The following article appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Nitro Madness Magazine. Permission was requested and has been given by Scott Gaulter.
One of the participants at the very first NHRA national event in 1955 was West-Coaster Jim “Jazzy” Nelson with his flathead- powered Fiat altered coupe. That car made such an impression on another entrant, Dallas teenager Karl "Buddy” Anderson that, even though he returned in 1956 to take a win in the C/Altered class with a ‘32 Ford, the young Texan began an earnest search for a similar Topolino (Italian for “little mouse”) coupe like Nelson’s.
One eventually surfaced in nearby Duncanville, but with his college fees and $45-a-week earnings at a local grocery store, it was priced out of Anderson’s budget. Buddy continued to save and a few months later when he went back to make an offer on the car, much to his surprise - and joy - the owner told him he had sold the chassis and engine to another party, but would be happy to sell him the bare body shell for a fraction of the original price.
Believe it or not, the coupe you see was built in just over a week. It features a narrowed ‘30 Model-A frame and front suspension on a 96” wheelbase, steered by a ‘40 Ford box. A hefty roll bar sits over the center-mounted original Fiat seat. Buddy laughs when he mentions that it took him almost as long to drill the lightening holes in chromed axle as it did to build entire car. A puzzling sight for younger admirers of this piece are the vintage knee-action shocks. And if you guessed Halibrand or even Hildebrand mags for the front, you'd be wrong: they’re a pair very rare Palamides 12-spokers, now shod with Pirelli radials.
In the rear, slung under coil springs, is a Halibrand quick change, built in the original Culver City shop, which transmits power through cut-down Buick axles out to the 1960s American mags and 9.00x15 M&H Racemasters. Stopping power is provided by later model Ford binders.
Calvert Automotive in Denton, Texas built the original engine, a high-winding 265 cu. in. Chevrolet, with an Engle cam, J.E. pistons, Vertex magneto, and a six 2-bbl manifold.
Hooked to it was a ‘38 Ford tranny using second and high only. In the rodder’s eternal search for more power, however, it wasn’t long before a 327 found its way into the engine compartment, with a hotter Isky cam, Enderle fuel injection, and Venolia pistons. The tired Ford shifter also was replaced by a 4-speed B&M Hydro Stick .
Fostered by the North Texas Timing Association, the old all- concrete airport just down the road from Dallas at Caddo Mills launched drag racing in the early 1950s (many say it was the second such organized strip next to California’s Santa Ana) and became the southwest’s hot-bed of NHRA drag racing for many years. Soon after, new strips opened in San Antonio, Houston, Temple, and Amarillo. Those, along with the popular AHRA-sanctioned Green Valley Raceway near the Fort Worth end of the D-FW Metroplex, greatly expanded the opportunities to race in Texas.
The altered classes became very popular, and as a result, the wars between these stripped down coupes and sedans comprised some of the fiercest wheel-to- wheel dueling imaginable during the late 50s and early 60s. The three giants of the popular B/A class in Texas (and usual contenders for the Middle Eliminator trophy) were Bobby and Jimmy Carson’s Swamp Buggy olds-powered ‘32 sedan, Don Breithaupt’s DCB deuce 5-window (sadly neither car has survived over the years), and Buddy Anderson’s Fiat, christened the Widdle White Wabbit. The WWW’s winning percentage against all comers also guaranteed this gold-plated pedigree for the little coupe: the over 60 trophies lining Anderson’s garage wall in Carrollton include a win at the 1957 Texas State Championships, 4 wins at the AHRA Nationals and a certificate from the NHRA proclaiming his new national ET record of 10.89 seconds in 1962 (before retiring the car a few years later, he had pocketed a time slip of 10.67 seconds at 133 m.p.h.). Even with the modest amount of payouts for winning in those days, his racing income soon began to exceed his weekly paycheck from Safeway!
