The year is 1996 and Brett Johansen, grandson of Howard was recently
married to Nick Arias's youngest daughter. They were at her parents
house one summer evening when Big Nick (Arias Jr) came home.
He walked in the door with a big smile on his face and said,
"Guess what, I think I may know where the Rattler is."
Wayne King had called and told him that he was pretty sure that
the Rattler was up in his neck of the woods (Washington State).
King explained that a friend of his knew a fairly well known
car collector had owned it for some time and had recently passed
away. The collector's widow was going to be putting everything
up for auction to the general public. The bad news was she was
going to be doing it in 3 days. King told Arias that he thought
they could buy the car (& trailer) before it went to auction
but they needed to act fast. His next statement to Johansen was
"what do you think little Jo, should we buy it?". Johansen
told him that he would love to have and restore it, but that
there was no way that he could afford to buy it in 3 days. Arias
said not to worry about it, that he would buy it and that Johansen
could pay him back later. Johansen looked at his then wife and
got a halfhearted approval. He told Nick that he would think
about it over night and would let him know the next day.
Arias did not even bother waiting
for Johansen's answer, he called Wayne King and told him to broker
the deal for the chassis and trailer without even seeing the
car. King was pretty confident that it was the car but there
was still some apprehension from Nick and Brett's side in SoCal.
The deal was made and Big Nick's close friend Ken Logan offered
to haul the car back home from Washington State.
The first person Johansen called was Danny Porche, who was the
original car owner. He could not believe what Brett was telling
him but was pretty confident that he could tell if it was the
original car or not. He said, "If I can look at it, I will
be able to tell." This is where it became eerie. Ken Logan
was going to tow it directly to the hallowed grounds of Bakersfield.
It happened to be the weekend of the 1996 CHRR. Porche, Arias
and Johansen met Logan as he parked the trailer near one of the
many telephone poles lining the west side of the pits. Before
they opened the back of the trailer, Johansen asked Porche, "How
are you going to know if it is the Rattler?" He said, "The
car began to sag a little bit and Johansen's father had Roy Fjastad
(SPE) butt a couple of extra saddle doublers on the top frame
rails and they were nothing like anyone else had."
With that being said they lowered
the back door to get their first glimpse of the car. It was a
small trailer in which only the car would fit so they had to
pull it out to get a good look. As they drug her out, Danny was
standing right there waiting to look at the motor mount locations.
After a close inspection, he looked up and said, "Well I'll
be a S.O.B, this is it, this is the Rattler". Needless to
say they were all pretty excited at this point but decided to
further inspect the body panels that came with it. That was the
clinching point for all of them. Even though the car had been
painted over, you could still see some of the original Kelly
lettering beneath the fire engine red overcoat that had been
applied. The body was pretty much intact and original. The only
damage was to the cowl. It had been cut out so a much larger
person could get in the car. They pushed her back in and locked
the trailer. Logan towed her the rest of the way to Arias's race
shop in Gardena. They ended up moving the car into Johansen's
garage in Lawndale for a couple of months because he was in no
way ready to start the restoration or even had an idea where
Move forward to the spring of '97. This is where the savior to
the entire project entered, Nick Arias III. Nick had moved in
with Johansen in April of '97. He had always wanted to be involved
in a restoration and offered to spearhead this one. Steve Gibbs
also had a bid influence on them. He had called and asked if
there was anyway to have the car completed in time for the grand
opening of the NHRA Motorsports Museum. His request is what really
lit a fire under Arias III and Johansen. As with most people,
both of them would do absolutely anything for Gibbs and they
both knew that they had to have the car done for the grand opening.
Failure was not an option.
The car ended up being a much
needed distraction for both of them. They were both dealing with
personal issues at the time and the resto was perfect timing.
The first thing that had to happen was making sure the chassis
was correct and straight. First stop was Dave Tuttle's shop because
he was a close friend of Nick's. Dave spent a lot of time and
did a wonderful job going over the chassis. He also remade the
cowl (the only piece that was a mandatory remake). They also
choose to remake the panels that mated to the cowl because it
was easier and cleaner. Tuttle is one of the better body fabricator
in the business. He saved the magnesium nose piece without adding
or replacing any material. Danny Porche also played a huge part
in providing some original parts for the car while running all
over town gathering up other parts that they did not have, like
an Olds rear end. Porche even had the original Scott injector
with lines and all.
While Tuttle was finishing up chassis and body tasks, Arias and
Johansen had the daunting task of finding a big piece of the
puzzle, the engine. Enter savior #2, Frank Hedge. Johansen's
uncle Bob had spoke with Hedge about the car and Frank offered
to supply a long block, no charge. Johansen had known who Hedge
was for many years, but had no real direct contact with him.
Bob set up a time for Nick and Brett to meet Frank at his house
in Studio City. Johansen remembers it like it was yesterday.
