The Hills Have Arrived...with the Houndog Moving 

Custom Car June1984

1963 was the year, believe it or not, when the, Beatles finally made it out of the Cavern and Hamburg's Star Club and into the big time; in rapid succession From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand zoomed to the top of what then was still The Hit Parade, sharing top billing with people like Cliff Richard (The Next Time), Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (Diamonds) and Frank Ifield (The Wayward Wind). Also, in the last part of the year, came the stunning influence of the Mersey sound - a wave of bands who would never have got near a recording studio had not every record company in Britain (especially the by now highly embarrassed 'groups of guitars are on the way out' Decca) been searching for the next sensation. The hunt for hype gave us Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, The Searchers and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who between them more or less dominated the '63 music scene. Man. (All right Nichols, get on with it. CJ.)

At the cinema everyone was going to see Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, to see The L-Shaped Room (Tom Bell and Leslie Caron), the excellent Billy Liar (Tom Courtenay) and the extra-naughty Tom Jones (Albert Finney). In America John Cleland's novel Fanny Hill had just been published, although it was still banned over here and it would be a while before the famous obscenity trials, a while before John Peel would begin reading it over the late-night airwaves which Caroline, London and others would soon begin to steal from HMG. (Ditto. TT.) In January John Profumo got caught with his pants down, in August Biggsy and Co had it away on their toes with 2 million nicker from a mail train, and in November John F Kennedy went for a drive in Dallas. Twenty-one years ago, 1963. (Ditto.Ed.)

It was also the year that Nobby Hills saw his first dragster in action - a touring circus-of American hotshots operating under the aegis of the RAC at Sprint meetings. By the 1964 Dragfest at Silverstone, Nobby was running a blown Jag slingshot rail, the first in a series of seven. Then came the purchase of the Paula Murphy Funny Car and then he began building his own floppers. Along the way he'd abandoned the driving seat himself; there were so many problems with the early cars that it just couldn't work. There's no way you can strap yourself into a driving seat and then make last-minute adjustments to the engine, so Nobby had to let someone else twiddle the steering wheel. Very quickly that someone became the quiet, unflappable Owen Hayward and he has remained to twiddle the steering wheel in a succession of different Funny Cars. Fortunately the second was already under construction when the Plymouth broke a halfshaft in May'77, just off the line at Santa Pod and launching hard. The 90-degree turn into the barriers which was the inevitable result wrecked the car completely. The Vega body followed, with a Nobby Hills chassis carrying a modified shell and the old Milodon engine, appearing in'78. And then came the Challenger, which burnt at Mantorp Park last summer. Anybody who was at Santa Pod last November will know what happened next, because the new car appeared in white base; if you were at the Pod this Easter you'll have just seen the car in its new livery, and if you weren't ...

This is basically Houndog 11 ; same frame but anew body ~ the only'84 Corvette in this country, brought in from Odyssey Cars in California, via Ken Veney and John Woolfe Racing. Over the winter period the frame was pulled completely apart, literally to the last nut and bolt, and then sandblasted clean for a fresh start. Back into the chassis ~ Nobby's own, with a lot of Stateside thinking thrown in - has gone for the same engine setup; 484 inches of Keith Black motor, 8:71 blower and that clutchless Crower. Well, not clutchless, but pedal-less. Houndog is the only fuel car in this country without a clutch pedal. Once the engine's doing very much more than ticking over the bionic man couldn't press one of these pedals down anyway,- so as far as racing's concerned they are redundant. But other drivers make great use of the clutch when staging and in the burnout, and -wouldn't consider running without. Clutches in these cars are a science all by themselves, though, and once a team's got that right they've solved the worst of the problems; At its barest level, as long as the engine is developing more power than the clutch needs then all that has to be done is for the clutch to deliver it to the wheels in exactly the right ever-increasing amount, and . . . zoom! That is very, very basic, mind, because loads of other stuff has to come into the equation along the way. Like the tyres need to grip the track quite firmly ...

In fact, once the clutch is set and the engine's okay, Nobby spends more time checking the tyres than doing anything else, making absolutely certain that they're both at 3 psi. Not 3 or 3 but 3 . More important still is that they should both be exactly the same. Ask Dennis Priddle ... Did you like the throwaway bit back there? 'Once the engine's okay. . .'. Makes it sound easy, doesn't it? It's not though, and there are some very good reasons why not. The trickiest bit of an engine is the fuel/air mix. Petrol is heavier than air - you've probably spotted that yourself - and therefore requires some fairly tricky twiddling in carburettors and similar before it becomes that very fine mist which spark plugs can set fire to. Nitro - and you'd have to go a long way to find Houndog running below 90 per cent (in fact it uses 93 per cent in the car park at SLD Olding) - nitro weighs 1 times as much as petrol - 9lbs a gallon. So it's even harder to get it into the engine in the right condition rather than as a wet river. Then there's the launch. As the engine (484 = slightly better than eight litres) gulps for fuel and air rushes through the manifold there's a fair chance that the engine could lean out, so it has to be wet enough on the line to stop that happening. When the car does leave the line, reaching 50 / 60 maybe more mph in one second and 50 feet, the driver - and the engine, therefore can be subjected to more than 3G. In America the good guys are taking steps to feed the front cylinders more fuel than the rear because this surge could lean out the front ports, even with a blower running 25 or 30 per cent faster than the crank and shovelling in fuel like crazy. Top end rpm is around 9000, the blower goes up to about 1300 and is giving 33lbs of boost from it. In fact, even with the typically low CR of the Funny Car (5 :1 in Houndog) the engines still run rather like diesels, and cylinder head temperature is enough to fire the mixture. Once it's up and running. In the States there are instances of Funnies throwing their magneto (hence no spark) - John Force actually drove over his - without any effect on the engine performance.

