RARE BIRD: ‘Jockoliner’ – Jocko Streamlined Dragster

30 May
Jocko Streamlined Dragster

RARE BIRD

One of only six or seven ever built, Norm Longfield’s ‘Jockoliner’ boasts more history and horsepower than your average vintage dragster
Story and pics by hoskingindustries.com.au

The 1950s and ’60s were the golden decades for hot rodding here and overseas. Having really taken off after the end of WWII when the servicemen returned home and begun tinkering with their old jalopies, by the end of the ’50s, it had become a sizeable phenomenon, supported by a burgeoning parts industry, magazines and shows. One enthusiastic rodder was Southern Californian Robert ‘Jocko’ Johnson.

Jocko Streamlined DragsterJocko (a nickname given him by an early employer by the name of George Barris) got involved with rods in his teens before learning to port cylinder heads and ultimately opening his own business, Jocko’s Porting Service. Possessing a very creative mind, he dabbled in various art forms and didn’t limit his experimentation with cars to custom head work. At just 19 he had his first mental images of what would later become the streamlined dragster.

While Jocko wasn’t the first to toy with the idea of an aerodynamically-improved drag car, for the most part no one was giving it too much thought – probably worried that any improvements would come at the cost of extra weight. Looking unlike anything else anywhere near a drag strip in the 1950s, Jocko’s streamliner wore a full aerodynamic body over the top of a more traditional dragster undercarriage, powered by a stroker Hemi capable of an 8.35sec ET at 178mph. Crazy stuff for the 1959 and the fifth quickest time completed in that year.

Only six or seven streamlined dragsters are known to have been built, almost entirely by Jocko himself, from two caravans filled with the necessary machinery and from whatever parts were available at the time from other vehicles typical of the period. As a result of the comparatively makeshift nature of the builds and Jocko’s admission that he was “not an aeronautical engineer”, the cars had their quirks – most of which aren’t obvious with a casual glance.

While the chrome moly chassis were never perfectly square or level and the bodywork never quite symmetrical, the biggest issue was front end lift. The design was gorgeous and quite sound in principle – but in reality, once the mph increased, so too did the problems up front. Measuring a little over 10in under the nose, the ground clearance meant plenty of air was still getting under the car. This was highlighted in the 1970s when Don Garlits bought a streamliner from Jocko and, citing instability at speed but against Jocko’s advice, altered the rear of the body to create more down force on the rear end. Doing little more than compound the problem, Garlits’ car – known as the Wynns Liner – was mothballed.Jocko Streamlined Dragster

Of these six or seven streamlined dragsters – or Jockoliners – only four are known to still exist, with the iconic yellow, aluminium-bodied, Allison V12-powered Moonliner being one of them. Another ended up here in Australia.

Back in the 1980s, Norm Longfield was alerted to the sale of an odd-looking race car in Michigan, USA by a friend. After seeing a stack of photos of it, he made a deal and had the car shipped to Australia, sight unseen. What he got wasn’t too bad, according to Longfield, but it was far from race ready.

Longfield modified the existing chassis to conform to ANDRA specs of the day and put in an all-new driveline to replace the missing parts. This included an alcohol-sucking Hemi that eventually propelled the car to seven-second ETs at the old Eastern Creek drag strip, hitting more than 170mph in the process.

Jocko Streamlined DragsterWith other toys to play with and an unfinished front-engined dragster project on the boil, Longfield’s Jockoliner sat idle for years. It wasn’t until he had an attractive offer to race on an airstrip that Longfield pulled the car out of hiding – he was to race a vintage WWII air plane.

While at first Longfield and the Jockoliner were actually beating the war plane, once he reached the 170mph mark, things began to get sketchy and in a split second the front lifted, sending Norm and the liner into four flips, hitting the ground hard and skidding to a stop over 200m down the strip on its roof. Thankfully Longfield was OK and quickly discharged from hospital, but the car was ruined: the fibreglass body had been ground into the road surface. Instead of fixing it, the streamliner remained in pieces until well into the 2000s.

