Tom Hanna

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History

 

This page covers one of the most revered of Cacklecars to date yet it has no pedigree... none whatsoever. It wasn't restored - it wasn't recreated. However, the principle behind it is "Best of Show". Master craftsman Tom Hanna has never done anything half-way. Although Hanna drove fuel dragsters in the early 60s but he is best known, famous if you will, as one of the premier race car body builders in drag racing history. His nickname, "The Tinman" was established over four decades ago because in the 60's and 70's his hand formed aluminum and magnesium dragster bodies graced some of the most famous cars the sport has ever known.

Then, Hanna out did himself.... and for a change, for himself. In 2001 - 2002 what he did was to build his "dream" car - a fuel dragster that encompassed every design idea he had and not those of a customer. It has been said that to build a car like this just takes time and money. When you have an unlimited budget, ample time and the talent of "The Tinman" the results can be stunning - and they are.

 

Tom Hanna's drag racing roots go back to his first race car in 1959, the Meyer & Hanna Kansas based dragster. Jim Meyer, owner (left). Tom Hanna, driver (second from left)
Tom Elliott Photo

 

Although Hanna discounts his driving skills there are those who would differ.

 

 

In spite of his driving skills or lack of, Tom Hanna found his true talent and love in hand forming aluminum and magnesium race car bodies. Well into the 70s Hanna was "the go to guy" for dragster bodies. From the most simple to the ultra exotic, there was no concept design Hanna couldn't craft. Case in point, the Creitz & Greer dragster (above) from 1968. In the mid 70s Tom Hanna left drag racing to established an extremely successful animal accessory business.

 

Orangeline

 

Fast forward to 2000 when the "Cacklefest" (part of the California Hot Rod Reunion) was born and race car restoration/reconstruction took off. Tom, like many others, was bitten anew by the drag racing bug and decided he wanted to come out and play again. Unable to acquire the car he wanted (Surfers II), Tom decided to build the car of his dreams from scratch. Having the ways and means to do all the chassis, body, and machine work in-house (at his shop in Wichita), Tom drew the plans and started construction at the end of 2001. After a slow start the project caught fire in the late Spring of 2002 as Hanna had set his sights on the 11th California Hot Rod Reunion in October. For several months "the most expensive dragster ever built" took taken shape and consumed countless hours of Tom's time.

 

 

Once the chassis was completed, the first thing lined up was the rear end housing.

 

Hanna fits the seat templates

 

Once Hanna decided where the rearend would sit in the chassis, he made these super strong mounting plates to secure it. Those who have actually seen them think they are so safe that they should be mandatory on the "Big Show" cars of today.

 

One of a kind, custom front plate that also serves as motor mounts.

 

Once the rear end was lined up and mounted, the engine (Donovan 417) was placed. This doesn't show it, but a lot of machining was done on the block to make it sit correctly in the car. Needless to say, it was not done with a die grinder. Every cut made on every part was done to precision

 

 

 

Shots of the body in progress speak for themselves. Absolutely magnificent As each body part was completed, it was polished to a brilliant finish.

 

 

 

 

A "close to the end" addition was this unique push bar that comes out of the body above the parachute. The fire bottle hangs in the front half of it. The dual chutes have individual compartments but will be activated the old fashioned way - ring hoops over the drivers shoulders.

 

Without reservation that this is the safest and nicest motor plate ever designed and built. Machined from billet stock, its not only bulletproof strong but also adds a new measure of safety with the bell housing inset. Since clutch explosions go up - the inset will (would) help contain the parts much better than any current design. As for the bell housing itself - polished titanium.

 

The Bob Creitz built Donovan sits snug in the frame. Check out the elliptical tubing used on the up rites and cross members. Unfortunately these photos don't show the incredible machine work on the block and heads. As for polishing both - Hanna said, "I may have painted myself into a corner on that one." He was referring to the upkeep on polished aluminum.

 

Hanna's "cackle for days" fuel tank is 16 gallons - bigger than most passenger cars.

 

The word "trick" is drag-racing-sixtyish, but what else works for this incredible engineering marvel? The pedals. Left - clutch. Right - go. Center - foot brake. No ordinary foot brake though. The car has a standard hand brake for normal use but this is a "get out of jail free" brake. It not only stops the car but pulls one of the chutes. Very cool deal if you're in a situation where you really don't want to take one hand off the wheel!

