This historical, missing link from drag racing’s early years has been stored away for more than 50 years, in Tucson, Ariz. The green Monster represents the very origin of the species that evolved into today’s professional top fuel class.
Known as “The Junkyard Geniuses”, Art and Walter Arfons created many Green Monsters. Green Monster #5 was built by the Arfons brothers early in 1955 at their shop on Pickle Road in Akron, Ohio.
The Green Monster #5 was always a work in progress. The airplane-engine-powered dragster appeared at the first NHRA National in 1955 in Great Bend, Kansas. The car was then powered by a WW II – 770- cubic-inch, Ranger aircraft engine. The engine was mounted upside down and backwards, but it failed to provide enough power for the Monster.
1956 through 1957 were transitional years for Green Monster #5. The Ranger engine was removed and an Allison aircraft engine was installed. Once powered by the Allison, the Green Monster received extra supports to its roll cage and a fin was mounted over the top of the drive train.
The 1710 cubic-inch Allison V12 engine, which remains in the car today, once powered a Bell P-39 AirCobra. The Allison engines powered many famous WWII fighter planes including The P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang.
This liquid cooled, supercharged combination is one that early drag strip fans remember with either Walt or Art driving. Monster #5 participated in every NHRA National from 1955 through 1958. It ran 157.89 mph in 1957 during the First International Drag Meet (ITA sponsored) in Chester, S.C. The late 1950’s NHRA film production, “Ingenuity in Action” has two full passes of Monster #5 with its Allison power plant.
The Arfons team created a profusion of Green Monsters during the 1950s including the “Baloney Slicer”; Monster #4, a sidewinder dragster; Monster #6 which often raced Monster #5 and a series of Monster editions up to #11. Number 11 was probably the best running of all the cars, but by the time of its performance, aircraft-powered dragsters were relegated to the exhibition classification.
In 1957, Art Arfons sold Green Monster #5 to Lee Pendleton of Ashtabula, Ohio. According to Lee, when he purchased the car from the Arfons stable, it still had its famous Monster face painted on the nose, with those monster eyes starring down the competition.
Lee had his own Allison-powered dragster program, so once again Monster #5 became a work in progress. In 1957 Lee added the dual slicks, narrowed the rear axle and added air scoops to cool the brakes. An accident at the Akron Airport sent the Green Monster #5 airborne in the shutdown area. No one was hurt, but the nose and clutch can were damaged, so new fiberglass had to be fashioned for the Monster nose.
About 1959, while racing in Oklahoma, Lee sold Monster #5 to Allison-enthusiast, Charlie Hall of Tucson. A master metal-and fiberglass worker, Charlie fashioned sleek rear-view mirrors for the Monster, which added character to its famous face. A few years later, Monster #5 suffered yet another accident and the car has remained in storage ever since.
In June 2008, Jon Rowley, a fellow Arizonan, Junior Fuel racer and long-time friend of Charlie’s, purchased Monster #5 and began the restoration process with the hopes of making the October 2009 NHRA Hot Rod Reunion.
“My job was to start the clean-up and discovery process,“ says Rowley. “I had grown up in Ashtabula, Ohio and knew Lee since I was a boy. So, I was very excited to pick Charlie and Lee’s brain about the Monster. Now I’ve been busy delivering its pieces and parts around the west coast.”
Thanks to important input and original photos from Lee Pendleton, and guidance from Jon Lundberg, “The Voice of Drag Racing,” Monster #5 is undergoing its transformation at Chrisman’s CARS in Santa Ana, CA.
“Art and Mike Chrisman are carefully bringing the Monster’s chassis back, and rebuilding the drive train and clutch housing,“ says Rowley. “The Allison had not been fired in almost 50 years, so thanks to Lee Pendleton we found Yancey’s Allisons in Rialto, CA. Joe and his wife Pat have taken on the Green Monster’s Allison as if it were their own. My friend and fellow drag racer, Dan Rusk of Tucson, has repainted the Monster body to its original green color and another artist has restored the Monster’s face. When we pull into Bakersfield with the Green Monster, it will be an excited and proud group of collaborators and friends. ”