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Altered wheelbase cars, serving as they did as the precursors to modern funny cars, hold a special place in racing history. Racers had long built dragsters more or less from scratch, and it was common to see ‘stock’ looking cars on the track. Altered wheelbase cars, however, were different. They had undergone extensive reconstructive surgery in the pursuit of performance: their axles moved radically to change weight and mass distribution in order to improve traction. Even today they’re an almost shocking sight at a nostalgia meet or car show, just alien looking enough to catch the eye.
But these cars aren’t just dusty relics of drag racing’s past; many enthusiast have built their own: some are loving tributes to the famous cars of the past, others new creations that strive to show a living, beating heart in reliving the past. Such an endeavor is not for the faint of heart, and would seem like an impossible effort to most people. Fortunately, our very own Steve Magnante wanted to show that wasn’t the case. In his new book, How to Build Altered Wheelbase Cars, Steve makes the case that if building one of these beasts is your dream, it’s not something you have to give up, like your childhood hopes to be an astronaut ballerina.
Believing that one must understand the past to embrace the present and future, the book starts with an overview of the history of altered wheelbase cars: how they came about, what they were meant to do, and who the major players were, and finishes with a photo album of altered wheelbase cars, some notable, some never heard of. The reader’s appetite whetted, we move on to the meat and potatoes of the book: directions for building your own car. The directions are illustrated every step of the way with excellent photography. Although the photos can, at times, be a bit too small such that it can be difficult to make out details, it’s no exaggeration to say that, as extensive and detailed as the instructions are, any attempt to enlarge them significantly would have required a multiple volume work. As it is, the photography is well enough, and cover three different altered wheelbase projects: The Willshire Shaker Nova made for Hot Rod Magazine, the Rampage Dart, which has been seen in the hallowed pages of this very publication, and the Funny Fairmont. Each highlights different techniques and strategies, and each is a fantastic story in its own right.
As for the writing, if you like Steve Mags’ writing for us, you’ll like it in this book. Crisp, clear, and to the point, but with enough asides to keep the tone casual and friendly. Make no mistake, this is a how-to book, and its focus isn’t on history, but on practicality, but even if you know little more about working on cars than how to change a flat, each car covered here is a story of its own, worth checking out. Of course, the serious modder will get the most out of it.