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The Birth Of The Flip Top

The modern Funny Car was not invented in Southern California, but rather by a cadre of Ford engineers and racers in Dearborn, Michigan

By Jim McCraw, Photography by Car Craft Archives, Ford Archives

He also experimented with a combination of alcohol, nitromethane, and hydrazine. "We didn't quite know what we were doing, but it made the car a little quicker," he says. "It was probably more dangerous than we knew."

In 1967, Schartman took his rig to California for the winter tour, moved in with Jack Chrisman, hired legendary wrench Amos Satterlee, and put a blower on the Cammer engine, using a Ford-developed supercharger manifold. "Amos made that car into a rocket ship," he says. All good things must come to an end, and Lincoln-Mercury decided to get out of Funny Car racing. Schartman got a $200,000 settlement that enabled him to run independently for one more season in order to satisfy sponsor contracts. Schartman, inducted into the NHRA (1998) and Don Garlits' International Hall of Fame (2011), finished his career in Pro Stock and retired from drag racing in 1974.

The Kendall GT-1 car of Jack Chrisman, the Eliminator I and Eliminator II of Don Nicholson, and the Air Lift Rattler of Eddie Schartman, all built by Ford, Logghe, Bergler, and Plastigage Custom Fabricating, together changed the face of fuel coupe drag racing forever. They all got Cougar bodies in 1967, and the original Comet bodies went to other racers like Michigan's Pete Gates, who put a new Logghe chassis under the former Nicholson body. Within months, every chassis shop from New Jersey to California was busy building Funny Car rails, and a whole new industry in one-piece fiberglass bodies grew up overnight.

In 1967, the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury racing groups were merged. The petty jealousies subsided over time. By decree in 1970, Ford got out of racing once again and didn't start up again for 10 years.

All of the engineers and racers involved in the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury Funny Car racing programs had long and glorious careers, including Charlie Gray, Dick Brannan, Fran Hernandez, and Al Turner. The Logghes and Bergler have been building and rebuilding dragsters and Funny Cars ever since. Hernandez, Chrisman, Nicholson, Shinoda, and several of the others involved have all gone to the Big Dragstrip in the Sky, leaving behind one of the greatest legacies in the history of the sport.

The Cammer
The Ford Single Overhead Cam (SOHC) 427 V8 engine, familiarly known as the Cammer, was released in 1964 for NASCAR stock car racing competition as a rebuttal to the Chrysler 426 race Hemi that powered Dodge and Plymouth. NASCAR refused it immediately, and the engine was converted for drag racing use.

It was based on the high-performance 427 side-oiler block, so the cylinder case and bottom end were largely unchanged. The design was aimed at continuous operation at very high rpm. Because of the elaborate gear-and-chain nature of the single-overhead-cam drive system, the 427 cam bore in the block accommodated a short idler gearshaft. The idler shaft in the block was driven by the timing chain and, in turn, drove the distributor and the oil pump. An additional sprocket on the shaft drove the timing chain, a mere 6 feet long, which empowered both overhead camshafts and caused severe valve timing problems at high rpm. This was solved by using offset keys in the cam drive and advancing the left-bank camshaft 10 degrees, a solution credited to Don Nicholson.

The cast-iron cylinder heads had fully machined combustion chambers. A single camshaft operated shaft-mounted roller rocker arms, and the valvetrain consisted of stainless steel intake valves and sodium-filled exhaust valves (to prevent the valve heads from burning) and was fitted with inner and outer springs.

With a single four-barrel carburetor, it was rated at 616 hp at 7,000 rpm and 515 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm; with dual four-barrel carburetors, output jumped to 657 hp at 7,500 rpm and 575 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. The engine used a dual-point distributor with a transistorized ignition system. Gradually, the carburetors gave way to Hilborn fuel injection, the factory ignition was replaced by Mallory magnetos, and the racers switched from gasoline to alcohol and nitromethane.

While the stock-bodied cars duked it out, Connie Kalitta, Pete Robinson, Lou Baney, and Kenz & Leslie used the Cammer in blown nitro form in fuel dragsters with amazing success starting in 1967. As a side note, perennial innovator Mickey Thompson eschewed the factory SOHC engine in favor of a Ford 427 block with his own hemi heads and pushrods, run in a Fairlane body and a fuel dragster. The Cammer engines that are still running are highly prized, and we know of one drag racing and hot rodding great, Art Chrisman, who runs one in his street-driven Ranchero.

By Jim McCraw
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