NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Favorite Race Car Ever voting: 1970s Funny Cars

04 Aug 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

“Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega

Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels ‘Cuda

Don Prudhomme Army Monza

Tom McEwen Hot Wheels Duster

Raymond Beadle Blue Max Mustang II

Ed McCulloch Revellution Dodge

Barry Setzer/Pat Foster Vega

Don Schumacher Wonder Wagon Vega

Final results for all-time favorite '70s Funny Car!
“Jungle Jim” Liberman Vega
Raymond Beadle Blue Max Mustang II
Don Prudhomme Army Monza
Don Prudhomme Hot Wheels ‘Cuda
Barry Setzer/Pat Foster Vega
John Force Wendy's Corvette
Ed McCulloch Revellution Dodge
Dunn & Reath Barracuda
Roger Lindamood Color Me Gone
Don Schumacher Wonder Wagon
Tom McEwen Hot Wheels Duster
Black Magic Vega
Pisano & Matsubara Vega
Larry Fullerton ‘72 Trojan Horse
Keeling & Clayton Mustang
Condit Bros./Beaver L.A. Hooker
Total Votes: 3800

Dunn & Reath rear-engined Barracuda

Roger Lindamood Color Me Gone

Pisano & Matsubara

Keeling & Clayton Mustang

Larry Fullerton Trojan Horse Mustang

Condit Bros./Beaver L.A. Hooker

John Force Wendy's Corvette

Black Magic Vega

Okay, so I’ve been hinting about and looking forward to this one for weeks, and it’s finally here: the 1970s Funny Car poll! Having grown up on these cars, they’re my favorites, and based on Web sites such as 70sfunnycars.com, I know I’m not alone. I probably received more nominations for this poll than any other, well more than the 16 finalists that I chose based on their multiple nominations.

A lot of you have cried on my shoulder about earlier polls and the heart-wrenching decisions to have to select only one car out of many of your favorites listed, and this one won’t be any easier. As Steve Evans would have said, “It’s a fiberglass forest of all your favorites!”

The 1970s was a seminal time for Funny Cars. They had evolved from the somewhat crude machines of the 1960s and become a bigger draw than their dragster brethren, thanks to an assortment of body styles (that actually looked like their showroom counterparts), wild paint jobs, extreme showmanship, and wild antics. The people who drove them, too, seemed bigger than life, and their wild tales of caravanning across the nation and setting up shop sometimes three or four times a week at different tracks made them heroes to us all.

All right, time to spin ‘em over. In no particular order other than how I wrote them down, here are the 16 qualifiers for the 1970s Funny Car poll in our Favorite Race Car Ever poll!

In the hearts of Funny Car fans everywhere, there probably is no greater personality than “Jungle Jim” Liberman. Say what you will about John Force – and I love the man to death – but “Jungle” was a one-off in so many ways, and his Vega Funny Car will live on in the memories of many as one of the real warhorses of the 1970s match-race scene. With fire burnouts, skillful and fearless driving, and cohort “Jungle Pam’s” contribution to the act, it’s no wonder he was and is a favorite.

“Jungle’s” Chevy II won the Early Funny Cars portion of this deal and could double up here. Longtime JJ friend and historian “Berserko Bob” was surprised that I was surprised Liberman won the Early Funny Cars vote and pondered, “Can you imagine what JJ would be doing now if he was still around? His best friend was Austin Coil, and he had just signed a 7-Eleven deal that Vinnie Napp brokered for him. 1978 would have been ‘Jungle's’ year.”

I asked double B about the origin of the “Jungle” nickname, and his understanding is that it was given to him by the announcer at Fremont the day he debuted the Chevy II. “Evidently, ‘Jungle’ did a wild burnout, and he said, ‘He drives that car like he just got out of the jungle,’ and the name stuck.”

