LEHIGH — Although Monty Root cruised around in a 1969 El Camino in high school, he had his sights set on something a little more radical.
"I was always impressed with the old Fuel Altereds of the 1960s," he said.
And who wouldn’t be impressed with those evil-handling, short-wheelbased drag cars that ran virtually the same engines as the fuel dragsters of the day?
"I always wanted something performance-oriented," Root recalls. "So I started gathering parts when I was 16. I found them here and there. The first piece was the rear end, which came out of a mini-rod tractor (puller). I paid $175 for it, and that was all the money in the world to me at the time."
He knew he could build something pretty cool using the rear end as a point of departure. He hung out at garages and drag strips, learning all he could about going fast in a straight line.
"I always crewed for other people. I never really wanted to drive myself," he said.
Then he found a homemade rectangular tubing frame for sale at the Lawrence swap meet and added it to his pile of parts. A Super Bell 4-inch dropped front axle and a set of Speedway front springs gave the project a place to mount wheels.
“I kinda pieced it together and got it up on wheels and some tires and then set a block in it," he remembered.
"As I got older … my capabilities changed. He worked his way up to shop supervisor at a racing heads company in Memphis and learned how to grind high performance crankshafts in Manhattan. All the while, he kept gathering parts for what he envisioned as a barely street-legal altered Model T-bucket.
"It was actually kind of embarrassing, how long it took to do all this," said Root. He’s now 48 and travels the world as an engineering analyst and consultant.
The end result of all his work and creativity is a flat-black fiberglass-bodied 1923 T-bucket with a wing mounted on top of a full roll cage, huge rear tires, and a massive 565-cubic-inch Merlin racing engine that gulps pure methanol and makes the ground shake when it’s fired up.
A longtime friend, Dan Topliss of Manhattan, a dirt track racer, built the engine for Root. It features 9:1 compression aluminum racing heads, a roller camshaft and a pair of Predator 930 cfm racing carbs adapted to alcohol sitting atop a huge Mooneyham 8:71 supercharger. For grins, the carbs are fed air through an old newspaper delivery box repurposed as a scoop. Exhaust is routed through a set of big block Schoenfeld dirt-track headers hooked to hollowed-out SuperTrapp mufflers.
Root said the engine has never been on a dyno, so he doesn’t know the exact horsepower output. But he adds, "It’s a lot."
That power is directed rearward through a race-prepped 2-speed Powerglide transmission controlled by a B&M Racing shifter. The car rides on a 103-inch chassis, which means the driveshaft is only 12 inches long. Root built his own custom ladder-style traction bars and says 51 percent of the car’s 2,013 pounds rest on the rear Weld racing wheels, which mount the biggest Mickey Thompson tires (33x19-1/2x15) tires that he could find. That makes for excellent traction at launch.
Skinny 165R15s are found up front, mounted on Bob Glidden-signature racing wheels.
"It actually drives pretty good," says Root, who enjoys hauling it to car shows that feature short, untimed drag races as part of the draw.
"I like to make some noise and talk to folks about it. It’s a toy is what it is," he explains.
And now that it’s up and running, it’s clear that he enjoys the driving part as much as he did designing and building part of his nasty little "street altered."