Son of Houndog


Motor February 1978

Wiped out in a spectacular 170mph shunt at Santa Pod last Autumn, the original Houndog left little to be remembered by. Now the men behind that record holder have set out to hog the drag strip limelight once more with an all-one 2000bhp slingshot.

There are two ways to go in campaigning a good looking top running funny car in Europe. One is the megabuck route importing a specially built "flopper" from one of the Stateside builders. The other way is to make damn near everything yourself, keeping the expensive shipped-in hardware to a minimum.

This latter way is how Nobby Hills and his team have gone to produce his current 2000+bhp projectile, the SLD Houndog.

It was necessary to produce a new car because the previous one was wrecked at Santa Pod late in ’77. It seems an "unbreakable" halfshaft didn’t live up to its name and accelerating hard, three seconds from the starting beam at around 160mph, the big Plymouth Duster picked a fight with a strong set of guard rails.

When the dust settled and driver Owen Hayward was pulled, intact but shaken, from the super strong roll cage a survey of the wreckage revealed little that was salvageable. This car, brought over in 73 and campaigned to great effect by Americas only licensed female funny car driver, Paula Murphy, had given European fans four years of consistently improving performances, holding both ends of the UK record of 6.61 sec and 214 mph for a long time.

Starting with virtually a clean of paper, Nobby, with the help of Santa Pod Raceway, Street Custom of Sawbrigdeworth and many others, decided to build the mother 'n' father of all race cars.

This was necessary for the British to be able to hold u6 their heads against the famous -"Blue Max" of the USA and the hordes of Swedish funnies arriving for the '78 season'. Apart from the overall concept of how the car should look, the first step was in designing the frame to be light and narrow but strong enough to handle the tremendous torque of a blown, nitro burning engine, producing over 2000 bhp. Based on a mixture of current trapezoidal section design and the experience of 15 years, the last six on blown fuel motors, Nobby laid out the design on paper and proceeded to make the main holding jig. This utilised a 12ft x 4ft X 2in ultra-flat steel plate with appropriate brackets welded on. The main material for the frame which fulfilled the various design criteria was T45 Chrome/Moly steel tubing, and four main diameters were used. Wheelbase is currently laid down as 114in which is somewhat shorter than current trends, hence the fuel tank ahead of the front wheels and the front weight bar acting as a counterbalance. Front end design is unique in the UK in that it is axle-less and the bracing struts are welded in with a slight curvature on the tubing. The theory is that in the event of serious loading they will tend to straighten and since keep stiff, rather than collapse. The set-up is such that a small degree of camber and castor can be adjusted and it is possible slightly to load either rear wheel if required by strip or power conditions.

The rear differential and axels are the latest Lenco, USA designs some 20 per cent thicker than the previous "unbreakable" axels that weren’t. Rear brakes are by Hurst Airheart and feature a single caliper verntilated discs, which are supplemented by dual Simpson parachutes that provide the main retardation, the brakes only being used from around 120mph except in emergencies.

The rear wheelie bar is installed to limit the anount of rear end drop when brute power is fed in and is novel in design. Each side comprises an adjustable triangular section which swivels around the top bushing. The bottom tube is adjustable by screwing in or out a set screw type mechanism, thus straightening or bowing the top rail, allowing height adjustment to be made. The apex of the rails terminates with in a teflon button that makes contact with the track surface, a lighter neater and more effective way of keeping the front end from precipitous elevations.

Wheels are Crager "Supertrick" all round, 17 x 4in on front and 15 x 17in with Goodyear 15in wide rear boots and M & H funny car tyres on the front. The rear sticks will be set up, with 3¼ to 4' psi when racing, to help the "wrinkle-wall" effect, that stores energy prior to the violent release off the line.

Nobby built the 1 1.5 gallon aluminium alloy fuel tank located ahead of the front wheels. It will hold nitro-methane mixtures of between 73 per cent and 90 per cent, depending on grip and competition conditions.

The driver's seat is lightly padded aluminium alloy; let's face it, when you onlv sit there for 6.5 seconds and when 4g forces, noise, vibration, fumes and vision are your main concern, a little, discomfort in the posterior is the least of your worries!

On the safety side dual 10lb Freon Fireater bottles provide extinguisher for the motor and safety straps, harness, nine layer, firesuit, boots, gloves and facemarsk are by Sirnpson Safety Equipment, the premier supplier in this field.

Power comes from an Ed Pink "Elephant" motor, so named because it displaces 484 cu in of fire breathin' hell. The 7,928 cc all-aluminium engine is based on the original 426 cu in Chrysler engine with hemispherical cylinder heads - hence the term "hemi". This type of configuration with the cross-flow manifold/head/exhaust style is the backbone of over 80 per cent of all modem high capacity drag racing engines because of its relative longevity and strength. Relatively, because depending on how you run them and the nitro loads you use, the engines can last for one "'gung-ho" run, or over 50 more moderate blasts. The engine block/blower combination runs out at around £15,000 per set, and in the major USA events, where, competition is intense, it is quite common for a team to write off., two or three engines during a three-day meeting striving to reach the winner's circle.

The transformation from 426 cu in to 484 cu in or larger is achieved by "stroker" cranks. In this case the crank displaces half an inch more travel to achieve the capacity, although many racers find the 440 cu in is a better combination. Alloy is used for all engine parts to keep the weight down and give a better power/weight ratio. Such is the state of power developed by these cars that the quest for lower elapsed times and higher terminal speeds is turning nowadays to better tyre compounds, lower weights and special, rubber mixed track surfaces.

