1953 Chrisman Bonneville Coupe

While this car was created to race, it combines a high level of technical
competence in construction with the highest standard of finish

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Hot rodders Art and Lloyd Chrisman were early and successful pioneers of drag racing with their famous #25 dragster, which was the first to achieve trap speeds of 140 mph and 180 mph in the quarter-mile.

Early experience gained on the dry lakebeds of Southern California in a 140 mph 1934 Ford coupe led to the 1930 Ford-based car offered here, which set records in three divisions of the Competition Coupe class at Bonneville.

Hailed as “The Most Fantastic Coupe” on the cover of the February 1954 issue of Hot Rod magazine, Art and Lloyd Chrisman’s Model A Competition Coupe featured innovative design and construction. It was purpose-built for top-speed competition on the Bonneville Salt Flats, across several Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) divisions.

While outwardly resembling a radically chopped 1930 Ford Model A Coupe, the Chrisman brothers placed the engine, transmission, and rear end assembly in the mid-rear position as a single modular unit, allowing quick and easy removal and replacement.

The straight front axle and leaf-spring suspension were liberated from a 1938 Ford, while the rear axle housing was bolted directly to the frame. The 1940 Ford rear end featured a Halibrand “quick change,” which allowed a multitude of final-drive ratios. Drum brakes were included only on the rear wheels.

The body was drastically altered to provide a smaller frontal area, thereby decreasing aerodynamic drag. A 1940 Ford sedan provided the steel roof and the steep windshield was achieved by grafting the cowl and A-pillar from a 1935 Ford. The unique, streamlined nose cone resulted from two hoods being combined, one on top of the other.

The coupe was first campaigned during the 1953 Bonneville Speed Week; the team came with three heavily modified Ford flathead engines and made a one-way run of 163.63 mph.

The Chrisman brothers returned in 1954, armed with new Chrysler Hemi engines. A 243-ci Dodge engine was reserved for Class B competition, while a 276-ci DeSoto engine was reserved for Class C. The brothers broke both records, reaching 180.87 mph in Class B and 180.08 mph in Class C.

Returning in 1955 with a larger 331-ci Chrysler engine for a new attempt at the Class D record, Art Chrisman qualified the coupe at over 190 mph, with a 5% dose of nitro, and set the record at 196 mph. Hoping to reach the coveted 200 mph mark, the brothers contemplated an increase to 20% nitro; however, their friend John Donaldson died at the wheel of the Reed Brothers “belly tank racer,” and the Chrismans retired to refocus on drag racing.

The 1953 Chrisman Bonneville Coupe was bought by George Barris, the “King of the Kustomizers,” in the early 1960s and traveled the auto show circuit for a number of years until Art Chrisman was hired to return the car to its record-setting glory. Joe MacPherson purchased the coupe in 1995 and placed it on display at Joe’s Garage, where it has remained ever since.

Jay Fitzhugh

SCM Contributor

Jay has been a muscle, hot rod, and custom guy since Hot Wheels first hit the shelves in 1968. He has since owned a succession of Shelby Mustangs, a Pontiac GTO Judge, and various flathead-powered early Fords. Currently, his garage holds a 1932 Ford 3-window coupe and a 1956 DeSoto Hardtop. For over a decade, Fitzhugh has been a Senior Contributing Writer for The Rodder’s Journal, where he has published well over 20 story chapters on the evolution of hot rodding from the late 1940s through the ’60s. He has received both Gold and Silver Moto Awards for his writing and photography from the International Automotive Media Competition and is a member of the Motor Press Guild.

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