Canadian fan Jim Millard remembers well his meeting with the Jungle duo at DragwayPark in Cayuga, Ont. “The first time I ran at Cayuga was during a week when ‘Jungle Jim’ was match racing. Can't remember against who, but he ran at Sanair the night before and at either Atco or Englishtown two nights prior to that. I was into about the third round of E.T. bracket elims when it rained. I was next up and was shut down at the burnout box. After about 15 to 20 minutes of rain, the sun poked back out, and I was leaning on my car waiting for the track to dry when ‘Jungle Pam’ herself walked toward me after leaving the tower. She stopped and took the time to talk to me as if we'd known each other for years. Surprisingly, I was very much at ease, considering here I am at 16 talking to one of the most famous icons of the sport at that time. JJ himself came by a few minutes later and joined in on the conversation. He told me he found working on a carb more interesting than working on a blower! They wished me luck and headed to their pit. I was so psyched and pumped. I couldn't believe I had actually gotten to talk to my hero and, arguably, one of the most popular women in the sport.”

While we’re on the jungle theme, I might as well swing right into “the Snake” and “the Mongoose,” Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen.

Prudhomme is the only racer with two cars in this poll – he also had two cars each in the Early Dragsters and the 1970s Top Fuel polls but didn’t come close to winning with any of them – for a competition-high six entries, and I’d say he has a good shot with both of these entries. The first car is his Hot Wheels Barracuda, which was his first flopper and debuted in 1970, and there were a couple of versions of it, including the mean-looking all-black Snake III that was runner-up at Lions’ Last Drag Race.

Dale Smith, who today makes Satellite Funny Car bodies for the nostalgia scene, wrote, “You probably thought I would suggest a Satellite flopper as my favorite. Sorry, but I have to say that my all-time favorite car had to be ‘Snake’s’ black ‘Cuda. That thing was just bitchin’ looking and eventually showed performance that I feel was better in its time compared to his Monza. Ya gotta figure that it had a greater performance advantage over the field in its time. Even when he got the Army deal and made a debut with a new Vega flop, he quickly went back to his ‘Cuda and ran it till replacing it with the more popular Monza.”

The second car, of course, is perhaps his most successful, the vaunted Army Monza from the 1975-76 seasons. As Smith noted, Prudhomme tried a trick-laden Vega in 1974 after the ‘Cuda, but it definitely was a flop. He sold it to Tom Hoover, then painted up the old ‘Cuda with the Army colors before getting the all-conquering Monza. With the Monza, he not only won six of eight NHRA national events in 1975 and seven of eight in 1976 but also became the first Funny Car driver to break into the five-second zone with a 5.97 at the 1975 Supernationals, a run that stood as the only official five-second Funny Car run for almost three years.

Wrote Paul Godfrey,Prudhomme has always been one of my all-time heroes. His cars were all bad-ass, and he simply kicked ass on the track. He’s way cool, too! ‘Snake’ has always had one of coolest logos ever – even now.”

As cool as Prudhomme’s coiled-snake logo is, McEwen’s claws-out mongoose is pretty mean-looking, too, and “the ‘Goose’s” Hot Wheels Dusters proved plenty capable of winning as well. The blue car at right carried him to Bakersfield honors in 1972, and the subsequent red Duster earned him his first national event win, at the 1973 Supernationals.

Speaking of blue, Prudhomme’s run of four straight world championships was ended by Raymond Beadle and the Blue Max Mustang II in 1979, but Beadle and the Max already had become huge fan favorites long before then. His 1975 Indy final-round win over Prudhomme was just one of “Snake’s” two losses that year, and Beadle was the second driver into the fives, in Indy in 1978.

Wrote Billy Mays, “My favorite is the Blue Max when it was tuned by ‘Waterbed Fred’ [Miller]. You could be up in the grandstands listening to them start their engines in the pits, and you could always tell the Max because of its different sound.”

And, of course, no discussion about 1970s Funny Cars would be complete without Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, who not only barnstormed the country match racing like Liberman but also won a ton of NHRA national events between with his Revellution Dodges.

