Eric English
February 14, 2017

Many enthusiasts think of a “Funny Car” as a drag race machine that features a tube frame chassis and a one-piece flip-up body, because it’s been the standard bearer for almost 50 years. In reality, the “Funny Car” term was coined when altered wheelbase Mopars entered the scene in early 1965, still running modified factory steel bodies and production chassis. These strange looking new cars with the wheels pushed forward needed a new description and “funny” surely fit. Mercury blazed brand new ground the following year when they debuted the hinged one piece body concept—commonly known as a “flip top” or “flopper”—in the shape of 1966 Cyclones, and yet it took several more years for that design to become the competitive standard.

Ronda’s new Mustang was significant enough to land the cover of the November 1967 issue of Hot Rod. That issue happens to be significant to Ford fans in other ways as well. Not only did it feature Don Prudhomme’s new SOHC-powered dragster that would soon garner Shelby sponsorship, it was the issue that featured the Tasca KR8—and encouraged readers in a write-in campaign to Ford to build it. The result turned out to be the 428 Cobra Jet.
Russ Davis Ford was located in the LA suburb of Covina, and ran a series of high profile drag cars in the mid-sixties – including T-Bolts, A/FX Mustangs, and Mustang Funnys.

For example consider the Mustang you see right here. When it first appeared on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in November, 1967, the new steed for 1967’s AHRA Driver of the Year and veteran Ford racer Gas Ronda was yet another take on the funny concept. Built by Exhibition Engineering, the new 1,800-pound ’68 featured a chrome moly tube chassis with a 118.5-inch wheelbase and a Cal Automotive fiberglass body in which only the front end flipped open as one piece. The rest of the body was affixed to the custom chassis, with doors that even functioned as normal. Ford believed this to be an important design element because it gave the kind of street identification that resonated with the buying public. In those original Hot Rod pictures, the car was powered by a stack-injected nitro-burning Ed Pink 427 SOHC, and in just such a configuration the car was Ronda’s first ride to break into the 7s—7.90s at 184 mph.

The tail view of the ’68 Ronda Funny Car reveals a Shelby-esque style rear spoiler and taillight panel, along with the requisite parachute and wheelie bars that helped make 7-second ETs possible. Sponsor RAC was a period manufacturer of automotive gauges which we don’t hear much about today.
This is one of the last funny cars to have fully functioning doors. Note how the interior door panel even mimics the contours of a production ’68 door, though this one is all ’glass.

Interestingly, Ronda raced this car for just a single season—for 1969 he would become a flip-top convert as the design proved its competitive advantage. When Ronda moved to his new Mustang flopper, this particular car was acquired by Dick Poll, and campaigned as the Comanche for the 1969 season. By 1970, at just two years of age, the Mustang was already “old school” and settled into obscurity and several more owners in the ensuing years. In 1997, Oklahoma native and Ford collector Brent Hajek was at the California Hot Rod reunion with Ronda himself. “I was standing next to Gas where he was signing autographs” says Hajek. “At one point he was signing a copy of that November ’67 Hot Rod with his ’68 on the cover, when a guy standing nearby mentioned that he owned the very car. I struck up a conversation with him and learned that the car was in pieces, and that the fellow’s brother was thinking about building a sand rail out of the tube frame chassis. I told him I might be interested, we exchanged contact info, and he said he’d send me pictures. Well I never got the pictures, but several months later he finally called and I traveled to Salt Lake City where he lived. Though in pieces, much of the original car still remained, and we struck a deal.”

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Ahhh, there’s nothing quite like the sight of Ford’s 427 SOHC, an engine that found much success in the highest levels of drag racing. With a blower, fuel injection, and nitromethane as seen here, it battled the Chrysler Hemi for supremacy in everything from Pro Stock to Top Fuel Dragster.

Hajek soon turned to Holzman Race Cars in Wichita, Kansas, who performed a bang-up job returning the ’68 Ronda Mustang to its former glory. The doors may open much like a production Mustang, but nothing inside resembles the interior of anything that would have been in the showroom of sponsor Russ Davis Ford. Instead, it’s aluminum tinwork from top to bottom, a single seat, a spindly appearing steering mechanism, and surprisingly minimalist instrumentation.

Once the Cal Automotive body was carefully put back together, the eye-searing Poppy Red paint was laid down by Jason Metcalf, with authentic gold leaf lettering applied by Steven Friesen. The radical exterior appearance is enhanced by a set of magnesium Halibrands—the rears believed to be original to the car, while the fronts are, at a minimum, period correct.

“Zoomie” exhausts were typical of the genre, and reflected on the millions of Hot Wheels die cast cars that many of us grew up with. The Bill’s Body Shop credit seen here was for the original Poppy Red paint job applied in late-1967. Kudos for the current paint and lettering goes to Jason Metcalf and Steven Friesen respectively.

Almost as interesting as the car itself is the 427 SOHC poking through the skin. Acquired from Rick Kirk, it’s said to be one of the two engines that once powered Mickey Thompson’s Challenger II LSR streamliner. Cammer expert Larry Gould was called on to rebuild the magnificent mill, featuring Crane “Nitro” cams, aluminum rods, a Mooneyham 6-71 blower, and a Hilborn injection unit that pumps a strong mix of nitromethane. Backing the whole affair is a B&M C6, and of course a well-fortified 9-inch rearend.

Long time readers will know that Mustang Monthly hasn’t always covered cars like Ronda’s ’68 Funny since it is so radical that no part was sourced from an actual production car. However, we now believe that ignoring these scratch-built racers is to ignore a significant portion of Mustang history. Performance has always been a big part of the Mustang mystique, and for a brief moment in time, this car was the sharp tip of the spear when it came to Mustang straight-line performance. And to think it was almost lost to the indignity of a sandrail!

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