January 27, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Wayne Gapp and the Chargin’ Cyclone

Wayne Gapp and the Hi-Risers were strong contenders at the 1966 Detroit Dragway Invitational. The Chargin' Cyclone gave Ford fans plenty to cheer about.
Hi-Risers Chargin Cyclone
Wayne Gapp behind the wheel of the Hi-Risers

The Chargin’ Cyclone, shoed by Wayne Gapp, was another car on hand for the Detroit Dragway Invitational in 1966. Dick’s Smith’s Firebrewed Dodge was the overall winner, but when the smoke had cleared, everyone knew that Gapp and the Hi-Risers had been there.

This photo helps explain where the name “funny car” actually came from. Many early funny cars featured extreme modifications, some looking like caricatures of the factory models. The better cars, however, were carefully reworked in an elegant manner, so the alterations were difficult to discern. The elegant funny cars looked just like the car you or your family drove; except there was something a little…funny…about the vehicle.

From this angle, the Comet in the photo doesn’t look extremely radical, until you notice the rear wheel is only a few inches behind the driver’s door and directly under the rear passenger’s window. Extremely radical, indeed, but from this angle you might miss the fact that the wheelbase has been tampered with.

The Hi-Risers were a group of Ford Engineers that operated similar to the way the Ramchargers did at Dodge. By day they worked at Ford, doing the usual engineering things. Evenings they worked on race cars. Weekends, they went racing.

If you were around for the Pro Stock wars in the mid ’70s, Wayne Gapp needs no introduction. He was one half of the feared Gapp & Roush team, the other half being Jack Roush. Yeah, that Jack Roush; as in the current Roush-Fenway NASCAR power house.

Before the Tijuana Taxi and other Pro Stock machines, Gapp drove various gas funny cars, one of which was the Chargin’ Cyclone.

The car itself was one of the factory light-weight Mercury Comets the LMN division created in 1965. Originally campaigned by George Delorean, the Comet started life with a 427 SOHC powerplant and a stock 115 inch wheelbase.

Somewhere during Delorean’s tenure, the Comet received the altered wheelbase, funny car treatment. Delorean moved on, and the Hi-Risers obtained the Comet.

According to the Alex Warlordy article published on Gapp Online, the car had an adjustable wheelbase. Originally the rear wheels were jacked forward by 13 inches, creating a wheelbase of only 102 inches.

The short wheelbase proved problematic, however. The car hooked up so well that Gapp couldn’t keep the front wheels on the ground. The Hi-Rrisers responded by altering the wheelbase again; the front wheels were pushed up 3 inches and the already altered rear wheels were shifted backwards 3 inches, for a final wB of 108 inches.

This resulted in a better handling car. The interesting wrinkle is that being engineers, the Hi-Risers figured out how to make the wheelbase adjustable. The rear springs could use either mounting position, so the team could easily move the rear wheels around to suit the available traction. Most of the time, the Comet would use the longer spring mount position. If the track or the weather made it difficult to get decent grip, the Hi-Risers could easily move the rear axle forward to the “maximum traction” position.

You can read more about the Chargin’ Cyclone Comet at Gapp Online, the website maintained by Wayne’s son, Jeff Gapp.

I’ll have a lot more about Wayne Gapp when I start posting images from the mid 1970s. See more Chargin’ Cyclone in 1967.

Gapp progressed from this to the Super Cat injected Cougar.

Tom Bonner