A look back at the hey­day of these hairy, barely tam­able beasts.


When asked by a fan at a fuel al­tered event what it was like to drive the famed Winged Ex­press AA/FA, the late Wil­liam Bowen Borsch com­mented in his folksy sort of man­ner, “Try putting a blown fuel Chrysler en­gine into a car the size of a Volk­swa­gen. Then drop a brick on the throt­tle and hang on!”

“Wild Wil­lie” wasn’t far from wrong. In drag rac­ing jar­gon, the al­tered, and par­tic­u­larly the fuel al­tered, was the quin­tes­sen­tial hot rod of its time. Half dragster and half road­ster (or coupe), these short-wheel­base cre­ations harken back to the early days of hot rod­ding, when crew-cut-wear­ing youths, many fresh from the ser­vice, stripped down vin­tage coupes and road­sters to the bare min­i­mum and dropped in the most po­tent flat­head, OHV Chevy or Oldsmo­bile, or Chrysler Hemi en­gine they could find and went rac­ing.

In 1956, the NHRA de­fined these stripped down hy­brids as “cars with mod­er­ate changes,” hence the al­tered des­ig­na­tion. The al­tered coupes and sedans (at the time the road­sters had their own clas­si­fi­ca­tions) were al­lowed up to 25-per­cent en­gine set­back plus ex­ten­sive body­work like chop­ping and chan­nel­ing. Just like the drag­sters, all safety reg­u­la­tions were ap­pli­ca­ble; and clas­si­fi­ca­tion was bro­ken down into three groups, A, B, or C, based on cu­bic-inch-to-weight ra­tio. The late-1950’s adap­ta­tion of the su­per­charger cre­ated three new up­per ech­e­lons: Aa/al­tered, BB/ Al­tered and Cc/al­tered. But where did the “fuel” in fuel al­tered ac­tu­ally come from?

Pre­dictably, the fuel altereds as we know them were born of out­law lin­eage. While it is true that the NHRA’S Hot Road­ster (HR) and Al­tered Coupe and Sedan (AC) class rules pro­vided the ba­sic frame­work for the top al­tered classes, the in­fa­mous fuel ban of 1957 hap­haz­ardly gave birth to the class. In the late 1950s, the Over­land Park, Kansas-based Amer­i­can Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion (AHRA) cham­pi­oned the fuel rac­ers’ cause and al­lowed the Hot Road­ster (HR)

and Fuel Coupe (FC) cars to com­pete in Hot Class Elim­i­na­tor. And yes, they were al­lowed to run fuel. The term “fuel al­tered” si­mul­ta­ne­ously ap­peared on the Drag News Stan­dard 1320 list around that same time, and the name just sort of stuck.

Through­out the com­ing decade, the fuel al­tered en­joyed a me­te­oric rise in pop­u­lar­ity. Prob­a­bly the first “le­git” fuel al­tered show was the in­au­gu­ral Smoker’s Car Club-pro­moted Bak­ers­field Fuel & Gas Cham­pi­onships in 1959, prin­ci­pally dom­i­nated by Bob Hansen’s A/HR. Other cars of note from the early ’60s, in­cluded the Chrysler-pow­ered No. 554 coupe of Mooney­ham and Sharp, and the Bris­sette Brothers and Eichen­hofer ’32 Austin Ban­tam, which achieved near drag­ster­like speeds and elapsed times. Six­teen-car fuel al­tered shows at places like Lions, San Fernando, San Gabriel, Fon­tana, Fre­mont Race­way, and other palaces of speed sud­denly be­came com­mon­place.

In 1962, the NHRA re­canted its fuel ban and in­sti­tuted a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion, Fuel Al­tered Elim­i­na­tor. Al­tered stand­outs from that era in­cluded Boyd Pen­ning­ton’s Chrysler-en­gine ’32 Ban­tam; the Dunn, Mer­ritt, and Ve­lasco Chevy Fiat; Richard and Joe Cam­pos Lo Blow 1; Walker and Geary’s Chevy/ Ban­tam; the Beebe Brothers and Mul­li­gan J&S Speed Cen­ter Chevy/ban­tam; the Har­rell, Borsch, and Muse Winged T; Guasco and Cer­rutti’s Pure Hell Chevy/ban­tam; Leon “Pure Heaven” Fitzger­ald’s Chevy Fiat; Mon­dello and Mat­sub­ara’s Fiat, the Bad News coupe, and count­less others.

As the decade pro­gressed, speeds and elapsed times plum­meted into the low 7s at 200-plus mph. How­ever, if there was one soli­tary in­ci­dent that guar­an­teed the fuel al­tered a spot in the an­nals of drag rac­ing his­tory, it would have to be 1968’s highly pub­li­cized, Gold Agency-booked, four-car Aa/fuel Al­tered Tour con­sist­ing of “Wild Wil­lie” Borsch, Leroy “Mag­nif­i­cent 7” Chad­der­ton, Leon “Pure Heaven” Fitzger­ald, and Henry “Beaver Hunter” Har­ri­son. These four guys were re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing fuel al­tered rac­ing to the Eastern Se­aboard, the Mid­west (to a cer­tain de­gree), and Canada, which up to that time had only seen these cars in mag­a­zines.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that in spite of the fact that NHRA ap­peared to be stream­lin­ing its Su­per Elim­i­na­tor mix, ax­ing nu­mer­ous Group II classes like A/FA, A/GS, and others, AA/FA re­mained stronger than ever. How­ever, you would not see proof of that at an NHRA na­tional event, as these cars were

forced to race in a Hand­i­cap elim­i­na­tor. Con­versely, the UDRA took up the gaunt­let, form­ing its own Fuel Al­tered Cir­cuit host­ing the likes of Gabby Bleeker, Den­ni­son, Ar­lasky and Knox, Rosen and Schu­macher, Bob Parmer and Char­lie Hill, the Gretchko Brothers, and others.

