BankAmericar AA/FD

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 History

 

Hagan Art 2005

 

This page chronicles the search, finding and restoration of the last front engine Top Fuel dragster John Buttera ever built. Today it is one of the staples at "Cacklefest" and other events.

 

Orange County International Raceway, 1969

 

OCIR

 

1970

Phoenix, AZ - 1970

 

OCIR - 1971

 

Irwindale - 1971

 

OCIR - 1971

 

OCIR 1971

 

Orangeline


History

Prologue:  In late 1968 Don Ewald contacted John Butera in Wisconsin and told him he wanted a "big brother" to the Jr. Fuel car he'd built for fellow Californian, Richard Lockerman. It was a magnificent piece but too small and light for Top Fuel. Butera informed Ewald he already had it - a car he had built for himself but was not going to race. He was relocating to SoCal and would deliver it when he came out. In February of 1969 the car was delivered to Ewald in Long Beach and his expectations were met in spades. It was virtually complete less engine (below). The price tag: $1,750!

 

new car

Car as it was delivered in February of 1969.

 

together

 

John Butera:
The car was originally built by John for himself, it had a lot of "trick" parts (like the steering wheel, brake handle, throttle pedal, chute release, brackets etc.) which were all chromed. The Lakewood bell housing and custom fuel tank were polished. All the aluminum Hanna body parts were anodized gold and other parts red. And the kicker was a complete Strange Eng. full floater 8 3/4 rear end with chrome housing. Dual Hurst-Airhart disc breaks and a Simpson chute. Basically, all Ewald had to do was add paint, a plumbed engine and nitro.

 

Orangeline

 

Paint & Lettering:
Dick Olson and Kenny Youngblood:

The late Dick Olson (Ewald's partner in the F-Troop Jr. Fuel car) insisted on painting the car. He asked what colors they wanted and took it from there. It was pearl white, candy blue with candy gold trim. It all came together when Kenny Youngblood did his magic on the cowl. At the time the BankAmeicard was a new deal and Ewald had used his to the max getting the car done. When he told Kenny that, he came up with the "BankAmericar" logo. Here Fred Smith and Don Ewald pose with the car when it was race ready in March of 1969.

 

Engine:  The original 392 engine was a real mutt - but parts were all good. Ewald bought a ton of stuff from Lou Baney just after he retired as a car owner. He also got a lot of parts from Reath Automotive. A boneyard A-1 block and crank were prepared by Gary Slusser. Ed Donovan kicked in the valve covers and valve train. Larry Ofrea at the then new Valley Head Service did the cylinder heads. Joe Pisano supplied the pistons and rods - Crower the cam and clutch. Paul Schiefer kicked in a magneto. Cragar supplied the blower manifold and drive.

More Help:  Bill Simpson and Fred Crow gave Ewald a new firesuit, belts and chutes. Bell Helmets sponsored Don then and for years to come. Champion stepped up for the spark plugs and Valvoline the oil. Sid Waterman gave them all the help they could afford. Cyclone sponsored the headers and John Ewald and his team (J&M Racing Photos) suppled the car with "ink" in the papers.

 

Orangeline

 

The Long Road Home

The BankAmericar campaigned in Top Fuel from 1968 until mid 1971 (Best ET & speed ... 6.38 @ 228 in 1971). Ewald then teamed up with Rob Mason and Jack Kay to join in the rear engine deal in mid 1971 and this car was sold for $750 (chassis, body and front wheels) in 1972 and headed east to Indiana for a new life as an A/FD (injected fuel hemi).

Being the only car he ever wanted back, 1998 Don Ewald started searching for it. Your proverbial needle in a haystack. After posting photos of the car on WDIFL.com he finally got a lead in 2000 when Mark Polson of Atlanta contacted him saying he thought they had the old BankAmericar. Ewald flew back and saw the car at Darlington in 2001 and confirmed it was THE car. But Polson wasn't ready to sell it - they were racing it! Ewald put first bid on the car when they were ready to sell. Finally in November of 2002 they were. John Ewald paid over twice what the car cost new to get it back very used. What follows is more of the details with photos.

 

1997

The car in 1997 with Mark Polson at the wheel. Obviously it had gone through several changes since it left Cerritos, CA in 1972. However, at this point the chassis is still "virgin" (almost). Ewald has no clue where the car was or who had it from 1975 to 1997.

