Hairy Olds was another brain child of the ever unconventional George Hurst. This twin-engine, four-wheel-drive beast was certainly aptly named. Its cockpit had dual shifters and dual gas pedals to control two massive fuel-injected and supercharged 425-ci Oldsmobile V-8s. (Photo Courtesy Mark Fletcher)
The original Hairy Olds was recreated and is now displayed at the Oldsmobile Museum in Lansing, Michigan. This wickedly heavy and enormously powerful exhibition car posted its maiden run on March 5, 1966, at the Bakersfield Fuel and Gas Meet. (Photo Courtesy Mark Fletcher)
In the never-ending quest to market company products, Hurst entered vehicles in many forms of competition, including Bonneville salt flat speed runs, Indy Car, NORA off road, and drag racing. Hurst had a unique and high-profile presence in drag racing with the Hemi Under Glass and the Hairy Olds. George Hurst himself developed the basic design concepts for both dragsters, which were daring experiments in drag car design. The Hemi Under Glass was arguably the most famous wheelstanding drag car of all time, and the Hairy Olds, in its brief exhibition career, was a wild twin-engine, four-tire-smoking beast that left a lasting impression on drag racing fans.
By late 1965, the wheelstanding Hemi Under Glass was booked solid, but was no longer a unique sight for the audiences. Not only did Bill Shrewsberry go on to L.A. Dart fame, other wheelstanders were being campaigned to entertain crowds at the drag races. Bill Maverick’s Little Red Wagon, Mexican Jumping Bean driven by “Mexican Pete,” and Gary Watson’s Corvair Paddy Wagon van were just a few of the wheelstanding cars now entertaining the race crowds. Soon, a day at the drags wasn’t complete unless it had at least two wheelstanders racing side-by-side down the track.
George Hurst's personal car was a brand-new, front-wheel-drive 1966 Olds Toronado which, according to longtime Hurst employee Don Lane, was immediately outfitted with an optional Oldsmobile L69 Tri-Power off a 4-4-2. Recognizing the potential of the 425 engine, George decided to build a two-blown engine 425-powered race car in the lighter 4-4-2 body style. In the fall of 1965, as the crew started construction of this project, George searched for a racer who could handle both of the 2,500-plus-hp engines. George knew just the man and developed a plan before he called his friend and former racer, Joe Schubeck, the owner of Lakewood Industries in the Cleveland, Ohio area.
When George asked former drag racer Schubeck to meet him for dinner, he purposely did not disclose his reason for the meeting. Joe had always been impressed with what George Hurst had accomplished and felt that Lakewood Industries was a potential merger candidate with the growing Hurst-Campbell organization. Joe met George Hurst, Jack Duffy, and Jack Watson over dinner at the Cleveland airport. George greeted him warmly as “Gentleman Joe” and outlined his concept for the most outrageous exhibition Funny Car imaginable. It consisted of a dual-engine, dual-controlled, four-wheel-drive Olds featuring two gas pedals, a single brake pedal, two shifters, and double everything else.
He proceeded to explain the controls and the procedure for an exhibition run. Starting with a front-engine-only burn-out, he was then to start the back engine as he re-staged the car at the Christmas tree. At the helm of the dual-engined, 5,000-plus-hp nitromethane drag car, he would rocket down the full distance of the quarter-mile in a cloud of smoke.
Joe had a few concerns about the number of controls, and realized there was more to do than one man could handle. Jack Watson put his fears to rest by describing the new Hurst Line Lock system that hydraulically locked the brakes with a touch of a button mounted right on the shifter. This freed up both feet so he could mash the gas pedal to the floor prior to launch.
The year before, Schubeck had retired from Top Fuel racing to concentrate on his business and explained he wouldn’t have the time to run a car and his business. George told him that he had assembled a crew and transporter to haul, prepare, and repair the car. Joe’s only responsibility was to meet them at the track, race the car, and then fly back to Cleveland to manage his growing business.
But running the car was only part of the spectacle that Hurst staged with the program, and George continued to explain the production he had envisioned. He described how Joe would wear a fire suit fashioned into a tuxedo, complete with top hat. He would play the role of “Gentleman Joe” and the new Miss Golden Shift Girl, Linda Vaughn, would play his associate. As he climbed into the car for a run down the strip, Linda would exchange his top hat and cane for a helmet, sending him off in royal style.
Hurst was already building the car when Joe was asked to drive it, referred to as “4-4-Two Much” at the time. Dave Landrith, Dick Chrysler, Jack Watson, George DeLorean (brother to John DeLorean of Pontiac), Paul Phelps, Ray Sissner, and John DeJohn all had a hand in building the car.
The car featured a full tube frame, surrounded by 1966 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 sheet metal. Dual supercharged, blown, fuel-injected Olds Toronado 425-ci engines were mated to twin Turbo 400 automatic transmissions combined with two Toronado front-wheel-drive transaxles. The rear-mounted engine sat above a reversed front suspension system that had the steering components welded into place, but retaining the independent action, while huge Toronado disc brakes provided stopping power. To keep the weight balanced and provide cooling to the rear engine, John DeJohn of the Hurst team designed the coolant to flow from the front radiator through the tube frame and back.
