We can see the firestorm of hate mail, pissed email messages, comments, and insults coming already. This week, we’re venturing into waters that are sure to get churned up as we attempt to name the Top 11 Most Important and Influential Gassers of All Time. These are the cars that helped evolve, signify, kill, and advance the class from the late 1950s through the early 1970s when it was moved from its own division and into Competition Eliminator. Gassers are some of the most fondly remembered cars of today and more people are building “street gassers” than ever before. The reason? These cars were true hot rods in every sense of the word. Unpredictable, over powered, under chassied, ugly, beautiful, dangerous, and loud, they were the cars that dreams were and are still made of.
To head off one argument of a car that is not on the list, the Ramchargers “High N’ Mighty” was not a gasser. It was run as an Altered during the time it raced. The car did certainly have an effect on the nose bleed stance of the gasser era, but since it was not campaigned in the gas classes specifically, it is not on the list. (Insert hate here)
We present this list in no particular order, but as a collection of 11 cars that defined, drove, and served as the bleeding edge of the gasser era. Read the list and fire up your poison pen to tell us how badly we screwed it up!
You knew this was coming so we got it out of the way early. The team of Stone, Woods, and Cook remains one of the most famous drag racing triumvirates to ever take to the strip. The guys always had the finest equipment, ran as hard or harder than anyone else in the country, and were more than happy to participate in the inflammatory camshaft advertiser wars that caused the gasser scene to really explode.
This car is their 1964 Nationals winning Swindler A. At the time, it was powered by a blown Oldsmobile engine and it narrowly snuck by the blown Chrysler powered machine of “Big John” Mazmanian.
We chose this car from the fleet of S-W-C machines over the years because when you think gasser, most people conjure up this car and this image. A ’41 Willys, a hilborn scoop, and that nose high stance.
This was a winning car that advanced class technology and was immortalized in model kits, as well.
The Mallicoat Brothers B/Gas Supercharged is on this list for a simple reason. It lacks a hood scoop for a significant reason. This was the car that won the 1965 Winternationals B/GS class with a twin turbo 327ci Chevy small block. It felled the blown Hemi powered S-W-C Willys, in fact.
The twin brothers, both brilliant mechanical minds got hooked up with the guys at Garrett and magic was made. When this car went out and stomped the field, the brothers toured the country with it for a short time before giving the turbos back to Garrett (they were on loan) and going back to college.
They would emerge again later in the decade and into the 1970s with another twin turbo creation that ran amazingly well for the era.
This car is on the list because it gave the world a fleeting glimpse of the door slammer drag racing world today, which is dominated by turbochargers at an ever growing rate.
Ridgewood New Jersey’s Jack Merkel was a dominant B/GS racer early in the 1960s, but as the class moved and evolved, the recognition, fame, and publicity was reserved for A/GS competitors. This 1933 Willys was Merkel’s foray into the deep end of the pool, and it was a good one.
While most of the fields he faced had big inch Hemi or Chevy Rat engines, crafty Jack went with a little bitty 364ci small block Chevy mill and featherweight for the car. Crossing the scales at around 2200lbs, this baby thrust Merkel onto the national scene when he stomped all over Ohio George at the 1965 NHRA Nationals. Jack went on to tour the country with a group of gassers match racing and making good dough for the day. When he parked the mouse in favor of a rat for the 1966 season, the last of the great small block gassers was silenced.
“Big John” Mazmanian’s race cars were all wonderful looking. The famed shade of red was draped over many cars that he owned through his time in the sport and it matched the color of the garbage truck fleet he operated. Why did we choose this car? We chose this one (and we know we’re Willys heavy, but whaddya want us to do?!) because it led the landslide change to Chrysler Hemi power in the gasser ranks, clipped 150mph before anyone else, and dumped a bucket of gasoline onto the rivalry that was already simmering between he and the SWC (Stone, Woods, and Cook) dudes.
Drag racing, like all auto racing has a lot of “monkey see, monkey do” element to it. Once someone walks down a road that is successful, the others pile on as quickly as possible. Such was the case involving the Chrysler Hemi and the A/GS class. Bones Balogh was the driver and the man who built the Hemi that launched a thousand Willys…so to speak.
Norm Paddack’s “Mini-Brute” Opel GT gasser was the first car to use the Opel GT body style that came to be synonymous with the gas classes in the early 1970s. For that reason, it is significant.
Paddack built the car himself and with healthy Hemi power it quickly became known as one of the top performers in the country. The truly neat part about this is that somehow Paddack managed to get an Opel GT body from Germany before they were on sale here on US shores. The car was a hit with fans because they were seeing what was a virtually brand new car built into a full boogie racer.
Our research shows that this car was running in the 8.60s at nearly 170mph in the late 1960s. Must have been a heck of a ride!
