Sunday, July 3, 2011

Four for the Fourth: Tommy Ivo and the Buick Connection

As much fun as Pop Kennedy and Pete Reynolds were having racing Reynolds Buicks in the late fifties, they weren't the only ones to recognize the potential of the Buick nailhead engine.

Tommy Ivo, also known as TV Tommy, was an actor in movies and television. He is best remembered as an actor for starring as Haywood Botts in the "Margie" Television Series in the 1961-62 season. The series was the story of a young girl coming of age in a quaint New England town in the 1920's.

Tommy's off screen life was a bit faster than that. He was a pretty accomplished drag racer, and is remembered for creating a series of Buick powered dragsters. His first dragster was built in 1958, and was powered by a fuel injected 1957 Buick nailhead engine. It was a highly successful little machine, and set a B-gas record turning a 9.16 ET at 154 mph. For a time he tried switching to a Chrysler Hemi, but quickly returned to Buick saying the Hemi wasn't any faster, and it covered him with oil.

So what's better than a Buick engined dragster? Tommy thought the answer would be to build a dragster with two Buick engines. For the 1959 season he created a rail dragster powered by two 1959 Buick 401 engines. This was one indeed faster, turning an 8.69 at 180 mph. So if two is better, what about...

Four? yes, Four. A creation that might have equated showmanship with the need for speed, Tommy created the "Showboat", a rail dragster that featured FOUR Buick Nailhead engines and four wheel drive. The NHRA took one look and pronounced it "Exhibition Only", the ABC Television Network forbid him to drive it during the run of "Margie", and the 1720 HP monster wasn't quite as fast as the dual, turning its fastest at 9.14 and 170 MPH. But a Showstopper it was, and a legend it is.

It was modified in the mid sixties with the addition of a Riviera inspired "Funny Car" wagon body and renamed the "Wagon Master." It resides today in the NHRA Museum in Pomona, CA.

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