 

As is his style, Hanna brought the legendary Tom Kelly to Kansas to do the lettering. Kelly, the gold leaf master, plied his best work to put a huge exclamation point on the metalflake blue paint. While Kelly was doing his magic the Donovan 417 hemi engine was being prepared by Bob Creitz. For all intent and purpose the car was done.

 

Orangeline

 

Every year there's a Cacklefest "Queen Of The Hop" (cars are referred to in the female gender). In 2000 it was Dave West's "Beebe & Mulligan" recreation. In 2001 it was Don Trasin's "Jade Grenade" restoration. In 2002 the crown went to "Hanna's Car". Like the Cacklefest itself, there are not enough superlatives in the English language (or any other language) to adequately describe this piece of art that's called "1968 Meets 2002"... or simply, "Hanna's Car".

Pictures are worth a thousand words so there is little commentary here. Just enjoy this "work of art". Pay close attention to the detail. Unfortunately this is one of those things you have to actually see to fully appreciate and photos don't do it justice. However, they're the next best thing to being there.

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away".
George Carlin

 

Cheesecake shots from the CHRR debut in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front wheel hubs on Hanna's car have a story behind them. Tom Jobe built these hubs for the Surfers II RCS car around '66 or '67. Turned them on his father's gunsmithing lathe. He went on to create a complete wheel and tire package that most thought (then as well as now) were/are the most beautiful dragster wheels ever made. When Hanna went back to the Tatum auction in 2000 intending to buy the ex-Surfers II car, (which turned out to be a bit of a sham as the car really wasn't for sale) the original Surfers II wheels which Tatum had run the tires off of, were in a box among some junk. Hanna bought the box and kept the hubs.

Then Hanna had the original hubs re-chromed and sent them off to Buchanan's Wheel Service in LA to have the rims replaced and the wheels re-laced. Buchanan's chose to replace the original chromed steel Triumph spokes with their own new stainless spokes which accounts for the slight yellow color you can see in the spokes if the light is just right. The new rims are 2.00 X 18, the same exact English WM2 40 spoke chromed rims that were on the original Surfers II wheels in 1966, But no tires, as the 2.00 x 18 size was long out of production and nothing else looked right. Jobe again came to the rescue and with some of his worldwide contacts secured for Hanna brand spanking new tires. Not old stock, but brand new tires. According to Hanna, those wheels really do make the car. Others would say they are just a piece of the perfect puzzle.

Side Note: After Tom Hanna bought the Surfers II wheels at the auction he had his talented crew copy the hubs and then sent Tom Jobe a finished/chromed set of them as "paper weights" (as Hanna described it)... we are talking very expensive paper weights here.

 


 

Tom Hanna in the Pre-Cacklefest Parade

 

Cacklefest III push start.

 

 

Cochran parked on the track at Cacklefest III.

 

The cars next appearance was at the Inaugural NHRR in Bowling Green, KY. Because of the compact size of the cockpit few drivers could fit in the car. Hanna chose veteran shoe Gary Cochran to fill the seat on the cars NHRR appearance.

 

For Bowling Green the Enderle injectors were replaced by the rare Donovan "flower pot" injectors and tuning them proved to be a task even for Bob Creitz.

 

Hanna's Engine is a Donovan 417 bored and stroked to 492" with a Henry Velasco crank, Brooks Rods, J&E pistons, .270" down, Canode 4.5" billet heads, Del West intakes, Stainless exhaust, Crane cam and rollers, Smith Bros. 7/16" pushrods, billet rockers, Mooneyham "Super-8" high helix 8-71 blower, RCD cam and blower drives, Waterman "Little Bertha" pump, Donovan "Flower pot" injector, Cerillo "Frankenstein" mag.

Intake manifold, valve covers, oil pan and other details are one-off CNC items from Hanna's shop.

 

 

As he did in Bowling Green, Gary Cochran got the pleasure of sitting in the seat of Tom Hanna's one-of-a-kind masterpiece at CHRR IV.

 

 

 

 

At Cacklefest V Hanna took over the seat of his own car.

 

 

Bob Creitz watches over Hanna as his car pounds the ground.

