Est. 1,500 bhp 486 cu. in. 6-71-supercharged Wedge head, Plymouth V8 engine, solid front axle with torsion bars, solid rear axle, two-wheel hydraulic rear brakes. Wheelbase: 146"

Organized quarter-mile drag racing began in the ‘50s. Conventional hot rods quickly evolved into specialized “rail jobs”. As speeds rose, long-chassis, front-engine slingshots were the fastest contenders and biggest crowd-pleasers. But despite safety advances, Top Fuel dragsters running on unstable nitro-methane were highly dangerous. Stretched to their limit, blown, big displacement engines, mounted right in front of a hapless driver, were grenades, ready to explode within seconds on a flat-out run.

Tony Nancy, never one to persist with conventional approaches, mounted his Buick-powered ’29 A roadster on an abbreviated Kent Fuller dragster chassis. He’d tried slingshots, and understood their shortcomings. In 1963, when he decided to build a seriously different digger, he intuitively reasoned there had to be a better way to travel the quarter-mile than looking sideways around a towering blown motor, not to mention its inherent risk of violent detonation.

So Tony became a pioneer in rear-engined dragsters. From 1963 to 1965, he campaigned an innovative duo of enclosed, streamlined, Steve Swaja designs, built by Emil Deidt and Wayne Ewing, on completely heliarc-ed Race Car Specialties chassis. Featured on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in August 1964, Tony’s first Max Wedge ran a 6-71 blown and injected, 486 cubic inch Plymouth V8 and turned 187.00 mph on gas. The radical-looking rail featured a wedge-shaped, partially-enclosed body. Tony hunkered down in front of the motor with an unencumbered view of the strip. Huge slicks straddled an Olds rear, with a narrow, 25-inch tread and torsion bar suspension. Each rear wheel was adjustable for load, and the chassis could be precisely jacked to compensate for torque differences. Twin Girling master cylinders choreographed the Airheart spot disc brakes and the Schiefer double-valve disc clutch.

The massive Plymouth was drilled .040 over a 4.25-in bore, with a 4.25-in Reath stroker crank. Harman and Collins align-bored the block, installed full floating wrist pins and balanced the works. Rogers Porting Service hogged out the hemi heads from 92-ccs to 106-ccs. Dick Harryman set up the blower, overdriven 19 percent over engine speed, and a Joe Hunt magneto fired 38 degrees before TDC. Nothing but the best would do: Chet Herbert cam, Enderle injection, Ansen forged pistons, Pedrick rings – little wonder Tony’s new toy, in his words, “handles just like a great big go-kart.”

Tony totaled the first Wedge at Sandusky, Ohio, in 1963, when he endo-ed after bouncing through a dipsy doodle at the end of the strip, at over 200 mph. “I remember ducking and waiting to see that the grass was no longer moving,” he told HRM’s Gray Baskerville. “The instant I punched the harness, I fell out of what was left of my upside down car.” Unhurt, brave as ever, he couldn’t wait to build another. The Wedge II, also known as the Hemi-Wedge, ran several engines at different times – first a stroked Plymouth Wedge again, then a blown 426 Chrysler Hemi, turning in the low 8s, in just under 190-mph, and ultimately a 6-71-blown Olds.

Applying lessons learned, Tony tried solid rear suspension for Wedge II, and installed a small rear wing to keep the rear firmly planted. Truly America’s international Ambassador of Drag Racing, he raced the new car in England, Germany, Italy, Japan and Australia. On the straightaway at Monza, despite threatening rain, Tony hit 187-mph, 192-mph, then 195-mph, on three successive runs, shattering existing Italian 400-meter acceleration records.

In 2001, he told Gray Baskerville, “I would later learn that [Don] Garlits was closely watching my Wedge every time I ran.” The Wedge design, inherently safer, would track straight and, in Tony’s inimitable words, “…top end like mad, but elapsed times were sh%#&y.” When Tony decided to compete in the AA/Top Fuel Class, he reverted to a new, front-engine design. The record-setting Wedge was stored; Tony later restored it to its original configuration. It would take several more years, and Don Garlits’s horrific accident in a front-engine Top Fueler, before Garlits and other pros realized Tony had really been on to something, six years before. Perfect today, looking just like it did on the cover of Hot Rod, with its big, blown Plymouth ready to cackle, the Wedge II remains a fascinating example of drag racing ingenuity.

Featured on cover and page 88 of Hot Rod, Aug. 1964, and page 44 Car Craft, Aug. 1966.
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The Wedge II Dragster, Tony Nancy

 
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Race Car: The Wedge II Dragster, Tony Nancy
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