Old attics, basements, garages, and closets can hold a host of wonders. If there are any musty old car magazines there, you might just find a photo and caption about a guy named Bruce Larson with one of his Funny Cars. While racing a variety of Chevys with their patriotic paint schemes and the "USA-1" moniker, Larson gave the Bow Tie boys a lot to cheer about wherever he match raced.
It all started with a 14-year-old boy with an old hot rod back on the streets of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. When the NHRA held an event in Linden, New Jersey, back in 1954, he was there with a car that would run a speed of about 90 mph. Young Larson was hooked. In '58, he stepped up to an Oldsmobile, and then a couple of years later he was behind the wheel of a gasser known as "Mr. Clean." Subsequent cars included a '62 lightweight Galaxie, and then an AA/SP Cobra that he ran in NHRA's sport car classes.
"I was working for a Chevrolet dealer then," Larson says. "I was tuning the Cobra on their dynamometer when Greg Sutliff, the dealership's owner, came to me and said, 'Don't you think you should be racing a Chevrolet?' "
That opened the door to a 20-year relationship with Sutliff Chevrolet as Larson's primary sponsor, beginning with a '66 Chevelle that was built by Charlie Lloyd of Custom Boat Builders in Pennsylvania. Constructed of box tube framing with bolt-on fiberglass panels, this car was typical of many of the other early Funny Cars of its day with its quickest times in the 8-second range with speeds around 180 mph in the quarter-mile.
"I ran the '66 for a year before we upgraded it to a '67 body style," Larson says about his first Funny Car, which rests today in Don Garlit's Museum of Drag Racing. "We won Bakersfield in 1967 with that car. By the end of 1967, I was getting upstaged by the Logghe chassis'd cars that Ford Motor Company had built for Nicholson, Schartman, Chrisman, and a couple of other guys. So I ordered a '68 Logghe car and went out there over the winter of 1967 to hang around and help out with construction of the car. I learned an awful lot about fabrication that I've used ever since then."
Logghe originally built this car with a 120-inch wheelbase and coilover shocks on all four corners. Racers found, however, that the cars became pretty skittish on the top end as speeds approached 200 mph. The Logghe brothers eventually decided that the problem was with the rear suspension, so modification kits were sent out for all the cars like this in the midst of the '68 season to convert them over to a solid rear suspension.
B&M Fiberglass in Ohio formed the '68 Camaro body, which still remains on the car to this day. Nearly a quarter of an inch thick, it's quite heavy by today's standards, but very strong. The car was painted right in the Sutliff's Chevrolet body shop by Jim Coy, while a local sign painter named Pat Thornton did the lettering. Variations on that original USA-1 graphics theme graced many of Larson's cars for years afterward.
This Camaro represented a big step forward for Larson, not only because it was a Logghe car, but also since it was Larson's first supercharged machine as well. It was also unique that, in a world dominated by Hemi- and SOHC Ford-powered cars, Larson was running with a factory 427 Chevy engine that he built himself with some help from Don Milletics. With a Hampton 6-71 blower, some healthy shots of nitro, and a Dana 60 rearend packing 4.11 gears, Larson ran as quick as a 7.33 and as fast as 201.78 mph with most of his passes in the 7.40-second range at 2,200 pounds. While the Hemi cars were running about a tenth and a half quicker by the end of the '60s, Larson was still successful in match racing despite running a more conservative tune-up in order to save parts.
"I made a mistake mixing the nitro and split the block in half in running that number," Larson says rather sheepishly, "but it was a legitimate number. At the time, it was about a tenth quicker than what anyone else had run. A lot of manufacturer's used that in their ads.