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Show Rods


Little Red Wagon



Mid-mounted 426 cu. in. Chrysler Hemi V8 supercharged engine, 727 Torqueflite transmission, 5.14 differential,

The 1960s found drag racing exploding in a number of directions. From hot stockers out of Detroit to the gasser wars to streamlined dragsters, there is good reason why the sixties have and always will be considered the sport’s Golden Age. And few vehicles that came out of that fertile era could equal the Little Red Wagon.

This was a project that went astray from what was first intended. Dodge had actually been offering a standard size D-series pickup with a 413 cu. in. (later, a 426) Street Wedge engine option installed on the assembly line, and a version with some special parts had even been racing in the B/Factory Experimental class during 1962 and 1963. Jim Schaeffer and John Collier of Dodge’s Truck Divisions in Detroit had gotten the job of taking the new 1964 A100 ‘Forward Control’ compact truck and putting a 426 Hemi engine in it for A/FX and exhibition drag racing. The 90-inch A100 model, brand new for that year and available in van format as well, would certainly be a hairy ride with seven liters of NASCAR-designed lung in it.

To mount the engine in the truck effectively, it was set back 20 inches using a custom sub-frame that housed the entire driveline, resulting in a 48-percent front, 52-percent rear weight distribution. It used the drag racing intake with cross-ram carbs and S&S headers. The transmission, a Chrysler 727 Torqueflite automatic, was coupled directly to the differential. Weight was removed throughout the truck so the final effective weight was less than 2,700 pounds even with the heavy hemispherical engine. The final work was done by noted subcontractor Dick Branstner, who had won the U.S. Nationals in the Color Me Gone Dodge super stocker with Roger Lindamood driving. Jay Howell, an associate of Branstner’s, was tagged as the driver and the truck began its shakedown runs at Cecil County, Maryland on September 19, 1964.

Howell would be noted as a serious funny car driver in the latter part of the decade, but the little truck did not want to handle at all, and after a couple of scary runs at speed, he decided to call it a day (though Super Stock and Drag Illustrated got a feature for its second ever issue, and it ran in the centerspread). Continued testing showed that the truck still wanted to pull the nose in the air, so Dodge PR rep Frank Wylie, who had helped push the initial effort, called a noted West Coast driver named Bill ‘Maverick’ Golden to drive it during an upcoming Dodge Tough Trucks commercial.

Maverick, a former Marine, had become well known for the Dodges he had been running for the West Coast Dodge Dealers Association during the early 1960s and had set several records that had helped make Dodge competitive in a sea of 409 Chevys and tri-power Fords. Regarded foremost as a quiet thinker, Golden was credited for advances in Super Stock racing during those formative years that allowed him to often stun the competition; he and Wylie had built a strong working reputation during those years. In his new 1964 Hemi Charger, he had won the local but hot Super Stock class at Pomona for several consecutive weeks before heading out on his summer tour on the AHRA circuit in Ultra Stock trim. In the late fall, he agreed to drive the truck for the ad. After a couple of passes at Motor City Dragway, he brought the truck back to California for filming at Fontana Dragway and came away with stunning results – the nose rode in the air a full 600 feet before he bounced it to the ground!

Golden realized quickly that, if he could somehow control the truck’s antics, he would have a great opportunity to use it for exhibition racing. Unfortunately, he also needed some minor medical attention due to the A100’s violent, at-speed landings he had already experienced. Late in the year, he made a deal to buy it from Dodge, and got over the pain long enough to be part of the January season-opener at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach at C.J. Hart’s request (and a big $1,000 in appearance money). That show in front of 10,000 awe-struck fans and the nation’s top magazine and newspaper photographers, put the Little Red Wagon on the map.

The money poured in; Maverick remembers he had to put in two telephones to keep up with requests. Only Don Garlits and TV Tommy Ivo commanded more appearance money than Maverick did, and Maverick continued to refine the package over the next several years. At this time, Maverick was running the truck injected on heavy loads of nitromethane. Mickey Thompson, who was also a friend and confidant, suggested swapping to a supercharged alcohol program and provided all the parts need for the changeover. In 1967, Maverick built another 1965 A100 up as a show vehicle to take to non-racing appearances.

The adage that racing evolution is written in blood proved true in the wheel standing business as well. The original 1964 truck was destroyed in Albuquerque in 1969, its replacement (supercharged with center steering and the first hydraulic rear gate) was wrecked in 1971, and a third Little Red Wagon built from those remains almost killed Golden in a high-speed flip in Canada in 1975. Once he recovered, he took the show truck out of mothballs and converted it to active duty. This would be the truck that raced as the Little Red Wagon for the next three decades.

