Edsel a car to race, show

Kendall Heinrichs decided he wanted to build something that nobody else has. His choice of a '58 Edsel drag car seems like a fairly safe bet.
Kendall Heinrichs decided he wanted to build something that nobody else has. His choice of a '58 Edsel drag car seems like a fairly safe bet. Courtesy photo

Remember the good old days when factory-backed Edsel drag cars were tearing up the strips around the country and striking fear in the hearts of other brands?

Of course you don't — because it never happened.

Edsel wasn't around long enough to take part in the factory super stock wars of the 1960s. Born to great fanfare in 1958, the Edsel died a quiet, little-lamented death in model year 1960.

But that didn't stop Kendall Heinrichs from wanting to create a "what if" competition version of an Edsel.

"This is what I was shooting for. I wanted to build something that nobody else has," Heinrichs said. He is a Ulysses elementary school teacher who, with the help of his dad, Lowell Heinrichs, and his brother, Romney Heinrichs, of rural Goessel, created a one-of-a-kind 1958 Edsel Pacer drag car.

Holzman Race Cars of Wichita gets credit for a whirlwind-quick (six weeks) build-up of the competition part of the car, which features a fully-built Ford 460 racing engine coupled to an Art Carr C-6 automatic racing transmission.

Heinrichs had been running a '69 Mustang at drag strips in the region, turning in times in the mid-13-second range. "Like any racer, I wanted to go faster," he said.

One weekend, he competed against Tom and Sharon Wilhite of Derby, who race '58 and '59 Pontiacs. "That kind of inspired me to look for something different. I like later '50s cars. They have kind of been forgotten and I like the 'wings' on the back of them," Heinrichs said.

He found what he was looking for in Las Animas, Colo., a salvageable '58 Pacer 2-door hardtop. "There was plenty of rust on it. Dad kind of shook his head," Heinrichs said.

He bought the Edsel in December of 2003 and the project originally began in Ulysses, where it was given a set of wheel tubs and a narrowed 9-inch Lincoln Towne Car rear-end, complete with disc brakes.

Eventually the car was hauled back to central Kansas, where it was finally completed last March. "I had no clue how long it was going to take, or how much it was going to cost," said Heinrichs, who figures he spent about three times his original budget on the unusual Edsel.

He spent a solid week polishing stainless steel trim himself. Then there were bumpers to be rechromed, rust-free fenders to be found and a lot of fabrication to be done.

"Once you have a car this nice, you don't want to stop," Heinrichs said.

With a full roll cage, rack and pinion steering, a ladder bar rear suspension, huge slicks and 4.56 gears in place, he is confident the car will not only be quick, but safe. "The Holzmans build pro-mods . . . so I am sure this car would pass tech anywhere," he said.

"What drew me to it was that horse collar Edsel grille," Heinrichs said. The tapering hood bulge leading to the grille also suggested something else: "I love those big snorkel-looking pro stock hood scoops," Heinrichs said, and the one he chose not only fits the hood's contours perfectly, it mimics the grille opening.

His father, a retired Ford body shop foreman, and his brother did all the body work and sprayed the Colorado Red and off-white two-tone paint job on the slick quarter-miler.

Morgan-Bulleigh of Wichita installed the interior appointments, including a fresh white headliner and red and black vinyl upholstery. "I was real happy with what Harry Funk came up with . . . it looks period-correct," said the car owner.

"I wanted the car to be halfway between a race car and a show car," he said. "Something that would leave hard, kick up a lot of smoke and I could have a lot of fun with."

He figures it will run in the mid-11-second range, but is focusing more on car shows this summer than on competition. "I just love the lines of that car. It draws quite a bit of attention," he said.

If there had ever been an Edsel racing division, it probably would have been proud to back Heinrichs' 1958.

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