NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

I'd give my left arm to own that ...

17 Jul 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

You can sell just about anything on eBay. Your KC and the Sunshine Band albums. Your collection of Beanie Babies. Your shoebox full of Honus Wagner baseball cards.

What you can’t sell, however, is body parts.

And though there are many items on the popular auction site that you might give your left arm to own, last week there was an arm for sale. Not just any arm, mind you, but the left arm of all-time fuel altered hero “Wild Willie” Borsch.

Now, hold on a minute there, Sparky. Before you go alerting the auction authorities, it wasn’t the real arm, famously braced onto the side of his nitro-snorting T-bucket roadster that kept “Wild Willie” in place while one-handedly steering the Winged Express with his right, but rather a prop arm that Borsch cleverly created for his stint in Funny Car as part of the Revell fleet in the early 1970s.

So renowned was his one-armed prowess that when he switched to a Revell’s Wild Man Dodge Charger flopper, he shrewdly constructed a dummy arm – clothed in firesuit material and capped with a glove – that he could attach to the left window of his Funny Car to create the illusion that he was still going about his racing single-handedly. (The arm was also part of the small-scale Revell model kit.)

According to former partner “Mousie” Marcellus, Borsch didn’t initially drive the Winged Express one-handed to show off but because the seat was too big for him, so he held on to the body to keep from sliding around in the car. Once he became known for the crowd-pleasing style, he maintained it, and his strong arms – developed in his occupation as a tile setter who routinely had to carry 80-pound buckets of tile cement – allowed it.

Borsch died more than 20 years ago – in October 1991 at the age of 61 – but his legend lives on, in the history books, in the hearts and memories of fans, and in the Winged Express entry now driven by Mike Boyd. In 2001, Borsch was selected as one of NHRA’s Top 50 Drivers (No. 34); although he was known more as a match race draw, the cars actually won AA/FA class twice at the Winternationals, and Borsch was selected to the Car Craft Magazine All-star Drag Racing Team six straight years beginning in 1967 and was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1992. (See our Borsch bio here.)

But back to the arm, whose appearance on eBay last week set off the bells and alarms in the nostalgia community. I bet half a dozen people forwarded me the link.

The famous arm, long forgotten by most, appeared from the deep recesses of the garage of former Funny Car racer Paul Ouellette in Westland, Mich., where Californian Borsch sometimes bunked during his Eastern trips. Ouellette later came to own the Charger – and the arm. He sold the Charger but kept the arm, which was buried in a cabinet until just recently, when Ouellette happened upon it and other Borsch memorabilia in the corner of said garage.

Bidding began July 5 at just 99 cents but quickly skyrocketed into the thousands of dollars. When the auction ended Sunday, the final price – after 48 bids – was $2,117.

Enough to give you the "willies," no?