Monday, January 26, 2015

Gasser Madness!!

 Gassers are really popular right now, they look cool and they have a lot of room for creative building.  I really enjoy seeing gasser style builds on the table because they are fun cars that border on silly looking.  Even though they can have an element of fun to them, you have to remember, everything was done for a reason.  Racers don’t do anything to their cars just for fun, they came to win and if it doesn’t make the car go faster, they are really not interested.  The idea of racecars looking like show cars is really a modern phenomenon.  Even though you can point out the exception from back in the day, most racecars were built to race and no one cared whether they looked like show cars.  Measure it with a yardstick, mark it with chalk and cut it with a torch was the rule of the day.  So I decided to write a little primer on what is a gasser and what ain’t, er, isn’t.  Here’s a list of 20 things you should know when building a gasser.  I chose the 1965 NHRA rulebook as a guide and then went a couple of years either way to explain changes.
1.  Classes – Those letters on the window mean something, they ain’t there for decoration!  Not every car ran A/G (A gas), that was the top of the heap, a light car with lots of horsepower.  The class designations are based on the car’s weight divided by cubic inches. The reason guys ran Willys, Austins, and other assorted old coupes, is because they were lighter than the current production cars.  That’s why A/G cars are usually old classic coupes with big motors in them.  The behemoths of the 50’s are not light and no matter what you do to them short of cutting off all the body panels, they will never be as light is a car from the 30’s or early 40’s. So, if you took the same motor from “Ohio” George’s 33 and put it in a heavier car, it drops a class or so.  Superchargers moved you up a class at first, so if you ran your car in B/G and then threw a supercharger on it, you are now in A/G.  Then in 1965, they added an “S” to denote a supercharger and you ran in a separate class, such as B/GS.  To make things worse, in 66, the doubled the class letter, in this case the “B” to BB/GS, and in 67 they dropped the “S” to BB/G.  Classes went from A to H.  One of the most famous gassers was the “Flintstone Flyer”, it ran a 292 and weighted 4600 lbs and ran in E/G.   
    2.  Nose Height – Get the nose down!  The rules require that the crankshaft centerline be no more than 24 inches from the ground.  In 1/24 scale that’s about an inch, not 5 inches.  You need to understand the idea behind the high front end, it’s about weight transfer to the rear for traction.  The prevalent thinking of the day was to have the car sitting like it would while accelerating, i.e., the back end squatting. 
 3.  Rear Height – Get your butt up!  As the 60’s wore on tires got better and taller and the cars began to sit closer to level.  The rear was still a little lower than the front, but there was no “cowboy” rake to gassers by 65, and it was never all that prevalent outside the stock classes anyway. 
 4. Street Legal – These cars fall under the “Street” section of the rules, they must have all the equipment required to drive them on the street and they must be able to start on their own, which means batteries and starters, radiators, lights, and all of that cool stuff.  No body modifications unless approved, so watch the chopped tops and no altered wheelbases.
 5. Driver – must be in the stock location
 6 Roll bars – required
 7Frames – cannot be raised to gain weight transfer (channeling)
 8. Bodies – Full fenders required
 9.  Engines – only one and in the stock location
10.  Suspension – Must have one shock per wheel on a functional factory type suspension
11.  Interior – NO gutted interiors!  Rear seat is optional, buckets can replace front bench, full upholstery required.  Cars must have a passenger seat, remember, it’s a street car!
12.  Anglias – Anglias can only run a small block Chevys without a supercharger
13.  Windows – Can be replaced with plexiglass
O.K., enough of just the rules, now for the stuff that most guys did or didn’t do.  These are the things that most people think cars had on them like they were rules, but they are just common practice or not. 
14. Batteries – Big honkin’ truck batteries over the right rear wheel for ballast and to aid in traction.  The battery in the trunk puts more weight on the rear tires which improves traction on the launch, it was put over the right (passenger) side because the torque from the driveshaft causes that side of the body to “raise”, the weight helps to keep it down.  This torsional motion is what causes drag cars to lift the front left wheel first when they pull a wheelie.
15. Ladder bars – Long “ladder bars” were common in the 60’s to help keep the rear axle from “winding up” on launch and when shifting.  In short wheelbase gassers they often connected to the transmission cross member.  Until the later 60’s they were made from 1 piece of  large square tube and had a pivot on both ends to facilitate rear axle movement in an arc but limit axle twist.  The idea comes from the “wishbone” design of 30’s cars and the later habit of hot rodders to put “split ‘bones” on their cars.  The “ladder bars” most people think of are a much later design, the long triangle shape with the zig-zag reinforcing that looks like a ladder.  These became popularized on “Street Freaks” in the 70’s. 
16. Straight Axles – Straight axles on a sky high “gasser” just looks cool!  But not as common as you think.  By the time the straight axle craze was taking off, the Funny cars were taking over.  Early gassers ran stock suspensions and it just so happens that the old 30’s cars had straight axles on them stock.  There are light, strong, easy and work really great in a straight line.  By the time later body styles were getting in to the gasser act, the class was dying.  “Ohio” George modified his Willys chassis to accept a 67 Mustang body, so it had a straight axle.  Later gassers looked like little funny cars.  The “Street Freaks” movement in the 70’s made people think that all gassers were jacked up to the sky with a straight axle under them, it’s not how it was.
 17. Tunnel Ram Intakes – Nope.  These are a Pro Stock item, they belong in the 70’s.  The first commercially available tunnel ram intake was in ’68, there were some around before then, but they were rare.  These were more common on “Street Freaks” than real gassers. 
 18. White Wall Slicks – White Walls were done by 1962, if your car has anything post 1962 do not put white walls on it, it just looks wrong.  I know you can find exceptions out there, but it’s wrong.  In 1959 tire makers started making “pinwalls” which are the narrow white wall tires from the 70’s you remember.  Everybody had to have them and the “gangster walls” quickly fell out of fashion, then the raised white letter tires took over from there.  Another thing to remember, slicks back in the day were recaps, nobody spent the bucks on white walls except the top teams. 
19. Modern Stuff – AHHHHH! I hate this!  Even factory funny cars didn’t run AN fittings and braided line at this time.  Billet fuel pressure regulators came around much later than the gasser era.  Big tube welded pro mod headers don’t fit either.  Billet valve covers are out, finned covers were the coolest thing ever back then and chrome was king! Billet wheels are out too. Most guys ran steelies, especially on the rear.  Real magnesium slotted wheels were common for those that could afford them and Cragar S/S’s came out about 65. 
20. Scrub Line – The scrub line is an imaginary line from the bottom of each wheel rim to all of the other wheel rims.  Nothing can be below this line and be legal for competition.  As a matter of fact, if it’s too close you can’t run.  The idea is if you blow a tire the only thing that should make contact with the track is the wheels, anything else is dangerous.  No header tubes, no ladder bars, no steering arms, no body panels. Nothing.
Last thing I want to mention, rear bumpers were often hollow tubes that could be filled with water or cement to add weight to “make the minimum”.  This way you added weight where it did the most good, water could also “accidently” leak out in the pits after a weigh in.  Barbell weights were also common in the trunk of gassers for the same reason. 

