Drag Racing Warriors: Don Tognotti’s Bushwacker

Don Tognotti’s Bushwacker

The term “cookie cutter” used in the context of the automobile has come to mean multiple cars built in the same manner. It would be easy to say that today’s cars fi t this description. With the rules and regulations in place today, it is diffi cult to break free of the mold. Ingenuity used to be big and in the early days of drag racing, there was plenty of it. There was room for experimentation, which led to plenty of unique cars.

 


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The freshly painted AA/FD Bushwacker made an early appearance at the Smokers meet in Bakersfi eld. Lyle Kelly held the reins and pulled wrenches for Don Tognotti. Don Garlits looked at it and said, “You guys might have something here.” Not long after, he started to play with streamlining. Note the zoomie headers rather than the earlier weed burners. (Photo Courtesy James Handy/jameshandyphotography.com)

The freshly painted AA/FD Bushwacker made an early appearance at the Smokers meet in Bakersfi eld. Lyle Kelly held the reins and pulled wrenches for Don Tognotti. Don Garlits looked at it and said, “You guys might have something here.” Not long after, he started to play with streamlining. Note the zoomie headers rather than the earlier weed burners. (Photo Courtesy James Handy/jameshandyphotography.com)

 

Bushwacker debuted in 1964 at the Oakland Auto Show under the name Goldfinger. It featured a subdued copper paint and additional tinwork that was later reworked. It took a while to work the bugs out of the Ron Welty hemi; initial outings produced bottom-8-second times at 196-mph times. The engine featured fabricated headers, GMC 6-71 blower, Joe Hunt magneto, Engle 440-5 roller cam, Donovan rocker assembly, four-bolt main caps for added bottom-end strength, and O-ringed block to help with the seal. This photo was shot at the 1965 March Meet at Bakersfield. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

Bushwacker debuted in 1964 at the Oakland Auto Show under the name Goldfinger. It featured a subdued copper paint and additional tinwork that was later reworked. It took a while to work the bugs out of the Ron Welty hemi; initial outings produced bottom-8-second times at 196-mph times. The engine featured fabricated headers, GMC 6-71 blower, Joe Hunt magneto, Engle 440-5 roller cam, Donovan rocker assembly, four-bolt main caps for added bottom-end strength, and O-ringed block to help with the seal. This photo was shot at the 1965 March Meet at Bakersfield. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

 

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Don Tognotti knew how to build unique cars, whether it was showstoppers such as his Green Voodoo ’57 Thunderbird or his Avenger that debuted in 1960 and gained him national recognition when it appeared in the pages of Car Craft magazine. In 1964, Don debuted both his King T Ford and a front-engine dragster at the Oakland show and came home with the award for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and first place in the competition category. The latter award was really no surprise, though, because when Don chose to go drag racing  it was a means of promoting his growing Tognotti Speed Shop: The car was going to be a knockout.

 

An early Top Eliminator win at Sacramento Raceway Park saw Bushwacker clock an 8.13 at 196-mph time. This photo was shot during the Bakersfield March Meet in 1966. It’s an annual event that’s still going strong today. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

An early Top Eliminator win at Sacramento Raceway Park saw Bushwacker clock an 8.13 at 196-mph time. This photo was shot during the Bakersfield March Meet in 1966. It’s an annual event that’s still going strong today. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

 

The full-bodied dragster debuted under the Ian Flemming–inspired name Goldfinger and carried the competition number 007. In 1966, the car was repainted and christened Bushwacker. Based upon a Peter Ogden 156-inch–wheelbase chassis, Bushwacker was a visual knockout. The beautifully formed Arnie Roberts aluminum body popped with Don Honstein–applied candy pearl lemon and lime green lacquer. Adding appeal was candy gold lacquer, which was used for shadowing. Equally impressive was the gleaming 354-inch hemi that was built by Ron Welty with parts coming from Mickey Thompson, Engle, Hilborn, and Cragar. The power passed through a Weber clutch assembly directly to a solid-mounted Olds rear end that carried a Mickey Thompson magnesium center section. Bringing the car to a halt from 200 mph were rear disc brakes and a 16-foot Simpson cross-form chute. Rounding out the Bushwacker suspension was a tube front axle with Anglia spindles and a P&S steering box. The tires were Michelins up front and Goodyears out back. The rims were Kellison spokes with American magnesiums on the rear.

 

The restoration of Bushwacker was finished in 2007 . . . well, almost. The engine was a fiberglass dummy; everything else was real and connected. The dragster was built to plug Tognotti’s Speed Shop in Sacramento, California. Don opened the shop in 1964 and today his son operates it in the same location. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

The restoration of Bushwacker was finished in 2007 . . . well, almost. The engine was a fiberglass dummy; everything else was real and connected. The dragster was built to plug Tognotti’s Speed Shop in Sacramento, California. Don opened the shop in 1964 and today his son operates it in the same location. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

 

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Ron campaigned the car for a couple seasons before selling it to Mark Danekas (Danekas blowers), who ran the car himself briefl y before putting it on the market once again. Where the car went is unknown but in 2006, the neglected dragster showed up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Larry Crossan received word from Ron’s son Dean that the owner had contacted him, but he, Dean, couldn’t afford to buy the car himself. Larry, who had been searching for a unique early dragster for some time (with hopes of fi nding Bushwacker), called the owner,  and within 10 minutes, the car was his. He took delivery of the dragster at the National Hot Rod Reunion in 2006 and spent the next year restoring it.

Although the car was almost complete, the years hadn’t been kind. When Larry purchased the dragster, the front showed some damage and the tin forward of the engine had to be replaced. While Larry headed up the restoration himself, he relied on John Dearmore to build a fresh Hemi and Don Honstein to match the paint he had laid in the mid-1960s. Upon completion of the restoration, Larry and Bushwacker were invited to the 60th anniversary of the Oakland Car Show where, once again, the car proved to be an instant hit with the crowds.

 

Original American five-spoke mags mount Goodyear Blue Streaks. Disc brakes and a Simpson chute brought the car to a halt. Painter Don Honstein was called in to redo the paint, graphics, and pinstripes that he had originally applied back in 1965. The car had been sitting for some time when it was found and was pretty rough. Nestled in its engine bay was a Ford engine. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

Original American five-spoke mags mount Goodyear Blue Streaks. Disc brakes and a Simpson chute brought the car to a halt. Painter Don Honstein was called in to redo the paint, graphics, and pinstripes that he had originally applied back in 1965. The car had been sitting for some time when it was found and was pretty rough. Nestled in its engine bay was a Ford engine. (Photo Courtesy James Handy)

 

Written by Doug Boyce and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks

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