The name “gasser” is a play on the National Hot Rod Association‘s old “gas” classes. Long before bracket racing and Stock Eliminator/Super Stock index racing, participants with gasoline-powered street machines raced in the gas classes. The rules generally required that these cars be street-style, with parity determined by pounds-per-cubic-inch. The classes were ranked alphabetically, and performance was determined by displacement per pound of mass. It was straightforward with minimal restrictions, which made gasser classes extremely popular among entry-level racers. Today, a gasser might simply be a hot rod converted to look like one of these race cars, but keep in mind that deviating from the formula in any way will elicit harsh criticism from commentators and spectators!
If gassers did not already exist, we would undoubtedly invent them. Legions of admirers’ flock to see them compete in events such as the Tri-Five Nationals, the Southeast Gassers Association, and even Drag Week. Even though the NHRA’s “gas” classes-the racing body that invented gassers-no longer provide regular “gasser” racing classes, the kind of race car and the sport itself remain popular with fans and racers. The gasser method of automobile construction is more popular than ever due to its simplicity and immediately identifiable distinctive look.
Without some type of stunning induction protruding through the hood, no gasser is complete. This might be anything from a Hilborn-style hood scoop to a GMC blower atop a dual-quad tunnel ram. Gassers in the lower classes did not always have them, so if you’re on a budget, you might want to start with a normally aspirated engine and choose a flat hood or a simple period-correct hood scoop.
Suspension design and tire technology were in their infancy during those early years. Connecting an automobile to the starting line necessitated a weight-loss program that made gassers genuinely distinctive. Engines were repositioned and raised well above the center. The front end was lightened by omitting bumpers and grilles or by converting to fiberglass body pieces and tilt frontends. Straight front axles were employed to maximize frontal lift during launch and to reduce overall weight. Additionally, the height of the rear axle was decreased to increase mechanical reaction time and weight transfer. Engines frequently included unconventional induction methods such as tunnel rams, injection stacks, or superchargers. Almost all of them also had flame-spitting long-tube headers.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the gasser classes included virtually any rear-drive, gasoline-powered, street-legal automobile imaginable. Many builders used whatever they could find. 1957 is frequently used as the cutoff year for gasser nostalgia classes. The majority chose vehicles that suited themselves nicely to swiftly putting weight on the rear tires. Older machines, like the Willys coupe, benefited from towering profiles, while others opted for whatever modern machinery was popular at the moment. This might include new lightweight vehicles such as Mustangs, Chevy IIs, Ramblers, and Ford Falcons up until gassers were phased out around 1967. A gasser was not a factory experimental or a modified-wheelbase match racer. The AWB and A/FX automobiles were quite distinct; avoid that automotive faux pas!
The majority of gassers share a solid front axle, which is typically from a truck or earlier car, such as a ’32 Ford. A solid front axle conversion was straightforward and readily available at any local junkyard. Tall leaf springs were employed to lift the front end as high as possible above the ground, allowing weight to be transferred to the rear tires. Gasser rear suspensions were occasionally leaf spring-equipped but were more frequently manufactured ladder bars that securely planted the rear dedicated slicks or retreads. No gasser worth its salt lacked a solid front axle and ladder-bar rear suspension. The gasser interior is style-specific; like a race car, you’d expect standard gauges such as tachometer, oil pressure, water temperature, and voltage, but the aesthetic must be straight out of the early 1960s. Avoid current dials and LED digital instruments; a Sun manually driven tachometer and Stewart-Warner peripheral gauges, or other period-correct meters are the only way to achieve the look. A Moon gas pedal, a brightly colored acrylic metal-flake steering wheel, and some lightweight Dodge van seats with diamond-pattern tuck-and-roll complete the package.