November 12, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Hemi Hunter Camaro

Hemi Hunter Camaro Funny Car

Hemi Hunter Camaro Funny Car

The Hemi Hunter funny car featured a fiberglass Camaro shell over a big block Chevy and square frame rails.
The Hemi Hunter Camaro Funny Car
In 1967, Mike Nicopolis went funny car racing with this flip-top Camaro. Tom Bonner photo (Instamatic 126)

Strolling through the 1967 Detroit Autorama, I came across the Hemi Hunter Camaro funny car. Owned and driven by Mike Nicopolis, the Hemi Hunter was undoubtedly one of the most unusual floppers I ever saw.

To begin with, the original Camaro was introduced in late 1966, as a 1967 model. Nicopolis had his car more or less complete in January 1967, making this one of the first — or possibly the very first — flip-top Camaro funny cars in existence.

You cannot tell from these photos, but the car was painted a glossy fawn brown. That is an unusual shade to paint a funny car, but it suited the Camaro very well.

The big surprise came when the one-piece body was lifted to show the car’s underpinnings. Instead of the standard tubular ladder frame, the Hunter rode on a square tube chassis.

(more photos after the jump)

I’m not sure if the frame rails were constructed expressly for the Camaro, or if Nicopolis modified frame rails from some early street machine.

Hemi Hunter Camaro Funny Car
Even in 1967, a funny car frame constructed if square tubing was a rarity.Tom Bonner photo (Instamatic 126)

It is undoubtedly simpler to shape square tubing into a race car frame, but there are good reasons why builders like the Logghe brothers chose to build funny car chassis from round tubing. A ladder frame could be built much lighter than a square tube frame, while the ladder design’s struts and gussets actually make it stiffer than a single hunk of tubing.

I’m not too sure about the roll cage and driver accommodations. The cage looks like it attaches to the frame at odd angles, making me wonder how well it would hold up in a major crash. The floor board appears to consist of a thick sheet of aluminum bolted to the frame. The driver’s seat looks pretty marginal.

The engine is an injected rat motor, which according to Draglist, delivered power through a three speed manual transmission.

There is one final touch that sets the Hemi Hunter apart from any other flip-top funny car I ever saw. If you look closely at the car’s side, near the H in Hemi, you will see…an actual door handle. The doors didn’t open, of course, but Nicopolis apparently wanted to make the car look as much like a real Camaro as possible. So he bolted factory door handles to each side of the fiberglass shell.

There was a famous East Coast top fuel car named Hemi Hunter, but as far as I can determine, the funny car and dragster have no connection.

The Hemi Hunter carried sponsorship from Jefferson Chevrolet, which was located in downtown Detroit, just a couple of blocks from Cobo Hall.

Hemi Hunter Camaro funny car
Huge drag chute was used to slow the Hunter after a quarter-mile pass. Tom Bonner photo (Instamatic 126)

I saw the Camaro run at Detroit Dragway in early ’67. I’ve found at least one report of the car in competition at another track.

What happened to Nicopolis and the Hemi Hunter? I never heard anything more of the car after 1967. Anyone know any further details?