Classic American

The Drag-On-Lady’s 1969 SS/AMX


This month we have not one, but two coincidenc­es. The first is Auto World’s 1:18 scale SS/AMX Super Stock drag car lettered for Shirley Shahan’s Drag-On-Lady team as it appeared for the 1970 season. The second relates to my own S550 Ford Mustang. I reviewed the new Car Tech pictorial biography on Shirley Shahan in last month’s Reviews. There was mention of a large-scale model of her popular SS/AMX Super Stock dragster. Later I did some research and discovered that it’s still available and at the time of writing is listed by McLaren Models at £89. See the company’s advert for contact details. I was surprised as such models are produced in limited numbers, then either ‘rested’ or reissued in a new colour scheme.

The American Motors Corporatio­n’s AMX, debuted in 1968 soon after the larger Javelin’s release, was a relatively compact two-seater sports car. It was at the time the only sports car other than the Corvette produced by an American car manufactur­er.

In a financial crisis, AMC at last ignored the non-racing directive first introduced in the late Fifties, which Ford, General Motors and Mopar had abandoned years previously. As AMC soon proved, it was certainly capable of producing competitiv­e machines. It entered and won several racing series, including Trans-Am, NASCAR and drag racing. The SS/AMX was specifical­ly designed for the latter. The NHRA insisted on homologati­on of at least 50 units before licensing the SS/AMX for competitio­n.

Fifty-four cars, including a prototype, were built with the assistance of Hurst and Shirley Shahan’s then husband HL, a master engine builder. Shirley swapped her allegiance from Dodge to AMC for the 1969 season. She took car No.35 which she campaigned on behalf of AMC’s Southern California Dealers’ Associatio­n. In her first race she achieved a 10.67 second quarter mile at 125.69mph at Orange County Internatio­nal Raceway. She then competed in NHRA Division 7, setting many SS/D records and assisting AMC into third place in the NHRA standings. A remarkable first-year achievemen­t! An attempt by the team to update the car with slightly revised 1970 sheet metal was vetoed by the NHRA, so the panels were reinstalle­d. However, the car was repainted.

It’s this livery that Auto World has reproduced. The model is impressive with a detailed engine bay showing off the 390 cid V8 with its dual Holley carbs, steerable front wheels, detailed interior, opening doors, bonnet and boot lid. Curiously, the model has fuzzy carpet, but apparently, while the car was stripped for racing, the factory carpet and bucket seats were retained. Eventually No.35 was returned to AMC where it was stored at Ricker Motors until it was discovered in the 1980s by a Dr Gordon Gibson, who had it restored. Both the original and the model are impressive and a fitting reminder of the accomplish­ments of one of America’s most iconic drag racers.

Author: David Tom Published by: Car Tech ISBN: 978-1-61325-269-7

I’ve had a particular interest in the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-American Championsh­ip Series, known generally as SCCA’s Trans-Am Series, since the Eighties when I was a keen collector of Aurora AFX slot cars. Billed as HO, but actually more akin to Matchbox Toys, their range of miniature racers included both NASCAR and Trans-Am cars. These included Mustangs, Camaros, AMC Javelins and Dodge Chargers. I owned many of them and foolishly sold them years ago. However, I did maintain a lasting interest in the racing series that campaigned from 1966 to 1972.

This was in the midst of the first muscle car era and what attracted me, and countless others, was that the cars were still recognisab­ly stock. They weren’t of course, not by a long way, but their relatively stock appearance encouraged fans to root for their favourites and purchase street legal examples as a direct result of the weekend racing they so enjoyed. This book by long-time Trans-Am enthusiast and restorer of many of the original race cars, David Tom, was first published back in 2013 as a hardcover book, but was reissued during the pandemic in 2020 in softback format.

Its 192 pages are chock full of mostly contempora­ry photos of the cars that raced in the series, supported by advertisin­g flyers and technical documentat­ion.

The story starts with the concept of the series. There’s a chapter on the technical specificat­ions that competing manufactur­ers were required to follow and the tricks many played to avoid legitimate homologati­ons.

There are chapters on the engineers and specialist builders, the introducti­on of the first years of racing and the details of the factory support provided to the principal teams. This support was largely withdrawn in later years, particular­ly by Ford, after its sponsored Bud Moore team won the 1970 Series with its Grabber Orange Mustangs driven by Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. There’s a following chapter describing how well the teams fared without the corporate cash to assist them. The book concludes with stories about the finding and restoring of these now vintage race cars. A surprising number survived, some stored until rediscover­ed, while others raced in other series for many years after Trans-Am ended. These tales and photos are fascinatin­g. There have been several books on Trans-Am, but this one looks at the history specifical­ly from the point of view of the cars, the engineers that built them and, of course, the drivers who worked so hard and so competitiv­ely to entertain the crowds. Their legacy lives on today, as described in this excellent book.

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