Ah, Spring; when a man's fancy turns to thoughts of... rocket-powered muscle cars.
It was that primordial biological urge that drove me to Indianapolis last weekend for the Mecum Muscle Cars & More Auction. Over 800 drool-inducing classics went up on the auction block, but only one really mattered -- the immortal Zach Reynolds "Tobacco King" 1964 Galaxie 500. You might say this is the ultimate hybrid car: up front, 427 cubic inches of Latham-supercharged Side Oiler. In back, 900 screaming horses of Thermolene-fueled Turbonique Rocket drag axle power. In the pantheon of automotive crazy this car is Zeus, Thor, Leviathan, and Shiva, a hydra-headed Destroyer of Worlds clad in Detroit sheet metal.
As some of you know, I set out with the confused intention of bringing it home with me. Alas, it was not to be. But the good news: I got to drive it across the auction stage. Come along with me for a little ride.
Those of you watching the proceedings on the High Definition Theater cable TV network this weekend might have caught a quick glimpse of Yours Truly struggling to keep the Tobacco King's drum brakes engaged against the irresistible force of the 427. Current Tobacco King owner Eddie Krusch unwisely invited me to pilot the car across the red carpet, and, without a doubt, it was the most awe-inspiring 5 mph ride I've ever had. As they say in North Carolina, day-um.
Here's how this bizarre turn of events went down. Friday I bombed downed to Indy with a quick stop for provisions at Krazy Kaplan's Fireworks in Gary. Oy vey, such kabooms!
Then a quick stop at the Brownsburg, IN shop of my ol' buddy and upholstery guru Dave Martinez.
Dave's shop is in an area lousy with race teams. A couple of the neighbors - John Force and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme.
After dinner at Steak N Shake, headed over to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to check out the auction action. Some amazing iron (like the ZL1 Camaro below that fetched $800,000) and equally amazing neon.
But nothing like the Tobacco King. Owner Eddie Krusch and I have been trading emails and phone calls for a while, so I thought I'd be prepared before I saw the car. My 30 minutes of uncontrolled mouthular frothing said different. Complete and unrestored, the car has only 3166 miles on the clock.
After catching 80 winks at Days Inn I headed back to the fair pavillion Saturday for the big auction doings. More great cars, more great neon.
As the designated hour, Eddie and his mechanic Ken cranked the Tobacco King's 427 to life, eased it out of its display area and back through to the auction staging lanes. Even among the jaded crowd of muscle car pros, jaws were dropping like anvils.
As the line of cars moved forward into the building, Eddie says: "can you do me a favor? I'm sort of conflicted about selling it, and don't want to be in the car during the bidding."
Hokay, says I, trying to control my bladder. I slide in the seat carefully, turn the key, and the side oiler blap blaps to life. I stomp my right boot down on the brake, careful not to hit the rocket button with my knee (the fuel tank is empty but I ain't taking chances) and pull it down into drive.
30 yards later I'm on the red carpet and the bidding starts: $200,000. $300,000. $325,000. $350,000. $360,000. $375,000. Gavel bangs. Roll 'er off.
Driving it away, I struggled mightily with the urge to peel out of the building and head down 38th Street. While I was conconcting my getaway plan, Eddie sticks his head in the car. "Hey man, look who's here!"
I glance sideways, and it's "H.W."
H.W. is a former Turbonique engineer and machinist, a current mad-genius-farmer, and a key source for much of my research on the Turbonique story. This is the first time I've met him face-to-face; Eddie and he have just met for the first time despite living in the same area of North Carolina. Cooler still, HW was one of the small team that built the Tobacco King in Florida back in 1966, and this is the first time he has seen the car in over 40 years. He's brought along some spare impeller parts for the rocket motor. And, maybe coolest of all, he's driven all the way here in his crazy, crude-oil powered, air-cooled diesel 1970 Ford F-250 pickup. After parking the Tobacco King back in its display space, I go out to the parking lot for a gander.
Forget bio-diesel and recycled fryer fat, HW's pickemup actually runs on from-the-well crude oil (tho it's happy to burn sunflower or other vegetable oil as well). Power is from an experimental air-cooled diesel that he obtained from GM in the early 70s, with modified injectors of his own design. It is to economy what the Tobacco King is to power; HW criss crosses the country in the truck, and whenever he needs fuel simply stops at an oil well, and, with the permission of the well owner, adds a few gallons of crude to the big 330 gallon tank in the bed. It's an astonishingly cheap way to go; HW once made a NC-to-California round trip spending $3.50(!) Yesterday he returned to North Carolina with the same $1.66 in his pocket he left with Saturday. After 500,000 miles on the engine, no major mechanical problems.
After the truck tour, HW and I got back together with Eddie for final goodbyes. Long (happy) story short, the Tobacco King is going back home to North Carolina, and Eddie still owns it. With luck I'll be going there before long to see it again. The legend of Turbonique continues!
Cross-posted at Iowahawk