The Chrisman Coupe
The Chrisman Coupe is probably one of the most idolized cars ever built. I think of a lot of that has to do with the generally childish nature of hot rodders. Let’s face it, the car is simply sinister in appearance and that was the initial turn on for most of us – kind of like the “bad guy” action figure we all cherished over the guy dressed in white just cuz… well, he was cooler. Nevermind right or wrong, success or failure, performance or… You get the point.
Of course, when the car first hit the scene it had very much the same effect. The names of Art and Lloyd Chrisman had been striking fear in the competition found on drag strips for a quite a while… and now here they were with a Bonneville car. Not just any Bonneville car, but one that looked like it could kick the shit out of your own competition coupe before it was even taken off the trailer. According to lots of folks that were there (Xydias included), the first outing of the Chrisman car was one of dread for those going against it.
And, as we all know, the car performed about as good as it looked. In 1953 at the car’s first Bonneville appearance, it broke the class ‘B’ record at just over 160 mph. For 1954, Art and Lloyd decided to replace the Ardun motor with a series of Hemi powerplants. The act paid off and two records fell as a result – the class ‘B’ record was amazingly upped to 180.87 mph and the class ‘C’ to 180.08 mph.
But 1955 was suppossed to be the year. Art and Lloyd prepped a nitro hungry 331-inch Hemi and set their sites on the 200mph club. It looked as though it was going to come easy as early in the meet, the coupe broke the class ‘D’ record with a 196 mph pass using only a 5% nitro mix. The brothers began the figures on a 20% mix and a quick run to 200 mph when disaster struck. The Chrisman’s good pal, John Donaldson, took a roll in his belly tank and died.
The loss was just too much for Art and Lloyd. They put the car back on the trailer and sold it soon afterwards. The Chrisman Coupe never did see the 200 mph club. A few years later, George Barris got a hold of the car and raped it into a pseudo-custom-showrod-thing. That notion faded, however, and as well all know – the car is now heavily restored and a museum show piece.
To me though, the Chrisman car really died that day in 1955 – the day the car was retired from hauling ass and scaring the shit out of the competition. We have the beautifully restored example to give us a glimpse of what once was, but only the fellas that saw and heard the car abused down the salt really know what most of us missed – a legend.