 

2001

By the time Ewald saw the car at Darlington in 2001 Polson had upgraded the chassis to meet the NHRA 7.50 specs and installed a blown alcohol big block Chevy. This 35 year old car was going 200 mph in 2002.

 

2002

Fortunately the chassis updates only included a new cage, kidney bars and a new cowl. Polson kept the original cage and cowl which they got back with the car. Removing the kidney bars and extraneous brackets was no problem.

 

Orangeline

 

Restoration

 

back home

Getting the car back to SoCal from Atlanta proved to be almost as hard as finding it in the first place. After several delays, Rick & Matt Stambaugh finally got their rig together and headed west in April of 2003. This is what the car looked like at John's house in Brea, CA after they took it out of the trailer. What a sad sight!

 

Buttera 1

In early May 2003, John Ewald took the car over to John Buttera for a damage assessment. We can't print what John said about his last FED, but the bottom line was it was well within the salvage range. John no longer has a shop but offered to do the "small stuff" and said he'd advise Bruce Dyda (who's next door to Lil John's buddy, Don Long) on the cars restoration.

 

Buttera

 

Dyda 1

The car arrived at Dyda's shop in Gardena in mid May of 2003. He had the same reactions as Buttera - the difference being they weren't personal.

 

Dyda 2

Bruce pours over the stack of photos to assess what the car looked like when it was racing. Fortunately John took a lot of photos that ultimately allowed the reconstruction to be dead nuts perfect.

 

chassis 2

The original cage sans the kidney bars made all the difference in the world. But note how far the main rails were stretched to get the Big Block Chevy in! This is where the car stood as of 06-12-03. The chassis was moving along at a rapid pace. In the meanwhile, it was all about collecting parts for the engine.

 

Dyda align

Bruce Dyda sets up the engine alignment.

 

align

392 block in place.

 

back together 1

Back in one piece.

 

back together 5

Bruce Dyda is a fabricator and restoration expert. Being a student of the classic dragsters (which can be seen in the "look" of his Surfers Paradise NE1 car). He studied the many photos of the BankAmericar carefully to determine the original configuration and made it match. He had to replace some damaged parts with fresh pipe etc. as there was no way to repair parts that have been raced for over 30 years.

 

body side

 

cockpit 1

Moving right along, Dyda repaired or replaced the parts needed to replicate the original controls (steering, throttle, clutch, chute-fuel handles and brake).

 

cockpit 4

 

windscreen 1

New windscreen

 

frontend 1

The front end has been repaired and reinstalled.

 

push bar 1

The original push bar was reinstalled.

 

7-17 photo 4

What Ewald found with Dyda Engineering is that Bruce not only does perfect fabrication but he does it without lunch breaks!

 

08-06 update 1

The body had been anodized gold again and here Dyda attaches the windscreen and was getting close to done. The car would leave his shop and be taken completely apart for powder coating, chrome and anodizing. The body then went to Jerry Seivers at Paint-n-Place for paint and lettering.

 

08-06 update 2

The chassis is done and electro-painted black (a process they didn't have in 1968).

 


Back at Dyda's from chrome and paint the car was ready for a final assembly.

 

Barry Barber of Baer's Canvas & Upholstery crafted a perfect replication of the original upholstery. He he used less padding than ordinally for more "older butt room".

 

Back at John Ewald's garage Alex Mikkelsen and Ronnie Rapp were putting the 392 hemi together.

 

Moving right along, with the body painted, Kenny Youngblood spent two days recreating the graphics he did 34 years ago. These were taken at Paint-N-Place on 9-22-03.

 

After its incredible makeover, the car left Dyda's and returned to John's garage. Here Ronnie Rapp, Larry Mersch, Kenny Youngblood and Alex Mikkelsen take a break before the heads go on. The 2003 California Hot Rod Reunion was just two weeks away.

The cars CHRR debut did not go as planned but turned into a rewarding experience and a saga much too long to visit here. If you would like to see and hear about the whole ordeal click the link below.

 

 

Thanks To:
Paint: Paint N Place

Graphics: Kenny Youngblood ( who came up with the name “BankAmericar” as he painted it in 1969 due to the use of a Bankamericard credit card used to buy parts for the dragster).

