A New Little Red Wagon

From sponsored street racing in the 1960s to track-inspired production race cars in 2018, Chrysler has supported the development of drag racing for decades. Over the years Dodge has conjured up some wild schemes in hopes of advancing the sport, but from the Silver Bullet to the Dodge Challenger SRT® Demon, their most outrageous feat to date has got to be the accidental invention of one of the very first wheelstanders.

The year was 1964, super stock racing was hot on the scene and the big three’s battle over horsepower was beginning to heat up. While Dodge’s popular D100 series pickup was taking the world by storm and dominating in multiple classes, engineers at Dodge’s Special Equipment Truck Division; John Collier and Jim Schaffer, were determined to prove the performance potential of Dodge’s funky A100 platform. While the goal was to simply build a full size truck that could compete on the track, their accomplishments far exceeded the wildest of their expectations. With a mighty 426 HEMI® and 727 torqueflite automatic dropped into the pickup bed, the truck ran an unbelievable 10 seconds in the ¼ mile and the legendary Little Red Wagon was born!

The rear mounted HEMI motor produced imposing power, impressive time slips, and as you can imagine horrifying handling! The terrible wheel hop that occured at high speeds made the pickup borderline dangerous on the track, so Little Red was handed over to Dick Branster and Roger Lindamood, the minds behind Dodge’s Super Stock champion “Color Me Gone”. The boys got right to work installing a more stable leaf-spring suspension with a pivoting rear subframe and, just for fun, an even badder fuel injected 426 HEMI running on a combination nitromethane and alcohol! With the original driver Jay Howell back behind the wheel, the hopped up HEMI engine roaring, and the new rear suspension stabilizing an overpowering amount of torque, the Little Red Wagon was ready to hit the track again; where it would forever change the history of drag racing. Upon its takeoff at the Detroit Dragway, Little Red unexpectedly lifted it’s nose straight into the air and pulled a massive wheelie, the likes of which had never been seen before. I can’t even imagine the reactions that thing must have caused, spectators probably stood in awe, engineers gawked in horror and driver Jay Howell felt the fear of God as the pickup soared, filling his vision with nothing but sky! Fortunately, at the end of the day the driver was safe, the fans were thrilled, and the Little Red Wagon’s unanticipated stunt was an instant hit! With the Wagon’s shocking pass making the cover of Chrysler’s “Bin and Bench” magazine, Dodge Truck’s experimental project was gaining steam and getting recognized by the right people. Chrysler then assigned long-time Super Stock racer Bill “Maverick” Golden as the official driver of the Little Red Wagon, tasked with touring dragways across the country where he wowed every man, woman, and child that encountered this exciting exhibition spectacle!

Being a pioneer in the world of wheelstanders and a daredevil of it’s own breed, the Little Red Wagon didn’t get through the following decades unscathed. After a slew of repairable crashes, the original Little Red Wagon was completely totalled in a roll-over accident in 1975 where the truck broke loose on the track and (believe it or not!) flipped head-over-heels six times before rolling from side to side another five times! By some miracle driver Bill Maverick survived the crash but the poor little pickup was toast. Maverick of course didn’t let the incident bring him down, he recreated the Little Red Wagon on another A100 Dodge and continued racing with it for decades before it was sold on the auction block in 2009.

With the original wrecked and the re-creation on display, the world would forget what a wheelstander was and which one started it all, if not for enthusiast Mike Mantel! A legend in the making, Mike is best known as the owner and driver of iconic wheelstanders such as the Hurst HEMI Under Glass Barracuda and the flame-throwing Little Red Firetruck. When the wrecked remains of the original Little Red Wagon came up for sale, Mike knew he’d be taking on a new role as the caretaker of this piece of automotive history. With a thorough understanding of the Wagon’s historical significance, Mike has no interest in trying to restore it, instead he has preserved the pickup just as it is and shows it off at events across the country.

With the original in hand for reference and an ambition to put the wild wheelstanders of the past back on the track, Mantel decided to follow in the footsteps of driver Maverick and build a new Little Red Wagon exhibition pickup of his own. With a clean ‘65 Dodge A100 for a blank canvas, his new truck was stripped, tubbed, and caged to prepare it for a 2,000 horse 526 CUI HEMI (quite a step up from the factory slant six). Mike recently debuted the new Little Red Wagon at Tucson Dragway in Arizona. While the new Little Red made its first appearance in red primer

(as seen in the photo below) she’ll return soon with a fresh coat of that iconic Candy Apple Red, closed off rear side windows, and all the correct stickers and decals to boot.

Prepared to educate a new generation on the glory days of drag racing, Mike Mantel plans to continue touring the wrecked original beside his all new build. With the two together, the Little Red Wagon will live on for decades to come and remind the world of the wheelstander that started it all.