There’s always that one car which seems to mark a paradigm shift in drag racing classes. In Pro Stock it was Jenkins tube chassis car, for gassers it was the 1967 Mustang of Ohio George Montgomery. Sponsored by Ford and racing a 1933 Willys, Montgomery knew that he had to make a change. His answer was this car and it set the stage for the great migration of gassers to late model body styles which likely hastened the death of the class.
Due to class rules stating that all cars had to be on a frame, this Mustang was actually set atop the 1933 Willys frame rails from Montgomery’s previous car. Powered by a blown SOHC Ford engine, it made a heck of a splash and Montgomery drove this car exclusively until 1971, owning the record books the whole time. SWC and others were quick to switch body styles after Montgomery became dominant in his Mustang. All of a sudden, Gassers were looking like slow funny cars with doors. This would be the major nail in the coffin of the cars with respect to booking match race dates and staying relevant.
The Kohler Brothers “King Kong Anglia”, aside from having a kick ass name, was also the first gasser to run the Torqueflite transmission with success and as we have seen with the other cars on this list, it didn’t take long for others to jump on board. Art Carr was the man behind the transmission and the advantage the ‘Flite had over the ever popular GM “Hyrdo” trans was a lot taller first gear that made wheel spin much less of a problem. It was also lighter, and less prone to failure when built right. The GM transmissions were four speeds with a super short first gear that was more of a hindrance than a help.
Gassers were really the first class that embraced the automatic transmission in drag racing and many of the basic fundamentals of high performance transmissions today were born in those crazy days with guys like the Kohler brothers and Art Carr doing the work.
Drag racers have always had a rebellious streak in them. Today we have outlaw pro mods, outlaw 10.5 cars, etc. Back in the late 1960s, there were outlaw gassers with the Prock and Howell F-Troop Willys being the baddest son of a bitch in the land.
The chassis was built by Jay Howell at Logghe Brothers by altering a funny car chassis both in width and length. The car had a flip top body with one opening door and most importantly a nitro burning blown Hemi. The F-Troop gained national fame match racing with a small band of “nitro gassers” but it was totally the class of the field, regularly running in the 8.0 range at over 185mph. Note the small “ears” on top of the rear fenders of the Willys. Apparetly the car was a nightmare to drive over 165mph and those helped to settle things down. This is both the baddest outlaw gasser and the baddest Willys gasser of all time. If that Prock name is familiar, Tom Prock is the father of John Force Racing crew chief Jimmy Prock.
Like Norm Paddack’s Opel GT, JR Thompson’s Opel Kadett opened the door for a new body style in the gasser ranks. While Kadetts didn’t spread like wildfire or become as popular as Mustangs or other late models in the class, they gained a solid foothold and the standard bearer was this car, owned by John Mazmanian and tuned/driven by gasser stalwart Jr Thompson.
Chuck Finders built the chassis, and it was filled with a blown Hemi and the now very dominant Torqueflite transmission. Thompson toured with this car alongside SWC, KS Pittman, and Ohio George in match races all over the country as well as racing it in national meets, the few there were during this time.
The Kadett was a successful car for Thompson and one that he is probably most known for as it matched up very well with the best in the business during that era. Thompson would finish his gasser career in an Opel GT, which followed a couple seasons after this car.
Shown here in the turbocharged form it competed in for the 1973 season, the Panella and Miner Opel GT when equipped with a 301ci destroked Hemi, topped with a 6-71 supercharger became the last ever NHRA record holder in AA/Gas Supercharged in 1974. Also of note, was that the car ran a Lenco transmission in 1974 and became one of the first if not the first gasser to do so.
Unfortunately by 1974 the gas classes were buried deep in Competition Eliminator and had lost all of the fame and luster they had during the 1960s. This car is significant because any car that claims the last record in a category is certainly important in our eyes.
The Panella name had been involved in the gasser ranks for years with a famous Anglia and a few other cars. The family continued in the sport for decades and rose again to strength during the short lived NHRA Pro Stock truck era, with Bob Panella being a strong runner in that division.
Ohio George’s “Mr. Gasket Gasser” with a twin turbocharged Boss 429 engine stands as one of the greatest gassers of all time. The NHRA invented a category to put this car in AA/GS T (t for turbo) because it was running so much harder and faster than anyone else could even think about going with a blower.
This was not an overnight success. The mechanical fuel injection tuning and tweaking took the better part of a year to get right, but once it was dialed in and Montgomery could get the car hooked to the race track, there was nothing that could touch it. In match races it would eat up other gassers, altereds, and it could even give BB/FCs of the day a good run for their money when turned up.
The car won the 1973 and 1974 Gatornationals and was then retired as Montgomery turned to other projects and cars. It is tough to argue against the statement that this was the most technologically advanced and powerful gasser of the era, which it put some of the final punctuation on.