Grumpy’s Toy XI 1974 Vega
Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins was a true drag racing legend whose reputation for winning long preceded Grumpy’s Toy XI. He fi rst gained fame in the early 1960s building winning Mopars, Junior Stockers, and the Old Reliable Chevys for Dave Strickler. Between 1961 and 1963, the Old Reliables, I through IV, dominated categories from Stock through Factory Experimental.
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In 1965, Bill climbed behind the wheel of a Super Stock Plymouth and took Top Stock at the NHRA Winternationals. The following season saw the debut of the fi rst of 17 Grumpy’s Toys Chevys. Bill took on the big-blocks and Hemis with a 327-ci Chevy II and would have owned A/S with its low-11-second times if it weren’t for the one street Hemi of Jere Stahl. Bill took on the Super Stock ranks through the late 1960s with a number of Camaros before graduating to Pro Stock in 1970. He won the inaugural Pro Stock race, downing the still-fresh Sox & Martin Hemi ’Cuda with his three-year-old Camaro.
Bill’s status as the man who couldn’t be beaten grew with an NHRA Pro Stock World Championship win in 1972. That season, his revolutionary, 331-ci-powered Vega won six of seven NHRA National events entered.
How popular was the one they called Grumpy? In 1973, TIME magazine carried an article enlightening the outside world on the nation’s highest-paid sports fi gure. TIME gave a brief history on the man they referred to as “Grumpy the Drag King” and took the time to break down his earnings based upon his trips down the race track. They calculated that Bill was pulling in $5,650 per minute.
Grumpy’s Toy XI, a 1974 Vega, was by far the most innovative Pro Stocker to date. What made this car unique among Pro Stockers of the day was its full-tube chassis, the McPherson strut, rack-and-pinion front suspension, and dry sump oiling system. These innovations remain staples in the Pro Stock category to this day.
Unlike the Grump’s previous two Vegas, Grumpy’s Toy XI was a true full-tube-chassis car. Bent by SRD Race Cars to Bill’s own specifi cations, the new chassis extended through the fabricated fi rewall, eliminating the last of the stock Vega underpinnings. The folks at Jenkins Competition designed the front suspension in conjunction with Dick Whitman at SRD and Roger Lamb of Lamb Components.
Skipping through a magazine one evening, Bill’s employee Ed Quay spotted an advertisement for a car that incorporated the suspension design and thought it was exactly what they needed to free up room in the new car. “We always had problems in the previous Vegas with the A-arm front suspension, trying to gain enough room for the headers to exit the head without a quick turn.”
Roger Lamb said, “Bill invited me to come east as they had an idea for a strut suspension. The idea was to get the car down out of the air and open up the engine compartment.” Roger laid up the plans on paper and, once given the dimensions (top mount, center line, etc.), went to work. The fabricated uprights were bolted to a set of Lamb-designed struts, which were loosely based upon Datsun 240Z units but at approximately one-third of the weight.
The strut dictated the general layout; for geometry purposes, the spindle was at the strut centerline and the upper strut mount was high. The struts bolted to the upper chassis tube that doubled as the engine plate mount. The struts were so high that the hood required notching for clearance. Finishing the suspension was your basic Pinto rack, fabricated tubular lower control arms, and 1/8-inch steel cables incorporated to limit suspension travel. The new chassis and strut suspension cut approximately 150 pounds off the new car over the previous Vega.
To compensate for driver weight the 680-hp 331 Lenco transmission and rear end were offset 1 inch to the passenger’s side of the car. The Lenco transmission carried a 2.95 first gear, while shortly into the season the initial 12-bolt rear end gave way to a Dana unit that measured 40 inches across and usually housed 6.17 gears. Supporting the rear was Bill’s own design three-link rear suspension with its 48 possible positioning points.
The body in white was shipped to Aerochem and given a dip in their acid bath to remove excessive weight. Expandable foam was then used in strategic locations to give added support to the lightened body. Fiberglass bumpers, hood, and rear hatch were hung before Jack Trost laid on the Ermine White paint. Jim the Painter was given the chore of laying on the lettering.
Bill debuted the Vega in March 1974 at ATCO Raceway during a match race against the Cleveland-equipped Pinto of Gapp & Roush. He defeated Wayne Gapp three straight times, turning a best of 8.86 at 152 mph. With Chrysler’s ongoing boycott of NHRA Pro Stock due to what they felt were unfair weight breaks of 7 lbs/ci, the category became very much a Chevy versus Ford versus AMC battle. The superior Cleveland-headed Fords, which were the odds-on favorite at any given event, ran the same 6.65 lbs/ci as the small-block Chevrolet.
For the third year running, Bill and his super crew won the NHRA Summernationals. With Larry Lombardo behind the wheel, the Vega defeated Scott Shafiroff, Bob Glidden, and Dave Kanners in his AMC Hornet X before meeting the Gapp & Roush’s new four-door Maverick in the final round. In what must have been one of the most satisfying races of his career, Larry strapped a hole-shot lead on Wayne, which he just couldn’t make up. The Vega tripped the lights with a 9.11 at 150 to Wayne’s quicker but losing 9.02 at 151.77.
Top Fuel racer Don Garlits organized the Third Annual National Challenge drag race in 1974 and Bill, having won the previous two, attended with hopes of making it a three-peat. The Professional Racers Organization held that year’s race at the New York Speedway the weekend before the NHRA Nationals. Although the $15,000 win money, which now included contingencies, was down from the previous year’s payout, it was still close to double what the NHRA was paying for a professional category win at the Nationals.
In a blow-by-blow dissection of the event, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated reported that the race went down as one of the worst in history due to its poor organization, an inadequate fi eld of cars, poor weather, and a lack of attendance. The Pro Stock fi eld, which generally ran 32 cars, had to make do with the 23 that showed up for the event. All Pro Stockers ran at the same 6.75 lbs/ci and even though one would think that this would favor Chrysler’s Hemi cars, things played out differently. Bill qualifi ed his Vega .10 second quicker than the fastest Hemi.
On Bill’s march to another final-round appearance, he put away the Ronnie Sox, Don Carlton, and Gapp & Roush. In the fi nal go, he showed the Hemis once and for all that his small-block Vega could meet them head-on by defeating Mike Fons’ Motown Missile ’Cuda. In winning the event, Bill banged-off times of 8.81, 8.81, 8.79, 8.78, and 8.80 at speeds in excess of 155 mph.
Looking to overcome the advantage of the Cleveland-powered Fords, Bill built himself a new Pro Stocker in mid-1975 based upon the aerodynamically superior Chevy Monza. The last race for the well-worn Vega was the 1975 NHRA Summernationals where team driver Larry Lombardo fell to Wayne Gapp in the fi nal round. Bill sold the Vega to Harold McCready immediately after the race. Harold removed the Grumpy’s Toy stickers and ran the car for the next few seasons, “horsing around” with a 302.
Glen Sharp then bought the Vega, performed a restoration, and sold the Grumpy’s Toy in 2007 for a cool $525,000. The Vega was torn down once again and gone through thoroughly by Scott Hoerr for current owner Don Wallace.
Written by Pat Ganahl and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks