The Little Red Wagon
Photos by Richard Benner, Jr.
Major source: sweptline.com
The Little Red Wagon became a legend in its time as the first "wheelstander" back in 1965. The world's fastest truck was a major hit with fans, and ran at drag strips throughout the US. Its owner and driver, Bill "Maverick" Golden, was used in Dodge truck commercials, while many photographers caught the Wagon with its front wheels in the air.
What made the Wagon famous was the way that, when throttle was applied, it popped its front wheels into the air, while still achieving acceleration that no doubt made many competitors rather envious. How did that happen?
The Dodge A-100 compact pickup, with its short 90 inch wheelbase, was normally powered by a slant six, but Jim Schaeffer and John Collier modified it to put in a legendary 426 Hemi engine, with roughly four times the horsepower of the six. Rather than putting the "elephant engine" under the hood, they stuck it behind the cab, in front of the rear wheels, which required cutting a whole into the pickup bed and another into the cab itself. The result is actually better weight distribution than the standard A-100 (48 front, 52 rear vs 58/42), but it's rather less practical for getting groceries or lumber, since the engine extends into both the cab and the short bed. The Hemi, incidentally, was connected directly to a TorqueFlite automatic, and was supported via a heavy-duty welded steel subframe.
The resulting pickup was then lightened up by jettisoning items such as the heater, dash panel, front bumper, and body sealer, and by replacing the doors with fiberglass versions. The first time out of the box, using a stock Hemi, the truck ran a quarter mile in the mid-11 second range at 120 mph.
The combination of the Hemi's astounding torque and horsepower, rear wheel drive, and slight rear-weight bias, no doubt helped by the unsprung rear axle, all combined to surprise its owner by throwing its nose into the air. The result was an unexpected (the first time), thrilling, and moderately dangerous quarter mile.
Lawrence Monkhouse added: "The attached photo [shown below in black and white] was taken at the Grand Bend Dragstrip in the early sixties. As Bill blasted off the line, the Hemi faltered. The front end bounced off the pavement, and since Bill still had his foot in it, the front end came up big time banging the tailgate on the ground. This caused the Little Red Wagon to become airborne."
Maverick retired in 2003, and the Little Red Wagon retired with him. This was actually the third or fourth wagon; the first and second had been wrecked in the 1960s, and the two wrecks were assembled into one new truck which was itself wrecked in 1975. A third new wagon was purchased in the 1970s, to be retired in 2003 after about thirty years of demonstrations. Yet another truck was a 1983 Ram used for tractor pulls; and still another was built just for Don Garlits’ museum. The third new wagon (the one that was used through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s) and the museum truck have both been purchased by a collector for museum display.