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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

Second-generation Logghe Stamping boss John Logghe says that the first bodies from the fiberglass supplier were way heavy and that they had to be redone. The original plan was to use a one-piece lift-off body that was bolted or pinned to the chassis, but his uncle Ron came up with the idea of hinging the body at the rear. Voilà! The flip-top Funny Car. The initial examples had magnesium bulkheads fore and aft and aluminum panels that formed the rest of the interior.

A Cammer engine with low-stack Hilborn injectors on it went to Logghe for fitting in the chassis, along with a three-speed manual transmission and a 4.44:1-geared 9-inch rearend. Turner, the Logghes, and the Horstman people, who made OEM hydraulic dampers for Ford at that time, dreamed up multi-adjustable shock absorbers that Turner says were the first coilovers ever used on a drag race car. Veteran race-car interior builder and longtime partner of the Logghe brothers, Al Bergler, shaped all of the aluminum for the floors, the firewalls, the wheelwells, and the interior panels.

Turner says, "We took the car to the dragstrip in West Palm Beach, Florida, and we used a bay at Wilson Lincoln-Mercury there to work on the car. In testing, Nicholson couldn't shift the transmission fast enough, and he kept missing shifts and over-revving the engine. So, we put a three-speed automatic in it with a 4,000-stall converter, and it went real well. But, Nicholson complained about the stock Mercury shift pattern, so I took the problem to Ron and Gene Logghe, and they invented the ratchet shifter for the Comets."

Turner recalls, "When we introduced those cars, the Ford Division guys were absolutely flabbergasted, screamin', and hollerin' about why didn't we share with them. Charlie Gray and John Cowley were supremely pissed off at me. So they went to Holman & Moody to get a bunch of cars built for Tasca and Hubert Platt and Al Joniec and Gas Ronda. They built fiberglass bodies and moved the engines back, and they ran pretty close to what we were running but not too close. At the Super Stock Nationals in 1966, we were a quarter of a second quicker and 25 miles an hour faster than they were."

The world premiere of the flip-top Funny took place at the AHRA Winternationals in January of 1966. It wasn't pretty. Despite all of the testing and preparation, the lightning-quick Nicholson Eliminator I lost its body on its maiden voyage. Turner and California Comet racer Hayden Proffitt loaded the broken thing onto Proffitt's flatbed, took it away, and burned it so no one would ever see its secrets. Turner later found out by watching a slow-motion movie of that run, which a spectator had given him, the grille portion of the body had succumbed to aero pressure and had sprung the body latch.

The next body in line, which was to have been Eddie Schartman's, was prepared for installation on Nicholson's Logghe chassis. The body latch was turned backward, so that air pressure wouldn't affect it. But there were other problems. Both Nicholson and Roy Leslie in the Kenz & Leslie car from Denver flipped their cars during the early part of 1966 season.

With assistance from the legendarily mischievous designer and drag racer Larry Shinoda, Turner put the new Nicholson body in the Ford wind tunnel and tested exhaustively. By the next outing, that car and all that followed had a chin spoiler that increased drag only slightly, pushed all the air around and over but not under the car, and eliminated 350 pounds of lift from the front end. They tried adding a bellypan, too, but the drag went so far up that they took it off. "We'd had accidents, and we didn't want to have anymore. We were talking about life and limb here." Turner says of the new Comets, "We won about 99.999 percent of all the races we ran. Nicholson won all but about two or three rounds [and] he raced all year long."

Eddie Schartman, the only surviving member of the original trio of drivers, was a 21-year-old Cleveland dealer mechanic racing a 1963 Chevy lightweight, when he was tapped by Dyno to build motors at his Atlanta shop. In 1964, when Nicholson got the Mercury factory deal and a new Comet, Schartman inherited Nicholson's Chevy for 50 percent of the match-racing take.

"Mercury didn't want Nicholson's name on the Chevrolet, so we parked that car and I inherited The Ugly Duckling, the 1964 station wagon," Schartman says. "I finished racing that, and they gave Dyno a 1965 Comet coupe. After a while, I got tired of splitting the money with Dyno, so I told the factory to give me my own car or I would clear out. After a lot of meetings in Dearborn, Lincoln-Mercury allowed me to have my own car in 1965 with the Cleveland dealers sponsoring me with $5,000. That was a lot of money back then."

Schartman launched into a heavy schedule of match racing, until he got a call that December from Al Turner: "I've got a new car I want you to run next year. I'm not going to tell you anything about it. Just come on up [to Motor City Dragway], and bring your fire suit and helmet."

Schartman says, "When I saw that car for the first time, I just said ‘Oh, my God!' It scared the hell out of me right off the bat, because I'd been racing cars that went 125 miles an hour, and here was this dragster frame with a seat way in the back. You couldn't even get in it without help. They buttoned me up and said ‘OK! Go!'"

Schartman says this was his first run ever on alcohol and 60 percent nitro, and he simply stood on the pedal, shot down the dragstrip, and took out all the timing lights at the top end when the car drifted. He ran 166 on that cold track.

The factory teamed Schartman with fuel dragster veteran Roy Steffey for a time, which was an arrangement not to Schartman's liking, so he asked the factory to go it alone, and it agreed. Schartman beat mentor Nicholson in the final round at the NHRA World Finals in Tulsa, further widening the gap in their friendship.

Schartman booked match races two or three times a week all over the East Coast and Chicagoland. He spent the winter months living in California and taking a mute version of his race car around to the fall and winter auto shows.

By Jim McCraw
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