The Swamp Rat was originally
built in 1957 by Don Garlits and competed for the first two years
unblown, with 6, then 8 carburetors modified for running nitromethane
and benzene. At first, the car had a two-speed transmission and
a full width rear end, and ran a best of 10.5 seconds and 145
At the ATAA World Series of Drag
Racing at Cordova, IL., in August 1957 Don met Emory Cook and
Cliff Bedwell and Emory gave Don some ideas on how to improve
performance and assisted him in getting his tune-up closer to
what he needed to run competitively on Nitro.
Don ran a career best of 155
mph at 9.60 seconds, beating Cook and Bedwell, going to the finals
where he lost to Serop "Setto" Postoian. Returning
home Don revamped the car, lowered the front end and the engine
location, took the transmission out and installed a narrowed
Oldsmobile rear end. Don then built a pair of wire spoke front
wheels and a new nosepiece. Then on November 10th, 1957 he sat
the drag racing world on it's ear when he ran 176.40 mph in 8.79
seconds. Both marks were a world record.
Swamp Rat I at Bakersfield
Through 1959 Don toured with
the car basically unchanged from when he set the records in November
1957 and attended races from one coast to the other. Here the
Don's Speed Shop Special pictured behind Isky's shop with Setto
Postoian's car behind. This was the week before the first Smokers
March Meet at Bakersfield. This was also the last week that the
motor cover would fit on the car. After the March Meet where
Don wasn't able to equal the performance of the supercharged
Nitro burners he installed a blower and was loaded for Bear at
Kingdom Dragstrip, where he cleaned up on the field.
Tom Hanna Photo
Here are two very rare
shots of Don at Kindon, CA in 1959.
On his way back to Florida from
California, Garlits stopped off at Chandler AFB and had some
fun with the Arizona boys and a few Californians. Here you can
see that Don simply slipped a blower under his eight-carburetor
set-up. They worked okay and Don was one of the last to stick
with them, but they were not as precise in fuel metering as the
more commonly used Hilborn fuel injection. Also, the numerous
fuel delivery and overflow return lines that were necessary with
the Stromberg carburetors was daunting to say the least.
Dave Beck Photo
After incurring burns at a race
at Chester, SC. in 1959 Don was unable to drive and his friend
Art Malone, pictured here with Don, took over the driving. Don
also changed over from the 8 carburetor set-up he had used previously,
to a Hilborn two-port injector. With the ability to tune the
car more accurately performance immediately improved. At one
of the first outings with Malone in the seat at Sanford, ME.
on August 23, 1959, the car set a new Standard 1320 speed record
of 183.66 MPH.
In September Art and Don attended
the AHRA Nationals in Great Bend, KS where they set a Standard
1320 ET record of 8:23 which would last for some time. In spite
of the record setting performance they were defeated for the
first time by an upstart team from Chicago, Chris Karamesines
and Don Maynard with "The Chizler". This was the beginning
of an enduring competition between "The Chizler" and
The Swamp Rat" and a continuing friendship between Garlits
The Garlits/Malone partnership
itself lasted something under a year, but in that time they established
themselves as the most feared car in competition and set numerous
track records and multiple National speed or elapsed time records.
Here are three shots of Don and
Art at Riverside Raceway in 1959 for one of the major events
held there. Don and Art traveled steadily, going from Coast to
Coast to find the "money" meets!
Steve Gibbs Photos
Back on the West Coast at Riverside
Raceway in December 1959, Art and Don won the event beating Art
Chrisman in Hustler 1 in the final. Don and Art had top time
and low e.t. at 181.81 MPH in 8.51 seconds.
Don returned to Bakersfield for
the March Meet again in 1960, with Art driving. As was commonplace
for Art and Don, they ran top speed of the meet. In doing so,
they also set a new Standard 1320 record of 185.56 mph, beating
their own Standard 1320 record held since August of 1959 of 183.66
mph set at Sanford, Maine.
The following week at Fremont,
they were the stars beating Ted "Curly" Cyr with a
8:42 e.t. at 184.04 mph for Top Eliminator. They also reeled
off a series of runs, which culminated in another new Standard
1320 speed record of 187.10. It seemed like there was a picture
of the car in Drag News every week.
Memorial Day weekend 1960 Don
and Art attended the annual holiday weekend event at Union Grove,
where Bob Metzler brought together all the hot cars he could
assemble. The rivalry between Garlits/Malone and Karamesines/Maynard
continued with Garlits/Malone looking for revenge for the Great
Bend KS defeat by the "Chizler". Here is a classic
shot of what it was like back then when the "top dogs"
ran! Art Malone edged out Karamesines on this day, racing him
twice. Once for class and then again for Top Eliminator, as was
the practice in those days. The "Swamp Rat" took home
This picture was taken by Norbe
Locke at the Memorial Day event at Union Grove. What's special
about it is that Ron Johnson, publisher of the www.cacklefest.com
site is standing with his back to the camera at the far left.
Don and Art toured the car extensively
from late 1959 through July 1960. They raced full competition
shows and match raced as often as they could. Here's Art Malone
in 1960 on a mission at Minnesota Dragway. Art and Don separated
on July 17th after the race that this picture was taken at.
Ron Johnson Photo
Notice the front wheels
have been changed to the more sturdy Halibrand 12 spokes.
Don returned home and modified
the roll cage to better fit him, and began to drive himself.
Here Don signals the driver of the famous Black and White Carryall
that he's ready to go. This picture was taken at the Golden Triangle
Sidebar about the Carryall. In early 1960 Smoky Yunick, who was
a friend of Don's, was visiting one day and was dismayed that
Don was using a passenger car for a tow vehicle. A few days later,
Don got a call from a local Chevrolet dealer that there was a
59 Chev Carryall there and he was supposed to come and get it,
compliments of Smoky. It was a former Sheriffs Department vehicle,
hence the Black and White color scheme. Don never changed the
color scheme and it served well for towing all over the USA.
Note the lettering on the front of the Carryall. Trouble indeed!
Here's a handout from the period
after Don and Art split, when Don was back in the driver's seat.
The Hilborn two-port injector has been replaced with an Enderle
Barndoor, in this configuration Swamp Rat I-B turned 204.54 mph.
One of the last runs for Swamp
Rat 1B before retirement in early 1961. It was replaced by an
all new car with a Connie Swingle built all chrome moly tubing
chassis, which is known as Swamp Rat 3 and was recently recreated
for Sonny Meisner.
In the pits at Bowing
With his in house resources,
with many original parts, Garlits recreated Swamp Rat IB. Although
it mainly resides in his museum, the car has been to a few events
including the 2005 National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green,
going to his spot.
And this would be CACKLEFEST!
No matter where he goes,
"Big Daddy" is in demand for autographs.
Garlits and long time
crewman, TC Lemon chat... or TC could just be telling Big another
To date NHRR III is the only
Cacklefest the car has appeared in. Here is Garlits in the introduction
Unable to keep his foot out of
a throttle, here's Don doing a smoky leave at Huntsville, Alabama