 

CHRR 2005

 

Tom Hanna in the 2005 Pre-Cacklefest Parade.
Bob Brown Photo

 

Tom Hanna with some nice flames from his "Donovan Flower Pot" injection atop a Donovan engine.

 

For the long version visit:

 

The most commonly asked question of Tom Hanna about his masterpiece is, "Why?" Who better to answer that question than Tom himself. Here is "Why" in his own words:

Someone once said that, if you can't explain it in a paragraph, it's probably a bad idea.

Someone else said; There are two reasons for everything we do: The real reason and the one that sounds good.

Before I started this thing, The only certainty was, that I knew I wanted to do a Cacklefest car. Bill Pitts has infected us with a heavenly disease. I had in hand the Baney Prudhomme "Shelby Super Snake" Don Long car in an excellent state of health. At the time I assumed (correctly) that good parts for a Ford Cammer would be a tough find, and the original "barber pole" paint scheme left me cold. Torn between turning it into something it never was and a restoration I couldn't put my heart in, being the champion procrastinator that I am, I did nothing.

Art Chrisman knew I had the Baney car. We had discussed it a couple of times, but I didn't know he would find a place for it, or the slightest interest in it. One Day I got a call from a Ford door car collector with an offer 4 times what I paid... naturally I sold it. Two days later, Art called with a home for it. Yikes! Such is life and its timing. Sadly, the car got a rather childish static restoration (which was what the buyer wanted for his museum) and so ends that chapter.

I had never previously owned a car I was burning to recreate, and recreating one of which the original might surface, brings pause.

A chance phone call provided my direction. The caller (of a more recent generation) suggested the cars of my era were "crude" compared to today's, although unquestionably more artistic. That indictment ignores a couple of important realities: The relative budgets of the periods and a mountain of technical aeromotive progress over the last 40 years.

Less complex, they indeed were. But, "crude"? Certainly not the ones built by the professionals I admired. I wondered what if; I built, without prototype, an instantly identifiable 1968 Top Fuel Dragster using a few of the benefits readily available to today's builder? Given a level field, perhaps those old geezers weren't so crude after all.

I had few considerations going in. I wanted a 392/417. They just look cleaner and rhyme with the Mole's (Ed Donovan) poetry. The full body was a given, and I wanted general proportions and details that were an unapologetic rip-off of Kent Fuller's work. He is after all, the Leonardo of dragsterdom.

I wanted also to include where I could, a little influence representing some of the other folks I admire. A complete list is impossible, but there is in the chassis, a little Woody, a lot of Don Long, and a touch of Roy Fjestad. The front hubs are the originals built in 1965 by Tom Jobe for the Surfers ll car. Bob Knight wasn't available to do one of his magnificent steering wheels, so I took a shot at a quasi copy of the one he made for Mulligan.

We started sometime in 2000 and we were at best hit and miss on the project. We would go for months and not touch the thing. By mid 2001 we dug in in earnest and finished (sort of) in time for the '01 California Hot Rod Reunion.

Much is owed to the following who were most generous in seeing this thing to completion:

My talented and faithful associates: Chuck Luney, Corey Conyers, Tim Carver, Charley Timmons.

My humor, wisdom and common sense guru: Bob Creitz. A truer friend there isn't.

At Donovan Engineering: Ed, Kathy, Fred and Woody. At Enderle: Jim and Kent. Mark Williams Enterprises, Tom Kelly and Son graphics, Dawson Bros. Plating, Gene Mooneyham, Dale Emery, Tom Cirello, Saum Engineering, Steve Carbone, Sherm's plating, H&L metals, Steve Leach and his extraordinary team at RCD Engineering.

And for their immeasurable influence and unreachable example; Don Long, Kent Fuller, John Buttera, Tom Jobe, Roberto Skinner, Tim Beebe, Frank and Scott Parks, Phil Remington, Bruce Crower, Pat Foster, Paul Sutherland, Pete Ogden, Dick Crawford, Steve Davis and Art Chrisman.

An off shoot of this effort is that I find myself happily back in the hot rod building business. A conventional retirement is beyond my tolerance. Building stuff for people who appreciate functional art is as good as a second childhood. I look foreword to Mondays!

 

Orangeline

 

If you plan on attending a California Hot Rod Reunion be sure to drop by Tom Hanna's pit and see this beauty up close and personal.

 

 

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