Photo - Dave Burnham
Photo – Dave Burnham

Dave Burnham, Connecticut Cruise News, April/May, 2012

I’d like to start by paying tribute to drag-racing legend Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins who recently died at the age of 81.

Jenkins earned legendary status by helping revolutionize drag racing’s Pro Stock class through innovations in engine, suspension and other parts. He also was a successful driver, taking 13 NHRA national-event victories and numerous other races.

In 2011, Jenkins was voted No. 8 among NHRA’s greatest racers. He is also a member of the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Called “Grumpy” for his no-nonsense attitude, Jenkins earned a mechanical-engineering degree from Cornell University and used that knowledge and skill to transform the Pro Stock class. His engines won five NHRA Pro Stock championships in a row.

Jenkins, nicknamed “The Father of Pro Stock,” always took greater pride in his mechanical achievements than in his driving. Drag racing’s first dry-sump oil system, the first kick-out oil pans, Pro Stock strut-style front suspension, gas-port pistons, slick-shift manual transmissions, cool cans, and the electric water-pump fan are among his innovations.

Jenkins began competing at tracks in the late 1950s. Concentrating primarily on Junior Stock entries, he became an East Coast cult figure by the mid-1960s after helping prepare more than 30 national-record setting cars.

Jenkins gained national prominence in 1966 with his 327ci, 350hp Chevy II that outran most of the 426ci, 425hp Dodge and Plymouth Street Hemis. He exploited the “giant killer” approach in 1972 when he won six of eight national events with his 331ci small-block Pro Stock Vega.

In 1970, he was the first Pro Stock driver to break the 10-second barrier. Today’s Pro Stock cars regularly run 1,000ft times of 6.5 seconds, none of which would be possible without his work.

After researching Grumpy’s legacy, I began thinking about how drag racing has changed over the years, how the pioneering days of the sixties have left their mark on today and how certain racecars from the sixties are again tearing up the strip.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Ford Anglias. It doesn’t matter if it’s street or race, if it’s an Anglia, it stirs something inside me.

The pint-sized pocket rocket from across the pond was a crowd pleaser at the height of the Gasser Wars in the 1960s. In 1961, NHRA’s rules set the minimum wheelbase for a gasser at 94-inches. The rules also stated that the body must be from an American manufacturer. Both of these rules blew any chance of a foreign car entering the gas classes.

However, in 1963, NHRA allowed foreign cars to compete in the gas classes even though they were under the 94-inch wheelbase minimum. The kicker was, they could only run a small block engine and no blowers were allowed. This opened the door for the 90-inch wheelbase Anglia and Thames panel van to join the gasser ranks.

NHRA stood fast on the minimum wheelbase restrictions until 1968, but over at AHRA-sanctioned strips, no such rules existed. This opened the door for west coast tracks like Lions and Irwindale to schedule AA/GS meets on a regular basis. These match races packed the stands, paid well and soon many of the former injected small block-powered cars switched over to superchargers and did remarkably well.

In 1965, two of the most famous Anglia gassers ever built switched from the small block Chevy to the all-new 396/427ci engine. The Shores & Hess Anglia, driven by Skip Hess, was one of the first racers to obtain the new big block Chevy. With the addition of a 6.71 blower, the car entered the AA/GS ranks, but only under the AHRA banner. Soon after, Ed and Ray Kohler of “King Kong” Anglia fame made the move to a 454ci Chevy. With both cars now competing in the AA/GS ranks, match race madness was in full swing.

When NHRA finally let the 90-inch wheelbase cars compete with all of the goodies, hundreds of Anglias, Prefects and Thames appeared on US drag strips. Their popularity as a wild and sometimes out of control gasser quickly grew until late model bodies began to appear.

So the legacy of the Anglia and the Gasser Wars was made. But what of the tiny terror now? Many of the old cars are being restored and raced at nostalgia events. But back in its home country, the Anglia has a new cult following and a new lease on life. The 10-second cars of the sixties are now seven-second tarmac thrashers and they are called Outlaw Anglias.

Bob Nixon, a drag race chassis builder from Essex formed the Outlaw Anglia class during the summer of 1992. He gathered a group of drivers already competing in various classes and turned his vision of a single make “Heads-Up” class into a reality. The class was an instant success with side-by-side burnouts and huge wheel stand launches. Pit areas went quiet when the Anglias were in action.

The first Outlaw Anglia championship was held in 1993 and was fiercely contended, with Danny Cockerill’s eight-second car taking the honors.

Due to its success, cars were soon built specifically to compete in the Outlaw Anglia class. Andy Carter’s Anglia was one such car designed to take full advantage of the minimal construction rules.

With a 101-inch chassis and 3,000hp+ Keith Black nitro motor, it made its debut in late 1993. I was a media-accredited journalist at Avon Park that day, and was about 20 feet from Carter’s Anglia when it launched into its first seven-second run. To this day, that ground-shaking pass remains one of the most brutal and exhilarating experiences of my life. Later that day, another Outlaw Anglia broke its wheelie bars on launch and sent the nose of the car directly over my head as I worked trackside…

As the series grew, the fields became faster and faster and evermore crowd pleasing. While these purpose-built beasts were light years away from the Gasser heritage, they still shared one thing – poor handling. Back in the day it was common to see an Outlaw get into trouble down track and cross the line on its roof, a combination of aerodynamics (or lack of) and short wheelbase being the culprit.

Paul Wright was a member of the series from day one in his Chevy-powered ex-street car. In 2004, he changed over to a full-on race chassis and in 2006 set new ET and speed records for the class of 7.560 & 190.57mph respectively. In 2008, he lowered the ET record to 7.477 in his methanol-powered 555ci Chevy-powered monster.

The Outlaw Anglias have evolved from a small group of record setters to a bunch of dedicated racers who come together to race and put on a unique, spectacular show that continues the legacy of the Ford Anglia in drag racing history.