            There’s my little primer on gassers for you, it’s not complete and the rules changed from year to year.  I picked 65 because it’s right in the middle of the era.  If you have any questions, let me know!

“Rat Fink” Ron

Saturday, January 17, 2015

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

After stealing a line from an old song I thought I'd share a few things I really like concerning the modeling hobby.  First up is snow, I love it when it snows so much (or not so much) that you can't or won't go out and do anything.  I love to be snowed in with all day to build models.  There's nothing quite like a cold day when you can spend all day hibernating at the workbench building.  Another favorite is reading model magazines, especially ones that show techniques that I have never tried.  I love reading about how others accomplished the really cool effects and excellent build quality.  Even though I'm a car and figure modeler, I love to read military modeling magazines because those guys really strive for realism in their builds.  They try to build exact replicas of a specific vehicle at a specific time and place, car modelers rarely do that.  Car guys either build something they just made up, or they build it "close enough" to a vague idea of a race car during a year's time.  If car guys do any weathering, they build a junker: as if cars are either sparkling show cars or complete pieces of crap, there is no in between.
I like having quality tools to do the job right.  I think this comes from my 1:1 car.  One of the things I learned pretty early on is that the proper tool makes any job quicker and easier, the same goes for modeling.  Quality tools with adequate storage and work space is a recipe for success.  I recently bought a jeweler's drill press and it has made my work more accurate and much faster than the old hand held pin vice.  I also like my model display room a lot.  I think it's because not everyone has that luxury to have a room where they can have all of their built models on display and have all of their modeling awards hanging on the wall.  Technically, it's my "office", but hey, my models are on the walls.  I think our cat spends more time in there than anyone, so I like to think she is admiring my builds, or sleeping.  Probably just sleeping.
The last thing on my list is contests.  I really enjoy hanging out with other modelers and checking out their work.  I like discussing new techniques and new ideas for builds.  I like IPMS shows because I get to see other types of models, not just cars.  I also get to talk to guys with other interests that build things differently.  I like model car shows because I get to see other guys cool stuff and sit around and talk cars.  The shopping doesn't hurt either.
Well, I'm off to my workbench to do some more work on my '62 T-Bird.
"Rat Fink" Ron

