HAIRY TO THE VERY END
As so often happens, we were going through the Petersen Publishing photo archive looking for something else entirely and spotted a photo of the Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile with a crunched front end. Looking further, we realized we had come across photos of the final run of this twin-engine, wheel-smoking exhibition car.
Bob McClurg told the story of the Olds in our Feb. 2017 issue (“Hairy Was Scary”) with the benefit of firsthand accounts by “Gentleman Joe” Schubeck, who drove the car for George Hurst and Jack “Doc” Watson. The Olds was intended to be an attention-getting promotional car for Hurst, much like the wheel-standing Hemi Under Glass Barracuda that preceded it.
Attention it got, but not always the good kind. Even under the best of circumstances it was a handful to drive. Schubeck told McClurg, “A 5,000-pound car with all four tires ablaze slipping and sliding all the way down the track was a shaky thing.”
In the summer of 1967, Hot Rod’s feature editor, Eric Dahlquist, went on a “summer vacation” of sorts, returning to his East Coast stomping grounds to file several stories long distance, including his now-famous visit to Bob Tasca and the resulting story on Tasca’s 428-powered KR-8 Mustang, which was the impetus for Ford creating the Cobra Jet. But we digress.
One of the events Dahlquist covered on his trip was NASCAR’s Summer Nationals drag race in Niagara Falls. It was, for the most part, a rain-out. “Even when the sun finally came out, the track remained slick enough to frustrate any record attempts and was a contributing factor in the partial demolition of the Hurst Hairy Olds 4-4-2,” he wrote in the story “NASCAR’s (Wet) Nats” in the Nov. 1967 issue. “It careened off the course, uprooting a railroad-tie guard post and narrowly missing a portion of a fearless crowd which stood its ground, knowing all along that’s what good bullfighters do in Spain. Spanish bullfighters are poor insurance risks.”
Judging by the frame numbers on the negatives, the last image Dahlquist shot on one roll was the out-of-control Hurst Hairy Olds veering off the track and heading straight for the crowd. (Tire smoke all but obscures the car, but it’s recognizable from its stripes.) Schubeck told McClurg that the magneto on the front engine quit, and without front-wheel power the car became “impossible to steer. Once the car hit the wet grass I’m thinking, any second now, I’m about to kill 20 or more of these people, and they’re all applauding and clapping like they thought it was part of the planned performance. There was absolutely no controlling this car. The steering wheel and the brakes were useless on wet grass.”
Fortunately the Olds snagged a cable that was part of a low fence line, turning it perpendicular to the crowd and keeping it away from anyone until Schubeck could get it stopped.
The very first image on Dahlquist’s next roll of film is of the crunched-up HHO being winched onto Hurst’s transporter. The second shot is a close-up of the hood, mangled from contact with the fence, with the car’s front engine visible behind it. The final shot in the sequence shows the car loaded on the transporter, headed to its eventual fate.
That fate was destruction. Schubeck told McClurg, “On the way back home I began to think about it more, and the reality of what could have happened hit me. I said to myself, I really don’t need this. I was more concerned than scared over what I was doing driving that monster. The next day I called Jack [Watson] and told him that I didn’t want anything more to do with the Hurst Hairy Oldsmobile.”
Watson dismantled the car, but pieces of it were used in a re-creation that debuted at the second Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in 2010.