Little did Brian Beattie know
that when he worked as a writer/photographer for Madison Township
Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, during 1966-67 (where he met
many drag racing greats), that one day he'd own a car that was
campaigned by one of his favorite teams of the day, Jim &
Alison Lee. Although Brian would wait over 30 years for the opportunity,
the Great Expectations II AA/FD became his in 2004. But the journey
didn't end there. It would take nearly five years before its
restoration was complete and Beattie did it right. Unveiled at
the California Hot Rod Reunion in October 2009, it was one of
the most talked about cars at the event.
Backing up, the car was built
for Jim and Alison Lee by Don Long in 1969. With a 185 inch wheelbase,
its rails were enclosed in a Tom Hanna body with paint by Cerny.
First class all the way. Add a blown 392 hemi on healthy dose
of nitro for power and you had a racer that could cover the 1320
in record time. Like at Indy in 1969 where it took part in one
of the quickest side-by-side races of the time when Tom Raley
defeated Steve Carbone, 6.51 to a 6.54. But that was just the
beginning. The Lees also set the NHRA E.T. records for top fuel
three times over the next two years with their best being a 6.54
in 1970 at Dallas, TX. In addition, they won NHRA Division 1
championships in 1969 and 1970 and scored wins in WCS meets at
Atco, Englishtown, and York during 1970.
As the old saying goes, Behind
every good man theres a good woman. Or in this case,
you just might say that, Behind every good woman theres
a good man. Better yet, why not just say that over the
course of their great careers, Jim and Alison Lee always stood
side by side, and together they pioneered their way into the
hearts of everyone in the sport as well as re-writing the record
WCS win at York in 1970.
Jim and Alison Lee tuned the
car as a team, and they were as good a team as there was in the
then or now. For their prowess with the wrenches,
Jim and Alison Lee were honored by Car Craft Magazine as the
Fuel Crew Chiefs of the Year in 1971, the first duo
to be so honored. And later, after they retired to their farm
in The Plains, Northern Virginia, this great pair was inducted
into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to a brilliant
drag racing career.
The year 1971 would bring a special
highlight to their racing career, as the car became the lead
attraction in a motorsports show hosted by President Richard
M. Nixon at the White House.
President Nixon, Jackie
Stewart and Jim Lee.
The Lees sold the car in 1973
to the Top Alcohol team of Cottrell & Speelman. By then it
was time for them to join the masses and move on to a rear engine
dragster. It was the last of four front motored cars the Lees
owned throughout the 60s.
Move the clock ahead to 2004.
Living in North Plainfield, NJ, at the time, Brian Beattie received
at call from a from a guy who knew he was the track photographer
at Englishtown back in the 60s and was wondering if he had any
pictures of his fathers dragster. Beattie told him no, but he
did have a photo of his fathers altered. So Brian made the picture
up and delivered it. While there, the two started bench racing
and the conversation eventually got around to front engine dragsters.
Beattie said he would love to own one, not to race, just to have,
even though he never raced and no desire to do so. Camera shutter
speeds were more to his liking, not making high speed runs down
the quarter mile. It was then the guy he delivered the photo
to informed him about Jim & Alison Lees Great Expectations
II in a garage just 20 minutes from Beatties home. Being
one of his favorites that ran at Englishtown, Brian decided to
check it out and asked for the car owners phone number.
A short time later, Brian made
a call to the owner and during their conversation, determined
that the car might be for sale. So Beattie made arrangements
to see it. While there, Brian took photos to identify the car.
It was then that the cars current owner made a decision. After
talking with Brian and seeing his strong interest in acquiring
the car, the owner decided that he would sell it only to him.
Contact was made with Jim Lee and based on the information and
photos provided, Jim confirmed it was indeed the original Great
Expectations II. Beattie again contacted the seller and a deal
was made. The car had gone though a total of four owners since
the Lees sold it in 1973 and it would soon be his. He couldn't
This is what the car looked like
when Beattie found it. Aside
from showing signs of age, the car itself was nearly complete.
Also, as part of the deal when
he bought it, Brian acquired several engine components and other
items needed for its restoration.
Aside from the 6 point cage and
kidney bars the chassis was stock Don Long.
The Hanna body showed
many signs of age but much of it would be saved.
The original Long brake handle
was still in place as was the throttle pedal and steering wheel
(worse for ware).
The Tony Nancy interior
also survived in good shape.
Chassis being prepared
for its trip to Dyda Race Eng. in Gardena, CA.
After he got
it home, the car was assembled with pieces Beattie acquired when
he bought it. This way there was no guessing as to what was still
needed for the restoration.
2005 was a busy year for Brian.
He started out by making a list of what he didnt have and
went about gathering parts by visiting swap meets, flea markets,
and looking on e-bay. In November he loaded up everything he
had and sent the car to Bruce Dydas shop in Gardena, CA.
for the actual restoration. At the time Dyda was deeply involved
in the reconstruction of Tommy Ivos four-engine Buick so
the Lee car had to take its place in line.
Although the car was at Dydas
shop for nearly four years, the actual restoration took only
two, beginning in 2007. The dragster was completely disassembled
and put back together from the ground up, making sure that nothing
was overlooked that could jeopardize its safety and performance
(even though it would be used just for cackling). If he can't
do a car right, Dyda won't do it at all.