Monday, January 12, 2015

In Retrospect

I just finished up a long term project (one of several) that I started last year and I was pretty happy to get it done.  I reveled in the joy that comes with a completed project, I worked very hard to get it just right.  During the build I made sure that every detail was as perfect as I could get them. I labored over scratchbuilding parts and correcting flaws in bodywork, this would be the one, the most perfect I could build with the coolest details.  I took it to our local club meeting where it was met with approval and got lots of recognition, I was pretty proud.  What more could a modeler ask than the approval of his peers, life was good; until.
Until what? What happened to turn this moment of bliss into tortured regret? Did said model fall from some height and become damaged? Was there a liquid glue spill that damaged the model beyond repair? Did a spray can of fuchsia paint explode nearby? Nope, none of those things happened. What did happen was that I looked at it and began critiquing it.  The headers are wrong, the front axle assembly could be better, the roll bar doesn't connect to the frame properly, and I should have scratchbuilt the rear springs out of brass.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I tend to do this all the time with my models, I always think that they are not that good.  I tend to focus on the negatives of the build instead of the positives and it comes across when I talk about my builds.  I rarely can just point out the positives, just the negatives.
The upside to this self-critiquing is that it helps me build better models the next time.  It challenges me to try new techniques and push the limits of my building, which leads to improved builds over time.  It can also lead to projects getting mired in a state of very slow progress which can lead to a loss of interest in the project.  The other problem is without progress it is very easy to get distracted with other things, especially in the summertime.  My big red Ford is too much fun to leave sit all summer, so stalled projects come to a complete standstill in the summer usually.  Well, back to the bench!
"Rat Fink" Ron

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trying Something New

Last year I tried out some new building techniques on a 1957 Ford Gasser and I found that I really enjoyed them.  I built a front axle, leaf springs and steering linkage out of aluminum, stainless tubing and flat stock.  I had a good time doing it so I built some headers out of copper wire and did some soldering, something I have limited skill with.  Like most things soldering takes practice so I'm confident that I will improve.  On my latest build I'm going to use brass for several suspension parts so soldering has become more important.  It also amazes me how much I like making parts and creating assemblies from scratch.  It's also pretty cool how real they look, much better than kit parts.  To me that has become the fun, seeing how I can "improve" a kit with scratchbuilt parts.
One of the first things I figured out was that I needed tools to work with other materials.  I've noticed how model car guys will spend $100 to buy a bunch of kits and cheap out when it comes to tools.  We all have 100+ kits in the stash that we have thousands of dollars invested in, but heaven forbid we skip a few purchases and buy some quality tools.  I've been guilty of it and I recently decided to spend some cash on tools so I bought a lathe and then a jeweler's mini drill press. The lathe is kind of a luxury item for now until I really develop my building skills, but the drill press became a necessity after spending several hour drilling holes in brass by hand and then working the cramp out of my hand.  Pin vices are not designed to be used for long periods of time.  I'm also thinking a need a better way to cut brass and aluminum other than a miter box and hand saw.  Also on the wish list is a mill, but I'll have to wait at least a year to save up the money.
So my goal is to have a miniature machine shop in my basement and to build some pretty cool stuff.  I'm as concerned about winning contests as I am about really having fun building.  The scratchbuilding bug has bit me and I like where I'm headed with it.  The photos are of my latest project, a 1962 T-Bird AWB Gasser that I'm building a straight axle front suspension and leaf springs.  After looking at how cool it looks I guess I'm going to do the rear suspension too. Until next time.
"Rat Fink" Ron