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Drag Racing Warriors: Pete Gate's Gate Job Comet

Lincoln-Mercury’s release of five revolutionary flip-top Comet Funny Cars in 1966 set the match-race world on its ear and overnight deemed obsolete everything that came before. Al Turner and the head of Lincoln Mercury’s  race division, Fran Hernandez, knew what it took to win. As removing weight is akin to adding horsepower, the Mercury guys commissioned Plastigage Custom Fabrication of Jackson, Michigan, to lay up the bodies in lightweight fiberglass. At the same time, the Logghe brothers were called upon to build a matching number of stock wheelbase tube chassis. With a SOHC 427 nestled between the rails, these bombs weighed less than 1,900 pounds. Once the cars hit the track, their ETs were .3 to .4 second quicker than their fading competition. Is it any wonder their win percentage approached 90?

 


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When the revolutionary flip-top Comets appeared in 1966, they had an easy .3 up on the competition. Gate Job was a late bloomer, debuting in December 1966. Pete and the Comet had no problem mowing down match-race competition.

 

Gate Job was assembled in Pete’s home garage and shared space with the 1965 A/FX Comet, which he had previously purchased from Dyno Don. Pete was never a contracted Ford driver but did enjoy plenty of back-door support.

 

 

This is the freshly lettered Comet, ready for action. The Earl Wade–built 427 produced in the neighborhood of 1,000 hp and propelled the Comet to mid-8-second times. For stopping power the car carries rear drum brakes and a Simpson chute. Shocks and springs are Autolite while the wheels are Halibrand, front and rear. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huffman Collection)

 

Pete Gates’ Comet may not have been the first flip-top Funny Car built but it is the last survivor of the original batch. All of the other cars were destroyed in track-related incidents. Pete’s car was a leftover 1966 body that he was able to secure late in the year from Mercury with the help of fellow racer Don Nicholson. Pete had previously purchased Don’s old A/FX Comet and, with the help of Earl Wade, went about putting his name on the map by using the car to win the Super Stock Nationals in 1966. Remarkably, this win was Pete’s first race in Don’s old Comet.

 

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Earl continued to play crew chief for Pete through 1966 and helped build and tune the 427 for his new “flop-per.” The race-bred engine featured Crane Camshaft’s pistons, rods, and injector by Mickey Thompson; Jardine headers; and a Mallory magneto to light the 80-percent load of nitro. Backing up the potent mill was an Art Carr–prepped C6 that fed power to a 9-inch rear end. The Ron and Gene Logghe Stage 1 chassis, which is believed to be the brothers’ first, was fabricated from 1.5-inch round tubing and features a four-point roll cage, tube straight axle, and a ladder-bar rear-end setup. He was never a factory-contracted racer, but Pete was well connected and did enjoy some back door support.

Gate Job made an early appearance at the 1967 NHRA Winternationals where it lasted a couple rounds in Supercharged Experimental Stock (although the car wasn’t supercharged) hitting mid-8-second times. While out West, Pete had an escape hatch cut into the roof of his Comet and is credited with being the first Funny Car owner to incorporate this safety feature.

Pete, who hailed from Wayne, Michigan, never enjoyed the taste of a national event victory. He did have plenty of success match racing the Comet, defeat-ing Arnie Beswick, Dyno Don, Jungle Jim Liberman, and others. The Comet received a face-lift in the spring when Pete added a 1967 Comet grille and taillights. The beautiful sunset gold and cinnamon pearl paint, which was laid on by Paul Shidlick, remained intact. Pete swapped bodies during the summer of 1967, bolting on a new fiberglass Comet shell. It lacked the visual appeal of the first, but the lighter shell helped put Pete into the 7-second zone for the first time.

By the late 1960s, the cost of drag racing a Funny Car was becoming more and more prohibitive. Pete’s parents owned a successful furniture store and he enjoyed their support through 1969 before they pulled the plug. Pete’s drag racing career came to an end after campaigning a Cougar Funny Car. The demise of the 1966 Comet came in mid-1967 when Pete received his new Comet body.

 

 

By early spring 1967, Pete’s ’66 Comet incorporated a ’67 Comet grille and taillights. Elapsed times in the early 1960s were hampered by the lack of bite but as you can see, by 1967, tire compounds had greatly improved. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huffman Collection)

 

Unlike Humpty Dumpty, the handful of Comet pieces were put back together again. The cut-up Comet was discovered by Steve Ziebold and passed to his good friend, Daryl Huffman. Another year and a half was spent hunting down the chassis, which was thankfully located intact. The wheels, steering, front suspension, and tinwork are original to the car. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huff-man Collection)

 

Piecing together the Comet was a chore as numerous modifications had to be undone. The ’67 Comet taillights made way for the original 1966 units while holes in the tail panel were filled. The “Don Who?” was in reference to Dyno Don and his Eliminator 1 Comet. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huffman Collection)

 

To complete the Comet’s restoration, then-owner Daryl Huffman brought in partners to help out financially. Part of the agreement they made was that once the restoration was complete, the Comet would be sold. Crossing the block at Barrett Jackson in 2010, the happy new owner picked up a bargain, paying $160,000 for the Comet. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huffman Collection)

 

Pete used his existing chassis with the new body while the old Comet shell was left to collect dust in the corner of his shop. When his Cougar entered the scene, the Comet bodies and the chassis were sold to Wayne Gapp. Wayne bolted a Mustang body onto the chassis and sold the Comet bodies.

 

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Years later when a friend of Gate Job’s restorer, Daryl Huffman, discovered the cutup Comet body about to be torched, he snatched it up and passed it on to Daryl. Daryl always wanted an early Funny Car and immediately set out in search of the original parts and the missing original chassis. It took him a year and a half to hunt down the chassis, “I spent a few hundred dollars placing ads in all the trade papers and finally got a response from the owner when I placed a $3 ad in the Cleveland Times.” When Daryl purchased the chassis, it still retained the Mustang body that Gapp had installed along with the original Halibrand front wheels that Pete installed.

Restoration began in 1993 with the hunt for a period-correct SOHC 427 engine and parts. As you can imagine, finding parts for this nonproduction engine was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Eventually Daryl was able to scrounge up the parts through numerous sources and by the time the car passed through Barrett Jackson in 2010, the only things missing were the correct short Hilborn injector stacks.

 

Pete Gates’ Comet was the last of the original cars to hit the track and the last one surviving today. The Hilborn injectors are longer than the originals used but the search is on for proper shorties. (Photo Courtesy Daryl Huffman Collection)

 

Once the restoration of the Logghe chassis was complete, the process of piecing the body together proceeded. Extensive fiberglass work was required to put the puzzle back together and to undo modifications that had been made years ago. Once that was done, the original painter, Paul Shidlick, was called upon to replicate his work from 40 years earlier. Paul Hatton completed the pinstriping and lettering on all five of the original Comets and, once again, he repeated his work on the lone survivor.

The restoration of the Comet was a major undertaking; the car’s historic significance dictated that it had to be done. Daryl brought in partners to ensure the car received the attention it deserved and part of their agreement was that the car would be sold when completed. It was a bullet that Daryl was willing to bite to ensure the restoration did the car justice. The photos show that justice was done.

 

Written by Tony Candela and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks

 

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