1959 Goggomobil dragster

By: Iain Curry, Photography by: Iain Curry/Brian White

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mike adi mike adi

Flashback: Arriving at a drag strip with a Goggomobil may sound laughable but, with 140kW in a feather light chassis, this mighty mini 1/8th miler got the crowd on its feet

From Unique Cars #307, Jan/Feb 2010

Ever wondered what happened to your first car? Maybe you ended its life prematurely with an off-road excursion due to youthful inexperience, or perhaps it found a natural end at the breaker’s yard?

Whatever its fate, few people expect to still have the car they owned at 16 over 40 years later – or have that car tearing up drag strips to the delight of spectators.

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With rear-mounted VW donk pumping out more than 10 times Dart’s original engine’s power, lairy wheelstands are there on demand

Mike Adi is one of those few and his unbelievable Goggomobil Dart has become a most unlikely hero of South Australian drag racing. With crowd-pleasing wheelies off the start line, this light fibreglass Goggo, with a supercharged VW kick in its rear, uses its excellent power-to-weight ratio to blistering effect.

With a best pass of 6.98secs @ 164.6km/h on the 1/8th mile, the little Dart regularly makes a mockery of more conventional drag racing opponents.

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Micro monster

Adi, who runs Adelaide exhaust specialist Advance Headers, says his love affair with the Goggo stretches back 44 years. The Australian-made micro sportscar was his entry point into the automotive world, when as a 16-year-old in 1966 he bought the then seven-year-old Goggo.

Adi admits its challenging looks – more boat than a car! – convinced him to make a few choice modifications in the late-’60s and turn his Dart into a drag special.

A Dart dragster? It sounds foolish at first, but when you consider the Goggomobil is a lightweight sports car with its engine and driven wheels at the rear, it’s not a bad starting base.

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After years of neglect, the body needed a lot of fibreglass repairs and the headlights were ’glassed over creating a sleek nose

With a nod to Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s "To add speed, add lightness" credo, it clearly wouldn’t need much extra in the engine department to get the Dart, which weighed a little over 340kg, flying.

With teenage dreams of racing glory, Mike, his brother Lou, and Brian Cowell set about creating their micro monster. The car was pulled to bits, painted a striking orange colour and a supercharged 1500 VW powerplant replaced its gutless 11kW 250cc two-stroke. It was dubbed the ‘Gamma Special’ after Lou’s employers, Gamma Engineering, and was soon running nine-second 1/8th-mile passes.

"People loved it, there were no other Goggomobils racing back then," explains Adi. "With its supercharged VW engine it was running really well, but at Whyalla my brother Lou lost control and hit an iron fence post, destroying the front of the car. We shelved the project then, as we were also frustrated that there were no tracks close to us to race at."

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Down but not out

Life wasn’t easy for the battered Dart from then on, and it had a number of owners and plans for a rebirth over the ensuing decades. As fate would have it, the rather sorry wreck ended up in Adi’s Adelaide workshop a few years ago. Nostalgic for his drag racing youth, he set the wheels in motion to return it to its racing heyday.

"These days the drag racing world has changed a great deal; it’s scary what some people will spend on their cars," he says. "I wasn’t going out to break world records with the Dart, so I have managed to keep the rebuild cost down to around $20,000. Some people wouldn’t blink at spending this on a single part, but we’ve got the whole car done at this cost."

The Goggomobil’s fibreglass body may have been immune to rust, but the underside hadn’t fared as well. The ageing steel floorpan was sandblasted and undercoated and rust was repaired.

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While there was no body rust to contend with, Adi’s team did have to remodel the broken and tatty body with comprehensive fibreglass repairs. The E-Type-esque headlights were ‘glassed over creating a sleek visage and the wheelarches flared to accommodate over-sized tyres. It’s still a Goggomobil – but with muscles.

Traditional grunt

Even after 40 years of development in the world of engine construction, Adi wanted to stay true to the car’s VW-powered roots, and eschewed modern alternatives to employ an air-cooled Volksey donk again.Alf Camello was enlisted to help with the tricky engine setup and masterminded custom mechanical fuel injection, using four nozzles to squirt methanol directly into the 1600cc flat-four’s cylinder heads.

Adi handled the forced-induction side himself, choosing a supercharger off a 2.0-litre Toyota engine running 18lbs of boost to do the damage. And having worked in the exhaust trade for most of his life, he manufactured a custom system and mounting brackets. Internal engine upgrades consist of twin-port heads, larger valves, forged pistons and a mild Engle camshaft, but incredibly, the standard crank and rods remain.

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Supercharged 1600cc VW engine makes 140kW running at 18 pounds of boost

The biggest expense was the attractive, exposed pulley setup for the blower and mechanical fuel pump; custom created by Slider Engineering in Adelaide.

