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Gassers were, as the name suggests, gasoline-powered drag cars, but they also had some quirky features.
Of all the different classes of classic and vintage cars, gassers are one of the most overlooked types of hot rods. The term gasser simply refers to the fact that these are competition drag racing cars that only run on gas. It might seem like a fairly straightforward rule, but it spawned a whole new class of hot rod, thanks to the way racers would modify their cars to somehow get a leg up over the competition.
As a result, the cars look truly distinctive, with their raised front suspension and skinny front wheels. All of these distinctive modifications are strictly function oriented, so the form aspect is only a result of the search for more speed, which often also involved cutting the chassis and completely ruining the perceived “value” of these classic cars.
The main modification that makes a gasser look like a gasser, is the front suspension. In the pursuit of more lightness, the first thing they would do was replace the existing front suspension with a lighter straight beam front axle.
They would also raise the front end, shifting most of the weight to the rear, so the car would have more traction off the line.
What people find most polarizing about these old cars is the way they look, skinny front wheels, with a tall front end and big fat tires on the rears all looks purposeful, but not necessarily attractive.
All of that is about one main goal, and that was getting as much of the car’s weight over the back wheels, so they would get off the line that much faster.
At the time, most drag cars were already using methanol or nitro fuels, so the name literally just stems from this gas-only-based class.
There were actually very few other limitations, so rather ironically the class intended for stock cars ended up becoming the one with the most modifications.
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Pretty much everything unnecessary was thrown out, the back seat, passenger seat and just about everything else in the interior that wasn’t directly related to more speed. Some cars didn’t even have roll cages with safety standards back then being a little on the lax side.
All the glass would be replaced with plexiglass, front fenders and the hood would also normally get replaced with fiberglass too.
This was a trend that started right here with the gassers of the 50s and 60s, it is something still popular right up until today.
It makes for some deafening ¼ mile runs and most certainly adds to the theater of these old machines.
Related: Watch These Loud And Powerful Gassers Invade The Drag Strip
In the search for more performance, forced induction was a natural sort of direction to go in, what was a little unusual was how most of them sourced their superchargers.
They would adapt these old roots-type superchargers to fit on small block V8s that they were not necessarily designed for, but the power gains were certainly worth the effort.
These were often basic family transport modified into high performance cars, they were a big part of the original hot rod movement but are rarely acknowledged as such.
Most collectors actually look at them with disdain, as the extensive modifications will ruin the value of otherwise highly collectable cars like the first generation Corvette, which was light but still had enough space for a V8.
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Gassers were all from the 30s, 40s and 50s. They were almost exclusively made from affordable cars, with the odd exception, like the ultra light Corvette (apples to apples).
The popularity reached its peak in the 60s and is often referred to as the “gasser wars” when it attracted some of the best drivers and some of the most expensive, heavily modified cars. By 1972 the class was disbanded, and the gasser was no more.
Related: What A Gas! The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air "Gasser" In Focus
Interestingly, the most popular gassers were Willys, not because they were the most powerful, but because they were affordable and very light.
They were not common though, but even though they were scarce their average build quality meant they remained affordable. The 55 Chevy is arguably the most iconic gasser though, as it has a mean, purposeful look to it and for the more wealthy hot rodder, a Corvette was the lightest sports car on the market back then.
Period-correct professional restorations with perfect paint are now highly collectable, but the vast majority of these cars were slapped together in somebody's garage and are now more or less only worth scrap value.
This class was always meant for the working class, and now these old cars are still accessible today, as long as they don’t have too much history behind them or used to belong to some pro driver.
Luke Zietsman is an all out automotive enthusiast based in The Philippines. If it has two or four wheels he has either owned it, researched about it or dreamed about it.