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Legends of the Quarter-Mile

Leonard Van Luvan

Don Garlits’ First Blower
By Leonard Van Luven as told to Wayne King
 
I was working at Isky Cams in the tool room. We had a Bridgeport mill, a 16” lathe, a real good band saw, all kinds of welders and a multitude of support equipment. We did all sorts of experimental stuff. Anything we needed we made.
 
The Smokers from Bakersfield had “Large Father” out here to run the March Meet. He had a carbureted 392 Chrysler with 8 Stromberg carbs. He ran real good for back east but the real good cars had blowers and the un-blown cars just couldn’t keep up with them. Isky wanted Garlits to look good for all the ads he was running and told me to set up a 6-71 blower for him.
 
I mocked up a blower manifold out of wood on a 392 engine and designed a 2” Gilmer belt drive for a 6-71 blower. Belt drives were available for 4-71 blowers at the time but there wasn’t anything for a 6-71. I had to design and build the entire drive system from scratch. I machined drive pulleys for 18% and 21% overdrive, the blower snout, the idler pulley and the related parts from bar stock. The only part that we could buy ready-made was the 2” Gilmer blower belt. Vic Edelbrock cast a 392 manifold using my numbers for blower setback, height, etc. He made a beautiful part and it was perfect right off the bat.
 
I built five 6-71 blower set-ups initially which went to Garlits, the Greek & Maynard, Ernie Hashim, Satto Pastorian and Ted Cyr. We used 8 Stromberg carburetors with the needle valves deleted. On the initial runs with the new blower set up we found that we couldn’t run more than 30% nitro, as we couldn’t get enough volume through the enlarged fuel fittings. So we drilled and tapped through the top of the bowl for another fuel fitting. Each carburetor had two fuel lines feeding it. Garlits could now run up to 75% nitro. This much nitro with a 75% load just about smoked Marv and Ernie’s M&Hs right off the rims!
 
The entire time Garlits ran the eight Stromberg carburetors the engine never backfired but he put on a Hilborn 2-hole injector. It was the only time it backfired and Garlits got burned bad. That’s when he had Swingle and Malone driving for him. It didn’t take a genius to see that a larger injector was needed. Hilborn said that a 2-holer was more than adequate for a 6-71 so Isky told Hilborn that either he built the 4 holer or we would. That’s how the 4 holer came to be.
 
We had our own dyno at Isky’s. We couldn’t afford to buy one so we designed and built our own. We had 3 water wheels to handle the 392s. For a blown Chevy one water wheel was more than adequate. We learned after running everyone’s injector that the larger the intake area; the more boost, boost pressure and horsepower. And it was free! The Enderle Barn Door picked up 1½ pounds of boost over any other injector and 1½ pounds of boost added up to 80 horsepower, free.
 
Those were the days. There was just me and an old racer named Charley Schultz in Isky’s tool room. The two of us designed and built all of the trick stuff that came out of that shop, occasionally collaborating with Ed Donovan and Vic Edelbrock, among others.

Garlits First Blower

The Offy:
Van was racing with the Donovan & Startup car, a pretty fast little 200 cubic inch Flathead dragster. They used to run the can in it until the last round when they’d throw in 5% hydrazine for good measure. Mickey Thompson shows up one weekend with his new 260 cubic inch Tempest-powered dragster and runs 163 MPH with it. Not to be outdone, Donovan, who used to work for Meyer & Drake, buys a 280 cubic inch Offy engine to put in the car.
 
Then they decided to put a blower on it so Donovan handcrafted an intake manifold while Van built the blower and drives.  Van wanted to run their new 6-71 at 10 under but Donovan insisted that it had to be 1:1. The first pass with the new engine was supposed to be a half pass but it was running so good it ran to the first light at 173 MPH! The second pass it ran 183 MPH! Van says "you know how bitchin’ an Offy sounds, well with a blower they sound triple bitchin’! PLUS…we put 50% in the tank."
 
Kent Fuller convinced Donovan to let him build a new chassis car for the Offy motor that would be at least 300 pounds lighter. Donovan told him to build it but when it was finished he stood the new chassis up in the corner of his shop. Van kept trying to get Donovan to put it the car together, without any luck. Donovan said that his business was selling Chrysler parts and lost interest in running the Offy. Danny Ongais later bought the chassis and it became the Mangler.
 
 
The Iron Maiden:
Van and Donovan didn't know the first thing about Chryslers when they first put one in the Iron Maiden. Their first race with the new engine was the March Meet. Tommy Ivo was driving. They had a 354 with a stroker crank (which "they needed like a another hole in the head.") Van wrote the Chrysler’s firing order on his shirtsleeve so he wouldn’t make a mistake and cross wire it. They didn't have a degree wheel so they set the mag by putting a screwdriver down the spark plug hole and made an “educated guess’ about when to tighten the clamp.
 
In those days Tony Waters was the baddest guy around (he'd give Garlits all he wanted) and if you ran over 50% you were some kind of hero. Waters came over to the car and Isky had evidently told him how much pop they had in it.  Waters said something about helping them hop it up and poured something in their tank.
 
They went to the line against Waters to qualify.  They had a really good new blower and the motor sounded like it had 38 degrees in it and 100%. Dad looked into Ivo's goggles and Ivo was "smiling".  Ivo left right with Waters and both cars blazed the tires down the track. Van couldn't see anything, but the crowd was roaring.  Suddenly the roar dimmed to what sounded more like the crowd choking.  Van looked down the track and one of the trails of smoke had turned and was heading for the grandstands. (Ivo spun it out before getting to the stands.) 
 
They all jump in the truck & head for the other end.  Van was standing on the running board and couldn't see Ivo.  Thinking that Ivo was still in the car and getting burned, he stepped off the truck when it slowed to about 5 mph (it was going about 30) and started tumbling. Ivo was already out of the car, watching all of this and cracking up. He said they looked bad enough because of the blown  engine, but Van’s tumbling act made them look like a bunch of circus clowns.
 
Van never found out what Waters poured in the tank but said, "it wasn't alcohol!"

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