OUT OF THE BOX
By Bill Bennett | Photos by Bill Bennett
Precision Miniatures preserves history
Fuel Altereds were drag racings perfect recipe for excitement and danger. Take a short, lightweight tube chassis, a Model T, Fiat Topolino, or Bantam body, and install a fire-breathing nitromethane-burning dragster motor. Turn it over to one of the emerging legends of drag racing such as Wild Willie Borsch, Sush Matsubara, Dale The Snail Emery, or Leon Fitzgerald. Lined up against another one, of these wicked monsters, and you got a show that made Dragster and Funny Car pilots look like slackers.
What started shortly after WW II as a bunch of guys racing street-driven coupes and roadsters on the dry lakes north of Los Angeles, had, by the mid-1960s, morphed into purpose-built race cars with fiberglass bodies and tube chassis, powered by 1,000- to 2,000-horsepower fuel dragster motorsrunning at drag strips. Where the dragster racers had learned that lengthening the chassis meant fewer wheel-stands, more directional stability, and thus, more consistency, the Fuel Altered class was still working with a wheelbase of less than a 100 inches.
But that didnt stop the Altered racers from using all of the burgeoning engine technology from the fuel dragster racers, and the results were short, unstable cars that, on good days, could match the performance of the fuel dragsters. On a great day, Altereds would be sideways, all over the strip, bouncing off the Armco, with wheels in the air and, all the while, their injector butterflies wide open. Often, the drivers never got their cars gathered up until after the parachute had popped. Fuel Altered drivers were best known for their unwillingness to lift no matter how sideways and crossed up they got, and this made for a great show. The drivers were the key to this class of drag racing. These guys were the craziest, bravest, most talented bunch of racers in drag racing. They had to be; the cars were the meanest, nastiest, hardest-to-handle machines that had ever been raced. Many believed the drivers harbored death wishes, but for the pure thrill of taming the beast, these guys were the masters. Besides thrilling the spectators, Fuel Altereds also scared the brake shoes off the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). The NHRA was the largest sanctioning body for drag strips across the U.S., and it provided the insurance that these drag strips needed to stay in business. Thus, the NHRA officials walked a fine line between putting on a great show and not having anything that was so inherently dangerous that it sent shivers down the spines of its insurance underwriters or the corporate sponsors.
On the other hand, Fuel Altereds were the definition of inherently dangerous! And as they became increasingly faster (210mph in less than seven seconds in 1972), fewer and fewer strips would allow them to run.
As a result, Fuel Altereds were usually raced at renegade strips such as Irwindale, Lions and Orange County Intl. Raceway in Southern California, or Fremont in Northern California. But when many of these strips became NHRA sanctioned, the writing was on the wall, and most teams parked their cars and switched to funny cars or dragsters. By 1973, the class had all but been legislated out of existence.
For the years these cars and drivers blazed the drag strips, they put on shows that thrilled and amazed spectators and left lasting memories of the sports most exciting and ill-tempered creations. To celebrate these wonderful cars, Precision Miniatures has created four 1:18-scale replicas of the most well known of the AA/Fuel Altereds: the Marcellus & Borsch Winged Express, Rich Guascos Pure Hell, Mondello & Matsubara Fiat Topolino and Fitzgerald, Rockman & Reeds Pure Heaven II. Although released over the past four years, each of these diecasts reflects Precision Miniatures high quality and accuracy standards.