We have to thank Dave Reinikka for the tip on this one. He sent us a note for an eBay ad that shows a never run aluminum Donovan 417 block. In a neat twist, this block had been delivered to Don Garlits back when and never used. Don then sold it to the guy who now has it listed on “the bay”. Why are we telling you about a bare block only good for a nostalgia top fuel car on the Monday before the SEMA show starts? Frankly because the timing is perfect. The Donovan 417 represents a single automotive aftermarket component that advanced both the industry and the sport of drag racing by leaps and bounds. It made top fuel cars instantly quicker and faster. It actually helped teams in the fact that it was far more easy to repair than the cast iron blocks they had been used to running. Kansas John Wiebe was the first guy to get one and the weekend he bolted it in the car he was the runner up at the 1971 NHRA Supernationals, setting a track record at Ontario. Most importantly, this was done in a slingshot when the tide had obviously turned toward rear engine cars. To say that people were interested right off the bat would be an understatement.
On the side of advancing the industry, the Donovan 417 spurred the creation of the Keith Black and Milodon 426 style hemi blocks and later on the JP-1 and TFX blocks for top fuel . Keith Black’s motivation was survival. He rightly surmised that if he didn’t have a block of his own, he’d go from “Keith Black Racing Engines” to “Keith Black Engine Assembler using Donovan blocks”. That wasn’t something he could stand around and let happen so he set to work and by the end of the 1970s his engine blocks were pretty much the industry standard for fuel racers in dragsters and funny cars.
We can’t say that we’re sure about what year this 417 is from. It is apparently the 460th Donovan 417 ever produced for sale so that has to put it somewhere in the 1970s, right? If that is the case, this would be a great block for someone who was building a cackle car from that era and wanted a period block to put in it. The seller here was going to use it in his Bonneville car, but never had to. Now he wants to move it onto the next owner who will hopefully run some fuel (of any stripe) through it. It sure is nice to look at but this baby needs pumping pistons, a spinning cam, and a crank struggling to hold it all together inside to complete the picture.
Will there be a modern equivalent to the Donovan 417 unveiled at SEMA this year? Not necessarily a block, but a part or component that forces everyone in the marketplace to respond with an answer or an advancement to keep from being made obsolete. That’s the beauty of SEMA for us. New stuff, stuff that people have slaved over in dark rooms for a year. Stuff no one has seen or knows about yet.Will there be a Donovan 417 type product seeing the light of day this year at SEMA? Something that will change the industry in a special way? Who knows! That is the beauty of the show. Stay tuned with us all week to see what’s new and exciting here at SEMA 2013!
scroll down to see photos of the block and then hit the ebay link for more photos and info -
eBay find: A Never run NOS 417 Donovan block