Fuel Cuda: A Dragster In Disguise

In my last spotlight from the California Hot Rod Reunion we took a look at a Dodge Dart that represented the early days of the funny car. This time we’ve got another drag machine from the ’60s that wears Mopar body work, but is even more radical in nature.

Say hello to the Fuel Cuda.

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The Austin & Grassi Fuel Cuda was campaigned out of the Pacific Northwest during that golden era and speaks to the highly experimental techniques that many drag racers used at the time.

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And while the car is called the Fuel Cuda, there is very little this thing shares with a street Plymouth Barracuda. In fact, it’s essentially a fiberglass Barracuda body dropped over a rail dragster.

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It’s not hard to see the car’s unexpected underpinnings when you look under the front fenders and see a couple of deeply-tucked bicycle wheels.

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Or when you look in the rear and see the makeshift wheel tubs over the rear tires, which sit well inboard of the body itself.

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Once you peek inside the body, you clearly see that the Fuel Cuda is a front-engined rail dragster in disguise, complete with a blown Hemi sitting in front of the driver.

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While I’m unsure of the aerodynamic benefits of the fiberglass body, the Fuel Cuda sat much lower than other drag cars did at the time, and word is, some race fans weren’t happy when they first saw this thing show up at the track. They thought someone was trying to trick them.

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Fiberglass body or not, I still can only imagine what it was like to climb in and rip down the quarter mile with your legs straddling the differential and the hundreds of horsepower coming through it.

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Whether you consider it one of the first funny cars, or just a rail dragster with a few tricks up its sleeve, the Fuel Cuda was certainly ahead of its time. It’s also great to see it’s been given a full revival by the way of an extensive restoration, to keep the mystique alive.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia_media



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I cannot imagine sitting in that thing at idle, let alone a full pass. Once again, back when motor sport was interesting..
PS I bet no one at Speedhunters thought there would be 2 66 Barracudas featured within 6 months.


I'm not familiar with drag racing. However, is it legal to have an engine in front of the unprotected driver? Just one oil leak or the that super charger pops off and ...


his legs are over the diff?


I'm not trying to dis the builder, I'm just trying to understand.


That's pretty damned bad ass. 

It's also hilariously confusing for the first few moments until you realise what you're looking at.


LOLLL! 'Disguise' Mike? What disguise hahaha??!

That's like Superman putting on some glasses and calling himself Clark Kent. hahaha

This thing is insane tho!! Like the other commenters I'd love to know more about the "rules", safety and history of this type of racing.


RacingPast It's completely legal, there are still plenty of vintage front engine dragsters running the nostalgia circuit. The reason's you cited though are the reason that Funny Cars moved away from front engine to rear engine after a number of nasty engine blow-ups and, even worse, clutch explosions. Before 1971, rear-engine dragsters were experimented with, but never very successful. After a clutch explosion took off half of Don Garlits' foot, he cooked up a new rear-engine dragster for '71 that he debuted and promptly set the world on fire. From then on out, Top fuel and most other dragsters largely went to rear-engine


NicholasDixon Thanks for that info.


Don Garlits very briefly ran a Dart that was a similar setup but a roadster. It wasn't particularly successful but, man, did it look crazy


RacingPast NicholasDixon
Scary to consider situations like this! "When men were men" as they say.


DaveT NicholasDixon You just put an image to my thought. According to this article that is the same type of dragster with a fibreglass body on top. Big ball racing!!


NicholasDixon RacingPast Funny Cars never moved away from front engine setups, rail cars did.


@Imjosh NicholasDixon Is there some form of fire wall in the funny car?


the_escape_road I certainly didn't!


It took me three passes as the images to spot where the driver sat. That's insane!


@Imjosh NicholasDixon RacingPast Yup, totally meant Top Fuel. There have been rear-engine Funny Cars but they never worked right. 
And yes, there are firewalls in Funny Cars.


zbelic zbelic
Yes, in "older" dragsters with front mounted motors, the driver has his
legs over the diff (and "testies" against it). Some still compete with
this kind of configuration today. And modern day fuel funny cars has the
engine in front of the driver, and the diff right behind the seat.


I love how racer paint jobs can get away with color schemes that normally shouldn't be combined.  I've provided an example from my youth memory banks of how NOT to do red and purple...


Stuff like this famous 66 GT40 Le Mans race car...she wears burgundy and fluorescent green with gold shoes so well!


Couldn't resist.  Enjoy!


That's a fibre kit car isn't it?


Love the headers nudging out of the rear wheel arches. Shame there's no sound...


Putsteelsunderit Wish I could have been there for the Cacklfest, but I had a wedding to attend Saturday evening.


Jordan_Butters I can hardly imagine what it'd be like to drive!


vroomtothetomb I came very close to making the title say "Thinly Disguised" haha.


Paddy McGrath It's a beautiful and scary creation!


the_escape_road Barracuda mania!


Ive always loved this car, and have magazines from the 60s with it in it. It was SO LOW compared to other race cars of the day...As usually, Ive mentally built my own version, and even started a model of one but 5 moves, and storage has made it long disappear...One of my goals in life is to make a pass in a Front Engine Dragster...Its a need to do...not a want.


im glad i read the article, couldnt quite understand what i was looking at in the thumb nail. first thought was ' those tubs are totally the wrong size' then 'whats that chrome bit in the back?' then- Oh... oh my god!


Jordan_Butters Yeah, in the trunk, next to the license plate :)))

Gianluca FairladyZ

What does mean M/T on the valve covers?


Gianluca FairladyZ Mickey Thompson


zbelic A nostalgic  but dangerous configuration. It's said the Garlitz reinvented the dragster layout while in the hospital from a clutch explosion, placing the engine behind the driver.


Everybody driving an front engine slingshot had their gonads resting on the rear end housing, only way they could get comfortable.


so if the diff blows on launch, your nuts blow?? lol that just seems really unsafe


GripHooligan86 We understand your concern but back in the 70's all the dragsters were of that design and yes, we did have some denutting but that is just one risk amongst many.


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I was a teenager when this car was new, saw it several times at SIR/ Pacific Raceways (Kent, Wash.) It was radical compared to the others. To me that was the Golden Age of Funny cars, everybody and their brother had one..........drag racing was a lot more fun in those days. Most of the drivers had wild nicknames and cool stories about how those names came to be. The greatest time of my life.