By Bill Tybur. Photos from the collection of Chuck Rahn.
Reprinted by permission from the Automotive Motorsports Foundation Journal, 2000
Carl Grimes’ Wild Wagon is a fascinating story of home-built hotrodding from the ’40s and ’50s. There are several galleries including construction details (rather scarry by today’s standards) of both of Carl’s Wild Wagon and his Fiat-bodied racing cars. Also included is a gallery of his Studebaker school bus transporter, maybe the first of its kind, and photos from a Perryville program.
In the early 1950s drag racers had very few performance manufacturers that sold parts, so they used components from existing vehicles to build their racers. Carl Grimes was a master at crafting early hot rods, and they were fast and reliable. The Wild Wagon is the only surviving example of his work. He raced it at Perryville airstrip near Goodyear, Arizona (possibly Arizona’s first drag strip) and throughout the southwest.
The basic components for the Wild Wagon chassis and suspension were from a DeSoto of the late ’30s. The rear end was from an Oldsmobile from the late ’40s, and the body was a 1948 Crosley. He fabricated the hood and fenders. The car had 3 engines—the first was a Cadillac V8 that was eventually replaced with a Buick V8, and then finally had an Oldsmobile V8. Various carburetor setups were used on all of these engines.
The Wild Wagon
1955 was the first National Hot Rod Association’s national drag race—the sport’s biggest and most premier event. Carl was there with the Wild Wagon—the first to enter and qualify. In the same year, Hot Rod magazine featured the Wild Wagon in the April issue. They took photos of the car at the Bonneville Speed Trials. When the Wild Wagon finished its racing career, it proved to be quite streetable. Carl’s daughter, Sally and her husband Lewis Rogers, used it for their everyday transportation for two years. Lewis also became Carl’s driver for the Grimes ’57 Fiat racer.
Carl was always a strong supporter for NHRA racing. In later years Carl was awarded the very coveted Wally Award for his achievements and support in drag racing. In 1991 NHRA also brought Carl and his wife Sara to the Nationals in Indianapolis to recognize him as the first entrant in the very first NHRA Nationals.
Carl’s Fiat-bodied race car
In the late ’50s Carl’s competitors were catching up with him, so he built a new racer using a Fiat body with the Buick V8 removed from the Wild Wagon. The ’57 Fiat Racer had a tubular chassis that Carl fabricated in his shop. It had a Ford front axle from the ’30s and an Oldsmobile rear end. Carl came up with the idea to narrow the rear axle to make the car more stable and go straighter down the strip. The body was hinged on the chassis at the rear so it could be raised for complete access to the engine and chassis. Carl was the first to implement the narrowed rear axle and hinged body, which others quickly duplicated. The Grimes ’57 Fiat raced all over the U.S. with many victories including two NHRA nationals wins.
Carl’s transporter was built from a Studebaker school bus. The family and crew lived and slept in the bus as they toured the country on the racing circuit. Carl installed a Pontiac V8 engine in the bus and modified the rear to open up for loading the race car. When the race promoter would allow it, Carl would make exhibition runs with the transporter. It is believed that Carl was the first person to convert a school bus into a transporter.
Carl was quite the innovator—he probably created the V8 Corvette before Chevy did. In 1953 he replaced the 6-cylinder engine with a Buick V8 in a brand new Corvette giving it unbelievable performance for its day. Carl’s Seventh Street Machine Shop & Garage in Phoenix, Arizona are where he created his racers. It was also the local gathering place for many famous local racers such as Bobby Ball, Jimmy Bryan and Clint Brawner, to name a few.
The Wild Wagon is restored and currently on display at the National Hot Rod Association Museum in Pomona, California where only the most significant drag race cars are featured.
In the late 60’s i worked with Carl at Fisher Contracting as a mechanics helper.Carl was a awesom teacher and a dear friend. He taught me alot about being a good honest mechanic and how to be creative in the auto world. The time we spent together will never be forgotten. His humor,laugh and jokes were something else for a kid at the age of 16.I’m proud to tell my friends that i knew Carl .
My Dad just sent me the link to this site.. I would like to say that I have heard some interesting stories from my Grandma Sally of the places they used to race. Carl Grimes is my Great-Grandfather, I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I have been lucky enough to have these stories passed down through my family. My Grandpa Lewis worked with Carl on his vehicles, and raced them just as well as any person out there could have. I wish I could have met my Grandpa, but even though I was unable to do so, I am proud of all of his accomplishments and am very proud that I am able to share his stories with others. I have photos of my own, featuring Carl Grimes, on my picture board, he has been the subject of my drawings. If anyone can share their experiences with my grandfather, with me, please do so. Thank you.
Emily Kastner, email me and lets tall about your great grandpa Carl. I also worked with your grandpa Lewis. thank you Mike Jackson
This is Emily Kastner again, I would love to discuss my Great-Grandpa and hear stories from you perspective. If you could give me your e-mail I would gladly contact you. Thank you very much!
I know own this car.
Carl Grimes is one of my “hero racers”, as he built his own rigs from what was available locally, a true “hot rodder”, for sure. I am building a scale model of his Fiat from B&W photos, initially inspired by HRM photos from the 1957 National Drags. The photos on this site are making it possible to build an accurate chassis. I need to know what colors to use, especially for the body, the engine, and the “Grimes 57” logos. Please email me if you can help.
I believe that the original Studebaker bus/transporter has survived and was in a yard in the Phoenix area about 20 years ago. A Studebaker Drivers Club member then bought it. I have photos that match the bus, with a bare interior. The body was made by Crown Coach in Los Angeles, and they also made some similar bodies on Ford chassis. A Crown bread van on a Studebaker chassis that looks similar to the bus is in the LeMay – Marymount collection in Tacoma, WA.