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Classic Velocity Blog

Don Garlits Museum

Classic Velocity

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Your eyes do not deceive you. You may be asking, what could the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing possibly have to do with a blog about classic and vintage German vehicles, and why is a Karmann Ghia the lead photo? Good questions, I am glad you asked. 

First, it has been our experience that museums in general often have surprising content despite their main theme. In fact, we have yet to visit a car or motorcycle museum that did not have some unusual items related in some way to this blog. Check out this link to museum posts, and you will see what we mean. Second, it is a museum about cars going fast, so there is an automatic interest. With that said, we did not have very high expectations about this unplanned stop. Going as fast as possible in a very short straight line, is not exactly where our motorsports interests lie. It is the conceptual and philosophical opposite of the Dakar, Formula 1, Moto GP, and World Rally. However, it is serious business, the speeds are ludicrous, it is dangerous, and the machines are incredible manifestations of brute force.

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The main theme of the museum is to provide a chronicle of the life and times of Don Garlits, who is probably the most famous drag racer period. From the late 1950s into the 1980s, he created and refined the most dominant machines in the sport. He started with a repair and service shop in Tampa, FL but soon started to build hot rods and that naturally lead to faster quarter mile machines and drag cars. "Big Daddy" as he came to be known, and his "Swamp Rat" machines as they came to be known has a long and colorful history, and his personal and political views have often been controversial. Like all forms of Motorsport, the early days had crude machines and astounding levels of risk. Steel frames from 2 street cars welded together to create length, highly volatile fuel mixtures running through rubber hoses secured by hose clamps, an exposed engine 12 inches from your face, overalls and goggles for safety gear, etc. Garlits began in those days and moved with the sport into the modern era.  However, he paid a price in losing half of his foot in an accident where his transmission exploded and cut the car in half. He went rear-engined after that and continued to race!

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The dragsters are the most ungainly looking masters of speed. They have massive engines originally in front of and now behind the driver. They have a 25ft wheelbase. Today they are estimated to generate north of 10,000 hp in top fuel form. In order to put that power down to the ground, the massive 3ft wide slicks run at 5-7psi !!  The top fuel runs are over in 3.7 seconds or less, but the driver is subject to 5.5g at the peak, 4g sustained, and speeds exceed 330mph !! Fan, or not, you have to respect the engineering and marvel at the spectacle that such numbers represent.  

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Tucked into one small area amidst two buildings of pure Americana, are a Volkswagen Beetle, a beetle chassis cutaway, and a pristine 1974 Karmann Ghia. The Beetle is one that Garlits restored, but the 1974 Ghia was purchased from a bank auction of a new car dealership, driven for 27 dealer test miles, and has never been titled ! Arguably, the best example in the world, located in a museum dedicated to the exact opposite of an under-powered non-american street legal air-cooled basic transport. Who would have guessed?

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