It's been a while since I have done this. I truly thought I was finished. I missed it and often caught myself thinking, through some situations, “This would make a good topic for a column." Well, with all the craziness we have had in the world this past several months... this would make a great column!
The Hippo had been in the trailer since it left Bakersfield in October. I had no time to devote to it, less money and little desire. The plan was there, everything else just seemed to be out of reach. Occasionally, I would drop the gate to look at it and then would close it. I had rented part of my shop to a local auto dealer, to detail trucks. It turned into a headache, and took up almost 700 square feet of space in our front shop and severely limited the room to work on anything. With the onset of the pandemic, we ended our relationship with them and gained back space. One Sunday, I had a visit from a couple, new to the area, who were out exploring. The woman had seen the Mr. Ed parked outside one day, and even took a photo of it and posted it online. They introduced themselves and stayed for a few hours. They told me they were owners of a speed shop in Alabama, but were here due to the husband's "real" job. They were living in an apartment nearby for the next year and in the midst of all the madness, missing their dragster. One thing I can always count on, is the common denominator of that dragster. People, who know them, are sure to stop in and at least satisfy their curiosity as to what it is. That weekend was the first time I had pulled it out of the trailer. The husband lusted it and the wife hopped in! Smiles abound and it was a lot of fun. Not much work got done that afternoon, but there wasn't any drama either. Just good conversation and new friends made.
That visit was actually the catalyst to get started on it again. It's a great release working on it, or just staring at it really. Every time I extract it from the trailer, I marvel at the art, beauty and sheer sex appeal it possesses. Gleaming in the sun, as the light picks up the file marks in the raw aluminum. The simplicity of the structure and the hypnotic hues of magnesium, chrome and aluminum. Nothing beats it in my opinion. It has stayed this way, far longer than I planned. I had made an initial agreement, to show it for a year in bare metal. One year turned into two, with no complaint from the people who looked at at it. Some even told me to leave it that way. As much as I love the raw look of the perfect body and attending pieces, it needs to be finished.
It just takes time, that evil four-letter word. A necessity to the budget-minded builder/restorer/caretaker of these pipe racks. It's a well-worn struggle amongst those who want to make things letter perfect and those who want to see it done as soon as possible. Research, studying photos to make it exactly as it was built, holding out for correct parts, feeding kids, paying tuition, etc. It all contributes to the masters degree you earn in patience. The Hippo is pretty close to being ready to paint, with most of the chassis finished. There are a few details, brackets, this and that, either needing changed or made. Some changes were discoveries I made, when new photos became available, giving a clearer or completely different view of components. Some had to wait until the engine was ready to be seriously started on. The learning curve is also a big factor. Not only what that piece may be, what goes where, or how it goes... but, the learning curve that comes from accepting well-meaning help.
I have been involved with many facets of this hobby in the last 45 years, since I bought a 68 BelAir for 40 dollars. I am by no means afraid, too proud, or too stupid to ask questions. (I have asked my share of stupid questions too!) I'm also not afraid to tackle a project, even if I have to do it over until it is right. I have already had a few things on the Hippo, I just didn't find to my liking and decided to redo it, to be exact. Not close, or changed for the sake of making it trick, or reinterpreted... but exactly like it was in 1968. Some are things I did and some done by others. It gets a little overwhelming when you are attempting to restore a 40, 50 or 60 plus year old relic. But, the details are what makes an exact restoration or even recreation. Here is where differing opinions and well-meaning help come into play. I know firsthand, from many instances over the years, the fun factor can disappear faster than I care to admit. There's always going to be someone who inevitably tells you how much you don't know, how much they do and how they have a better way to do it. I have been lucky enough to have made friends with people who were "there", working on these things when they were being run. The best piece of advice came in the form of a question," Who owns it?" The answer is the solution and the advice is to go the extra step to make it right. You sometimes have to regain control and take the reins.
If you have kids, you know this part. You can try to do it for them, tell them what they are doing wrong, etc. But, it ultimately has to come down to them doing it on their own. If you are restoring a dragster or building a piece of furniture. There will be things you need to learn how to do. Take the time and do it. Who cares if it isn't right the first time? Keep doing it until you get it right. You will find the sense of accomplishment, is far more rewarding than being told something will never work, or how much you don't know. Sometimes, you actually find out, you know more than you thought. It could cost a friendship that is the part that sucks. But, if it turns into a pain in the ass and you would rather walk away from it, doing it yourself is the better choice.
I'd like to thank Brendan Murry, owner of Raceparts.com, for sponsoring some of the engine parts and helping to move the project along. I've been super busy at the shop and even more so since the pandemic orders kicked in. My big plan was to get the mocked up engine out of the dragster and onto the engine stand. After getting the car out of the trailer, I started taking all the pieces off the block. After wrestling the block, engine plate and clutch can loose. I moved the cherry picker in place, well... I tried. The chassis sat too low, a few 2x4's and.... not high enough. A couple cinder blocks (with some towels) were enough, when put under the front axle, to get it high enough. A couple tries and it came out. Next, swing it around and on the engine stand it goes...or so I thought. Where are those damn bolts for the mount on the stand? A quick look through the bolt bin... not long enough. I started looking for all thread and found some... 20 minutes later. After assessing the situation... I went for a walk to Ace Hardware the next block over and bought some grade 8 bolts. That all thread was probably a bad choice. Once I got the bolts in the mount and block, I grab the engine stand. Suddenly, the realization of the weight difference of a small block Chevy and a 1957 392 hemi dawned upon me. Okay, back to the warehouse to find some steel. I came up with some 3x3 square tube and proceeded to make a base. Once it was done, it stood tall and could hold the hemi. The only way it was going to fall, was if I hit with the truck. By the time I was finished, it was time to go. The next day was Father’s Day and I had to do the dad thing. Then, I realized I needed the main bearings. Ordered those and they came in last week. Well... we got busy and the engine is sitting on the stand still. I did move it twice. I told my oldest son what we needed to do. I plan on mocking it up this week. Hopefully. It's will only take a short time.... I swear. Time... damn it... time.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Eddie Buck