Great Expectations AA/FD

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History

 

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 there’s a good woman.” Or in this case, you just might say that, “Behind every good woman there’s 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 books.

 

Jim and Alison Lee tuned the car as a team, and they were as good a team as there was in the sport…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.

 

 

 

WCS win at York in 1970.

 

 

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.

 

Orangeline

 

Restoration

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 Lee’s Great Expectations II in a garage just 20 minutes from Beattie’s 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 wait!

 

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 original Long brake handle was still in place as was the throttle pedal and steering wheel (worse for ware).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hanna body showed many signs of age but much of it would be saved.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tony Nancy interior also survived in good shape.

 

Chassis being prepared for its trip to Dyda Race Eng. in Gardena, CA.

 

Orangeline

 

2005 was a busy year for Brian. He started out by making a list of what he didn’t 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 Dyda’s shop in Gardena, CA. for the actual restoration. At the time Dyda was deeply involved in the reconstruction of Tommy Ivo’s four-engine Buick so the Lee car had to take its place in line.

Although the car was at Dyda’s 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.

 

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 .

 

 

Ugly rollbar, kidney bars and all the added brackets gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 that piece.

 

 


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 of work.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With all the parts back from the polisher and anodizer, the car was starting to look very familiar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben at DJ saftey made perfect copies of the dual pack chute bags.

 

Orangeline

 

The last thing on the agenda was paint by Estrus and lettering by Jones. This was done in the summer of 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The very first fire-up found Dyda's daughter Melinda in the seat on Sunday before the CHRR.

 

Orangeline

 

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 West.

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 II.

 

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.

 

Before and during the Honoree Awards Ceremony the cars are on display but after the ceremony they come to life.

 

With Rob in the car, Bruce Dyda lit the engine and oversaw the fire-up.

 

 

Orangeline

 

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 parade.

 

 

 

Not only were the Beattie’s on hand to witness the cars first cackle, but a contingent of friends from the East Coast also joined them. Life doesn’t get much better than that. The only disappointment came when the car’s 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 2010 CHRR.

Brian Beattie is now retired and a resident of Macungie, PA. It’s a place where he and his wife of 42 years, Lois, fit right in. That’s because it’s also home to one of the country’s 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 firefighter.

PHOTO CREDITS: Brian Beattie collection, Paul Hutchins, Dan Kaplan, Bob Brown, Stephen Justice and Don Ewald.
STORY BY: Bud De Bore and Don Ewald - Thanks to DragList.com DragList.com

 

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