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Vintage Hoopla - Summer 2014

What’s What in the World of Vintage Wheels

By Steve Magnante, Photography by Car Craft Archives

Dick Loehr Max Curtis Flip-Top Mustang with 392

Dick Loehr's '68 Mustang flip-top fuel Funny Car helped boost the image of Cragar S/S wheels as being more than shiny street stuff. The S/S debuted in late '64 as a composite design with a steel hoop and die-cast aluminum spider. Since aluminum and steel cannot be welded, the die-cast aluminum spiders were made with steel tabs trapped within the aluminum spokes. The tabs were then bead-welded to the hoop and provided much greater union area than any standard pressed steel wheel, which was usually pinch- or spot-welded. They were quite viable. A period test conducted by Bell Auto Parts slammed an S/S with a 42,500-psi load without failure. The test was twice as harsh as that used by the Tire and Rim Association for certifying wheels used on new Detroit passenger cars. Despite the weight handicap, the Cragar's fantastic looks and durable chrome finish were an instant success. Loehr may have been one-time captain of the Ford Drag Racing Team, with sponsorship from Max Curtis Ford, but by 1968, his Stampede Mustang was running a Chrysler 392 in place of previous 427 SOHC powerplants. The switch was triggered by Ford's termination of all SOHC parts support—the Boss 429 was less than a year away. Dick's 7.86-second flopper rolled on the same 15x41⁄2 Cragar S/S front wheels sold by Honest Charlie, Goodies Speed Shop, Gratiot Auto Supply, and countless others, but the 16x10 rear rims were custom-made by Cragar's specialty shop.

Mondello's Fiat Topolino Fuel Altered

The first AA/FA to run in the 8s and the 7s, the Joe Mondello and Sush Matsubara Fiat Topolino bombs off the Pomona Winternationals starting line. The fuel-burning 472 Chevy stroker puts its 900-plus horsepower to the tarmac via 12-inch-wide, polished Halibrand Sprints. Up front, the 12-spoke Halibrands ride the spindles of a dropped straight axle attached to the frame by a single transverse leaf spring and radius rods. Prone to wheelstands, Fuel Altered pilots quickly learned not to trust laced spoke wheels. By contrast, Halibrand's rigid spokes are 3⁄4-inch thick to withstand hard landings. Starting in 1965, Mondello and Matsubara ran Topolinos, competing in Injected Gas, Injected Alcohol, Blown Gas, and Blown Alcohol, before moving into Blown Fuel in 1968 with this car. Mondello often praised Sush's driving ability by saying even though he often read both sides of the lettering on the car body as it crossed the finish line, Sush never crashed the Fiat. He passed in 2006 at age 70; Joe followed in 2011 at 75. Because it was used in incendiary bombs during WWI and WWII, magnesium earned a bad rap for being flammable. The truth is you really have to work at starting the fire. With sustained exposure to 1,000-degree Fahrenheit heat, magnesium will ignite. Spraying it with water is like adding gasoline; the flames grow more intense. The only way to extinguish the fire is by smothering it with sand to end access to air.

Landy's '68 Charger A/MP with Tri-Ear Knock-Off Centers

Following a corporate pull-out from Funny Car racing in 1967, Dodge door-slammer drag star Dick Landy re-set his sights on carbureted stockers. He entered the '68 drag season with a fleet of red/orange-on-silver Dodges that included pairs of Hemi Darts and Chargers and a 440-powered Coronet R/T. Here's the team's "outlaw" R/T running Modified Production at the ‘68 Winternationals. The one detail virtually every Landy drag car had since his stretch-nose '66 injected-fuel Dart was Cragar S/S wheels. Despite its 12.5:1 cross-rammed Race Hemi, slick-shifted A833 four-speed transmission, 4.88:1-geared Dana 60, and sticky 10-1/2x15 Goodyears, the 15x6 Cragars on Landy's 10.49/132 A/MP Charger are not in any danger of being overpowered. Up front, the 41⁄2-inch S/S wheels carry Goodyear 8.55-15 tires at 55 psi for reduced rolling resistance. Landy added faux knock-off center caps to all of his S/S-equipped cars for extra eye appeal. Normal wheel-casting techniques involve pouring molten metal (aluminum or magnesium) into a sand-based mold. Complete filling is assured by manually tilting and shaking the mold to eliminate air pockets, known as "cold shuts." Die casting is a completely different process because the molten metal is injected under extreme pressure—at as much as 8,000 psi—packing every nook of the mold and condensing the metal for maximum density and strength. The process is very costly, but the end product requires less finish machine work and has more consistent grain structure for maximized strength.

Seaton's Super Shaker Nova Flopper

Pete Seaton was the son of a well-placed GM executive, and though GM officially quit racing in March 1963, Seaton always managed to get the latest big-block goodies for his independent match racers. After racing a pair of Chevelle door-slammers and two Corvairs (one a 190-mph flip-top), Seaton built the Super Shaker Nova for the '69 season. Its Logghe Stamping tube chassis, one-piece Fiberglass Trends body, 499-cube blown fuel Rat, and B&M modified Turbo 400 automatic roll on an interesting combination of American Racing wheels. The unique independent front suspension sits on 15x4 magnesium spindle mounts, essentially ARE's '68 response to Halibrand's preexisting 12-spoke wheel. Patterned after the Torq-Thrust but with thinner spokes and the elimination of the lug flange, they were offered in aluminum and magnesium and quickly replaced the 12-spoke as the TF/FC racer's front wheel of choice through the early '70s. Out back, Seaton employed an unusual variant, based on the new-for-'69 200-S/Daisy wheel. Most Daisies were of one-piece aluminum construction, but ARE management wanted its latest offering to also have a Top Fuel presence. To suit the new wave of 16-inch-diameter Goodyear and M&H slicks hitting the scene, ARE conjured the magnesium 16x10 rims seen on the back of the Super Shaker. Sold as style S2, five sets of two fasteners, located between the spokes, held the rim halves together. This modular construction strategy allowed for changes in wheel width and backspacing without the need to replace the entire rim.

Kumpf Motors High Country Cougar Funny

The '67 Kumpf Motors High Country Cougar flip-top Funny Car team had better things to do than polish wheels. Maybe that's why they chose as-cast Halibrand Sprints to twist the M&H wrinkle walls. To some eyes, the sight of non-polished mags is blasphemy. To others, the grainy texture fully reveals the intricate beauty and is the only way to fly. The striking red and white Cougar, driven by Ron Leslie, also ran non-polished Halibrands up front. Like the team's Kenz & Leslie '66 Comet flopper, spindle-mount, five-hole, kidney-bean rims were again employed for 1967. Interestingly, L-M issued the debut Comets with 6-inch-wide Halibrand Sprints, keeping with the notion that narrow rims helped maximize the footprint of the 10-inch slicks. But by 1967, it was obvious that wider rims were just as effective and afforded much better top-end handling. Wide rims align the tire sidewalls more vertically beneath the tread, reducing high-speed sway and squirm—a lifesaver as Funny Car speeds rapidly approached 180 mph. Thus, we see that the High Country Cougar rolls on 15x8s.

By Steve Magnante
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