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Don Fezell's Grocery Getter Collection

For Pennsylvania enthusiast Don Fezell, pursuing vintage drag cars had been a winning strategy

By Geoff Stunkard, Photography by Geoff Stunkard, Joel Stunkard

1963 Chevy Impala 427 Z11: 2 Miles
Dave Strickler/Bill Jenkins "Old Reliable"

"It's now been voted twice the number-one vintage factory race car," Don says. "It won 99 percent of its races in 1963–'64. It is one of the 57 made and was the first one off the assembly line. This car has only had four owners. Ammon R. Smith sold it in 1964 to a guy named Lou Czern in New Jersey, who raced it from 1965–'67. He kept it until 1982, and then Bill Jenkins bought it back from him. Jenkins exhibition-raced it a little bit, kept it for about four years, until Floyd Garrett bought it from him. Mary Lee and I first saw it when Floyd had it in his first museum in Florida. Floyd sold it to a stockbroker in New York City in the late '80s. In 1991, when the stock market went south, we had been talking to him. He had 40-some cars and lived in this huge mansion he had inherited from his parents. He had sold all but two of them; this car and an automatic '64 T-bolt. He told me if I would buy both cars, I could have them." Don continues, "So, I did. I sold the T-bolt a couple months later, and we bored the Z11 out 0.030 and rebuilt the engine with rings and bearings. Jenkins had done the paint, but it was actually very original. His big original decals were still on it. All Czern had done was replace the Smith name for his, and the car's interior has never been out of it. We clearcoated everything we could to preserve it. We did repaint the right front fender; Dave had hit a pole with it in the pits at Indy in 1963 and had simply put Bondo in it. Randy Delisio pulled it and got it straightened out. The original air breather is still on it. The original motor as raced, the driveline, and Jenkins' early long-ladder suspension was still on it. Jenkins had a special retard switch in the dash. This pulled the vacuum out of the distributor in high gear. That's still there, too.

"This is frankly the best car in my collection, not just moneywise but in terms of sentimental value. It never fails to start or to run. We have run 11.1 times with it, using the 40-year-old tires. It's too much fun to drive."

1966 A/MP L88 Chevy Nova: 809 miles
"I bought that car new in 1966, a 350hp 327, and set it up as an A/Stocker. I ran into Jenkins on two occasions, and he beat me by a couple of car lengths each time. That wasn't going to work, so the next winter, we decided to do Modified Production racing. My brother worked at Sahli Motors, which was the car's sponsor, so Ed Sahli ordered a new L88 crate motor, and we put the 327 into my brother's street Corvette. We got the 427 engine in and ran A/MP. It ran really well, down into the 10s, with 7-inch tires. It was a handful, honestly," Don says.

"I sold it in 1970 and went Super Stock racing in an SS/GA Dodge Super Bee that I still own. The Nova went through four owners here in Pennsylvania, and the fourth owner had blown the motor and had begun to cut the car up to run as an Altered. He never raced it; a friend of mine in Pittsburgh found it and bought the front fenders, so I could make sure it was mine. I still had all of the paperwork here, the window sticker, so we knew that car was it. It still had the Aztec Bronze paint, the original dash, the stickers from the early meets I went to. A lot of the factory parts were with it.

"That was about five years ago. We restored it with an L88, and I've gone partway down the track with it. I did put 9-inch tires under it; it would probably run low 10s now, but I'm not chancing it. It's a beast—really cool to have that car back."

1961 409 Super Sport Impala: 57,000 miles
"Chevrolet made 142 cars with the 409 in 1961. This was the single-four-barrel, 360hp version of the engine, and it was also the first year of the Super Sport," Don says. "I've heard a few engines ended up in four-doors and wagons that year but have never seen one. Most were two-doors. Jenkins and Strickler had a 409 Biscayne, and Nicholson had a 409 hardtop that year. I found this car back in the early '80s through an ad in Hemmings. It was in Paducah, Kentucky, and two brothers owned it. It had always been a race car—a little beat up but not rusty. The original motor was still in it, and even the carpet is original. The '61 SS cars didn't have bucket seats or seatbelts; there was a bench seat with a grab bar for the passenger to hold onto! The SS spinner hubcaps and a couple of emblems were the only things that told you it was special that year. This car is both rare and complete. We restored it and painted it in my garage, years ago."

1964 "The Honker" Hemi Dodge: 5 miles
"Bud Faubel was a pretty famous racer back in the day, and this '64 ‘Honker' Dodge was the first race Hemi sold to the general public. The Ramchargers got the mule car, and this one was the first off the assembly line. Faubel picked it up in Detroit, and actually drove it all the way back to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Bud raced it with an engine Jenkins built and did well with it. Later, it was sold to a New York buyer and then ended up out West. It was found in a shed in Arizona with all of the original paint still on it. A guy in Phoenix who was building a car museum bought it, and Steve Banker restored it for him. Well, when the owner decided to dissolve that collection, Banker called me, and that was how I ended up buying it. Because of Bud, I just had to bring it back here to Pennsylvania. We finished the motor and did some of the little details, but it was a very complete car."

Don continues, "Bud loves to drive it. If we are someplace where he is, he gets in it and goes. It'll go high 11s, if you don't spin the tires. That particular race Hemi always sounds great; it's a wonderful car and has a great history."

By Geoff Stunkard
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