They walked into his garage on a Saturday morning thinking that
everything would be there ready to assemble, not a chance.
Hedge and his side kick at the time, Tom Shelar had a block on
the engine stand and a crankshaft buried somewhere amongst all
of the endless supply of "stuff." They spent most of
the morning putting the short block together with Howard Rods
and Arias pistons that Hedge had "lying around." Hedge
said now it is time for the heads. Johansen asked where they
were... bad question. Follow me Mr. Johansen and I will show
you. Brett figured they were somewhere close in the backyard
or put away in the shop. Fat chance. For those of you who do
not know Hedge, at the time of the Rattler restoration he was
the facilities manager at Harvard-Westlake High School. The house
he lived in was next to the school grounds via a small gate.
The next thing Johansen knew they were on a journey across the
school on a Saturday (school is closed and locked up tight) afternoon.
It is late enough for flash lights and Hedge took Nick, Tom and
Brett to this little fenced in yard. He unlocks it and they go
At this point its necessary to
paint of picture of this yard. It is probably 30 square feet
of rolling terrain hidden in the back of the school and completely
covered with tarps. Hedge says, "I know there are some cylinder
heads in her somewhere, I am just not sure exactly where."
He started rummaging around lifting up different portions of
tarp while Tom or Brett shines the flashlight wherever he is
looking. They had never seen so much "crap" in their
lives. To add another twist everything was oily and covered with
dirt to keep it from rusting. If any of you knew Brett's grandfather,
Howard and how he collected everything, this was pretty close
to that. They finally found a set of heads and rockers and proceeded
back to the house. A long way to be carrying iron heads and rockers
for anyone. They ended up spending another six hours dissembling,
cleaning and reassembling the heads and rockers. They did not
leave there until 2am, some 20 hours after they arrived. They
ended up coming back the next morning and spent all of that Sunday
finishing everything. They loading it all in Nick's truck and
heading back to Gardena.
After a fair amount of time spent getting the car back from Tuttle
(December 97), they decided to do a dry assembly to make sure
everything fit and looked correct. This is where they ran into
their first problem. The engine angle wasn't anywhere close to
being right and had to be fixed. Enter savior #3, Bruce Dyda
at Dyda Race Eng. He agreed to make all of the needed corrections
for a more than fair fixed price.
After picking up the car from Bruce Dyda's shop, it was reassembled
for its second dry fit. Everything was near perfect. The chassis
was sent off to Pisano's for powder coating and the body to Swede's
for paint. Johansen and Arias spent their spare time wisely by
fabricating the balance of parts need to complete the motor and
The chassis returned from powder
coating and final assembly began. The excitement level was beginning
to rise for all involved. Word started to spread that the car
was close to completion and foot traffic from outside visitors
was growing with each passing day. The next week was spent assembling
the car and putting all of the last minute details in place (the
height of the oil pressure gauge was changed 3 times). Once everything
was in place the car was loaded in the trailer and taken back
to Frank Hedge's house.
Once their, final preparations
were made before the car would see it's first life in almost
30 years. if you remember earlier in this story it was stated
that Hedge lived in Studio City. For those of you who are not
familiar with the LA, it is a very nice area comprised mostly
of movie industry families. No place for a drag racer. Frank
proclaimed that it was time to bring life back to the Rattler.
He was asked, "Where are we going to start it". He
stated "Right here on the street." He had Tom Shelar
bring out blocks of wood and place them under the rear door of
the trailer leaving the door on the same plane as the rest of
the trailer. The car was rolled out onto the trailer door so
the header exhaust was clear of the trailer roof line.
Bob Downey jumped in the car,
a starter was placed on the blower, injector primed, motor spun
over, mag switch flipped and jumped to life like it was yesterday.
She ran for a minute or two , shut off and quickly put back in
the trailer. It was all caught on tape - links below.
What Frank had forgotten to tell
everyone is that he and his next door neighbor had had a running
feud over noise stemming from Frank's personal race car. Needless
to say the cops were there within 5 minutes asking questions
about a race car being started on the street. Turned out the
men in blue were drag racing fans and they were asked to kindly
make sure that the car was not started again. Everyone obliged
and called it a day.
The car was returned to Gardena
where the freshly painted and lettered body was installed. The
journey was almost over. One last trip to make. On the way to
her new home at the NHRA Museum the car needed some additional
lettering added by Kelly & Son. Nothing like waiting to the
last moment. After about an hour in the paint shop, she finally
arrived at the NHRA Museum. Steve Gibbs had not seen any of the
progress and was not sure what he was going to see. Once the
Rattler was unloaded and exposed to sunshine, she took every
ones breath away and needless to say Gibbs was very pleased.
The car was rolled into the Museum and readied for the grand
opening with 4 hours to spare.