Magnum Racing Engines Fiat Topolino

old school drag car built in 1964

Mike Gish of Mukwonago Wisconsin was 16 years old in 1966 when he first remembers seeing this yellow Fiat Topolino then owned by Jerry Adams, run down the track at the legendary Great Lakes Dragaway a.k.a. Da’Grove in Union Grove Wisconsin.  Mike and his dad Slim (who was a modified dirt track racer and the first guy to run a Hemi at Hales Corners in South Eastern Wisconsin) frequented the track to watch the racing action.  The cute little Fiat was painted yellow and running a 409 Chevy mill nestled in a Lakewood Chassis.


Click on the picture below to see all the pictures!

Jerry Adams of Kenosha bought the parts and assembled the car from 1964-1965. He drove to Lakewood Ohio to pick up an altered chassis from Joe Schubeck, of Lakewood Chassis.  Be bought the body from the Hot Rod Shop in Milwaukee. The dog house for the parachute was installed by Roger Jackson a.k.a. The Mole, in his shop nicknamed the Mole Cave which was behind the donut shop in Kenosha Wisconsin.

The engine was a 409 with Crower injection mated to a 3 speed.   He first went down the track in ’66 at Da’Grove and raced none other than the Stone, Woods & Cook ’41 Willys on one of his first passes.  In 1967, it was decided to make the car faster and Jerry installed an injected 427 with Mondello prepped heads and headers.  He added an in and out box.  This pushed the 1340 pound car to 9.80.  Late in 1967 Jerry pulled the engine, injection, fuel tank and sold the engine to his buddy where it still sits in his garage to this day, but the heads were stolen years ago.

It wasn’t until the fall of 1967 when Mike was reading the classifieds in the Milwaukee Journal that he had the opportunity to purchase the car from Jerry Adams as a used roller.  Since the engine was gone, he enlisted his friend Jim Luker of Magnum Racing Engines  in Milwaukee Wi to build a balanced and blueprinted, Hilborn injected, 301 small block Chevy engine.  It consisted of a 283 block and crank, Isky aluminum rods, Isky roller cam, needle bearing rocker arms, Jahns domed pistons, and 461 camel hump heads that were ported and polished.  Spark was supplied by a Vertex Magneto.  The engine was monitored by Stewart Warner gauges and a Sun Tach.  The engine was painted Rustoleum equipment yellow and mated to a 1962 Chevy 3 speed transmission with a Corvette shifter via an Ansen NHRA approved bell housing.  The rear was a 1957 Chevy axle with 4.56 gears and Olds axles machined by Henry‘s Axles Service.  Stopping was performed by Airheart disc brakes and a Girling clutch slave cylinder operated by a hand lever.  The wheels were magnesium American Racing  Torque Thrusts in the rear and spindle mounted 12 spokes up front. The slicks were Mickey Thompson M/T Dragsters with Pirelli’s up front steering through a Corvair box.

The Fiat was used for race and show.  When raced it was driven by either Mike Gish or his nephew Dave Straw.  Hobo (friend and neighbor to Mike) was a crew member.  The car ran in A/altered class from 1968-1973  exclusively at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove Wisconsin.  It was fast and a hand full to drive.  Best time was a 10.17 e.t. in the ¼ mile.   The car toured the ISCA (International Show Car Association)  during the same time frame.  It was shown in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Chicago Detroit, Dubuque, Cleveland & Philadelphia to name a few cities.  In 1973 it took 3rd place overall in competition class.  There were two engines for the car.   A show engine that was usually an empty block and the race engine.

The car was painted the way it is seen today in the winter of 1971 by Roger Burczyk.  The ribbon stripes were smoked in the paint with an acetylene torch and cleared with pearl lacquer.

After racing the 1973 season, the engine was pulled for repairs and it was never completed.  The car was moved from one storage garage to another as Mike moved from New Berlin to Mukwanago and eventually to Coloma.  Some parts were stolen and recovered along the way including the Hilborn injection set up that still has MG stamped in it for Mike Gish.

In the summer of 2007, a automotive supply salesman spotted the Hilborn injection unit on the shelf at Hobo’s Place ( a automotive service garage) in Coloma, Wi.  When asked if it was for sale, the unexpected response was yes, but it comes with a car.  A deal was struck and it ended up in my hands.  I have worked for several years trying to preserve the car and track down it’s history and origins.  I was in constant communication with Mike Gish to get his help with this task but he died in 2010.
I have repaired the original engine and I have taken the car back to Great Lakes Dragaway many times and raced it.    My best run was an 11.0 e.t. @ 124 mph.  At the Meltdown Drags in Byron Illinois we ran 10.85 at 128 mph.

The car still remains true to it origins.  I have only added a coolant catch can and updated the harnesses (The track tech did not like the 1957 military harnesses in the car).  The car also remains push start.   The last time I was at Mike’s house, he gave me the original tool tray with orange balls on it to sit in the injection stacks.
*Paint by Roger Burczyk Milwaukee Wi. 1971
*Chassis built by Lakewood Chassis “Yes Paul, you have a true time capsule. It is unmistakably, one that we built. Joe Schubeck”
*Original engine by owner Mike Gish and Jim Luker of Magnum Racing Engines, Milwaukee Wi. 1968
*Rebuild of original engine by myself and Ed Casar of Donerite Automotive, Mosinee Wi. This is where we tuned the car. Engine balanced by Gritzmacher Racing Engines, Mosinee, Wi

Here are some specs:
Chassis: 96″ wheelbase, Lakewood Chassis
Paint: White Lacquer w/Pearl and Acetylene smoke stripes
Engine: 450 horse 301 Chevy, 1962 283 block, 461 doublehump heads w/stainless 2.02″ intake, 1.6″ exhaust valves, Sealed power CS-118R cam (30-30 Duntov), 11.5:1 compression. Mickey Thompson valve covers.
Transmission: 1962 Chevy 3 speed manual w/ 57 Corvette shifter, Ansen Cast iron NHRA approved bell housing.
Fuel system: Hilborn Injection, 12″ stacks. Tapper beer keg fuel tank, Hilborn fuel pump, Crower shut-off, Kinsler Purolator filter.
Ignition: Hunt magneto
Rear axle: 1957 Chevy housing, 4.56 open, Oldsmobile axles and housing ends.
Front Suspension: Transverse leaf spring, Friction shock
Rear Suspension: Solid mounted
Brakes: rear only, 4 piston Airheart, Girling Master cylinder, Cragar disc brake hats and Cragar caliper mounts, Simpson drag chute.
Wheels: American Racing 12 spokes and torque thrusts. All magnesium.
Tires: All original, Pirelli on front, M/T Dragster on the rear.
Steering: Corvair box, right hand steer.
Gauges: Sun 8500 rpm tach w/ EB-37A transmitter, Stewart Warner gauges.

This is original 8mm film of the car running @ Da’Grove around 1968