The early sixties was a busy time for Buddy. The recognition he drew with his drag racing
savvy got him elected as Treasurer with the American Hot Rod Association. In addition, along with his racing schedule and day job, he was in the Army Reserves at a time when the Cold War was heating up with Soviet missiles being shipped to Cuba. By the mid-60s the race car was parked in the garage and Anderson spent the next 24 years working for noted fuel racers Foster Yancey and Brad Camp in their Dallas-based construction business (one of their developments was the famed Reeder Road warehouse complex, which housed many race rigs, chassis shops, and the like).
After the building boom slowed in Texas, Buddy took to the road in 1992, driving a big rig.
In the last few years, however, he was mostly working local runs around the metroplex, giving him more time to enjoy tinkering with a few old cars he’d accumulated, particularly the restoration of the Ford sedan his uncle had bought new in 1942.. ..that is, until Ed Miller and the newly-formed Texas Timing Association (www.Texas timing. com) came calling.
Putting together a circuit of the old cars to race or cackle at events around Texas, Miller was booking such noted quarter-milers as the reconstructed Scorpion I (Bobby Langley’s original was beaten by Don Garlits for the Top Eliminator trophy at the ‘58 Texas State Championships), the rebuilt Garlits- chassied Scorpion V, Loyd Harlan’s 666 roadster, the Gizzle Hopper and a few others. But what he wanted more than anything was that famed B/Altered coupe that he had seen taking so many wins back in the 5Os and 60s. Miller said a phone call to Anderson was all it took: Goodbye La-Z-Boy, hello dragstrip!
What makes this story so meaningful is with the ramped-up interest in vintage, or “heritage” racing, many cars have been pulled out of the rafters and rebuilt or painstakingly recreated. How many do you know of that needed little more than an oil change on the engine and transmission, the valves adjusted and a new set of front tires to once again hit the strip?
Whether they’re showing, cackling or racing, Buddy and his Widdle White Wabbit are having a good time. The all-steel body’s doors still shut with a solid thunk and except for some peeling of the mid-60s-applied pearl paint it could be mistaken for a recent build. The 327 has now been replaced by a fairly mild 350, featuring a 272 Comp camshaft and stock heads. The injectors and mag are gone in favor of a Weiand manifold with a 750 Edelbrock carb and a H.E.I. ignition. The headers, fabricated by Buddy, remain the ‘5Os originals. A radiator and three small fans mounted horizontally under the main rails at front keep the Wabbit cool for cacklefests and trips from the pits to the line.
Hitching the Fiat’s trailer behind his one-owner and immaculately restored 1978 Thunderbird, the last few years have seen Buddy race at events such as the H.A.M.B. Nationals at Missouri’s Mo-Kan Dragway, the Kontinental’s popular annual “Day of the Drags” at the Little River Raceway near Austin, the “Texas Thaw” and 2009 Texas State Championship - both held at Denton’s North Star Dragway - and the 2010 Texas State Championship at San Antonio Raceway.
When Buddy pulled to the line at the State Championships, it brought looks of amazement
to the crowd when it was announced that the Widdle White Wabbit was the very same car
and driver - that had been victorious at that same Texas State Championship race fifty-three
All day, racers and spectators came to his pit to admire and take photographs of the altered coupe and meet Anderson. Many of the older ones remembered when and where they had
seen the Widdle White Wabbit in action, but the slender, always smiling septuagenarian, his gray hair pulled back into a ponytail, chuckled when he recounted how one young man in his early twenties, came up to him at the H.A.M.B. race at Mo-Kan and told him how his dad insisted that he come over to see the legendary Fiat and its owner. After spending several minutes asking questions about the car and his racing career, the youngster shook Anderson’s hand and thanked him for coming “and bringing such an historic car to the event.”
Buddy’s grin widened as he told this story, and then added: “You know, I’ve been doing this
for a long time. I won my first trophy at Caddo Mills in 1953 racing a ‘46 Ford. We tow a
long way to some of these races, but when a young person who wasn’t even around back when we ran these things says something like that, it makes it all worthwhile!”