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“T.V. Tommy” Ivo and two of his famous cars to appear at CHRR

During the years 1957-63, the fuel ban was enforced at most Southern California drag strips. “T.V. Tommy” Ivo elected to build a twin-Buick gas dragster to make up for the lack of liquid horsepower.  It graced magazine covers and became the first to run under 9 seconds on gasoline, as well as the first to run over 170, and the first over 180 mph.  In 1960 he became the first drag racer to tour the country with a nationwide season long tour. Appearance money made him drag racing’s first touring professional. Because of Ivo’s acting career, drag racing was introduced to media not available before. The performance and appearance of the dazzling red and chrome showpiece impressed crowds from coast to coast.

Ivo lets it happen at Long Beach (above) - imagine this now, let alone in the 60s


Back home, his show business side told him, “If they liked two motors, they’ll love four!”  He designed and built his spectacular four Buick dragster, arguably the most successful drag racing exhibition car of all time. Smoking all four tires, it became known as “the moving fog bank” and thrilled race fans from East to West. When nitro returned to drag racing, Ivo sold the four motor car and built a Top fuel dragster. In the mid-‘60s when Funny Cars became popular, then-owner Tom McCourry had Tom Hanna build an aluminum replica Buick station wagon body, and the car made appearances as the “Riviera Wagonmaster”  In 2005 the America’s Car Collection Museum being planned in Winnemucca, Nevada, acquired the “Wagonmaster” intending to remove the station wagon body. Rather than destroy the body, Ivo convinced them to build an exact replica of the original dragster and show them side-by-side. Working alongside chassis builder Bruce Dyda, the new “Showboat” was born. The attention to detail by both Dyda and Ivo is amazing, and the replica is identical to the original down to the Packard 440 spark plug wires and Rajah clips.

Ivo on a film set with the four motor car


When Ivo decided to go Top Fuel Racing he teamed with fellow Burbank “Road Kings” member Rod Peppmuller to build a state of the art front engine dragster. Featuring a beautiful full “chute pack” body by Bob Sorrell, the car recorded the first seven second run at San Gabriel in October 1962. Early in 1963, Ivo set up the first match race between a fuel dragster and a jet as well as a match race with Greer, Black, and Prudhomme that resulted in the first side-by-side seven second runs. It was first over 190 mph and appeared in the movie “Bikini Beach” with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It was part of the first U.S. Drag Racing Team and defeated Don Garlits as part of the British Drag Festival. From an article in Hot Rod Magazine it picked up the nickname “Barnstormer” and had one of the most colorful histories of any Top Fuel dragster until it was sold in early 1965.

the original and beautiful Barnstormer - complete with weed sprayer exhausts


Ron Johnson owner of had already re-created the Shubert and Herbert Chevy fuel dragster that he had once owned, but decided there was nothing like a Chrysler. Johnson consulted with Ivo, and after determining that the “Barnstormer” no longer existed, they agreed that Johnson would re-create the car. Using original blueprints, Alex Mikkelson of American roadster in Placentia built the chassis and Jack Haggemann, Jr. of Morgan Hill agreed to build the body. Vintage fuel racer Bob McKray built the blown 392” Chrysler.

Ivo with the Barnstormer in England during 1964


Both of these re-created masterpieces will appear at the Auto Club of Southern California Hot Rod Reunion held at Auto Club Famoso Raceway October 12-14. The “Barnstormer” will be part of a reunion within the Reunion as the Justice Brothers Reunion Spotlight shines on the United States Drag Racing team that travelled to England in 1964 and ’65. “T.V. Tommy “ Ivo will be on hand as well to meet and greet his friends and fans as well as participate in the memorable Cacklefest on Saturday evening.

Story: Tony Thacker
Photos: Tommy Ivo

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