Here’s the provenance:

  • Jim Shue’s original “Hell Fire” Corvette
  • 426-ci Hemi Reath engine
  • Unmolested nostalgia funny car
  • Hilborn injected
  • Mike Kase chassis
  • Clutchflite set up
  • Ran 7.14 quarter-mile at 200 mph on nitromethane
  • In storage for 40 years
  • This is a time capsule and the dawn of funny car racing
  • A great Southern California drag racing piece of history
  • Sold on Bill of Sale only

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Corvette “Hell Fire” Funny Car
Years Produced:1969
Number Produced:1
Original List Price:n/a
SCM Valuation:$40,000–$45,000
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:n/a
Engine Number Location:n/a
Club Info:National Hot Rod Association
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot F169, sold for $42,400, including buyer’s premium, at the Mecum Auctions sale in Kansas City, MO, on Friday, March 11, 2011. In 1970, the March issue of Rodder and Super/Stock featured a two-page spread about the Jim Shue “Hell Fire” Corvette and billed it as the “World’s quickest & fastest Corvette—Jim Shue’s Hemi-fied Hell Fire.”

Our subject car terrorized the strips of Southern California during the 1969/1970 seasons, running in the Manufacturers Funny Car Championships at the Orange County raceway with a best quarter-mile time of 7.29 seconds at a blazing 205.49 mph.

Part of the success of this dominating Funny Car was the marriage of the brutal Mopar Hemi powerplant coupled with the sleek styling of a custom-built and aerodynamic Corvette(ish) body—as well as the fact that the car only tipped the scales at 1,970 pounds. The team of Jim Shue and Johnny Wright raced the Corvette for two years before retiring the car after the 1970 season. Wright went on to finish his career piloting one of Mickey Thompson’s funny cars.

Hot cars, hot collectibles

Nostalgic drag cars from almost any bygone era have rapidly become some of the hottest collectibles in the marketplace. Generally speaking, the most winning cars on the circuit with the most notorious drivers and teams will pull bigger money than lesser cars. Teams such as Sox & Martin, Bill Jenkins and the aforementioned Mickey Thompson come to mind. Or, look at it this way: If a dragster was glamorized in the form of a Revell model or a Hot Wheels toy back when these cars ruled the track, chances are that the full-size, adult version will fetch a pretty penny today.

The restorations of these cars can vary widely, and many of the cars sold are distant relatives of the actual dragster that breathed fire and smoked tires. Engines scattered, clutches exploded and cars played tag on concrete barriers along their way down the quarter-mile asphalt raceway. As such, when cars did survive intact, most were sold to other teams or simply stripped of parts and scrapped. The likelihood that any of the drag cars from just about any era have survived with all the original goodies still onboard is highly unlikely.

Stored for 40 years

Our subject car may be one of those rare opportunities to discover a somewhat intact drag car. From the archive photos, we can see that when the car was originally campaigned by Jim Shue and Johnny Wright, it wore the Hell Fire paint scheme, with a blower configuration riding up top of the 426 Hemi.

When it was discovered after decades in storage, it was dressed out in a different paint scheme on the original body and was fitted with a 426 Reath Hemi stroked to 472-ci with a Hilborn injection system. The body was rather rough, with all the wear and tear one would expect from a retired funny car, such as cracks, deep gouges and shoddy paint.

The balance of the car, based on the seller’s description, appears to be unmolested and a virtual time capsule from the dawn of the funny car era. When the car crossed the block on March 11, 2011, the body had been repaired and it was once again wearing the “Hell Fire” livery—and had been freshened up for the sale. It has been reported that the car either did not run, or ran rather poorly on the day it sold. Other research available confirms the overall condition.

A price on history

Every race car that’s up for sale will find wildly varying results. As I mentioned earlier, the more famous the car, the more jing it will bring—generally speaking of course. Naturally, we are speaking about nicely restored cars as well. There will always be a price for provenance, as it’s one of the key cornerstones of collectible cars.

At Mecum’s Kissimmee sale in January of this year, which I reported on, two highly desirable former drag cars crossed the block. One, a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stock known as “Grumpy’s Toy VIII,” went back home with the seller after a not-enough high bid of $300,000. The other, the dominating 1971 Plymouth Hemi Pro Stock Sox & Martin drag car, also crossed the block as a no-sale with a high bid of $450,000. These are staggering numbers, but that is the price of racing history.

The Sox & Martin ‘Cuda was one of the most winning and recognized 1970s era drag cars of all time and personally, I’d sell my house to own it, but my wife told me that she has no plans to live in a car.

A regional superstar

Our subject car is not one of the superstar drag cars with a rich, well-known history. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a deserving car and it would be a great addition to just about any collection, but it lacks a deep provenance, which will always relegate it to second- or even third-tier status.

For a regional car, the “SoCal” ties are about as good as it gets, as many call Southern California the birthplace of hot rodding—and it was arguably the location of the very first legal drag race in 1949, which was sanctioned by the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association. Yes, the California Highway Patrol even gave it a thumbs-up. So, from that perspective, it’s an interesting machine with a known history.

The buyer can sleep well, knowing that the car hasn’t been rebuilt from a pile of scrap vintage parts and then rebodied to resemble the actual car that pounded the track in 1969. This car is, for the most part, the real deal and will always be so.

Back on the track?

Our subject car now looks to be nicely restored and in a respectable condition. It’s dressed in its original livery and is a great representation of the birth of the funny car era. The graphics are typically 1970s, with the use of wild, metallic hand-rendered fonts and iconic flames. The plethora of period-correct performance parts coupled with the Southern California racing scene history—plus the great marriage of a Mopar Hemi powering a Corvette body—will always make for an interesting tale.

Add in a few crisp, finger-numbing cold beers and by night’s end, guys will be taking turns behind the wheel trying to imagine what it might have been like to be plastered to a tin bucket with a radical Hemi staring you in the face. The nostalgic styling and dominating name simply add to the colorful description. You just gotta love the name “Hell Fire.”

I’d call this nostalgic funny car a fair deal for both parties with a car-length advantage to the buyer—assuming that it didn’t cost all that much to get the car up and running again. I am sure it would be more than welcome at any Heritage Hot Rod Racing Series, reunions and especially the California Hot Rod Reunion. I’d love to see this car show up at the local Friday night drags for a trip down memory lane. The crowd would be overwhelmingly pleased

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