Greg Wapling

PANIC | FAQ | Help
Chev 34 | 51 Pickup | Business Directory | Photo Gallery | Readers Rides | Under Construction | Virtual Body Shop
General | Documentaries | Events | How-to
Artists By Name | Artists by Genre | Music Links
American Chopper | American Hot Rod | Horsepower TV | Hot Rod TV | Monster Garage | Overhaulin | Rides | Wheels TV | Wrecks to Riches
Queensland | New South Wales | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Northern Territory | Western Australia | New Zealand
Let's Go Cruisin | Dry Lakes Racers Australia | Hot Rod Internet | OzRodders | HAMB | Rodders Roundtable | Land Racing
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Show Rods


1961 Wagon-Master Riviera Exhibition Dragster



Four 454 cu. in. Buick V8 engines, four-wheel drive, Halibrand championship differentials, Kent Fuller 100-inch chrome-moly chassis.

The innovation fostered by the backyard attitude of hot rodding didn’t always follow a conventional template, and there were many one-off creations that showed up over the years which have left officials either cursing or scratching their heads. Drag racing would title these machines “exhibition vehicles” – cars that did not really fit into the overall scheme of competition but would have no trouble bringing the fans to their feet. This particular dragster, the Wagon-Master Buick, has been long considered the first such machine, and was perhaps the most famous touring thrill show that never even pulled the wheels off the ground.

Young TV Tommy Ivo, the former Mouseketeer and movie star, loved racing and had originally put together his four-engine dragster for active competition in 1961 during NHRA’s ban on nitromethane fuel. In those days before factory racing and the accompanying muscle car era moved the curve forward in terms of engine technology, Ivo had selected a somewhat oddball combination of big-inch “nail-head” Buicks, so named for the small valve design. Displacing 454 inches each thanks to CT chromed stroker cranks, this quad of iron lungs was considered fairly durable, and Ivo intended to use that huge total displacement for sheer quantity as opposed to parts-damaging high-RPM levels. Ivo also was familiar with the engines due to previous efforts with the Buick design.

Connected in tandem and chain-driven to the driveline, the monster Ivo created used four-wheel drive and had a real ability to fill the landscape with tire smoke as all four slicks grappled helplessly for traction. Possibly the heaviest combustion-driven dragster ever, the car weighed 3,555 pounds, made use of magnetos in a fuel-injected gasoline environment and was detailed and well-polished to boot. By the early 1960s, it was already becoming evident that there was a large audience for something more outrageous and exciting and vehicle owners like Ivo (who had toured nationally with a twin-Buick dragster in 1960) began creating cars that could actually be brought in by promoters for the sake of selling tickets.

Hot Rod magazine called the new car “Ivo’s Roaring Showboat” and it lost no time living up to that reputation. One significant but little known fact was that Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, who had crewed for Ivo on the 1960 tour and painted this car originally, made the first runs in the beast when Ivo’s studio bosses on the Margie show found out and said, “Sorry, pal, you can’t drive that!” When the show was cancelled soon after, Ivo was likely the only happy cast member; his acting career was over and it was time to go racin’! He would do that for the next 30 years.

Ivo never forsook his desire to compete, and over the years he clocked many, many firsts that are sometimes forgotten due to cars like the Showboat. So in the mid-1960s, he chose to sell the four-engine behemoth and focus on his top fuel program. The car went to friend and fellow Road King car club member Tom McCourry.

However, like any circus act, it is only completely thrilling when it is novel. While the sport would record less than a handful of four-engined cars, the advent of funny car racing and the growing desire to be relevant in the exploding car culture led McCourry to reconsider just how he would continue to expose the “Showboat.” That soon led him to noted metal craftsman Tom Hanna for a body, and since there were four nail-head engines in a 110-inch package, the result was the aluminum Wagon-Master Riviera station wagon. McCourry would campaign it for several seasons, and it ended changing hands in the Midwest a couple of time, eventually landing with noted Indiana racer Norm Day. The car never truly lost its popularity and was updated to the paint scheme it has today during those later years.

TV Tommy had seen it all, done it all, raced at tracks nobody but the locals knew about, piloted dragsters, funny cars, jet cars, and more. But when it came time for him to retire, he made a deal with Day and brought the car back out for one last big show. Speaking with the late Woody Hatten in an extensive interview published in the defunct Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine in 1982, Ivo confessed that of all the cars he had owned and driven, this one was special. It had seen a lot of miles (or rather quarter-miles), and Ivo spared no expense at that time taking it down to its bare essentials for the first time since 1961. Tens of thousands of dollars later (Ivo never did any of his projects halfway), it was ready for one last tour of America with its originator pushing the loud pedal.

“It’s a lot harder to drive than you think,” he admitted at that time. “This car has to be driven from one end to the other. If it goes somewhere, you have to herd it back into the lane. It’s solid sprung all the way around and it just bounces down the track.” Indeed, the action photo shot by Eric Rickman in Hot Rod magazine’s December 1961 issue (which is the story that got Ivo in trouble at the movie studio) shows the rear wheels coming off the ground as the car is slowed by an immense 24-foot ring-slot parachute!

This particular lot is the sport’s first real exhibition vehicle, piloted to its retirement by its creator, a drag racer whose popularity nationwide was rarely surpassed. Displacing 1,816 inches, complete with vintage speed parts, an unmistakable appearance, and never truly equaled in terms of notoriety, the Riviera Wagon-Master encompasses the innocence of the early 1960s, the drama of the evolution of the funny car, the climax of a legendary career and the popularity of today’s nostalgia movement. This is a genuinely unsurpassed opportunity to make the famed Wagon-Master the showboat of any car collection or heritage display.

Sold at auction by RM Auctions on Saturday, September 26, 2009 for $209,000

Show Cars
Show Cars
Show Cars
Show Cars
Show Cars
Show Cars


About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Contact Us | © 1995 - 2009 Greg Wapling All Rights Reserved