By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, and Woody Gilmore Front Engine Dragsters Facebook page

Occasionally while skimming through the classified ads, you’ll find a project that just falls together, and if you’re not careful, you might even end up hauling some new junk home. I don’t have the space or the cash for this wicked, old-school front-engine dragster, but that won’t stop me from trying to sell you on it. For all your nostalgic thrills in the 1,320, consider this vintage Woody Gilmore HEMI dragster.

Oddly enough, this dragster came to me on Facebook Marketplace, and is located just an hour from me in Crystal Falls, Michigan. The owner describes it as a 1965 Woody Gilmore front-engine dragster, which he had raced sometime in the past with a small-block Chevrolet that ran 9.37 at 137 mph. And while that’s pretty spectacular in itself, I was captivated when I read that the car originally ran a Chrysler 354 HEMI with direct drive.

It turns out that this fellow, Woody Gilmore, was a pretty significant and successful builder. As one of the few early professional chassis builders of the 1960s, Gilmore and others experimented with chassis design to maximize traction, and come up with standardized chassis to improve competition. The efforts of these builders would result in the evolution of the modern, rear-engine dragster by the 1970s.

Gilmore made quite a few chassis, but his name ends up getting thrown around a lot with chassis of this style. So is this Facebook-find drag rail a genuine Gilmore, or close copy? Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell from the photos, and there’s evidence for, and against it.

Some of the best evidence is the front axle, which bears a strong resemblance to known Gilmore builds. While many cars ended up customized, the bodywork also looks similar to know examples. Keen eyes will notice that the cage in the rear does not quite add up though, and it seems that the car was converted from a three-point cage, to a five-point cage to stay NHRA legal, as is the case with many other Gilmore cars.

Another point in favor of this rail is the seller’s account of the car’s history. He states that the car was originally campaigned by the team of Gene Adams, John Mulligan and Jack Wayre. Enter that trio in your search bar, and you’ll come across quite a few hits, including this site on John Mulligan, which shows photos of two different early HEMI-powered cars with Gilmore-style construction. The owner states that he had spoken to Adams and Wayre in the past, who also believed the car to be their old rail.

In more recent years, the seller states that the car ran deep into the 9s with a Chevrolet small-block, before he quit racing. There’s no driveline in the car today, all the more reason in my opinion, to bring this rail back to its roots with a first-generation HEMI engine. And it just so happens, that there’s a dozen early HEMIs for sale within a few hours of the car — remember what I said about a project falling together?

With all the first-gen HEMIs available, you could afford to be choosey with this project (a luxury you don’t always have with a 426). A preliminary search comes up with DeSoto 276s, a handful of Chrysler 331s, and a trick 392 Chrysler with dual quads. We even found a 360 ci Chrysler unit with a dyno-verified 426 hp on tap for a whopping $10,000. And then we found it, the perfect 354 ci Chrysler FirePower HEMI with dual quads, and it even appears to be in rebuilt, or running condition. The ad doesn’t give a lot of information, but at $3,000 or trade for a SBC blower setup, this engine is worth pursuing, and it’s even priced well compared to other engines for sale.

I’m imagining this old rail with a fresh coat of paint, fat rubber with ET or Halibrand wheels and the rebuilt 354 HEMI with chrome valve covers and mechanical injection. It’ll take some work and cash to get it there, but the nostalgic racing thrills make it worthwhile. The seller is asking $12,000 for the dragster, and you’ll need to shell out another $3,000 for the HEMI.

See the Woody Gilmore dragster here on Facebook Marketplace.