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New Little Red Wagon joins Hemi Under Glass

by David Zatz on

In 1965, the first photo of the Little Red Wagon doing a wheelie appeared on the cover of Chrysler Bin and Bench. Most were unaware that Jay Howell was behind the wheel driving for Dick Branstner and Roger Lindamood of “Color Me Gone” fame. Dodge had asked them to help sort out the unpredictable and wild-handling 90” wheelbase truck, fitted with their new 426 Hemi engine and intended for match racing. The truck would later go to Bill “Maverick” Golden and, as they say, the rest is history.

The original Little Red Wagon got off course, hit a rut, and went end-over- end nine times then rolled another six times in the late 1970s; it was late at night at a poorly lit track, and there are no known photos or film. In this, the truck’s third crash, the engine and transmission were thrown from the truck which was totaled. The driver, Bill “Maverick” Golden, survived, ordered a replacement truck, and ran it until 2003.

original little red wagon

It has been 16 years since Maverick retired and the Little Red Wagon lifted its wheels for a final run at US 131 in Michigan. Maverick himself passed away in 2015.

Stunt driver Mike Mantel, purchased the original Little Red Wagon and has been displaying it at events. In March, Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars stopped by to look at the original Little Red Wagon and advised Mantel not to restore it, but to leave it “as is.”

Mantel, who is also the owner and driver of the legendary Hemi Under Glass, was originally going to campaign the ’69 car that got rolled on Leno’s Garage. The crash bent the chassis, so he switched to the ’68 Barracuda – the longest-performing Hemi Under Glass.

Many don’t realize that the crashed ’69 car was a new build with no racing history; no 1969 car was built back in the day. The footage was edited to make it appear that the car rolled several times, but in reality it only rolled once—and landed upright, so it ended up being more of a television prop car.

Mantel said, “I had strongly suggested that the ’69 car be displayed exactly the way millions of people had seen it crashed on TV. I was told that no one wants to see anything dented and scratched up then a new body was put on the car. For me, it was like filling the bullet holes with bondo on the Bonnie and Clyde death car. It was the first time I saw a car ruined when it was wrecked, and then again when it was repaired.”

Mantel finished building a new Little Red Wagon wheelie truck that will tour with the original. His goal is to have these two icons of drag racing under one roof, so fans can enjoy seeing them both.

Mantel was quick to point out that the new Little Red Wagon is not a tribute nor clone, but as much the “real deal” as the truck was that Maverick specified to replace the wrecked original.

Mantel is behind the wheel in these photos, taken at Tucson Dragway; he is the only driver to pilot both the Little Red Wagon and the Hemi Under Glass.

New Little Red Wagon

Will there be a new generation Little Red Wagon in the future? “We already have the Little Red Fire Truck wheelstander [in the video], a Hemi-powered Dodge Ram. Kids and adults love it and that’s what we’re doing for now.”

The new Little Red Wagon, a 1965 A-100, will now go in for body work and several coats of Candy Apple Red – the color it’s best known for.

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