Blast From The Past: Stempede Fuel Altered

Words: Shayne Stewart Contemporary Photography: Luke Ray

The idea of building a race car came about over a Christmas dinner when my dad and I decided that we would build something together. Two hours later and after a few drinks we found a chassis on the net and we had made a start.

After months of pondering about which direction the drag car build was going to head, I received a text message from a mate Robin. It was simply an eBay item number. Being bed bound after having just broken my back I had nothing better to do that to browse eBay and take a look. What came up for auction was a mid 80s Fuel Altered, and in the back ground of the pictures in the ad was a second Altered that came with it. With a low starting bid and no bidder, I rang the guy and had him send me more photos.

When I received the photos, the second Altered body had the name ‘Wildfire’ across the cowl, as it still has now. So after posting questions on forums on the net and making several phone calls, I had a lead that it may have some interesting history, so I made the decision to buy it.

The next morning checking my posts on the net I had discovered only what every drag racer and hot rodderdreams of. Someone knew of the car and its history and the communication started to snow ball from there. Pictures started coming in, emails with contacts, etc etc.

So the story of this little beauty, as I know it to be, is something like as follows:

The Altered was originally built by Charlie Dennis, a well known Whyalla, South Australia mechanic, in 1971. The car started life with a 354 Hemi and direct drive thatwas upgraded to a 392 with a Danekas blower, Enderle injection that was imported from the US and bought from an unknown racer over there.

In 1975 Charlie entered it into the Adelaide Auto Spectacular, and won three trophies; Top Altered/Funny Car, Top Engine Bay and Top Individual Display. Charlie built and mostly drove Stampede himself, although he did put a good mate Fred Hams in the seat a few times.

Charlie sold the car to Phil Reilly in 1976 in Adelaide. Phil made several upgrades to the chassis & cage, and he raced it for a while as ‘Stampede’ and occasionally ran the 392 on ‘POP’ (nitromethane). Phil then put the motor into a later style altered chassis called ‘Snortin Arnold’. The chassis went interstate to Trevor Slaughter who put an injected Big block Chev in it and painted it red and renamed it ‘Wildfire’.

The Altered was last raced in the 80s as ‘Wildfire’ by Trevor and this is where the trace seems to stop. Trevor is now building a land speed stream-liner to make an attack on Australia's fastest wheel driven vehicle record, and to further make an attempt at the 450+ mph record currently held in the US.

Charlie Dennis made the decision to move the altered on to Phil Reilly so he could fund the build of his next project. It was this race car that unfortunately took the life of Charlie in an accident at Whyalla raceway in the mid to late 70s. Steel city raceway in Whyalla to this day still run the Charlie Dennis Memorial Series.

When I discovered that the altered had such a colourful history and was built and raced by a man that had such an impact on drag racing in Australia, I did not think that their was any other way to build the car other than to build it as Charlie, Fred and Phil ran it back in the 70s.

My plan is to restore the Altered to be as visually correct as possible, but incorporate a few improvements to meet current safety standards.

Having already owned a few 392 Hemis, one of them at one stage held a comp eliminator record here in Australia in the mid 90s. I was thinking it was going to all go relatively smooth, but under further inspection I discovered cracks in the pan rail of the block, welded crank journals, and more problems. I thought if i am going to do this project, I’m doing it to hopefully avoid going over these problems time and time again.

With the scarcity of 392 parts, added to the fact that they are now over 50 years old, I went on the hunt for a Donovan Hemi, the benefits being that its made of aluminium, it’s stronger, and visually nearly identical. I also hunted down the exact same blower; a magnesium 6:71 Danekas. The search continues for period correct details..

Once Complete I’d like to take ’Stempede’ to Steel City Raceway, and take them up on the their offer to debut the car in Whyalla. My goal is to make my first pass in the car in Honor of Charlie, a guy who was not only well respected in, Whyalla, but also the Drag racing community and an all round great guy. 

I’d like to thank the guys who have helped me with unearthing the history of Stampede, and the people who have helped with parts:

Phil Reilly, Fred hams, Peter Jackson ( Steel City Raceway ), Peter Clark and all the guys who have gone out of their way to help with picture and details.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 09.