The SLD Houndog engine is provided courtesy of Santa Pod Raceway Limited, the owners of the Northants strip. The unit has a lowish compression ration of around 5.5:1. Again, in the States, such is the intensity of competition that they are using high compression motors of up to 12.5:1, not the "deck high" unit in Nobby's car, which, with its lower comp ratio and modest nitro loads, should last longer.

Boost for the engine is provided by an aluminium Pink blower specially calibrated and matched to the engine torque power curve, which was assessed in Ed Pinks $20,000 dyno facility. Of 6-71 size, from the original GMC truck supercharger, it runs via a Gilmer type toothed belt drive at 45 per cent overspeed from the 8,000 + rpm engine. Spark advance on the magneto is usually set at 73-75 BTDC to suit the nitro load.

The drive train comprises the Crowerglide high stall speed (4,000 rpm) clutch on the first of two gears in the Lenco racing transmission box, the automatic shift into high being set up according to track conditions and :bite. Setting up such drive trains demands lots of experience as the Houndog crew know only too well. At a meeting at Santa Pod a couple of years ago in the previous car, the clutch was set up with a little too much bite., This, with a combination of better than expected grip on the start line, caused the funny car's, nose to rise 85 degrees to the vertical before crashing down and bending the front axle.

Drag racing has a better safety record than virtually any other form of motor sport and the drive train is made of items far exceeding the specifications laid down by SEMA and other club and sanctioning bodies. The bell housing surrounding the clutch is made from specially treated "scatterproof" steel, as is the two-speed housing. The drive axle has special retaining brackets to limit its travel should it fracture.

The emphasis on safety for the driver and spectators is rigidly enforced; and to good effect. We have seen many fuel (nitro burning) cars explode in a ball of flame or grenade their motors all over the strip. There have been, and will continue to be, many spectacular high speed crashes, including those between two cars. But very seldom do the drivers need hospitalisation after such incidents. Considering that this top branch of the sport is akin to riding an unstable bomb, the attention to safety by constructors, clubs and scrutineers is essential.

The body of a funny car bears only a superficial resemblance to the original, even though it does, at first sight, look like a replica. First of all, it is easily removable for maintenance, being hinged at the back and secured at the front by claw-like mechanisms. As power to weight ratio is important it is made of fibreglass, usually 3 to'5-ply, and must have built-in stiffening ribs to give rigidity over long, unsupported lengths

All the lights and bumpers are moulded into the "glass bodyshell" and when painted are uncannily difficult to distinguish from the real things, such is the mastery of the air-brush techniques displayed by the top painters.

Bonnets are stretched up to 12 in to accommodate the length of frame rails dictated by modern trends; boots are foreshortened as they serve no useful purpose and don’t open anyway; roofs are chopped and lowered; screens are set back and doors are non-existent.

This 75 Chevrolet "Pup" bodyshell was provided by Fibreglass Repairs of Bromley, Kent and came from the same mould as Santa Pod Raceways' "Gladiator". However, Nobby wanted a slightly different front end so moulds were taken of the dummy light apertures and two extra headlights were moulded in to give a four-light appearance. When the body was received in the "as-moulded', form, it was a little too wide for the narrow frame already constructed. So a simple solution was found by cutting the body in half lengthwise and removing 3in from each half and fibreglassing it back together.

Next, all the strengthening ribs, body catches, struts and hook points were fibreglassed into the shell at appropriate points. Still it didn't look quite as the Houndog team wanted it, so the screen pillars were moved back 6in which was an improvement, and then a further 3in which was just right. Now the supercharger pokes out of the, bonnet area instead of the screen, one of the few "fender-floppers" to do so.

Credit for the painstaking hundreds of man hours spent on preparing the shell and then painting it must go to "Street Custom" of Sawbridoeworth, Herts, whose proprietor, Malcolm Springham, reckons over 400 man hours wore expended on his part of this project.

Front wheel arches were found to be a little tight for pit manoeuvring so they were cut and stretched out a further 2in to give the necessary tyre clearance on full lock.

Then any small mould imperfections were smoothed over by an electric sander and small indentations filled with P38 filler. For five days two people hand-rubbed every section of the shell using 240 and 150 grade oxide paper. When satisfied that all surfaces were smooth and optically flat a sealer coat and two coats of universal cellulose primer were applied. Next, a black dust coat was laid on very lightly to serve as a guide to the surface finish. When this was rubbed down, any high or low spots show through the dust as light or dark patches. The primer coats were then flattened by hand, using 600 grade wet and dry paper, which took another two days.

The whole car than received two coats of Metalflake white acrylic paint. This was then shot in Pearl White over the areas that were to be white and the colour areas were than masked back and shot with one coat of Metalflake Base Silver to give a metallised finish.

The paint scheme design and colours were conceived by Nobby and Malcolm after many hours with paper sketches and pints of beer. These finished funny cars have so much inherent pazzaz and presence that it was considered that a simple and bold scheme is all that was desired.

The inside of the shell was then hand painted with black synthetic to match up with the matt black anodised tinware.

The writer has seen many fine drag race cars in the USA, many constructed with a "money is no object" attitude. That the SLD Houndog funny car can proudly stand alongside them is a fitting tribute to the effort, hard work and dedication of Nobby’s crew which comprises Alan and Brett (the two mechanics), Owen the driver and Malcolm who drives the crew truck.

The car is now nearing completion and is certain to pick up major prizes for appearance and engineering. No matter how good those trophies are, when the racing season commences, this team will be dedicated, with a fervour verging on fanaticism, to becoming owners of the quickest (ET) and fastest (mph) funny car in Europe.