Ask any drag racer what the key to a fast time is and they’ll almost invariably tell you that a good launch out of the hole is absolutely pivotal, and in order to get a good launch you need to put the power to the ground. Using suspension tunings that help the car’s weight shift to the back wheels is one of the strategies racers employ to aid with rear wheel traction, and pushing the car’s mass toward the middle of the car–rather than having it hanging off the front–bolsters that mechanical advantage even more.
But as the people at Hurst discovered in 1964, you can overdo it with this method. And the results are totally bitchin’.
Too Much Is Never Enough
Magazine ad sketching out George Hurst’s concept for the Hemi Under Glass. Image: Alex Small / Flickr
This concept of strategic mass placement was taken to a wonderful level of ridiculousness when Hot Rod Magazine Tech Editor Ray Brock suggested to George Hurst of Hurst Performance that building a Barracuda with the motor mounted in the middle of the car would put the majority of the car’s weight under the rear wheels and thus make the car a screamer off the line. Brock even had a name in mind for this wild design: the Hemi Under Glass.
Sporting Hurst forged wheels, the company’s iconic gold and black livery and, of course, a Hurst four speed shifter, the Hemi Under Glass was designed to be a competitive racer when the team set out to campaign it for the 1965 race season. However, Hurst soon discovered a rather serious issue with the setup, and while Brock’s theory about how to get the rear wheels to hook up proved accurate, the results weren’t exactly what they had initially envisioned.
Externally the Hemi Under Glass cars didn't differ dramatically from typical Barracudas, but once they got out on track the story changed significantly.
The massive 426ci power plant wouldn’t fit through the rear hatch, so Hurst engineers had to squeeze it in through the passenger door.
Regardless of how the crew set up the car’s suspension, with all the weight removed from the front of the car and a 600+ horsepower 426 Hemi motor sitting right behind the driver, the car became notorious for the crazy wheelstands that were immediately induced when the Barracuda launched off the line.
But rather than scrap the whole project and go back to the drawing board, Hurst soon realized that the Hemi Under Glass was becoming a fan favorite wherever they ran it, despite the fact that it wasn’t particularly competitive.
This gave the folks at Hurst an idea, and they soon decided to take a different tactic with the mutant Mopar they’d brought into the world.
Initially, the driving duties were shared between “Wild Bill” Shrewsbury and his mechanic, Bob Riggle, through the 1965 and 1966 seasons, but when Shrewsbury left the team to drive the LA Dart wheelie car, Riggle became the ‘Cuda’s sole pilot.
Though they would later cut a hole in the firewall of the car to provide visibility for Riggle as the nose of the Mopar pointed to the sky while it headed down the strip, it’s reported that the car ran for at least a period of time lacking both visibility while wheelstanding and also without independent wheel brakes.
The latter were added to the 1967 car to allow Riggle to steer the car via two levers that would apply braking to each of the rear wheels.
With Riggle at the wheel the car became an iconic promotional tool for the performance company, and the team continued to run the car at various drag strips across the country in an exhibition capacity between 1964 and 1975. And rather than attempt to corral the car’s penchant to lift the front wheels, they instead opted to allow the car’s rear bumper to send a shower of sparks all the way down the 1320 because, well, hot rodding in the 1960s was awesome, wheelies are cool, and quarter mile-long wheelies are even cooler.
Riggle turned out to be the only driver with the cojones to get behind the wheel of the Hemi Under Glass, but in 1975 a funny car crash would force him to take some time off from the drag strip. He soon moved back home to Arizona, leaving the fate of the Hemi Under Glass legacy as an unknown for many years to follow.
Linda Vaughn, also know as “Miss Golden Shifter” was arguably the most well known among the Hurst Girls.
In 1992, as nostalgia drag racing was gaining in popularity and after being urged on by “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter” Linda Vaughn, Riggle set about building a replica of his 1968 Hemi Under Glass racer. And it wasn’t long before he was back touring the country’s drag strips and auto exhibitions, gaining new fans while bringing back fond memories to the ones who witnessed the manic Mopar during its glory days.
Several years later, Riggle was approached by someone who claimed to have the original 1967 car that he had campaigned up for sale. Understandably skeptical, Riggle requested proof of the car’s authenticity, which arrived several months later in the form of photographs taken at the seller’s home in Montreal. Though it was reportedly in rough shape, Riggle had no doubt he was looking at the car he’d blasted down the quarter mile in decades prior.
He purchased the car and brought it back to his shop in Arizona, but with numerous other projects in the queue and his time already largely committed to touring the country with his Hemi Under Glass tribute car, the ’67 sat in a shed for another eight years until a collector by the name of Bill Sefton approached Riggle about funding the car’s restoration and purchase. By 2005 the original car was back in action wowing spectators across the country.
The 1966 car as it was presented when it went to auction along with three other examples as a set. Images: Mecum
Riggle has said that a total of nine Hemi Under Glass Barracudas were originally built, several of which were purchased by Sefton, who was known to have a passion for all things Mopar but had also gained a reputation as a “black hole” for collector cars, as his prized possessions were rarely known to ever re-enter the market once he had gotten a hold of them.
But that changed in 2013 when Sefton was convicted of tax evasion and was forced to pay restitution to the IRS, which in turn resulted in the bulk of his massive collection heading to auction, including the four Hemi Under Glass cars. Initially an attempt was made to sell the four cars as a set, but when the bids climbed to $750,000 yet could not reach the reserve, the decision was made to sell the cars off individually, and the original ’67 Hemi Under Glass ended up being sold at Mecum’s Kissimmee 2014 auction for $300,000.
A look at the original '67 car as it went to the Mecum auction in 2014. Image: Hemmings
Currently there’s no word on when we’ll get another chance to see these badass Plymouths take to tracks around the U.S. again, but never say never, as the saying goes.