"I would drive all night and get to the next track just in time to unload the car and race," said McCulloch. "I loved it.”

McCulloch’s first win (of 22) came in Indy in 1971, where he won his first of six U.S. Nationals titles, but 1972 was definitely his finest year. He won the first three races of the year – Winternationals, Gatornationals, and Springnationals – before losing in the final of the Summernationals to Don Schumacher, then won the U.S. Nationals a second straight year. He just missed a third straight Indy win when he lost to Prudhomme in the final of the 1973 race and didn’t win it again until 1980 with the Super Shops Arrow, but between the two, the line of Revellution cars more than kept alive the winning legacy. Mark Gredzinski called McCulloch’s cars “an example of the definitive ‘70s Funny Car; his 1975/76 pinky-red Revellution Dart Sport: wicked stance from a Northwest Race Cars chassis, awesome lettering, etc.”

Wrote Oregonian Pete Davis, “McCulloch was just the greatest driver around the Northwest at the time; seems we always saw him at the track. He was always approachable and fairly friendly. He did wild things, like one time he could not get reverse at [Portland Int’l Raceway], so he turned the car around midtrack and ran it back toward the start line. He was Mr. Kool. All his cars were top-line stuff and pretty amazing. In 1971, I got a great picture of him with my 6-year-old son, who still remembers the kindness of ‘the Ace’ all those years ago. ‘The Ace’ is still racing and still our hero.”

The next car on the list drew about as many nominations as Liberman’s Vega and is sure to do well. I’m talking about the Pat Foster-driven Barry Setzer Vega — truly one of the baddest Funny Cars in the land in 1972 and 1973, a national-record-setting event winner that was the definition of the over-used phrase “It looked as good as it ran.”

Readers used such terms as “drop-dead gorgeous” and “quickest car of its day” and “awesome!” to describe the car driven by one of the most multitalented individuals in our sport’s history.

Don Schumacher may be well-known for his four-car Funny Car operation today, but “the Shoe” also was a great driver in his own right and a U.S. Nationals champ. His Stardust cars kicked some serious butt, but in 1973, he gained more ink for a car that wasn’t so much a winner as it was innovative: the Wonder Wagon Vega. The car, backed by Interstate Bakeries, was colorful to say the least but also very functional, including a flow-through grille, fender bubble to lower the front end, enclosed side windows, louvered rear window, disc-covered wheels, and much more. It was low and sexy but not necessarily overly successful. The ’74 version was much better (the Vega then had the slant nose) and was runner-up to Prudhomme that year in Gainesville.

Another fan favorite, also more for its innovation than its on-track success, was Jim Dunn’s line of Plymouth-bodied Dunn & Reath Funny Cars, with the emphasis on his rear-engine Barracuda that to this day is still the only rear-engine Funny Car to win an NHRA national event, the 1972 Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway. A lot of guys — including Force — tried rear-engine Funny Cars, but few could make them work. Heath Powell hit it on the head when he called the car “a grand experiment that was a decent success.”

Steve Henshaw remembers Dunn’s first ‘Cuda well because he crewed on it. “It was built way under budget from the other cars at the time,” he recalled. “I can remember Jim saying to people that it only cost $3,000 to build the car. Everyone was running 426 Hemis, and we ran a 392 Hemi. The crew, Tim (‘the Weed’), ‘Big Richard,’ Marv (the clutch man), ‘Big Jim,’ and many other no-name, just-fun guys, helped on the car. It was, at that time, direct drive; we’d do burnouts and push it back to the line. It used to drive everyone nuts because our speed was always lower (shutting off at the first light), but ‘Big Jim’ could cut a light. It was always funny because we would always pit out in the end with nobody around us. People were always thinking as if something was hidden in the car (‘Weed’s’ special fuel pump). I remember being at the Winternationals and pop-riveting pie pans to the aluminum over the slicks because the new slicks grew too high and having a blower explosion and using duct tape to put it back together. Today when watching on ESPN and seeing Mike Dunn and his dad on TV always sends me back to the days of the old black Ford pickup towing that old trailer and all the enjoyment of being around a great group of guys who truly loved drag racing. Those were the best days with the best cars and drivers — no computers, just running with experience and a good ear to know that the car was right.”

