Back in 1966… or maybe it was ’67, there was a real excitin’ street racing fraternity around northern Indiana. Every town had one or more sections of farm road, fairly smooth and straight that the local boys could use to break their cars. One of the lessor-know champions of impromptu dragstrips was a really big fella called “Meat”. Now Meat only drove Chevrolet products. He had several late 50s race cars and a radical ’62 Corvette with wider tires under the back end than anyone had ever seen on a street car. But… that’s another story.
One hot summer night me and meat and about a half-dozen other foolhardy streetracers were about halfway though a keg of Milwaukee’s finest when the subject turned to engine swapping. Since Meat’s four-car garage had enough tools and equipment to outfit a complete race-team, he bragged long and hard that he could fit anything into anything else. Nothing was impossible to the dedicated mechanic!
We started thinking up challenges to his boasting and finally spotted one alongside the shop. He had a Chrysler 426 cubic inch V-8 collecting weeds in one corner (like I said, he didn’t like nuthin’ ‘cept Chevys) and a Nash Metropolitan that someone had let overheat (and blown the engine) sittin’ in the other corner. As soon as this ridiculous match was suggested we all broke up in alcoholic laughter. That was the wrong thing to do ’cause Meat just got ticked off, pushed our chairs, boxes and tool kits out of the way and dragged out his engine hoist. Well sir, before ya know it, that monster hemi was danglin’ from a chain and we were helpin’ push that dead econobox (Nash was one of the first ones ya know). The hood came off, the front end was jacked up high and the entire Metropolitan drive train was soon laying in his side yard. He put on a pair of goggles, lowered the hemi (tranny first of course) into the front of the Nash. Every time the engine stopped movin’, he fired up his cuttin’ torch and removed the offending sheetmetal.
I passed out a little while later and woke up about dawn. Ever’body else was still sleepin’ it off… ‘cept for Meat. He was still at it. A narrowed rear-end from some nameless race car was joined to the tail shaft of the automatic transmission with a single U-joint. Most of the interior of that poor little car was taken up with the back half of the hemi and it’s transmission. Fifteen-inch slicks made from old snow-tires filled a coupla wheel wells the Meat had cut from chalk outlines of the tires. The engine, transmission tail-shaft and rear-end were welded solid to some hunks of steel that Meat had used to stiffen the frame. It was UGLY!
He called me over and had me hold the jumper cables. The stock factory headers just sorta stuck out the bottom and the ensuing explosions woke every body (including the next three farmhouses up the road)! It looked like the damn thing might just work! I looked over at Meat. I guess the noise must of sobered him up, because he shut it off real quick and a sat there starin’ at his handi-work for a long time. We all crowded ’round and slapped him on the back, but he seemed preoccupied. When someone suggested he “take it for a spin” he almost jumped out of his skin. He chased us all out so he could get some sleep and promised the hecklers that after dark he’d sneak it out to the nearby highway and run someone.
A few days later, his big chance came. I was driving my Magic Box wagon (that’s another story too!) and Meat pulled slowly into the “pits” with this contraption. Now, no one in their right mind would ever call Meat scared of anything (at least not to his face), but he looked like he had more than a healthy amount of respect for his creation. He had the lights working, a dealer tag wired to the trunk lid and a pair of glass-pack mufflers were connected with flex-tubing. Like I said before… it was UGLY!
We all followed Meat and some kid in a brand new Plymouth out to a stretch of blacktop between cornfields. I was flagman. On the count of three, they both punched the gas and all hell broke loose. The kid in the Plymouth saw Meat was in trouble and slammed on his brakes. Isn’t it funny how exciting things can seem to drop down into slow motion? I can still see that start. As my arm dropped, curls of smoke started pourin’ off Meat’s tires. When he passed me, his front wheels were already about a foot off the ground. I spun around and peered through the smoke in time to see that little Nash rear up on one wheel and cross over into the other lane. The sound of roaring engine and squallin’ tire was somewhat muted by the scream of pure terror comin’ from the driver’s seat. This incredible balancing act lasted for about two hunert’ feet before the little Nash twitched sideways an’ flipped over. It slowly spun around on it’s roof, engine dead, tires still spinnin’ and a steady stream of profanity flowing from within. It took most of us a minute or so to stop laughing long enough to help poor Meat outa that thing. He never said a word to anyone. We pushed it back upright. He fired it back up and, trailin’ various oily fluids, drove very slowly back to his shop. He wouldn’t let anyone follow him in and closed the big, double door.
The next day I stopped by his house and he seemed to be his ol’ self again. He offered me a beer and, after finishin’ ’bout half, I cautiously inquired as to the Nash. He smiled and pointed out back. I took a look. It was there all right. He had taken his famous cutting torch (you know, the one that he started with) and cut that entire car into pieces no larger than a toaster.