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And the winner is ...

05 Sep 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Final results for Favorite Race Car Ever
Stone, Woods & Cook Willys
2088
(17.40%)
Winged Express
1598
(13.31%)
“Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega
1115
(9.29%)
Sox & Martin Barracuda
1079
(8.99%)
Don Garlits Swamp Rat XXX
928
(7.73%)
Don Prudhomme Army Monza
821
(6.84%)
Chi-Town Hustler '69 Charger
799
(6.66%)
Bill Jenkins '68 Camaro
656
(5.47%)
“Jungle Jim” Liberman '66 Chevy II
680
(5.67%)
Blue Max ‘69 Mustang
390
(3.25%)
Blue Max '75 Mustang II
387
(3.22%)
Little Red Wagon wheelstander
356
(2.97%)
The Freight Train
353
(2.94%)
Don Garlits Swamp Rat 22
291
(2.42%)
Beebe & Mulligan Fighting Irish
257
(2.14%)
Warren-Coburn-Miller/Rain For Rent
204
(1.70%)
Total votes: 12,002

(Above) From left, Leonard Woods, Doug Cook, and Fred Stone. (Below) The short-lived black S-W-C Willys, dubbed Black Widow.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the winner of the first-ever, super-special, as-voted-by-the-fans Favorite Race Car Ever poll: the Stone, Woods & Cook Willys.

The team -- Fred Stone, Leonard and Tim Woods, and driver Doug "Cookie" Cook – fielded many versions of this car, but they gained their most fame in the AA/Gas Supercharged wars against "Big John" Mazmanian and driver Robert "Bones" Balough and "Ohio George" Montgomery in the mid-1960s with their famed Swindler A '41 Willys.

Their battles were legendary, both on and off the track, and they are remembered for their trash-talking cam-wars ads in 1964 in which Mazmanian referred to Stone, Woods, and Cook as "Pebble, Pulp, and Chef" and the trio fired back with "Big June." (In truth, Stone had launched the verbal wars a year earlier, calling out Montgomery, who had used them up in class eliminations at Indy in 1963, in a Drag News ad, to come west; the canny Montgomery replied, also in a Drag News ad, that he'd come west once S-W-C and Mazmanian decided who really was the West Coast's top dog.)

Although three of the four are no longer living -- Stone passed away in 1982, Tim Woods in 1995, and Cook in 1999 --  Leonard, Tim's son, is still alive and owns Chino Hills Ford here in SoCal – their memory definitely lives on in the hearts of fans like yourselves, who overwhelmingly made the S-W-C their choice.

"Wild Willie" Borsch and the famed Winged Express fuel altered actually jumped out to a huge lead early in the voting -- which drew more than 12,000 votes – but Stone, Woods, and Cook roared back to take a convincing win by nearly 500 votes, 2,088 to 1,598. "Jungle Jim" Liberman's popular 1973 Vega Funny Car finished in third with 1,115 votes, and the Sox & Martin Barracuda was fourth with 1,079.

I actually was quite taken aback by the results, especially based on the well-known popularity of 1970s Funny Cars and the fuel burners in general, to see two door cars lock up spots in the top four. As I suspected, the legions of "Jungle" and Don Garlits fans split their loyalties between the two entries each had, but even with totals combined, they wouldn't have topped S-W-C.

In an era before A/FXers, Funny Cars and Pro Stockers, the A/Gas Supercharged cars were the fastest street-type cars out there, the equivalent of today's Pro Mods cars, which led to an huge popularity and immense followings.

The story of the Stone, Woods & Cook team is one of a surprisingly fast rise to stardom in a partnership that lasted just six years, from about September 1961 to September 1967, but they packed a lifetime of racing, winning, and fan memories into that time.

Cook (born Jesse Douglas Cook, by the way) was not a native Southern Californian, having been born in Little Rock, Ark., in 1932, but moved west to the Los Angeles area with his family as a teenager. He cut his teeth at the Santa Ana Drags, driving a '37 Chevy coupe with a supercharged Chevy 265, and later drove a Willys for Howard Johansen of Howard's Cams. When K.S. Pittman split with Stone and Woods' team in early 1961, Cook was signed to drive and tune their Swindler II '41 Willys (Swindler I was Tim Woods' blown Olds V-8-powered '41 Studebaker). The car met an untimely demise in a towing accident on the way home from Indy, and it's the next version, painted light blue, that powered its way into the hearts of many.

In 1964, a second car – reportedly up to 1,000 pounds lighter -- was built to take advantage of the new, lighter weight break in A/GS, and the cars were renamed Swindler A and Swindler B, with the old car running in B/GS, and both set national records. In 1964, the team opted for a black paint scheme on Swindler A (after sfinally witching from Olds power to a Chrysler Hemi the year before), though the car (a second version of which is enshrined at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum; the first one wrecked in 1966) finally ended up blue again, which the S-W-C machines remained even into their later Funny Car days, which lasted until 1974.

It's worth noting that the team also briefly campaigned a third car in the early 1960s, a '33 Willys driven by Chuck Finders and dubbed Dark Horse, and that in 1967, the team experimented with an A/Gas '67 Shelby and an ill-fated '66 Mustang dubbed Dark Horse 2, which featured the entire powertrain from Swindler A. A high-speed top-end accident in that car in Alton, Ill., in September 1967 almost claimed Cook's life and did claim his driving career. Cook's son, Mike, took the gutted Swindler A and raced it himself for several years before restoring it to its museum state.

I'd like to thank everyone for participating in this massive undertaking. Was it scientific? Mostly. Our poll software prevented vote stacking and kept an accurate track of the results, and I think we used a fair method to determine which of the runners-up in each of the polls qualified for the final.

Was it perfect? Hardly. People who missed the nomination period were upset that they weren't able to include their favorites, and several indisputably favorite cars were not nominated by those who did. Also, including more than one car for a certain driver in the preliminary polls may have limited their chances, but the vote was for car, not driver. Still, something worth rethinking.

Is it an accurate reflection of the masses? I'd say so. It would be hard to argue against the inclusion of any of the 16 cars that made the final, and even though I was surprised by the final outcome, the overwhelming victory by S-W-C speaks volumes.

Was it fun? Are you kidding me?

Thanks for playing!


Stone, Woods & Cook, far lane, versus "Big John" Mazmanian/Balough.


S-W-C took on "Ohio George" in A/GS class eliminations in 1963 in Indy.