This shot of the frame during
shows how bad it was tweeked. That's a string going down the
center and the frame is obviously bent to the right.
Ugly rollbar, kidney
bars and all the added brackets gone.
Dyda had to cut and heat the
chassis up in order to get it back to the original shape and
lenth before he locked it down on the frame table to replace
all the bad tubing .
Original roll cage was
reattached to the restored chassis.
As is often the case, the body
proved to be the most challenging part of the project. After
assessing the wear, tear and Bondo, he deemed the rear body bucket
bottom looked like a large bag of marbles and there were 4 very
large holes were a wheelie bar was. A lot of work but he saved
The front engine cowl had a lot of cracks by the opening, and
cracks and chunks missing around the steering sliders. Body was
very damaged in the middle and right side. "Looked like
someone hammered it out with a pickaxe." said Dyda. He wound
up replacing large sections.
New pieces consisted of bottom
front nose section, left and right lower mid section panels,
left and right lower engine panels, left and right tranny bay
side panels, belly pan and drivers cowl.
The nose section looked just
to have cracks but after Dyda started removing the Bondo he wound
up replacing the right side and tunnel sections which was a lot
With the chassis nearing completion
the other parts to make the car perfect were repaired and prepared.
Once it got rolling, the only
delay in the restoration was the engine, which Beattie had built
in Pennsylvania. It wasn't done correctly and had to be completely
redone by Dyda, which took about three additional months.
Ben at DJ saftey made
perfect copies of the dual pack chute bags.
With all the parts back from
the polisher and anodizer, the car was starting to look very
The last thing on the agenda
was paint by Estrus and lettering by Jones. This was done in
the summer of 2009.
The very first fire-up
found Dyda's daughter Melinda in the seat on Sunday before the
An interesting side note is the
fact that most of the old photos never revealed the lace pattern
on the Cerny paint job very well. But Bruce had one shot that
did and he searched for hours on the web - nothing. He checked
fabric shops at the mall, bridal boutiques - nothing. Time was
running out and he took the photo and went to the garment district
in downtown Los Angeles. He searched for 5 hours at every nook
and cranny hole in the wall fabric store trying to find it. Nothing,
until he found one last street that hadn't been down yet. Two
stores in he found this material. It was close considering there
was forty years between paint jobs. He bought 1 yard and delivered
it to Richard Stannard at Estrus to test if it would work. It
did and Dyda went down the next day to buy the rest of the material
for the paint.
Beattie and Dyda had a target
date to debut the car. It would be October 16, 2009 at the California
Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, CA. With the
car completed at Dyda's shop just 100 miles from the track, all
Brian and his son Rob had to do was jump on a plane and head
Friday night at the CHRR is one
of drag racings major social events of the year. Hosted at the
DoubleTree Hotel, the Honoree Awards Ceremony always draws the
who's-who of drag racing. It's a great time to see old friends
and meet new ones. It is also the official start of Cacklefest
featuring a handful of the best debut cars of the year in front
of the hotel. One of the cars chosen this year was Great Expectations
Brian and Rob Beattie stand proudly
with the latest Dyda masterpiece. This was the not the first
time they had been to the reunion at Bakersfield. They had made
the trek in 2003 and the journey had left a mark on both of them
and ultimately led to this.
With Rob in the car,
Bruce Dyda lit the engine and oversaw the fire-up.
Before and during the Honoree
Awards Ceremony the cars are on display but after the ceremony
they come to life.
Back at the track on Saturday
the Beattie car joined its counterparts in the pits anxiously
awaiting the Cacklefest that night.
With veteran top fuel pilot Art
Marshall at the controls, the car went out for the mandatory
new car pre-Cacklefest push start.
For Cacklefest proper, East coast
shoe Art Marshall was in the Jim & Alison Lee "Great
Expectations II" restoration done by Bruce Dyda and owned
by Brian Beattie. Here is Marshall in the pre-cackle introduction
PHOTO CREDITS: Brian
Beattie collection, Paul Hutchins, Dan Kaplan, Bob Brown, Stephen
Justice and Don Ewald.
Not only were the Beatties
on hand to witness the cars first cackle, but a contingent of
friends from the East Coast also joined them. Life doesnt
get much better than that. The only disappointment came when
the cars in-and-out box jumped out of gear during push-down
for the Cacklefest and the car failed to fire. But things like
this happen and with 2010 just around the corner, there will
be plenty of opportunities to share the car with fans who remember
the early years of drag racing (or with newbies who want to know
more about it). And, there's a chance it could be back for the
Brian Beattie is now retired
and a resident of Macungie, PA. Its a place where he and
his wife of 42 years, Lois, fit right in. Thats because
its also home to one of the countrys largest antique
and classic car shows each August. Speaking of family, Brian
and Lois have two children and four grand kids. Their daughter
Stacey and her family live in Branchburg, NJ, where she works
as an actuarial analyst. Son Rob and his family reside in Green
Brook, NJ, where he follows in his fathers footsteps as a paid
STORY BY: Bud De Bore and Don Ewald - Thanks to