Editor's Note: Due to the recent merger of Chrysler and Fiat, we have gotten several emails from people wanting to know if we plan to feature Fiat vehicles now. Well, here you go guys, our obligatory Fiat feature car-pretty cool, eh?!
As drag racing evolved in the late 1950s and early 1960s, competitors scrambled to create cars that were inexpensive to build and would be competitive in the many classes being formed. One of the classes formed that allowed a great deal of freedom and creativity was the Altered class. The rules allowed the engine to be set back 25-percent of the body's length, and very little else was required in the way of running gear restriction.
In November 1959 a young Walt...
In November 1959 a young Walt Knock sits on the front tire of the A/Altered coupe his father built; friend Richie Borque is at the back of the car. This photo was taken at a Toledo, Ohio, area dragstrip. Within a few years, Knoch's red hot altered would be setting records and winning national events.
In the late 1950s, Walt Knoch raced one of the hottest A/Altereds-"Walt's Puffer II." It was the marriage of a Chrysler Hemi and a Fiat Topolino body. At that time, Hemi engines were the gold standard for drag racing power, and the sleek Fiat Topolino bodies were light and streamlined, perfect for drag racing.
The Walt's Puffer II story started in early 1959, when Walt's father Walt Knock Sr. owned Walt's Auto Parts in Inkster, Michigan. He and a friend built the Chrysler-powered Fiat for his son Walt to race. The car ran at the newly opened Detroit Dragway and at a few other local strips. It ran well, but young Knock felt it needed to be upgraded for competition at the upcoming U.S. Nationals. "I told my dad," recalls Knoch. "There's no way we can run 140 with the Latham supercharger we had. I called Isky and Hilborn for the camshaft and injectors we needed. I got the injectors, supercharger, blower drive, and camshaft one week before the 1959 Nationals." Knoch took the Fiat to a strip in Toledo for a shakedown and found that he could smoke the tires for the entire length of the strip. "We went to the Nationals and on the first run, I broke the record." Knoch set the NHRA class speed record for A/Altered at 138.67 miles per hour. Following that meet, he went on to record a speed of 150 miles per hour at a strip in Chester, South Carolina.
Walt Knoch Sr. built the chassis...
Walt Knoch Sr. built the chassis for Walt's Puffer II from rectangular steel tubing. The rear axle was solidly mounted. Behind the big Chrysler is an in-and-out box. Having an opening door, especially a suicide door, was unusual for a race car even in the 1960s. The seat is a surplus aircraft item.
In 1960, Knoch returned to the U.S. Nationals but lost the class to the famous Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Olds-powered Fiat. The results were repeated at the 1961 Nationals when the Ratican-Jackson-Stearns Fiat again won the class. Knoch's coupe, now sporting a freshly chopped top and the name "Walt's Puffer II" on the side, was clocking elapsed times in the ten-second range at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. The bright spot for the Walt's auto parts crew at the 1961 Nationals was the Middle Eliminator win for the other car they were running, a Chrysler powered A/Roadster, named "Walt's Puffer Too."
In 1962, the stars shined brightly for both Walt's cars at the U.S. Nationals. Walt's Puffer Too won the A/Roadster class and Walt's Puffer II won the A/Altered class. When the time came for the Junior Eliminator run between both cars, it was raining. With only the two Walt's Puffer cars to run against each other, it was assured that one of Knoch's cars would win. Because of the rain, NHRA never ran the race between the two cars. They awarded the trophy to Knoch, with the record book reading "Walt's Puffers" as the Junior Eliminator winner.
Interior check list from the...
Interior check list from the driver's view: gas pedal-check; oil pressure gauge-check; hand brake-check; in-out box-check; clutch-check. The steering wheel is a modified GM wheel.
By now, the Walt's Puffer II Fiat had reached legendary status in the Midwest. Its tire-smoking runs brought the fans to their feet wherever it ran. Walt Knoch was treated like a rock star when he drove into Detroit Dragway with his black '62 Corvette pulling the chopped Fiat on a trailer. Model car builder AMT noticed the attention that car received among young fans. So much so that when AMT released their Double Dragster model car kit, the Chrysler powered Fiat included in that kit carried the number 285 on the side-the same as the Walt's Puffer II. (Note: That kit was just re-released.)