Pri­vately, AA/FA rac­ers like Lynn & Dave “Nanook” Hough be­gan tak­ing charge of their own des­tinies with the for­mu­la­tion of events like Tuc­son Drag­way’s Fuel Al­tered Na­tion­als. For­mally pro­moted shows like the PDA Cham­pi­onships and Ni­tro Cham­pi­onships at OCIR, the March Meet at Bak­ers­field, and others like­wise fully ex­tolled the virtues of the “aw­ful-aw­ful’s.”

How­ever, fuel al­tered rac­ing was ex­pen­sive, and one couldn’t ig­nore the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties and prof­itabil­ity of rac­ing a Funny Car. One by one, fuel al­tered owner/driv­ers va­cated the ranks in fa­vor of the flop­pers.

Of course, this is just a short primer to the wild and wooly world of fuel al­tered rac­ing. While fuel al­tered rac­ing con­tin­ues to ex­ist in one form or an­other to­day, pri­mar­ily through cir­cuit-booked shows, few will ar­gue that the golden era of Fuel Al­tered Elim­i­na­tor was from 1960 to 1972, as the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­tos clearly il­lus­trate.

> By 1965, the Chrysler AA/FA of Jim Har­rell (Har­rell En­gines) and “Wild Wil­lie” Borsch was sport­ing an ad­justable wing built by Al Barnes. The idea was to keep the car firmly on the ground, and it worked. The car would later be­come known as the Winged Ex­press.

> This clas­sic duel oc­curred at OCIR in the sum­mer of 1968. Lee Le Baron’s Be­tween Heaven & Hell squares off against Way, Hoven & Okazaki. Le Baron’s car would later be­come Leon Fitzger­ald’s Pure Heaven III.

5 6 7> 5. Flat­tery is the sin­cer­est form: An­other thun­der­ing Fuel Coupe from that era was the Hawkins, Web­ster & Mcleod Chrysler-en­gine ’34 Ford five-win­dow driven by both Lyle Web­ster and oc­ca­sion­ally by Mike De­marest. In 1965, 15 Oz tied Mon­key Mo­tion for the Drag News No. 5 Mr. Elim­i­na­tor spot at 157.61.> 6. An­other tire fryer from that era was the Hy­der & Koulan Chrysler-pow­ered, di­rect-drive ’34 Ford coupe from Los An­ge­les, which ran a best of 10.05-155.17 on fuel.> 7. The 1927 T of Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia’s Richard and Joe Cam­pos orig­i­nally got its Lo Blow name from its crank-driven, fuel-burn­ing small-block Chevy. How­ever, the 1:1 drive ra­tio of a crank-drive blower se­ri­ously lim­ited per­for­mance, so the team switched to a top-mount blower in­stead. Tom Fer­raro was the pri­mary driver. 8> 8. This steel-bod­ied, blown-chevy-pow­ered ’48 Fiat AA/FA was cam­paigned by Joe Davis of Davis & In­gram fame, and spon­sored by Ansen Au­to­mo­tive En­gi­neer­ing. Oddly enough, this car would later be re­bod­ied as a Mus­tang coupe, and cam­paigned as the Colt 45 Mus­tang Bb/al­tered.

15 16 17 > 15. The Tom Fer­raro-driven Lo Blow 2, owned by Richard and Joe Cam­pos, made its de­but in June 1967 run­ning on tried-and-true (377ci) small-block Chevro­let power. Lo Blow 2 won a num­ber of lo­cal, So Cal fuel al­tered races at Lions and OCIR, then the team swapped in a blown Chrysler Hemi (1969) and re­ally started knock­ing down the big num­bers, clock­ing a best of 7.74-193.13.> 16. This shot of the Walker, Du­bose & Eads Su­per Rat big-block Chevro­let-fiat AA/FA go­ing up against Mar­cel­lus & Borsch’s Winged Ex­press was taken at the HOT ROD Mag­a­zine Cham­pi­onship Drag Races, River­side In­ter­na­tional Race­way, circa 1969.> 17. Head porter Joe Mon­dello and driver Sush Mat­sub­ara de­buted this Ed Wed­dle-chas­sis Fiat pow­ered by an in­jected small-block Chevro­let on gas around 1964 run­ning 9.20s at 154.00. Three years later, the car was up­graded to a blown 427 big-block Chevy com­plete with fancy fuch­sia paint job. Times in the 7.70s at 200 mph were com­mon­place. 18 19 > 18. Leroy Chad­der­ton’s (Hawkins, Cowie, Chad­der­ton & Scull) Chrysler-pow­ered Mag­nif­i­cent 7 ’23 T ap­peared on the scene early in 1967 and im­me­di­ately es­tab­lished it­self as a threat with runs as good as a 7.95-197.36. In 1968, Chad­der­ton and the Mag 7 par­tic­i­pated in the first ever Fuel Al­tered Na­tional Tour, rac­ing the likes of “Wild Wil­lie” Borsch, Leon “Pure Heaven” Fitzger­ald and Henry “Beaver Hunter” Har­ri­son.> 19. This bat­tle of “Heaven vs. Hell” oc­curred dur­ing an AA/FA event at OCIR. Note that Dale “Snail” Emery in the Chrysler ver­sion of Rich Guasco’s Pure Hell is out on Fitzger­ald’s Chevy-pow­ered Pure Heaven. Times were in the 7.6-zone at 200 and some change.

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