Friday, January 29, 2010

A New Beginning

I started this blog as a place to share my experiences as a Corvette owner and a member of that great community, but we're going to change direction for 2010 and broaden the content to include more of my favorite cars and car people.

The first and biggest change will be to share more of my writing for Mecum Performance Auction, because there are so many more cars to enjoy and appreciate, too many other great machines to keep it narrowed down to one marque. Having said that, I'm a Corvette man and will continue to share that enthusiasm at every opportunity.

Thanks for dropping by, and let's get started with a fascinating machine that appeared at last year's Dana Mecum Spring Classic, the wild and wonderful Tobacco King Rocket Car:

In the years after WWII, before the advent of the Nader safety nannies and government watchdogs, adventurous entrepreneurs served up an endless parade of fun and dangerous products, one of the most outlandish of which was the Rocket Drag Axle built by the Turbonique Company of Orlando, Florida. Powered by an extremely efficient solid fuel known as Thermolene, the device connected mechanically to a car’s rear differential and, when ignited, delivered upwards of a thousand horsepower to the driveline, producing truly mind-numbing acceleration.

The Rocket Drag Axle’s potential was well demonstrated by the infamous ‘’Black Widow’’ Volkswagen Beetle. A basically stock Bug fitted with an early production unit, the Black Widow became a drag racing legend on September 19, 1966, at Tampa Dragway when it left Tommy Ivo’s four-engine Showboat dragster in its dust with a 9.36 elapsed time at an astonishing 168 mph.

Such wild exploits could not help but draw the attention of Zachary Taylor Reynolds of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco fame. Playboy, pilot, street racer and all-around enfant terrible, the mischievous Reynolds instantly grasped the Rocket Drag Axle’s entertainment potential and conceived of a car that, even beyond its boldly intimidating appearance, would strike fear into unsuspecting onlookers with a prodigious detonation of Rocket Axle power. Reynolds’ creation, a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 he dubbed the “Tobacco King”, was as wild an example of a Rocket Drag Axle-equipped car as there ever was, and certainly fulfilled the young daredevil’s expectations.

As documented in the 1967 Turbonique product catalog, Reynolds replaced the Raven Black Galaxie’s original 390 V8 engine with a 425 horsepower 427 Ford big block fitted with a rare Latham axial flow supercharger and four Carter one-barrel sidedraft carburetors. That alone would have satisfied almost every hot-rodder ever born, but for young Zach it was just the entrĂ©e; the main course was the 850 horsepower Rocket Drag Axle fitted to the Galaxie’s differential. Although large and well-built to begin with, the car had to be modified to compensate for the colossal acceleration and speeds of which it was then capable. The frame and suspension were reinforced to handle the enormous torque delivered through the rear axle housing, a parachute installed to assist braking and ground clearance increased to accommodate the large turbine housing that shot a white-hot spear of flame out from under the rear bumper like a giant acetylene torch.

Forty years later the car still possesses stunning visual impact. From the front it looks every bit the mid-sixties A/FX Thunderbolt racer, with dropped suspension, dump tube headers and unpolished American Torque Thrust wheels. But the picture is only completed by approaching the thing from behind, where the black Simpson chutepack and twin large-diameter tailpipes draw the eyes down to that fearsome rocket exhaust pod.

Inside, the Galaxie’s stock instrument panel is augmented by a set of gauges to monitor engine RPM, supercharger boost and the somewhat-harnessed space-age bomb ticking out back. The Ham Radio installed beneath the dash speaks to Reynolds’ passion as a Ham operator (QSL card #W4TXL, now held by his surviving brother-in-law Bill).

This was as crazy as crazy got in 1967, and is no less so for the years that have passed. Zachary Reynolds put a total of only 3,611 miles on the car before his untimely death in a 1979 plane crash, after which it was placed in careful storage. It is accompanied by early registrations, the original owner’s manual made out to Zachary Taylor Reynolds, an illustrated Turbonique product catalog, Latham Supercharger literature and Zach’s personal notebook. Unrestored and in superb condition throughout, the “Tobacco King” is a delightfully shocking artifact that speaks to a period when daredevils and adventurers gave full sway to the forces that drove them.

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