April 15, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Gray Ghost GTO Funny Car: Extreme Altered Wheelbase

Larry Swiatek and the 1966 Gray Ghost GTO: an exercise in extreme funny car wheelbase modification. Swiatek brought his ultimate AWB match-bash A/FX car to Detroit Dragway for the 1967 Midwest Championships.
The Gray Ghost at Detroit Dragway, 1967. Now you know why they call 'em Funny Cars!
The Gray Ghost at Detroit Dragway, 1967. Now you know why they call 'em Funny Cars! Kodak Instamatic photo by Tom Bonner

There is always someone who believes if something is good, then more of the same thing has to be better. That applies to Larry Swiatek and the Gray Ghost GTO; you won't find many cars with a more extreme altered wheelbase.

Pictured in front of the old Detroit Dragway tower, you’ll notice the wheelbase doesn’t exactly conform to that of a stock “66 GTO.

When Dick Branstner and Roger Lindamood kicked off the A/FX altered wheelbase trend, their calculations indicated that moving the rear wheels forward fifteen inches and the front wheels ten inches would achieve sufficient weight transfer to handle any stock wheelbase competitor.

While those in the know could spot an altered wheelbase Cornet or Fury at first glance, the modifications were subtle enough that many people were confused when they saw the cars. They knew there was something “funny” about the Chrysler A/FX cars, but they weren’t exactly sure what.

There is so subtlety with the Gray Ghost. I’m not sure how far they moved the rear axle forward, but the back tires are almost in the middle of the car. Look at that rear overhang. You could comfortably house a family of four behind the rear differential. The trunk looks long enough to haul 4×8 sheets of plywood in.

It wouldn’t take much to lift the wheels on this car. I guess they had to be careful moving the car around in the shop; push on the rear bumper and the front wheels head for the sky. A fly landing on the car would probably be enough to change the car’s center of balance.

The Gray Ghost was another UDRA circuit car out of the Chicago area. I believe the powerplant was a Pontiac 421 V-8. It was most likely an injected car, although something this radical cries out for nitro and a blower.

Interestingly, I have found a number of online references to Larry Swiatek and the “Grey Ghost.” I can’t say anything about Swiatek’s other Pontiac Funny Cars, but the ’66 GTO was spelled GRAY Ghost.

Despite the extreme chassis modifications, the car apparently went straight. Swiatek ran the car for a season or so, then moved to a flopper version of the Gray Ghost. The AWB match-basher was sold to another racer. The car was eventually demoted from funny car to bracket racer, and reportedly ended up in the north-eastern United States. If the car was squirrely, it probably would have ended up in the guard rail in short order.

According to stories I’ve heard, the extreme Pontiac still exists, although it is in need of a full restoration. Reportedly, that restoration may happen, returning the car to 1967 specs.

So now you understand why they call ’em  funny cars!