Think “Two Lane Blacktop”! Having been around ‘in the day’, I feel obliged to first provide my definition of a “Gasser”. In my definition, this car includes a leaf sprung solid front axle, ladder bars (the bigger the badder), plexiglass windows, lift-off hood and decklid, American Racing Gray (primer) paint, and if a dedicated strip car Hilborn stacks poking out through a hole in the hood. And – they were all personally built! For the most part, what you see in the modern magazines are modernized and enhanced versions of the originals. Somewhat disregard them as authentic, because they are probably reliable and driveable.
Having driven a variety of ’50’s an ’60’s cars, the first step in this review is to comprehend the (by today’s standards) primitive nature of the then-new models. My 1971 Roadrunner had four-wheel drum brakes, for example. It had performance from a straight-line acceleration and top speed perspective (high 13’s and 140+), but reaching higher speeds took some planning in terms of re-entry into the legal realm. Not only were drum brakes reatively inefficient (compared to discs), but they were difficult to balance left-to-right. Some serious gassers would have disc brakes because they were lighter, but since the front wheels/tires were made as small as possible (reduced front-end mass plus less rolling resistance) these beasts were not made for stopping well. Another reason why strip cars (and more well-to-do street versions) sported ‘chutes.
Windows and interiors were as minimal and light-weight as possible – some Dodge SuperStocks came ‘from the factory shop’ with slide-up plexi side door windows with a manual pull-strap. It was relatively common for your ’55 Gasser to have split door side plexi (like the MG’s and Triumph’s of the day) where the rear section slid forward for – air and whatever – I suppose. A racing-style steering wheel, four-speed floor shifter, and something to sit on were about the only required appointments.
For a good look at ladder bars and header/exhaust execution, check out Harrison Ford’s ride in the final racing scene in ‘American Graffiti’ while it is rolling and upside down. And – for the street ‘cheater slicks’ were just about mandatory, with full slicks for the strip (and if running an arranged match race on the street).
Modern science has shown that most ‘dual quad’ manifold setups underperformed compared to single four-barrel versions (unless perfectly designed and tuned), but for the street scene dual quads were the minimum – followed by injection and for the stratesphere only – blowers. The ‘Classic Gasser’ will have injection stacks through the hood – short ones for quarter-mile and long ones for the eighth. Numerically high rear end gears (4.11’s and up) guaranteed that the fuel (for a gasser normally special racing gas) would flow out of that Moon tank in the otherwise empty grille opening really fast, too.
Think crude, hard to drive, unreliable and FUN!