Technologically, Maverick, together with other pioneers in the wheel standing business, worked hard to find ways to make their vehicles safer and even more interesting for the spectators. For instance, titanium blocks could be used off the rear part of the vehicle that dragged to create rooster tails of sparks. Steering was accomplished with an independent braking system that could apply the caliper on either rear wheel; a marked point on the steering wheel ensured that the front wheels were pointing forward when ‘coming in for a landing.’ The floor area was opened up so the track in front of the driver was visible. To run the quarter in 10 seconds at over 130 mph on the narrow tracks of that era required skill, fast reflexes, and courage; Maverick had all of it.

The truck presented here was more than just a pretty face; this rendition of the Little Red Wagon was seen by tens of thousands of fans over the years. It was raced longer than any of the others, and is obviously the one that is closest in age to the now-destroyed original due to its 1960s era conversion. In 1977, Maverick ran this truck into the Guinness Book of World Records with a run that carried the front wheels 4,230 feet, the length of over three quarter-miles. Perhaps most importantly, this one was never crashed at speed, and maintains a very large degree of its originality as a racing machine.

By the mid-1980s, Maverick actually had several projects going at once, and the older truck was temporarily retired for several seasons while he used a late model Dodge on the tractor-pulling circuit. During the 1990s, this truck could be seen regularly at specialty nostalgia races and Mopar-style events, maintaining its status as an icon of the sport. From the time he put the show truck on the track to the end of his career, Maverick would build just one replica of the 1960s-style truck, which has been on display at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Florida since its recreation. The truck offered here retired from active racing in 2003.

Awards came to Maverick from all quarters due to the fame of the Little Red Wagon – among the highlights were Car of the Year by AHRA (1966), America’s Most Famous Race Vehicle by Hot Rod magazine (1979), Car Craft Magazine All-Star Team (1969), Showman of the Year by IHRA (1977), King of Showmen by Drag Racing Almanac (1967), Super Stock Magazine Hall of Fame (1995), the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (2002), and on and on. In the minds of many historians, it was and remains the single most famous exhibition vehicle created for the sport of drag racing.

As built, this truck represents both the early and later technology of the wheel stander. Obviously, the vintage body speaks for itself. The paint scheme is the one that the truck wore for much of its later career, somewhat subdued from the prior 1980s renditions. Maverick painted the truck himself in a hue he created in keeping with the moniker. He also credits a blessing from a priest when the car was first converted for racing duty in the 1970s with keeping it from entering the same bent-metal notoriety as its predecessors; a cross remains painted on the cab pillar to this day as a result. Headlight covers were created early in the truck’s existence; no bulb could have survived the hard bouncing that occasionally resulted in all four wheels leaving the ground. The windshield area is open as well.

There remains an air of authenticity around the vehicle; though it has been cleaned up, it maintains the raceday patina from when it was finally parked. Chrome is visible on many accessories like the differential, shocks, and suspension parts, all which were visible to all as the truck covered the racing surface on its rear wheels. While one rear shock is used for the truck for itself, there are multiple shocks mounted for the custom hydraulics Maverick developed which finally kept the violence of the weight transfer to a minimum.

A 6-71 supercharger on a mid-mounted 426-style Chrysler Hemi, set up to run on alcohol, is coupled to an A727 Torqueflite transmission and 5.14 rear gearing, all installed on a subframe Maverick created that was built similar to the original sub-assembly of 1964. This truck was center-steered, with the independent braking system, and many other one of a kind parts like the aforementioned hydraulically-lowered wheelie/tailgate arrangement. The vehicle was turnkey when Maverick sold it, exactly as it was when he parked following its final ever runs in Milan, Michigan in 2003. It was still running low 10-second times.

In a recent conversation with Bill, he jokingly admitted that he was not sure anybody but outlaw custom builder Jesse James would still be crazy enough to actually drive the Original Wheelstander, the Little Red Wagon. We do know that this particular lot represents a unique opportunity to own an iconic part of racing history with legendary status, a world record history and an unquestionable pedigree. Additionally, it has been the subject of numerous diecast scale models over the years, several of which will be included in the car’s sale.

Sold at auction by RM Auctions on Saturday, September 26, 2009 for $550,000

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