The Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction

13 - 14 August 2004

Lot 145

1955 Buick "Nailhead" Dragster

Sold for $34,100

  • Chassis no. 4H162473


Est. 500hp, 1960 Buick blue-printed 401 overhead valve V8 with J.E. pistons, HD con rods, Centerline crank, ported heads, magneto ignition and six Stromberg 97 carbs on a Drag Star log manifold, driveline Shaeffer fly wheel, Zoom clutch driving a Halibrand quick-change rear on Ford center/axles, and-control 1939 drum brakes to the rear, early Ford converted three-speed transmission, hand-fabricated steel tubular frame, front transverse leaf spring and friction shock absorbers, steel body circa 1926 Ford Model T with custom aerodynamic nose-cone, early Ford steel with full moon spun aluminum wheel covers and moon gauges and engine valley pan, B-17 bomber fuel cut-off valve and filter, extra Q/C gears, rear drum tool, Mel Larson Trophy Jacket and numerous trophies.


EARLY SPEED TRIALS

American straight line speed competitions began on the dry lakes of the Mojave Desert as early as the 1920s. Some of the better known dry lake tracks were Rosamond, Muroc and El Mirage. The Mojave Desert is a foreboding and desolate place, so vast and isolated that it later became an atomic bomb testing site. Ford Model T Roadsters were the overwhelming weapon of choice for these early racers – they were light, cheap and easily modified, courtesy of an amazing variety of aftermarket speed parts that could triple the original factory horsepower.

After 1932, when Henry Ford’s powerful V8 was introduced, these began to replace the four-cylinder Model T and A engines, especially when equipment manufacturers came up with speed parts for the flathead. Henry’s beautiful 1932 Roadsters were stripped and modified – headlights, fenders, bumpers and windshields were sacrificed on the altar of speed. A stock Deuce Roadster, however, had all the aerodynamic qualities of a brick and soon modified classes were created which allowed Henry’s tin-work to be sectioned, chopped and channeled in an effort to reduce wind resistance. In the 1950s the Model T came back into fashion as they were lighter, narrower and better suited for low-drag modifications. In addition, they were inexpensive too – even more so than in the prewar period.

Creative experimentation was still the cheapest architect of speed and rear-engined modifieds with streamlined nose cones, some adapted from war surplus aircraft fuel tanks, began to set records. Placing the engine in the rear gave at least two advantages – the extra weight over the rear driving wheels offered better traction and a streamlined nose-cone reduced the drag immensely.


EARLY DRAG RACING

In the late 1940s the popularity of dry lakes racing began to fade and organized drag racing took over. The blinding sun, intense heat and choking dust of desert racing was tolerated for decades, but the long travel distances often meant “calling in sick” when competitors could not make it back for work on Monday morning. Drag racing changed all of that as strips proliferated all over urban North America. The first drags were clandestine affairs held on airports, blocked off public roads and even on the paved over LA riverbed, such events often being hastily concluded with the arrival of the local constabulary.

Organized drag racing began with the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association’s Goleta Airport events in 1949 and later CJ “Pappy” Hart organized his first Drags at the Santa Ana airport on an abandoned taxiway. Unlike the Goleta strip, the latter featured conveniences such as timing equipment and a standby ambulance! Early drag racers were rude, crude and dangerous devices, often being nothing more than a big V8 engine welded between a pair of chassis rails with a war-surplus aircraft seat containing the hapless pilot seated between the rear wheels.

By the 1950s inventiveness and technology combined to create more sophisticated 1/4 mile speed missiles just as had previously occurred in the dry lakes era. Rear-engined cars, superior for the same reason as before (extra traction and good air penetration) now became the norm in some classes of drag racing. Racers were not the least bit nostalgia-prone and Henry’s faithful flathead was quickly abandoned when lightweight American OHV V8s became available in 1949. Buick’s first V8, nicknamed the “nail-head” for its odd looking valve placement, came out in 1953 and was a winner right out of the box, courtesy of its 8.5 compression ratio, the highest in the industry. Originally displacing 322 cubic inches it was easily bored out to 400 cu. in., a fact not lost on mid 1950s hot rodders.

THE HENSLEY DRAGSTER

This historical drag strip roadster was fitted from new with just such a Buick nail-head mill. According to information supplied by the current owner, it was built in the 1954 to 55 period by Tom Hensley of Phoenix, Arizona. Nicely restored a few years ago, this iconic machine reads like a blue print for the successful 1950s drag racer – rear-engined, tube-chassis, Model T steel body with anteater nose and a Buick nail-head hooked to a Halibrand quick change rear. Tom raced this car well into the 1960s, winning first in a A-modified Roadster at Mel Larson’s Phoenix Raceway which netted him a trophy and a Mel Larson award jacket, both of which accompany the sale of this car, in addition to other trophies. When Tom Hensley passed away his son inherited the car and eventually sold it to family friend Bill Shaw, who passed it to the present owner last year.

Eminently suitable for the newly popular sport of nostalgia drag racing, or as a must-have for a serious collection that showcases various aspects of American motorsport, this historic A-Modified Roadster is worthy of a purchase consideration.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alain Squindo


Detroit, Michigan

Alain Squindo joined RM Auctions in 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in History. R... read more

Alex Classick

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United Kingdom

Alex Classick joined RM Europe in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Business Mana... read more

Alexander Weaver

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California, USA

Alexander Weaver joined RM Auctions in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born into ... read more

Annette Abaci

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Germany

With post-secondary degrees in Economic Science and Mechanical Engineering, Annette Abaci initially worked part-time at Mercedes-Benz ... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

Dan Warrener

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Ontario, Canada

Possessing a degree in Economics from Brandon University, Dan Warrener spent the initial stages of his career working around the globe... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don Rose joined RM Auctions in 2006, after many years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputatio... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, USA

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

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Ontario, Canada

Gord joined RM Auctions in 1998, initially responsible for the transportation and logistics of the company’s auction and restora... read more

Ian Kelleher

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New York, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College, with a B.A. in Politica... read more

Jack Boxstrom

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Ontario, Canada

Jack Boxstrom joined RM Auctions in late-1996 to assist with the recently acquired, and subsequently record-breaking, auction in Monte... read more

Max Girardo

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United Kingdom

Max Girardo started his career in the vintage automobile industry in 1998, joining Brooks Auctioneers (now Bonhams) as a car specialis... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Auctions, Mike Fairbairn has a longstanding interest in the classic car industry. Graduati... read more

Peter Wallman

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United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007, following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, read more

Rob Myers

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Ontario, Canada

As chairman and founder of the RM Group of Companies, Rob Myers’s entire career has been devoted to the classic car industry. Ro... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, USA

Shelby Myers literally grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to w... read more

Vinnie Mandzak

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California, USA

Vinnie Mandzak joined RM Auctions’ California office in 2012 as a car specialist, following more than 30 years’ experience... read more