The first time Mike Buchanan sat at the controls of a slingshot dragster, he was a 14-year-old Explorer Scout. He and his fellow scouts had reassembled an old quarter-mile drag car, admittedly only powered by a GMC 6-cylinder engine.
But it was a dragster and a boy can dream, can't he?
"My dad had to sign a waiver... it was a kick," says Buchanan, who actually got to drive that old dragster.
Today, retired after a 30-year career with Sedgwick County EMS, he says he is still living that dream. He owns a vintage front-engined junior fuel dragster and a gorgeous 1933 Ford street rod.
"I am a lucky, lucky man," he declares.
Let's start with the dragster.
"Growing up in that era, it had always been in the back of my mind... front-motored cars are what it's all about. Just to get a chance to own one of these... and the fact this car has some history... makes it even cooler," he says with a broad grin.
He bought the car from a friend, Brian Andrews of El Dorado, who had flown to California, rented a truck and brought the former AA/FD dragster back to Kansas on its trailer. The dragster had been re-engined, with an injected small-block Chevy V-8 replacing the venerable 392-cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi.
Andrews updated the chassis and had it re-certified for competition. He raced it for three years before selling it to Buchanan. "This is the best 'used car' experience I've ever had," said Buchanan, who said the asking price was more than fair and the dragster was everything it was supposed to be.
The dragster was one of several built by Jim Davis of northern California, apparently in 1968. There is a gap in the history of the car, but wherever the car was, it was obviously well cared for, Buchanan said.
He's done enough research that he's convinced the car was nicknamed "Luanne" for a Texas singer. "It is a cool car," he said, noting that he has logged 18 passes on it so far and that the 377-cubic-inch engine is simple to service. His best pass so far in a quarter mile is 9.09 seconds at 147 mph. "I'm still learning the car," he said. Veteran drag racer Gary Roushkolb serves as crew chief and adviser.
Buchanan thinks his elapsed times and top speed will improve once he upgrades the rear wheels and drag slicks. "I think it's got some 8.50s in it," he said.
The car still runs racing methanol through the old-style mechanical Hilborn fuel injection topped by eight intake stacks; power flows through a 2-speed Powerglide racing transmission rebuilt by Chance Transmissions.
When Buchanan releases the transmission brake, he said, "It feels like somebody walked up and kicked you in the rear. It gets to 7600 rpm pretty quick. It does a little dance and you're trying to steer it and shift it all at one time."
He plans to run the dragster at Midwest nostalgia races for a while, but eventually, he wants to restore it to its original form, complete with a blown, fuel-injected Chrysler Hemi on nitromethane.
So much for the "beast" — now for the "beauty."
"I told my wife (Suzanne) that I would really like to build a '33 Ford," Buchanan recalled. Aware of the time involved, she told him she wished he could find a car already together, so he could enjoy it right away.
"Then this one popped up on eBay. The owner had passed away. It had no interior in it and it only had 37 miles on it," Buchanan said. "It was painted and flamed and running. This is pretty much how I would have built it," he said.
So he bought the Ronson Body fiberglass car from its Florida owner about a year ago and brought it to Wichita.
It is powered by a 290 horsepower 350 Chevy V-8 with an Edelbrock intake and carburetor, with Smithy mufflers providing an impressive rumble out back. A 700R4 automatic overdrive transmission is coupled to an 8-inch Ford rear end equipped with highway-friendly 3:0 gears. With an Air Ride suspension system "borrowed" from his '73 Camaro project, Vintage Air, electric windows and a Secret Audio sound system in place, Buchanan notes, "This is a good car to go places in."
But what about that missing interior? Armed with an instructional CD from another street rodder, Buchanan rounded up a few Cessna leather hides and some simulated ostrich leather and created his own door panels, headliner and trunk upholstery. Stylecraft Auto Upholstery handled the more involved stitching of the 1993 Firebird bucket seats for him.
He plans to exhibit all three cars, the Camaro, the '33 Ford coupe and the dragster, at the upcoming Starbird custom car show.