It’s darn near impossible to nail down who exactly had the “first” Funny Car and when it debuted. Dick Landy’s 1964 altered-wheelbase Dodge is most often credited, but different factors of consideration will lead to different results. What we will commit to is the fact that around 1965 and 1966 there were a mess of killer cars built that all contributed something to the evolution of the Funny Car. Bruce Larsen’s Chevelle was certainly one of them.
Bruce Larsen had been drag racing since the mid-‘50s in the Pennsylvania area and developed a solid reputation as one of the fastest guys in the region. Larsen was working for Sutliff Chevrolet, running their dyno and tuning customer cars for performance. He was also drag racing a Cobra at the time. After being approached by principles of the dealer and steered toward racing a Chevy, he was able to talk the family that owned the joint into funding his vision of a Funny Car.
When you see the Chevelle in pictures it looks like a slightly altered steel body, but it’s not. The whole thing is fiberglass, hand built by a company that built boats in the proximity of the Sutliff dealership. The doors function and those factory chrome door handles are not just for decoration, they work. The chassis was based on 2×3 boxed steel rails and a rudimentary tube structure was built off of that. To say that these cars aren’t quite as sophisticated as a modern Funny Car would be the understatement of the decade.
Power was provided by factory parts. An iron-headed 427ci big-block Chevy, which was stroked out to 454ci, was used to make the steam. It was fuel injected with a Hilborn system and some forward-leaning injector tubes that would become the car’s trademark. It ran on nitromethane.
The car started life with a Muncie M-22 manual transmission but was far too violent and destructive, bringing on the change to a B&M-built Turbo 400 soon after the car was put to work.
It took Larsen and a couple of dedicated assistants three months to build the car. Looking from the side, you can tell that the wheelbase has been changed. The front wheels have been moved forward 4 inches and the rear axle came ahead a foot.
The front end used a tube axle, transverse leaf spring, and no brakes. Steering came from an early ‘60s Corvair. This thing was literally built from a GM dealer catalog. A big, beefy Dana rear axle was used with a 4.56 ratio. No doubt that this car hit the tires hard on the launch! The car was stopped by rear aluminum drum brakes. This would not be the best combo to be running around on the street with. Fighting weight came on at about 2,200 pounds. One of the neat aesthetic touches was the use of Chevy hub caps to take the place of the headlights on the front of the forward-flipping, one-piece fiberglass nose.
Although it only had a short run in the 1966 through 1967 seasons, the car was a hit and scored its fair share of victories across the country in places as far away as Bakersfield. The car did battle with the flip-tops of Dyno Don, Gas Rhonda, and others. It was never shamed and always put up a decent fight.
We think it looks totally killer. Don Garlits now has it in his museum. The car was completely restored after being located outside a gas station in New York. We’ve seen it in person, and the only thing that’s missing is the glorious sound of an angry big-block Chevy burning nitro.