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Mission Accomplished

If you’ve been visiting over recent months, then you’ll know we’ve been taking a special interest in the rebuild of the 1969 Mondello Matsubara AA Fiat Fuel Altered, which has been expertly handled by Karpo Murkijanian (left to right below), Pete Eastwood and Derek Bower, also affectionately know as Moe, Larry and Curly or Three Stooges Underfunded Racing. 


True to their word, the trio had the famous car ready to debut at the recent California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, where it not only took part in Saturday night’s mammoth cacklefest, but also put in a special appearance at the event’s Friday night reception, where it burst into life outside the Double Tree Hotel –much to the appreciation of the audience of hot rodders.  The only sad note is that Sush Matsubara was not present to witness it, as he passed away in 2006.  

 “Has the car turned out as you wanted?” we asked Karpo. 

“Better,” was the response, “but it took more time, effort and resources to complete than anticipated.” 


Even original co-owner, Joe Mondello, was impressed.  “Dare I say it, but this car looks even better than it did when it first rolled out of the shop, in 1969,” he observed.  “Everyone who has seen it has commented on what a great job the guys have done.  It’s phenomenal!  The only thing is, when I got in it, I noticed I was a little wider than my Japanese counterpart, Sush.  It’s a wonderful restoration – it gives me the chills, as I can just see that car with Sush sitting in it – it could by 1969 all over again.”  

“So what made this car so special?” we asked Joe. 

“It was the absolute world’s fastest Altered, and the only 427 Chevy equipped with wedge heads to go over 200.  I designed the heads; they were my Monoflow design with an extremely large, open chamber.  We took out the 2.190in intake valves, shrunk them down to 2.0in and matched them to 2.0in exhausts.  That’s what helped to get the car over 200 mph.  It was such a novel design that Car Craft magazine came over to my shop and ran a story on it.  We did this long before GM adopted similar technology some years later. 


“We were really ahead of the competition, and we spent a lot of time on engine and chassis development.  We had the power – we used a trick cam design long before other guys did – we had the head technology, and we put all of this together and handed it over to our final weapon – Sush.  He was an incredibly good driver.  

“We took the car all the way round the country in 1969, and surprised and beat a lot of unsuspecting competitors.  We’d pull into the pits with the Altered, knowing full well that someone would be very lucky if they beat us.  We surprised a lot of Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers, and in the process, set a national record for AA Fuel Altereds, of 7.24 secs/213 mph at the US Nationals in 1969, which was just .02 slower than the low Funny Car ET. 

You can see how accurate the restoration has been when you look at the original car below


“Sush never crashed the Altered once, though he did have a couple of encounters with Funny Cars later in his career, which I could never figure out, as they had a longer wheelbase. 

“Sush got out of racing in 1975.  He just walked away from the sport.  He started playing golf and cleaning swimming pools, but we kept in touch and remained good friends.  I’d see him at the NHRA museum events, and eventually he came along to the 2005 CHRR, which is where Karpo displayed the unrestored car for the first time.“  


“Sush’s kids are not into cars,” says Karpo, “but his grandson Daine is, and we promised Sush we would put him in the car and fire it up when it was finished, and that’s what we did a few weeks ago at the CHRR.  The whole family was there to witness the event, and it was a very emotional moment for all concerned. 

“Since the CHRR, we put the car on display at the recent Irwindale Reunion at the NHRA Motorsport Museum (see feature this week), and have just got back from a photo shoot for Rodders Journal in San Francisco, where Steve Coonan and Geoff Miles photographed the car cackling over in the dark.  Apparently the story is out in January.  

“Ultimately, we would like to put the car in the NHRA Motorsport Museum so everyone can enjoy it, but space is at a premium at the moment, so we’ll have to wait and see.” 

Story: Andy Kirk
Photos: Karpo Murkijanian

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