Imagine you're a young lady and you're being driven to high school. There's a giant SUV in the drop off line, a couple of minivans, and maybe a generic sedan or two. And here you are riding shotgun in a '63 Chevy II gasser. Orange. With colored injector stacks flying out of the hood. And fenderwell headers that amplify the exhaust roar more than they muffle it. Geez, you probably just set off every car alarm in the parking lot.
That's the situation John Denski's daughter Katie occasionally finds herself in. Yes, the car you see on these pages, the one with the injected Rat that has gone 9.65 at 140 mph with the wheels in the sky, also sees duty as a street machine, weekend cruiser, and (apparently) school bus. "I found the roller in Indiana. It was an easy build," explains the owner, alias "Johnny Rotten." "I just looked at old drag magazines and did what they did 50 years ago. Everything on the car was kept as close to period correct as possible."
John is a member of the Great Lakes Gassers, a loose-knit group of old-time rodders based in the Midwest. There are about 30 members total and they put on exhibitions at a number of regional dragstrips. When it comes to their cars, the goal is to make everything appear as it would have nearly 50 years ago. Sure, there are deviations, but in general old skool rules. "When I picked up the car, it was just a shell," John recalls. "The whole ride home all I could do was look at it in the mirror and think of all the things I was going to do to it."
For inspiration, he went by was the theory that it's all been done before in the '50s and '60s--and that's how it should stay. He's owned a vintage Funny Car in the past so the one caveat was a supercharger was out. So was carburetion. He wanted mechanical fuel injection for the car, which would be called "Rotten Orange." John built the original powerplant, a 433-inch Rat with help from friend George Price, but that wasn't nearly enough. Today there's a 533-inch Reher-Morrison bullet under (and through) the hood. Brodix Big Duke heads sit atop the big-block, which is stuffed with 14.5:1 Diamond pistons and a Scat crank. Opening and closing the valves is a Crane cam with 0.790 intake and 0.780 exhaust lift.
But it's the Crower injection system that gets everyone's attention--how could eight anodized orange trumpets sticking nearly a foot out of the hood not grab you by the collar? Horsepower is 900 at 7,200 rpm. Cooling it all is a 2-row Be Cool aluminum radiator. Speedway 2.25-inch fenderwell headers that are Jet Hot coated silver carry the fumes away. To keep the noise police somewhat at bay on the street there are inserts that fit into the collectors. Can't say they're within the legal limits, but so far no citations have been issued.
Putting the power to the 9-inch rear (with 4.56s and a spool) is a Liberty five-speed with a Ram single disc clutch inside a Lakewood bellhousing. Fifth gear in the Liberty is 1:1. John fabricated the entire front clip himself, but the front suspension is from Speedway Motors, including the straight axle, spring and spindles. The wheelbase was altered by moving the front wheels five inches forward. When it came to the alignment, he set the toe out at 3/16. Every told him he was crazy, but he says he's not had a single white knuckle incident yet and has never seen the need to change it.
Slowing John down from those 140 mph runs is a set of 12-inch Strange disc brakes. Rolling stock consists of 15x10-inch TorqThrusts with 29x10 Mickey Thompson slicks and 15x3.5-inch Americans with M/T skinnies. A pair of QA1 10-way adjustable rear shocks and Chassis Research sway bar help keep the rear planted and the car going straight on launches. The Chevy II's owner did all the bodywork himself, including radiusing the wheelwells out back and cutting the front fenders to accommodate the altered wheelbase. The Chevy Orange paint was applied by Z-Man and the graphics by Johnny Z.
While he could be taken to task for having an interior that's not exactly what a gasser would have back in the day (carpeting, full door panels and a pair of vintage Impala bucket seats), his defense it that he does drive it on the street. He's taken his wife, Laura, to the drive-in in it (and he is eternally grateful for all her support for the project) so we give him a pass on that. The one inconsistency that was pointed out to him when he took it to its first event was the glove box door. It was painted black, but an older gentleman noted it should have been chromed like they did it then. "I asked the guy, ‘Why did you chrome the glove box door?' and he said because back in '63 all the girls wore skirts," John laughed. Ah, yes, the good old days.