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Jungle Jim Rides Again
The popularity of Nostalgia drag racing across the Pond has led to many well-known cars from the past being reincarnated. Funny Cars are no exception, and it would probably be fair to say that the old-time ‘plastic fantastics’ are making quite an impression on fans of modern-day floppers. After all, they have body styles of an immediately recognisable era – unlike today’s generic, jelly-mould counterparts – and are largely bereft of the bland signage of major corporates. They look the part, and equally importantly, run respectable ETs and terminal speeds. They may not be in the same league as their contemporary counterparts competing in the NHRA POWERade national event series, but they certainly sound the biz as they regularly traverse the quarter-mile in the low-sixes/high-fives at well above the double-century mph mark.
Henry Gutierrez was persuaded by a buddy in his home town of San Antonio, Texas, to become involved with the new breed of Nostalgia AA/FCs, and after buying the Mexican Revolution ’72 Chevy Vega, he went shopping for a companion car from the same era. It was in April of 2006, in Pennsylvania, that he came across the Mini Camaro campaigned by the late, great, Jungle Jim Liberman (the flamboyant match racer who was killed in a head-on collision between his Corvette and a city bus in his hometown of West Chester, in September 1977) during the period from 1971 through 1973. The vendor was Don Beebe, cousin of the Beebe Bros, who used to race Top Fuel and Funny Cars way back when, and although the Camaro was in pretty poor condition when he first saw it, Henry was determined to return it to its former glory.
He had J E Kristek rebuild a Keith Black 500ci Hemi, supplied by Galveston’s Mitch King, who is arguably best known for his efforts in IHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car racing. Mitch may be one of the drivers of the car this year – national event schedules permitting – but other potential shoes are also being lined up. In case you’re wondering who the guy is behind the butterfly tiller in these pics, however, (though it's difficult to see) it’s Bobby Rex, former crew chief on Mexican Revolution.
The chassis of the ex-Liberman car has now been updated to NHRA 6.00-second spec by Greg Hubbell and Scott Evans at San Antonio’s Greg Hubbell Race Cars, while Raymond ‘Rainman’ Lund, at Skip’s Paint & Body, handled refurbishment of the Camaro bodywork and Joe Carrizales was responsible for applying the distinctive lettering and graphics – a painstaking task that was completed just before he passed away in the spring of last year.
It should be pointed out that the downsized (approx 7/8-scale) ’72 Camaro cloak was one of less than 10 fabricated by SoCal’s JE Fiberglas, and although this body is an original, Henry has had a mould taken from it, and there are now a further two bodies, which will be employed for racing when this resurrected flopper becomes purely a show and cackle car in 2008.
The remainder of the powertrain includes a Mooneyham 8-71 blower, Enderle injection, single fuel pump, single mag, Lenco 2-speed planetary transmission, Crower clutch, Dana rear end and Strange Engineering axles. Henry reckons the nitro-fuelled reciprocating mass can produce around 4000hp, which is more than sufficient grunt to wow the crowds wherever it appears.
The car was displayed at several shows and events throughout the States during the course of 2007, and old-time racing enthusiasts are already chomping at the bit to see the “Jungle Jim” moniker once again become a byword for showmanship, this time among a whole new generation of fans.
Story & photos: Andy Willsheer
Special thanks go to:
Army Armstrong, wife Nicole, son Trev, and friend, Heath Fike, for their assistance in transporting the rig to events across the States; Eureka Sign and Display, Eureka, MO, for car and rig wrappings, and Honest Charley’s Speed Shop, Chattanooga, TN