21 October 2011

Drag Racing History - Mondelo & Matsubara Topolino

Mondello & Matsubara Topolino AA/FA

Joe Mondello and driver, Sush Matsubara, started racing Fiat Altereds back in 1965 in California, initially with power coming from an injected 327ci Chevy, but latterly, they moved to a new, Roy Fejested-built car equipped with a blown 472ci Chevy. The new car was built like funny cars of the day; allegedly, this car was the first Fuel Altered to run in the 8s, and then the 7s!
In early 1969, Matsubara ordered another car; this time from a company named Exhibition Engineering, and it was this Topolino that helped further to immortalise the efforts of M&M.  It set the national record for AA Fuel Altereds with a 7.24 ET and 213 mph pass at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 1969, and won runner-up in Competition Eliminator.
To put that amazing performance into perspective, the low ET for Funny Cars at that event was 7.22, set by Don Schumacher.
You can bet when Fiat launched the Topolino in 1937 they didn't have this in mind.

Mondello & Matsubara tearing it up at Lions Drag Strip, California with the first car
A Young Sush Matsubara working on the car with Joe Mondello, left

The car, as with a lot of drag cars at the time, changed hands, paintjobs, engines, until it faded into obscurity.

Now it’s come back to back to life in California, thanks largely to the efforts of three individuals – Karpo Murkijanian, Pete Eastwood and Derek Bower.
Eastwood and Murkijanian are long-time Fuel Altered fans, and while bench racing one evening, got to thinking about the Mondello/Matusbara Fiats and the likelihood of ever finding one.  To satisfy their curiosity, they began a search on the Internet, and more precisely, the excellent website, mysterion.net. There, after scanning countless pages of photographs of Fuel Altereds, they came across images of the M&M cars racing at tracks in the U.S. – and intriguingly, a fairly recent photo of an M&M Fiat on a trailer.  Clearly, one car did exist, but where was it?
Jim Sorenson put the pair in touch with the photographer, who told them that the image was taken in New England. From there, they contacted the local drag strip and discovered the whereabouts of the owner of the Fiat. They eventually tracked him down to the unlikely location of Rhode Island. A further phone call revealed the owner was prepared to sell the car.  There was only one course of action – Karpo boarded a plane in California and flew to Rhode Island. Within four days of making that initial telephone call, Karpo was in possession of the Holy Grail – a Mondello/Matsubara Fiat!

The version they discovered is the 1969 car, which featured the purple-striped paint job.  “The car was remarkably complete for its age, and still had the original chassis, wheels, seat, seat belts, fuel tank, and much more.  Only the engine & gearbox were missing.”

Joe Mondello inspects the re-discovered car with Dane Matsubara,  Sush's grandson
The car was purchased in 2005, returned to California in the condition in which it was discovered, and subsequently put on display at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield.  After that, it was stripped down to the last nut and bolt and put through the lengthy process of a very thorough restoration.  See [url=http://www.drcreview.com/news.asp?art=230]here[/url] & [url=http://www.nz-hotrod.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=1812&page=1&pp=10]here.[/url]
 “I’m very excited about the restoration of the car,” says Joe Mondello. “I know Karpo and his team will do an exquisite restoration job and I’m really looking forward to seeing it brought back to life.  I’m just sorry Sush will not be here to see it.”

Sadly, Sush Matsubara passed away in 2006.

The car debuted at the 2008 Cacklefest. “We have no intention of running the car down the quarter mile,” says Eastwood.  “This car has already proved its worth in competition, and it will be a thrill enough for us to fire it up at the Cacklefest.”  Even so, all of the best parts will be fitted to the motor and transmission, to keep it running reliably.

The car was faithfully restored to it's most famous livery:



These shots were taken while in preparation for it’s photoshoot for the Rodders Journal:

At Cacklefest 2008. In the seat was Dane Matsubara, Sush's grandson.

With thanks to all sources concerned for the info.

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