complicated and very tight for space at the front end?

My plan had been to build a bracket car to enjoy racing with - capable of repeatable 8 or 9 second quarters with a Ford KA body as it’s the modern equivalent of the Fiat Topolino. No fibreglass KA existed! Instead the adverts in various places were scoured and a fibreglass1932 Model ‘B’ body meant-for-the-road was located on Eurodragster. Twelve inches were chopped from the body’s length and mockups were made in blue builders foam for side pods, tonneau and front nosecone. From these originals moulds were made and the final pieces were glassed to the now shortened one piece body.

The original coppery anodised cockpit enclosing tin work from the Panic era was in very poor condition with multiple holes from Dzus fasteners which, on the belly pan, had been relocated many times. New side panels were fabricated and with the help of an old bead roller, and learn-on-the-job-experiments at Alunox, they received some small amount of extra rigidity.
HARRY PIC 11.jpg
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The largest obstacles in constructing the altered were lack of space, lack of time, lack of metalworking skill, lack of money and lack of specialist equipment - everything amateur builders experience and it all took longer than expected due to Murphy’s Law operating in my garage too! Incidentally all my Murphy inspired mistakes were kept to remind me not to do it that way again! Life also got in the way during the build - both of my sons got married, my wife retired early from work, the garage roof needed repairing, we needed holidays etc., etc., etc. I‘m relieved the car is nearing completion and I’m looking forward to some WB racing once the last niggly bits have been sorted. Hopefully this article has provided some informative and enjoyable reading and brought to light the whereabouts of one old British funny car that had not seen the light of day since the 1980’s.



Keith Pilling
December 2014

Keith has also told me he still has some original parts from Mr Shifter if the new owner is interested.
We also have a large 12 page thread on the car here.
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1167&p=9514&hilit=m ... fter#p9514
 #37572  by ahensman
 Mon Dec 29, 2014 3:57 pm
Great thread and thanks Keith. Please keep us informed as things progress. Keep those pictures coming, especially if you have gleaned any from your history searches.
I remember Mr. Shifter and the Insurance in Motion when DP introduced it. Regretfully, I'd moved on to the States before it was Panic.
If there's anything I can help with from the Colorado end, just buzz through the "For Sale/Wanted" section of this site.

Thanks again
 #38059  by speedynige
 Thu Jun 04, 2015 2:57 pm
Hi Keith thanks for the info on Mr Shifter
I,m the new owner and bought him from a guy called Dave somewhere near Middlesborough
Mr Shifter is sat waiting in a queue of vehicles awaiting my attention
Would be interested to know what parts you still have Thanks Nige 07976 625558