With an engine like this, always verging on explosive pre-ignition, the spectre of instant detonation is always there, and always hold British teams back from the edge. While the Yanks run 250 mph fives on a regular basis, no one in this country can afford to take the chance. There is every possibility that Houndog can run a five. Five-s, if you like. There is a more than a fair chance that it could run a five and come out of the traps unscathed. But it's only a chance. Far more likely is the big bang as a cylinder drops and rods, pistons, heads, perhaps block as well, get wiped out in less than the one-tenth of a second it takes the average human being to blink an eyelid. And every time that five second pass is run, the chances of that bang get closer and closer. Eventually it's inevitable.

While Budweiser, Hawaiian Tropic and various other wealthy concerns can clearly afford to blow away upwards of 2OG each meeting, the same is not true over here. Last season - or was it the one before? - Prudhomme forsook the Army's quarter of a million dollar sponsorship for a better offer from Pepsi. Kenny Bernstein is out in this new season with a brand new Ford Tempo-bodied flopper. The '83 car - the whole car, not the body, or the engine, or the wheels, or some of the bits but the whole paid-for shooting match from last season - is his spare car for 1984. Spare. You could put the Panic team's entire range of spares for 1984 into a family-size cornflake packet, and they're far-from untypical. Money is where it's at, okay, and America is where the money's at. Every time Houndog comes to the line Nobby knows roughly how it's going to run, because he spends most of his time telling Owen to back off, take it easy, don't try too hard just hard enough to stay in front. Dennis Priddle is our only current exponent of the five-second pass because so far he's the only bloke who's tried. Most people can't afford to take the chance. It costs a good few bob to run a Funny Car for a full season and sums in the area of 20,000 need to be discussed here. With nitro at 25 quid a gallon and a flopper with a 12 gallon tank using about 7 gallons for each pass, a good meeting can cost 600-700. At those sort of prices the last thing you need is to lose an engine as well.

Sponsorship is the biggest difference between British and American drag racing. Basically, they've got it and we haven't. The Houndog Team are among the lucky ones but their biggest boost came from SLD Olding, whose business concerns giant earth-moving machinery and whose workshop facilities are continually available to Nobby. Air, power and a fully-equipped machine shop, plus enough room to walk round the car with miles of space to spare are incalculably valuable. The difference between building a car here - in 12 weeks - and doing it in a tiny, dirty lock-up is immense - ask practically anybody who's built a street rod lately. Even so, running a team in fuel racing in this country remains a perpetual juggling act with several balls in the air at one time - money available, performance necessary to remain competitive, cost of attaining that, fuel, possibility of engine damage, you name it. None of which alters Nobby's love of drag racing. A Country and Western fan since 1914, Nobby Hills is secretly a cowboy at heart, at home on the range. Or the strip. Without the dedicated racers there would be little of drag racing as it is available to us. Although the basic grassroots stuff is growing fast, thank God, and at that competitive level it's perhaps stronger than it has ever been, for some there can be nothing to equal the violent spectacle of the fuel car, even if they do cost the earth to run. The strange thing remains the way that single-seat cars continue to attract vast sponsorship sums, and that's not only at Grand Prix level. Even Formula Two, Formula Ford and others get large sums put up by assorted backers and teams run on a professional basis in some cases. Nobby reckons that in a pro organisation, a driver of Owen's stature would be worth 15k plus perks and bonuses, a team manager perhaps 30k. There's no chance of getting that or anywhere near it, yet all the teams in fuel racing are dealing with the ultimate expression of power from the internal combustion engine. Although the squalid bickering which has surrounded Formula One for the past few seasons has done little for its reputation the average member of the public still looks on those Grand Prix cars as representing the pinnacle of achievement and excellence, the needle-sharp spearhead of technical innovation. Pound for pound of all-up weight, a Funny Car develops twice the horsepower of a Formula One car, and as far as straight numbers are concerned ... well, When did you last hear of a single-seater with more than 2000 horses under the driver's foot.

    Houndog Spec Sheet

Engine Keith Black
Displacement 484 cubic inches
Heads Keith Black D-port Stage 1 1 1
Bore/Stroke 4.25" x4.75"
Compression ratio 5.5:1
Manifold pressure 33 psi @ 9000 rpm
Horsepower 2000-plus (estimated)
Fuel system Enderle/Hillborn/Hills fuel Injection
Enderle 178 gpm fuel pump
Bowers 8:71 supercharger
Blower drive ratio 46 per cent over crank speed
Fuel Pump ratio 1:1 with crank; can be overdriven
Fuel Mixture 93 percent nitromethane or upwards, balance methanol.
Varied to suit conditions
Transmission Crowerglide
Rear axle 9-inch Lenco/Ford with mag centre section
Front tyres 5.25-17
Rear tyres 17/36-16

Richard Nichols
Custom Car June 1984