Tires: Firestone Drag 500 mounted on American Racing Wheels

Arias Pistons - Brooks Rods - Heads by Valley Head Service - Littlefield Blower - Velasco Crankshaft - Chet Herbert Cam - K&N Filters - Kendall Oil - LaPole Headers - Cirello Magneto - Donovan Gear Drive - Two disk Scheifer clutch by McLeod - Enderle Fuel Injection & Fuel Pump.

 

Orangeline

 

The end result of the aforementioned 2003 CHRR "saga" was the BankAmericar being unanimously voted as the car that best represented the era and the overall spirit of Cacklefest. Pictured L to R: Alex Mikkelsen, Rick Kepler, Bruce Dyda (who did the restoration) Ronnie Rapp, Greg Sharp, John & Don Ewald.

 

 

Don Ewald in the pre Cacklefest Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Push start Cacklefest 2004

 

Push start Cacklefest 2005

 

Cacklefest V - up close and personal.

 

Bakersfield, CA 2005

 

Ewald to his spot Cacklefest VI

 

Cacklefest 2005

 

Since its auspicious debut in 2003 the BankAmericar has more "fire-ups" than any other Cacklecar on the planet. In 2004 it appear at 17 events and was fired up 178 times. In 2005 it was the centerpiece for Firestone tires at all their events west of the Rockies. The car was fired 218 times.

 

 

 

Orangeline

 

Over the last 13 years Cacklefest has spawned many "spin-off" events and no one took them to more levels than two car owner, John Ewald. With the help of Bridgestone/Firestone Auto Service Centers, Ewald appeared at countless events throughout 2004-2014 until he passed away in 2015. His enthusiasm and commitment to the cacklecar phenomenon introduced myriad new fans to drag racing and its genesis.

 

 

75 year old veteran racer/blower builder Gene Mooneyham. Gene passed away in January of 2006 and will be greatly missed.

 

At the San Francisco Roadster Show they did two fire ups. This is a roadster show known for high dollar display cars, some worth up to over a million dollars... so why would the people who attended be interested in a restored top fuel car just idling? These aren't drag racing fans per se... well as the photos show they pretty much emptied the buildings on both fire ups. Alex (the crew chief) got the crowd cheering every time he whacked the throttle. They had the TV crews, the newspapers shoving each other to get e good shot.... huge cheer when they shut it off...yep, I think the "cackle" cars are alive and well.

 

 

One of the highlights at the 2005 Grand National Roadster Show at Pomona, CA was when American Graffiti / LaVerne & Shirley star Cindy Williams got into the seat for a cackle and she loved it, especially when Alex whacked the throttle.

 

Adding to the list of celebs getting seat time in the BankAmericar was Candy Clark of the American Graffiti fame. She wasn't sure about it at first but certainly enjoyed the cackle. AG co-star, Cindy Williams got a fire-up in the car at the 2005 Grand National Roadster Show.

 

Route 66 - 2005

 

Ashely Force got a cackle at the Force Racing open house.

 

Chip Foose, star of the hit TV show "Overhaulin" took some time out from filming an expsode at Paint N Place to get his first taste of nitro up close and personal.

 

 

 

In November of 2004 the BankAmericar was first dragster to appear on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine in 40 years.

 

Notable appearances

San Francisco Roadster Show

NHRA Winternationals, Pomona

Grand National Roadster Show - Pomona

Make A Wish Foundation Car Show

Long Beach Grand Prix

Muckenthaler Museum show - Fullerton

Hot August Nights - Reno

Night of Thunder - Escondito

Route 66 Rendezvous - San Bernardino

Cousin' For A Cure - Costa Mesa

California Hot Rod Reunion - Bakersfield

March Meet - Bakersfield

John Force Christmas Show

Mira Mar Naval Air Station military show

Highway 99 Cruise 'N' Show - Bakersfield

Bluesapalooza Thunderfest - Covina

NHRA World Finals - Pomona

Media appearances:

TV - NBC NEWS, Hot Rod TV, Overhaulin, ESPN2 & ABC NEWS.

Print - Hot Rod Magazine, National Dragster, Drive magazine, Bridgestone-Firestone Corporation magazine & various newspapers in cities performed in.

 

For the complete story of the BankAmericar visit:

 

 

 

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