Chevrolet Nova Jungle Jim Funny Car Claire Sanders

During 1966 and 1967, Clare Sanders drove one of the earliest blown, injected and tube-chassied funny cars, Lime Fire, which was quite similar in its concept and construction to the groundbreaking Ford-sponsored cars of “Dyno Don” Nicholson and Jack Chrisman. During this time, the California-based shop used by Sanders was known as the “Funny Farm”, hosting a number of other famous early Funny Cars including the Hairy Canary Chevy II as well as Lew Arrington’s Brutus, which was driven by a rising star named “Jungle” Jim Liberman. All three cars and their drivers then headed eastward to tour, honing their craft with each pass at a multitude of lucrative match races nationwide.

In 1968, Liberman planned a two-car Funny Car team, which would allow many more match race bookings and perhaps a national-level victory or two in the process. Sanders agreed, and the rest is drag racing history. Alternatively known as “Jungle Clare”, Sanders drove the Steve Kanuika-sponsored car, while Liberman drove the Goodies Speed Shops-sponsored car.

For consistency and strong team identification, both cars were cloaked in clean Chevrolet Nova bodywork, finished in medium blue and based on a proven Stage 1 chassis by Logghe Stampings. Notably, in the face of many Hemi-powered competitors, the “Jungle Jim” cars were powered by relatively basic stock-displacement, cast-iron Chevrolet 427 cubic inch engines topped by Hilborn fuel injection and a GMC 6-71 supercharger. Power was in turn delivered to the rear slicks by Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic transmissions, with Sanders capably handling the team’s transmission maintenance duties.

In 1968, Sanders defeated the legendary “Dyno” Don Nicholson in a match race and this victory, as well as a later upset match race victory over fellow Chevrolet stalwart Dick Harrell, vaulted the relatively unknown Sanders to national prominence. In turn, a flood of lucrative match race bookings soon followed for the two-car “Jungle Jim” team.

In February 1969, the “Jungle Jim” Novas both contested the inaugural Funny Car Eliminator event at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California, with Funny Cars finally having been assigned a unique class to compete in. While Liberman bowed out during the early rounds, he wrenched Clare’s Nova, which was tuned “late and lean”, with relatively mild ignition timing and a lean fuel-air mixture that provided maximum performance, but was notoriously hard on the Chevy’s iron cylinder heads, often resulting in cracking. Nonetheless, the team managed to quickly replace a damaged cylinder head, with Sanders going on to win the historic event. Even more match race bookings followed for the remainder of 1969, with both “Jungle Jim” entries appearing at many American dragstrips, where they thrilled legions of fans with their long burnouts, high-speed backups, wheelstanding passes and incredibly strong performance.

Offered today with a handsome and period correct restoration by Mike Guffey to its 1969 specifications, the Clare Sanders 1969 “Jungle Jim” Nova Funny Car retains its uniquely square fuel tank as well as its very sanitary interior tinwork by Al Bergler. Today, the car remains a thrilling link to the roots of Funny Car racing and was featured in 1969 by Car Craft as well as a famous Super Stock and Drag Illustrated article, where the car was disassembled and photographed – a unique promotional opportunity that several other top funny car teams declined. Simply put, this car brought the “Jungle Jim” team to national prominence.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in September 2009 at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California.

427 cu. in. Chevrolet V8 engine with Hilborn fuel injection and GMC 6-71 Roots-type supercharger, Chrysler A-727 TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission, Stage 1 funny car chassis by Logghe Stampings, and two-wheel hydraulic brakes supplemented by two braking parachutes. Wheelbase: 119.5"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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