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Tom Hanna - the consummate professional


17.12.04. Tom Hanna has been rightly credited as a true craftsman responsible for some of the most beautiful tin work on front-engined dragsters of the 1960/70s.  His ability to fashion aluminium into sclulptured art forms for some of the most revered early dragsters is unsurpassed. 

In the mid 70ís Hanna moved away from drag racing to concentrate on a different career but returned to the sport in 2002 when he wheeled out, to much critical acclaim, possibly the most beautifully proportioned and perfectly engineered reincarnation of a classic front-engined dragster ever.  We managed a brief interview with Tom at the 13th Caifornia Hot Rod Reunion to ask him about his most recent work.

Why did you build the Egyptian?
"When we built this car we were using 21st century tooling and technology to build a 1968 car.  I didnít want to replicate any car I had owned before and so decided I wanted to build one from scratch.  If Iím not replicating an original car I can do what I want to it as long as it looks and feels like a car from that era.  And so thatís what we did and why we did it.  It was a fun project because you had the latitude to do whatever you wanted to.

The Egyptian is a totally hand-fabricated, no expense spared project. It features a titanium bell-housing and a multitude of one-off cast and CNC machined components created in Tom's extensive workshop. The wheelbase is 179 inches and the motor is a Donovan

Is this car legal to race?
"I donít think it would be legal.  It has a lot of the required elements but I think the stumbling block would be the roll cage.  I didnít want to compromise the appearance of it and besides I donít really have any interest in racing competitively - its just kinda like a piece of art. 

You are famous for the bodywork you created but not complete cars - is this a first for you?  
"Yes it is. I hand-formed the bodywork for a lot of cars during the 1960/70s and quite a few of the cars that have been recreated for this event.  Building this car was different as Iíve never built a chassis commercially or professionally, but I knew what I wanted and was capable of doing it, so I decided to build it myself.

The roll cage has been designed to complement the shape of the car in conjunction with the swoopy sheet metal work.  Most builders would be happy with an aluminum seat, but not Tom, this was simply used as a template for a full  one-piece carbon fibre item

The stunning proportions of the bodywork are complemented by restrained graphics and gold leaf striping

When did you finish this car?
"We built it in 2001 and we just bring it to these events.  Weíve not done any full power runs, there is really no point in it because once you get one of these things built, they begin to deteriorate and if you try to run them hard, they really deteriorate much faster.  Weíll fiddle with it at meeting like this but ultimately it will end up in a museum.

So if you are not involved with metal working anymore, what do you do?
"I stopped the metal work business in about 1976. I moved into horse breeding and taught myself that trade and then in the mid 1980s I got into manufacturing products for the animal industry - thatís everything from pet products to horse blankets - and Iíve been doing that for last 20-plus years.  Drag racing is a hobby for me now.

Is this enough involvement for you?
"Yes I enjoy it.  I have so many other things going on in my life that I canít commit the same amount of time to it as before, but it fits in nicely with the available time I have."

Two of many Tom Hanna-bodied dragsters - the S&H Red Stamp Special (above) and the equally beautiful Assassin - both rebuilt in 2004


Story & Photos: Andy Kirk

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