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Vintage Race Car of the Week: Bruce Larson’s 1966 Chevelle

Vintage Race Car of the Week: Bruce Larson’s 1966 Chevelle

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.

Bruce Larson's 1966 Chevelle

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8 thoughts on “Vintage Race Car of the Week: Bruce Larson’s 1966 Chevelle

  1. jerry z

    That is the car that lead me to my first Chevelle, a 1966 SS396! Owned it from 1984-95. It was Marina blue w/bright blue int, 375hp (not original), 4spd, 4.10 posi. Sold it to buy my first house. :(

  2. GuitarSlinger

    Ahhh … yes … back when Funny Cars … really were funny … as well as actual cars . What an era that was . I was just a kid when it all took off … and couldn’t wait till the next issue of Car Craft / Hot Rod showed up on the newsstand .. or National dragster in my mailbox to see what bit of creative lunacy would show up next

    @ jerry z .. Take solace …we’ve all been there .. for a multiple of reasons .

  3. Phil Hendrix

    As a young impressionable teenager totally caught up in our own version of “Gasser Wars” and Run What You Brung Superstock racing here in the southern US, I can definitely say that the big yearly super stock meets at Jake’s Dragstrip (first established in 1955 or 6 I believe) by one J.E.Jacobs of Moulton, AL and still in operation as a little redneck dragstrip today). I was there most weekends from 1964 and many events attended by my father in the late 50’s.

    Most S/S events were attended by non-altered wheelbase cars, 63’s, and 64’s including Big Jim Cochrane’s original factory Ford Thunderbolt, a host of Chrysler wedges that quickly became Hemi’s. The first altered wheelbases I remember were in 1965 led by the JC and CJ South team that had the 5 Hemi Sedan’s and Darts in 1965/6. I distinctly remember 1-of thier 65 Darts, altered wheelbase and injectors through the hood. Bobby Woods of Wood Chevrolet in B’ham for sure had a candy apple red blown 1965 Chevelle as well as a 66. By ’66 there were as many injected/blown as carbs.

    At the old Courtland, AL WWII Concrete airstrip here in N.AL, I can remember as many as 40 to 50 of these cars for a “big money” shootout event. Dyno Don, Sox & Martin, and many other luminaries. I saw Dyno’s topless coupe (funny car for sure) and Arnie the Farmer Beswick and many others in ’65/6.

    The South Family would bring their 5 cars on and open “new car” transport truck. Leonard and Clinton Harris, uncles I think? (maybe a father, not sure) to the late 70’s Top Fuel Champ Clayton Harris in the late 50’s running Nitro at Jake’s.

    My addiction started when my dad took us to our first “Gasser Sunday” at Jake’s when I was 10 years old in 1959 or so.

    My interest was put on steroids in 1964 on a rare (for our family) vacation, driving (w/no air conditioning) to southern CA for our only visit (and the only 2 week vacation I can ever remember) to visit my dads brother and sister who had settled there after WWII. My uncle who took us 2 successive weekends, including a Sat night nitro event at “The Beach” Lions Dragstrip. The 2 finalists that evening were none other than a kid named Don Prudomme and one Danny Ongnais. Can’t remember who won, I think Danny O who I had never heard of at that point, but I distinctly remember the weekend before when a guy named Bones Balough rolled to the line in a beautiful A/GS metallic red blown 33 Willy’s coupe owned I think by Dubach & Pisano? He hit the throttle, got sideways at 300′ and barrel rolled the show car quality Gasser about 5 times right in front of us. I was hooked for sure and have had to have a least one or 2 “fixes” (inhaling nitro) a year, usually every year at Indy and occasionally at Denver, the Gators, Vegas, Atlanta, wherever I can fit it in to my schedule.

    I quit drag racing actively to start a career and a family in 1968. After our 3 girls completed college I visited Frank Hawley’s school in 1990 to try a few passes in a new fangled rear engined dragster and like a recovering alcoholic, that was a baaaaaad mistake that has cost me hundreds of thousand’s of dollars since LOL. We have not won the Million Dollar Drag (Bracket Race) yet but was in the first and have made all but one as I recall. What a great life!

  4. Bill Warburton

    One of the first Funny Car races that I remember seeing was between Bruce and his “USA 1 ” Chevelle and “Jungle Jim ” driving Lew Arrington’s “Brutus “GTO funny car at Cecil County . I was right behind them on the starting line .During the run they were all over the track and at various times so sideways that I could see the Lettering on the sides of their cars ! I was blown away because nether one of them lifted !

  5. Turbo Regal

    Saw this last month at Big’s museum in Ocala, FL. This is an area where I think organized racing misses the boat: the further you get from a stock bodied race car, the less the average fan is interested. The current crop of funnies and pro stockers bear little resemblance to what a fan might drive.

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