If you followed the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars series, then you knew the next car on the list, Roger Lindamood’s Color Me Gone. Lindamood was another driver who followed the path from Super Stock to Funny Car, and his long line of Color Me Gone entries entertained fans through two decades. A former U.S. Nationals champ (1964, Top Stock), Lindamood gained a huge following in the late 1960s with his Dodge Charger-bodied machines and continued to run hard well into the 1970s.

For years, Joe Pisano and driver Sush Matsubara terrorized the West Coast match race scene with a series of Pisano & Matsubara entries that only got prettier, which became a Pisano trademark. Their ’73 and ’74 Vegas, and later their Monza, were yellow with a meteor/fireball graphic that was really eye-catching, especially for young model builders like yours truly. The P&M Vega was one of the first Revell kits I ever assembled. Both are no longer with us, but the memory of their showmanship and fast race cars remains with us.

Larry Fullerton loved his Fords, and a rare Maverick-bodied car preceded this purple-hued ‘71 Mustang, but all his cars bore the Trojan Horse name, and all were great-looking cars. After stunning the crowd at the Summernationals with a 6.42, then the quickest pass ever by a fuel coupe, Fullerton and partner Kevin Doheny won the 1972 NHRA championship by winning the World Finals in Amarillo, Texas. Fullerton later upgraded to a Mustang II and continued to race until 1981, when he was a passenger in a traffic accident and died as the result of his injuries.

The Keeling & Clayton team, whose pretty Top Fuelers were eye candy in every way, also put their California Charger stamp on a series of cars, including a Pinto and a Trans Am driven by the likes of Tom Ferraro, Neil Lefler, and Rick Ramsey, but it’s their Jake Johnston-shoed Mustang that got nominated here. Johnston was a popular pilot for car owners, having driven for Gene Snow, Harry Schmidt, Pisano (in the Monza at right), and Schumacher, among others.

SoCal fans also well-remember the L.A. Hooker line of cars, fielded by the Condit brothers, Steve and Dave, with Dave in the saddle, and their cousin Gene Beaver. When the team split up in the late 1970s, “Uncle Beavs,” as John Force calls him, got to keep the name — reportedly inspired by and a response to the Chi-Town Hustler, but there are more X-rated versions of the story — and continued to field the car, by then a Mustang II, with such drivers as Jim White and Dale Pulde.

Speaking of Force, one of his early cars made it here, the colorful Wendy’s Corvette that carried him to his first two of nine straight runner-ups, at the 1979 Cajun Nationals (to Kenny Bernstein) and 1979 Summernationals (to Raymond Beadle). It truly was the first of Force’s cars to match its contemporaries not only in appearance but in performance, though it would still be another eight years before his first win.

And, finally, comes the sleek and pretty Black Magic Vega, which Al Segrini shoed to victory at the 1974 Summernationals, beating “Jungle Jim” in the crazy final round in which “Jungle” carried the front end nearly the length of the track. Originally owned by Jim Beattie of ATI transmission fame, R.C. Sherman took over the wheel from 1976 to 1978, and D.A. Santucci drove it from then until well into the 1990s with Ford bodies.

Okay, there they are … 16 great contenders for your vote, every one of them memorable in its own way. Get to voting! Also, voting is still open in the Favorite ‘70s Top Fueler poll; scroll down two columns to vote!

Thanks to Drag Racing Memories, Dave Milcarek, Larry Pfister, and Geoff Stunkard for the use of some of their photos.