The work was rounded off with an extended sump, magneto ignition and a mechanical fuel pump drawing from a 12-litre tank located in front of the passenger footwell. When full, this tank adds welcome weight up front to compensate for the majority of the mass being behind the driver.

As the original engine and transmission had all the weight of an empty chip packet, Adi had to build new mounts for the heavier VW engine and its standard 1600 four-speed gearbox with 4-puck clutch.

An auto ’box would have been preferable, but Adi says it’s just not practical on this Goggo. Besides, there’s something far more traditional about tearing up a drag strip with four-on-the-floor and the feet dancing over three pedals.

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So far, so good

So far the old VW gearbox is holding up well, and as the crank is fairly reliable on these engines, it’s doing its job well for now too. Adi acknowledges that it’s not ideal for prolonged use, however, and limits the engine to 6000rpm.

Dyno testing turned up 140kW and 264Nm and these figures translate to something special at the race track, with that 6.98-second 1/8th mile time far surpassing the original team’s achievements in the 1960s.

In fact, it was 40 years to the month after its 1968 debut that the Gamma Special was reborn at Mildura Raceway. Since then Adi has regularly competed at Whyalla and Portland, running in the SS/CC class for supercharged/turbo methanol-injected four-cylinder cars.

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Tacho reads to 10,000rpm but Adi restricts revs to 6000

"People at the races seem to enjoy it," Adi says. "When the Dart comes out, the whole crowd gets on its feet to cheer it. I suppose they can’t believe this funny little thing goes as quick as it does!"

Still going strong

Also amazing is how a chassis originally designed to handle 11kW has been able to cope with the huge power increase, yet the Goggo’s underpinnings remain remarkably untouched with many of the same components it had in the ’60s.

Forty years ago the original front suspension was completely overhauled and beefed up with motorcycle shocks and there’s a solid axle tube with floating, shortened VW axles at the rear.

Brakes are standard Goggomobil and VW drums fore and aft, respectively; not the meatiest anchors but stopping power is more than adequate.

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This racing Dart looks wild. It’s impossibly low, with only its roll cage and VW inlet trumpets rising above waist height. Adi hops into the Velo Racing bucket to show just what a tight fit it is, and with his bum at road level and that screaming VW engine in his ear, he says racing the Dart is quite an experience.

Orange rush

Adi and his team colour-matched the current orange from old photos of their Dart racer, then applied period decals for an authentic touch. Under the curvaceous wheel arches are simple 10 x 3 and 13 x 6-inch ‘60s-style white steel wheels; no need for fancy chrome deep-dish alloys here. Points of contact with the track are tiny 10 x 4.50-inch Kenda tyres up front, and chunkier 4.5/7.0 x 13-inch Mickey Thompson slicks out back that sink into the widened rear bodywork.

Behind these are the very necessary wheelie bars, preventing the Dart from embarrassingly ending up on its rump during one of its brutal launches.

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Adi constructed the ANDRA-spec roll cage while the fighter pilot steering wheel is the same one used 40 years ago. Modern AutoMeter gauges keep tabs on the vitals, while the shifter – a tribute to Mike’s brother Lou – is a chunky chrome, retro item.

Bringing this Dart dragster back to life has been a true labour of love, and Adi acknowledges the great help he’s had from friends associated with the project. With so many treasured memories surrounding the car, he’s sure to continue reliving his teenage kicks with his lovable Dart dragster for years to come.

AUSSIE ICON

Thanks to the Yellow Pages and Shannons advertisements, most Aussies are familiar with the obscure Goggomobil cars, even if we cheekily refer to them as Go Go Mobiles.

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Goggomobil micro cars started life in Germany after World War II, but the Dart only arrived when Buckle Motors started manufacturing Goggos under licence in Punchbowl, Sydney.

With the German chassis and running gear supplied, Buckle designed and built its own fibreglass open sports car body (with no doors), slotted a Glas 250cc or 400cc twin-cylinder, two-stroke engine in the rear and named it the Dart.

This truly unique Australian car was produced between 1957 and 1961 and it’s believed around 700 were built in total. Its sub-400kg weight ensured the little engine could propel the boat-shaped machine to over 100km/h.

1959 Goggomobil Dart dragster specs

Body: fibreglass two-seater open sportscar
Weight: 400kg (approx.)
Engine: 1600cc VW, twin port heads, ported larger valves, forged pistons, mild Engle cam, Toyota supercharger, custom mechanical methanol fuel injection, Scatt rocker gear
Power/torque: 140kW/264Nm
Transmission: VW 1600 four-speed, 4 puck clutch with standard pressure plate, lightened flywheel, solid axle tube with floating shortened VW axles
Wheels/tyres: 10x3-inch (f), 13x6-inch (r) steels/10x4.50in Kenda (f), 4.5/7.0x13in Mickey Thompson slicks (r)

 

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