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1934 Ford Hot Rod - First In Fiberglass

The Original Flopper Was a '34 Ford Hot Rod

By Dave Wallace Jr., Photography by Don Hale, Petersen Publishing Co. Archives, Roy Robinson

Five months of labor and $750 later, Big Al II clocked 10.03 at 150.75, first time out. One week later, the timeslip improved to 9.62/158.45. The next Saturday, Jim thundered to a 9.31 at 163.00—easily the quickest and fastest times for any full-fendered, gas-burning vehicle. Having made a total of nine runs, all at Lions, on three consecutive weekends in July 1964, he shocked the crowd again by announcing that his baby was for sale. Before he could load up that evening, Ray Alley offered $2,000 cash—the same amount invested in the car and trailer. "I 'm really not a racer," Jim later explained. "I design 'em, build 'em, keep 'em for a year, then sell 'em to build something new."

Big Al 's new owner jazzed things up with 24 individual, full-length header pipes and a new name, P-51, for lucrative West Coast exhibition tours in 1965– '66, then resold the car and trailer to L.A. actor-stuntman Tex Collins for $4,000. Collins repainted the body candy red, re-lettered it Tex 's Twister, and ran the car locally for kicks before swapping Lytle 's bulletproof powertrain into a new '68 Mustang flopper. The '34 frame had been cut up for some other project by the time Lytle bought back his body for $500 in 1968, not long before Tex was murdered. Twenty years later, Jim personally repaired and repainted the fiberglass in Don Garlits ' shop, mounting it to a '27 Dodge frame that happened to share a '34 Ford 's wheelbase. Since 1988, Big Al II has been a popular attraction in Garlits ' Ocala, Florida, museum.

Jim Lytle lived long enough to bask in belated credit for his contribution to motorsports history. Of particular satisfaction was an August 1989 meeting in the Dearborn office of another drag-racing pioneer, Fran Hernandez. Fran had risen to the top of Ford 's Experimental division by January 1964, when Big Al II debuted at the Winternationals car show. Jim knew that factory bigwigs with Ford 's Custom-Car Caravan were seen examining the brand-new body, elevated above the chassis and revealing a wing-nut mounting system. Twenty-five years later, Jim was still hoping one of them would cop to copying his concept. "I never expected Mr. Hernandez to recognize my name, but he took the call immediately, and invited me to schedule a visit. In his office, Fran admitted that those guys noticed Big Al at the L.A. show, and liked the idea. He also said that a year later, they came under heavy pressure from upper management to build something to counter all the attention that Chrysler 's '65 altered-wheelbase cars were getting."

Jim 's friends have said that these admissions seemed to dissolve, finally, the giant chip on the shoulder of a guy who 'd often complained in person and in print about being overlooked by history. He needn 't have worried. Before Jim Lytle left us in December 2011, at age 75, he left us undeniable evidence of his role in Funny Car evolution. In rescuing and restoring Big Al II, he was preserving his own legacy, along with one historic hunk of fiberglass.

By Dave Wallace Jr.
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