Vels-Parnelli Jones Mustang Funny Car: A Horse of a Different Cuda

    Mustang Funny Car

Take a journey with us back to the mid-’60s when Funny Cars began terrorizing local drag strips near you. Top Fuel dragsters were still kings of the sport and AA/Gassers were extremely popular, in part because of the Isky and Engle “Cam Wars” fought in the trade papers. This new breed of race car with elaborate rosin-powdered burnouts and wheelstanding, frame-twisting launches was stealing the thunder of the establishedclasses and drawing big crowds.

Several of the big name gasser warriors saw the writing on the wall, and rather than fight, switched to Funny Car; chief among them was “Big John” Mazmanian. He traded his beautiful candy apple red Willys gasser for a new state-of-the-art, ’69 Barracuda-bodied Funny Car driven by his nephew Richard Siroonian. After he and Siroonian parted ways, Mazmanian continued racing with one of the sport’s biggest names, Danny Ongais, who was a natural behind the wheel of anything he drove. In 1969 he beat just about everybody in Mickey Thompson’s Mach 1 Mustang Ford-powered Funny Car. 

Indy car and off-road racing icon Parnelli Jones bought the ’Cuda Funny Car, and along with partner dealership Vels Ford, campaigned it through 1974 with Ongais continuing as driver. Following a fire they switched to a Mustang body more befitting a Ford dealership-sponsored race car. Because of Parnelli’s connection to Firestone, the racer served as a test vehicle for new drag slick designs. Ongais drove the Funny Car and Vels’ unique Top Fuel dragster at the same event on occasion. When Ongais left in 1974 to go Indy car racing the Funny Car was parked and the dragster was sold. Due to changing technology the car was obsolete by 1975 and went unsold. It sat for many years on display outside a Firestone dealer in Huntington Beach, California. Eventually it made its way back to Parnelli’s shop, occasionally showing up with an exhibit of his race cars. In 2013, it was donated to NHRA Museum, where it is proudly displayed today.

This is truly a legendary race car worthy its place in its new home. A partial list of those involved bear this out:  Parnelli Jones, Danny Ongais, Big John Mazmanian, Woody Gilmore, Ed Pink, Don Kirby, “Lil’” John Buttera and Kenny Youngblood. It’s a virtual time capsule. Most Funny Cars from the ’70s were destroyed or faded into oblivion, but this Mustang looks like it ran yesterday. No parts have been removed except the rearend gears. It was just parked—period. There are tags stating that the fluids were removed in 1975, and the SFI tags note the same date. The paint is faded in places and some of the custom-finished interior tin is faded, but that’s it.

For this photo shoot, we removed the body for the first time since the ’70s and discovered on its last pass it suffered a flash fire, as evident by burnt wiring and severe under-body charred fiberglass to the point where you could almost see through the body in several places. NHRA nitro Funny Car driver and tuner Cory Lee posed in the car for some shots in period gear, and it seemed as though if we’d had batteries and nitro we could have fired her up. Alas, after the photo shoot, it was time to put her back in the museum. Enjoy the shots and visit the Vels-Parnelli Jones Funny Car and many historically significant race vehicles at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, located on the Los Angeles County Fairplex grounds, Gate 1
1101 W. McKinley Ave., Building 3A, Pomona California.

Thanks to:
All of the NHRA Museum staff, especially:
Executive Director Larry Fisher
Curator Greg Sharp
Marketing Rose Dickinson
Facilities Wayne Phillips
Cory Lee
David Peters
Tom Schiltz Photography
Former Vels Funny Car mechanic Dennis Fuji and his daughter Kelly Fuji
James Brantley

Mustang Funny Car

Big John Mazmanian’s the ’Cuda prior to Parnelli Jones’ purchase.

Mustang Funny Car

Cory Lee stands by unmolested 1972 Woody Gilmore chassis with the Ed Pink prepped Hemi.

Mustang Funny Car

The cockpit is a fairly simple affair compared to current Funny Car technology.

Mustang Funny Car

Check out the simple rearend setup: Ford 9-inch and puke tank with 1975 tag affixed.

Mustang Funny Car

One of the most fearsome animals of its day, the Pink Elephant.

Mustang Funny Car

Dennis Fuji backs Ongais up from his burnout.

 Mustang Funny Car

State-of-the-art 1975 Halon fire suppression system.

Mustang Funny Car

Text by Jim White and Photos by Jim White, Vintage Photos by Tom Schlitz and Courtesy of the Dennis Fuji Collection

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