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Straight-Axle Gassers: The High and the Mighty

Straight-Axle Gassers: The High and the Mighty


The Gasser Wars evolved from NHRA’s ban on nitro-burning dragsters in 1957. The ban lasted generally until 1963-’64 (NHRA Nationals remained gas-only until 1964.) The races between cars that looked like they were driven off the street and raced became known as the “Gasser Wars” and were a fan favorite.

Gas coupes and sedans used stock wheelbases. Engines could only be set back 10 percent. To blend a short wheelbase and higher center of gravity to get better weight transfer, cars such as the 1940-‘41 Willys 1937-‘41 Studebaker Champion and Willys Model 70 became popular gassers. So did British Anglia and Thames, Fiat Topolinos, Tri-Five Chevys, early Corvettes and Novas.

Back in the day, non-supercharged gassers ran in A-K/Gas classes. Lower letters meant the car weighed more, had fewer engine mods and may have been driven to the strip. NHRA put “blown” cars with superchargers into classes AA/GS to CC/GS.

John Tinberg of Dwight, Ill., builds gassers and gasser kits for Nickey Chicago Tinberg stressed that a lot of fabrication is required. “We have to protect ourselves and our business, so when you buy our kit, you don’t get an old Econoline I-beam axle,” he said. “You get an all new tube axle and dual leaf springs and end up building your own new subframe.”

Re-engineering a gasser chassis cost money. Tinberg agreed that some customers initially view a gasser build as a cheap way to restore an old car. “It cost more than you think,” he warns. The kit costs around $3,895.

Dave Glass builds gassers at his D & M Corvette Specialists shop in Downers Grove, Ill. “I go to an old school rod show with gassers and see young people who are interested in cars,” he says. “That’s good because we need that next generation of car hobbyists.”

Dave’s own gassers include a ’40 Willys, a ’55 Chevy, a ’62 Corvette and a ’64 Plymouth Belvedere.” Glass said that, contrary to what some people think, Gassers can be driven on the street and will give a “pretty good ride.” He said that some crudely homebuilt cars with old I-beam axles will “side steer” when driven. “We build ours with the best setups and prefer starting with rust-free donor cars from California, even though the initial cost is higher.”

Mike Freund of Classics Plus Limited in Fond du Lac, Wis., is another gasser builder and buff. He and his dad and his son all work together and, weather permitting, they all drive big-block Tri-Five Chevy gassers to work. Freund recommends spending “less on paint and more on the engine” as a cardinal rule of building a gasser.

Freund does all fabrication himself and does not use kits. He pointed out that his ’55 Chevy gasser has a stock front end with coil springs and spacers. Freund makes the spacers and offers them in an everything-included bolt-in kit he sells for $125. “I think the gasser experience is awesome,” Freund said. I believe it’s growing and the coolest thing about it is that it’s bringing back memories of the big-bock V-8 era.”

Woody’s Hot Rodz sells everything needed to build a '55-'57 Chevy coupe or two-door hardtop gasser using an all-new steel body and a chassis kit for approximately $34,000. Many Tri-5 Chevy gassers seen in modern magazines have been built using this package. The Woody’s gasser chassis can also be used under original Tri-Five Chevy bodies, of course.