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Dick Jesse’s Extreme Slant-Roof GTO Funny Car

Chopped top saw Dick Jesse's head poking through the roof of his GTO

Not many funny car drivers were positioned above the roof of their race cars, but that is exactly how Dick Jesse drove the 1967 version of his Mr. Unswitchable Pontiac GTO. In case anyone was wondering, the car was Pontiac powered.

Pay no attention to the man poking through this GTO’s roof. It’s just Dick Jesse and his “slightly” chopped Mr. Unswitchable extreme funny car.

When we last saw Jesse, he was running an altered wheelbase 1965 GTO, which was also known as Mr. Unswitchable. The ’65 edition was one of the earliest independent match racers and Jesse kept the heavy goat competitive as long as he could, adding a supercharger to the Pontiac 421.

Jesse built this ultra-radical GTO for the 1967 season. Starting with a brand-new 1967 GTO fresh from a Pontiac showroom, Jesse built a tube frame, altered the wheelbase and replaced the hood, front fenders and doors with light-weight fiberglass. The only sheet metal retained from the original GTO was the roof and rear quarter panels.

Of course there is the issue of the major chopped top. The front of the roof was dropped 13 inches and the rear B pillars were shortened by 7 inches. The result is a steeply raked roof line. Car Craft magazine quickly dubbed the car the Slant Roof GTO.

Even with the radical chopped top, the car was still recognizable as a Pontiac GTO. However, Jesse no longer fit inside the car. He constructed a raised platform so he could drive with his head and shoulders protruding through the roof. The figure in this photo is only a mannequin dressed in a firesuit for the car show. But that is where Jesse would be seated on his quarter mile passes.

To be honest, I didn’t care for Jesse’s attempt at pushing the boundaries of the budding match race ranks. As a funny car, it was too radical for my taste. As an unlimited drag car, however, I thought it was great.

Let me explain. To me, funny cars were supposed to be all out race cars that looked like the cars you could buy at the local dealer. They were supposed to resemble the car you drove, or the car your father drove or the car your neighbor parked in their driveway. No one I knew drove around with his head sticking out the roof of the car, making the slant-roof GTO too extreme to be considered a true funny car.

As an unlimited drag car, however, Jesse’s concept harkened back to many of the forerunners of the sport. Go back and watch the Ingenuity In Action movie. Take a good look at some of the cars running in the unlimited classes at the 1959 US Nationals. Unlike today, where all Top Fuel dragsters look basically the same, Top Eliminator was made up of a varied assortment of strange and exotic race cars. The Pontiac GTO didn’t come out until 1965, but if Jesse had cobbled up a ’59 Bonnevelle in the same way as his ’67 GTO he would have been right at home running for Top Eliminator in 1959.

Which brings me to another minor mystery. The extreme GTO was featured in the January 1967 issue of Car Craft magazine. Jesse actually built the slammed goat in late 1966. So how is that both times I saw Mr. Unswitchable in 1967, Jesse was the running the older 1965 GTO?

Jesse had the ’65 Goat at the 1967 Autorama and he also drove the mash-bash car at the Detroit Dragway Midwest Championships in May of the same year. The question is, if Jesse had the swoopy tubular frame slant roof GTO available, why did he continue to run the heavier, less competitive altered wheelbase Pontiac?

I can think of three possible explanations.

Maybe Jesse never intended the chopped car to be his principle racing machine. With his head poking through the roof, it is possible the new car was intended to be an exhibition machine, and Jesse kept the older mash bash car for funny car racing. Not sure that makes sense, as the old car was seriously outdated. It would make more sense to simply build a flopper and leave the exhibition runs to wheelstanders.

A second explanation could be that the slant roof machine was damaged in late ’66 or early ’67. A crash or fire could have sidelined the new car forcing Jesse to put his old ride back in competition until he could get the ’67 car repaired. I never heard of any incident involving the chopped roof car, but that wouldn’t be surprising considering the frenzied pace of match racing. During that era, you could find match races scheduled nearly every day of the week. It’s not inconceivable that the chopped GTO was put out of action for a time after a wreck at some small out of the way track.

My final theory is that it simply took time to get the radical car sorted out. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone developed a revolutionary race car that needed extensive massaging to get running well. Maybe Jesse took most of 1967 to get the new car dialed in so it would run straight and true. It is possible that in-between tuning sessions with the new car he continued to race the old ’65 machine.

Which car did Jesse drive at the US Nationals in Indianapolis in 1967? Mr. Unswitchable captured C/Altered honors at the Nationals that year. There was a funny car eliminator at the ’67 Nationals, but Jesse’s old GTO wouldn’ t have been competitive against the lightweight tube frame cars. NHRA probably wouldn’t allow a car with the driver sticking out the roof in Funny Car, so Jesse could have ran as a C/A with either car. Anyone remember?

There is usually some Dick Jesse memorabilia available on eBay.

I have one final question. What happened to the slant-roof Mr. Unswitchable after 1968? Less exotic cars could change hands and continue to race under a new owner without being recognized. A car this radical, however couldn’t be disguised with a some paint and body work. The driver position would make it impossible to conceal the car’s original identity. So what happened? Where is the GTO now?

 

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4 Comments

  1. dominic
    Posted July 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    i last seen the car in Utica michigan about 1983-1984 at a place called fenders automotive. i was 14 years old and was looking for a gto. my grandfather called and told me he found one for 750.00! i ran over to see the dick jesse car which my father quickly identified. while i loved it i knew i wasnt driving it to school so i never bought it. i later about 1989 seen it again when i worked at ramchargers painted orange with a 440 chrysler engine in it. the guy was running brackets with it. i really wish i would have bought that piece of history then……

  2. Dennis Doubleday
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    You’re on to something, Tom. First, by now you probably know the radical GTO is in great condition, being restored. As far as crashing the GTO (s) goes, according to a 1-13-67 Drag World, Jesse had had destroyed both GTOs at Motor City, the original and the new radical one. I don’t know hoe accurate ‘destroyed’ is, but he apparently had crashed both cars in separate incidents late in 66. DD

  3. Ron Thums
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I have a snapshot I took of the obviously intact and unblemished “chopped-top” car sitting on a trailer in the pits at Union Grove, Wis; the date is July 1967. This leads me to believe that any published report of an earlier accident is either incorrect or overstates the damage. The radical “Mr. Unswitchable” GTO was also featured on the cover and in three interior pages of the September ’67 issue of All American Drags.

  4. Tom Bonner
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info, Ron!

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