The car was introduced at the spring NHRA race in Bakersfield, California, on March 5, 1966. Hairy Hauler, a special enclosed truck, was built to carry the twin-engined Olds from race to race. At the event, the spectacle was pulled off in true Hurst style. Linda traded out Joe’s top hat and cane and sent him off in grand style for his run. And true to its name, Joe described the first drive as “hairy.”
“The two major contributing factors,” said Joe, “was that all this power was being transferred to the four 10-inch racing slicks, causing the car to hydroplane most of the way down the track. This, combined with the intense torque generated by each engine, caused both front wheels to want to walk around the pivot point of the front suspension.” In essence, this created a severe toe-in condition, and the front end plowed all the way down the track.
At the third race in Palmdale, California, Joe was explaining this to his crew chief, Bob “Animal” Lathrum when a young boy, about 12 years old, approached them. He asked, “Why not start with the wheels toed out, so that when you accelerate the wheels go straight?” The solution was so simple and obvious that both wondered why they hadn’t thought of it before. At rest, the front suspension was toed out, and under power it aligned itself. As a result, Joe gained far greater control and confidence driving the car. But toeing out the front end was just the first step in sorting out the issues. They continued to experiment until they found the right combination of stronger steering components, revised steering geometry, and this over-compensated front-end alignment.
Even with many improvements, the car was still a handful to drive and Joe constantly fought to keep it going in a straight line. Early in the Hurst Hairy Olds program, Joe lost control on a run and slid into a guardrail during an event. The car only suffered superficial damage, so it was repaired and repainted in time for the next race day. But the incident demonstrated that Hairy Olds was indeed hairy to drive.
A far more serious accident took place during the second season at Niagara Raceway in upstate New York. The car wore new sheet metal to look like a 1967 Olds 4-4-2. Schubeck did his usual spectacular warm-up presentation. But he noticed that the track was still slick from an earlier rain. While warming up the car at the line, he performed a smoking burn-out with the front engine only. Once stopped, he started the rear engine and backed to the starting line with both engines running.
He staged and set both shifters into drive and pushed the line-lock button so both feet could be used on the dual gas pedals. He raised the RPM of the two 2,500-hp, 35-percent methane-fed Olds engines in unison, released the line locks, and shot down the wet track. He expected to cover the 440 yards in less than 10 seconds, but the car had a surprise in store for him. Hairy Olds started the run on the ragged edge of control with tires spinning and smoking, but about 200 yards down the track, the front magneto failed and the front engine shut down.
The front suspension was no longer loaded under the massive torque of the front end and immediately toed the wheels inward. The front end started to plow, and Shubeck lost control of the drag car. Hairy Olds headed off the track toward spectators in the bleachers and disaster seemed imminent. The former Top Fuel racer said he had thrilled the crowd during the burn-out and launch, yet these same fans continued to applaud him as he barreled toward them in the stands at more than 100 mph. With the front engine dead and the slick conditions on the track, he fought to regain control of the car as it left the asphalt. The car caught a cable hidden in the standing grass near the edge of the track, which prevented it from reaching the stands, averting a tragedy.
The frightening incident shook Shubeck, and he lost confidence in the car. For him, Hairy Olds ultimately proved to be too hairy to drive. He climbed out of it and told his mechanic Bob Lathrum to load it up and take it back to Hurst and Watson. The car was severely damaged and was never run again. Subsequently, Hurst dismantled it for parts. After two years and two heart-pounding wrecks, Joe didn’t want to take any more chances.
As an interesting note, Oldsmobile sponsored the exhibition car, and as part of the deal, Shubeck was given the use of a one-off 1966 Olds Toronado station wagon which was used as a push vehicle for the monstrous Hairy Olds. For two years, Joe used this car and requested to purchase it at the end of the contract. The car carried no serial number and was driven on manufacturer’s plates, so he was forced to return it to Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan. He was later told the car survived, but has never seen it again.
Hairy Olds used two blown Oldsmobile 425 engines, each with an estimated 2,500 hp. The line locks that locked the front wheels for burn-outs made the car driveable because the driver could take his foot off the brake and use both feet to depress the individual gas pedals for each engine. (Photo Courtesy Mark Fletcher)
Dick Chrysler was the traveling mechanic for the original Hairy Olds. He had a lot of work to do to keep this spellbinding exhibition car running. To make it four-wheel-drive and do four-wheel burn-outs, the car was fitted with two Tornado transaxles. (Photo Courtesy Mark Fletcher)
The Hairy Olds crew assembles for a photo. Shown from left to right, George Hurst, Bob Lathrum, unknown woman, Joe Shubeck, Linda Vaughn, Dick Chrysler, and Jack Watson.
Joe Shubeck fills the Hurst Hairy Olds with smoke at Niagara Raceway in 1967. This was just prior to the accident that destroyed the car and caused Joe to retire from racing. (Photo Courtesy Joe Shubeck Collection)