1968 Chevy Camaro - When Funny Cars Weren't That Funny

Super Chevy Takes A Look At Bruce Larson's Original Rat-Powered Camaro Funny Car.

Rod Short Sep 1, 2010 0 Comment(s)

"I had a couple of frightening experiences with this car," he says. "In 1969, I was racing against Dickie Harrell in the finals at the York Super Stock Nationals. We were getting close to running 200 mph then, and I lost the left front tire right in the traps. The tire went flying up through the fiberglass fender, but I was lucky enough to keep control of the car. We didn't know what caused it really, so we decided to go from the Pirelli to the Michelin tire because I thought it sounded like a better name. The next year we went to Indy with the car with the same chassis and blew another tire-the Michelin. Marvin Riffkin from M&H came up with a four-ply nylon tire that was a little heavy, but it was a lot stronger than the Renault one-ply radial we were running. I wrote a letter to NHRA telling them about the findings and my two experiences. They wrote back at the time saying they didn't want to get involved in it so they wouldn't offend the tire manufacturers. Shortly after that, Dickie Harrell was killed with the same happening and Larry Reyes was paralyzed with the same thing happening. They just wouldn't pay attention to the findings that we had."

Larson ran this car with success at many match races up and down the East Coast and won the Super Stock Nationals one year, which was one of the most prestigious independent events of the time. In 1970, Larson updated the look of the car with a newer Camaro body and continued to run this chassis until 1971. At that point, it was replaced by a new Logghe Stage III narrow chassis with a mini Camaro body on it. The old chassis was then sold with the '70 Camaro body on it while the '68 body remained in his shop.

"You think that you're done with that car and you just move on to something new," Larson says when asked about selling the Camaro. "Many years later, I began to realize the value of the older nostalgia cars, so around 1994-95 I found the car and bought it back. It was restored by 1996. That's pretty much what I did with all my cars. I'd sell them and then years later I'd want them back. I was fortunate enough to get the good cars back".

Larson continued to match race throughout the '70s before securing a sponsorship from Sentry gauges in '88. With Maynard Yingst as his crew chief, Larson won the NHRA Funny Car title in '89 with an Oldsmobile-bodied machine. Sentry pulled its deal in '90, yet Larson finished third in NHRA championship points that year despite running on half the budget that he had in '89.

After going through a number of efforts to secure a new sponsor, Larson hung up his helmet only to be called out of retirement by Garlits. Together, Larson and Garlits ran a limited schedule in Top Fuel before finally pulling the plug altogether in '95. With newfound time on his hands, Larson turned to finding and restoring some of the cars that served him so well earlier in his career. That's when this car reentered his life.

"I thought about nostalgia racing when I finished this car, but there really wasn't much of an opportunity to race with the guys that I used to run against," Larson says. "I wasn't interested in running against what I called kids who found old cars. So all I wanted to do was just display the car. I had opportunities with the promoters to make exhibition runs. We were allowed to make eighth-mile passes without welding a bunch of tubes in the car, which I didn't want to do, because I wanted to keep the car 100 percent authentic. I was able to do that for quite a few years, Now I'm back to just doing cackle fests with the car, which are very popular.

"The best memories were the fun with all the people and the times I spent with all the guys," Larson says. "It was much more down to earth and a lot more fun," he says. "I think it would be nice if it got back to that, but it never will."

Maybe not, but as long as those memories remain, those days won't seem so far away.

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