When Longfield finally decided to return the liner to its former glory, he found the chassis in pretty good nick considering the spill – no doubt thanks to the additional reinforcing he welded in in the 1980s. The primary disaster was the bodywork and the repairs fell to Greg ‘Ziggy’ Sadler at Ziggy’s Hot Rods in Medowie, NSW – the same guy who’d freshened up the old body when it first arrived in Oz all those years ago. According to Ziggy, there wasn’t much left of the original body to be salvaged, thanks to the accident and the subsequent mothballing.

Using old photos as a primary guide, the team at Ziggy’s formed all the new bodywork, creating something that in many ways is probably far better than it ever was originally. The finish to the ‘glass and the paint over it are flawless from any angle, but the subtle asymmetrical nature remains if you look close enough.

Under that slippery bodywork is the driving force behind the liner. Where once Longfield had an alcohol-sucking alloy Hemi there’s now a nitro-breathing cast iron version, forced bulk air and fuel by a Littlefield blower and mechanical injection setup, with big, free-flowing alloy WRE heads. This is backed by a Lenco and by the shortest possible drive shaft known to man, a braced and impossibly narrow 9in out back between the super-rare and reverse-mounted bear claw magnesium wheels wearing vintage M&H Racemaster slicks.Jocko Streamlined Dragster

While the body is beautiful for obvious, almost-serpentine reasons, the inner workings underneath are beautiful for their own reasons – everything is neatly packaged in and around the chrome moly rails and cage in what is a stunning example of ‘backyard’ engineering (not to discount Jocko’s obvious engineering savvy). It’s easy to lament the passing of the days when such rampant experimentation made the drag scene so vibrant and exciting. Sadly today, you’d be unlikely to ever see a machine like this at a race track again – unless a sanctioning body like ANDRA came up with it first.

Indeed, for Longfield the Jockoliner’s racing days are long since over. However, he does intend to get it out occasionally for a ‘cacklefest’-type scenario with static displays of fire breathing entertainment. He’s also expressed an interest in shipping the car back to the USA for the annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, where photos of the car sent officials into a frenzy. Here’s hoping this piece of rodding history lasts another 60-off years.

Owner: Norm Longfield
Model: ‘Jockoliner’
Bodywork: Fibreglass
Block: Cast iron Hemi
Engine Mods: Velasco crank, Manton rods, forged pistons, Manley valves, Crane valve springs, Crane solid cam’, KB gear drive, Crower pulleys, Waterman oil pump, Littlefield 8/71 blower, Endearle 4-port mechanical injection, Gilmer drive, braided lines and fittings, Mallory magneto, anodised fuel cell, hard fuel lines, Endearle fuel pump, Oberg fuel filter, alloy catch cans, WRE alloy hemi heads, ARP fasteners, solid engine plate
Power: N/A
Exhaust: Open 2.5in headers
Gearbox: 2-spd Lenco, Hays twin-plate clutch, explosion-proof bell housing
Diff: Braced and narrowed 9in, 4.11:1 gears
Brakes: Wilwood rear calipers, 11in solid drilled rear discs, braided lines, Wilwood master cylinder
Suspension: Chrome moly chassis, 6-point cage, Deist fire bomb system, anodised alloy panelling, wishbone front end, solid body mounts, rack and pinion
Wheels/Tyres: 15×3.5in Halibrand spindle-mount front wheels, 16in reversed magnesium bear claws on rear, M&H Racemaster front runners and rear slicks
Interior: Anodised alloy panelling, Autometer gauges, Deist harness, Autometer shift/warning lights, fire bomb switches, single custom race seat, custom switch panel, SAE butterfly steering wheel
Contacts: Ziggy’s Hot Rods, Rod Andrews Race Cars, Airbrush World, Rod Walls, Andy Gabriel, Brad Willard, Richard Bottica, Johnny Williams, Brenton Holmes

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