183 mph Street Coupe!
I grew up in Midland, TX. To most, Midland is the place where Jessica fell down “the well” or maybe just the “oil town.” BUT to me, Midland will forever be a car town. As a kid, I spent a lot of time at Rattlesnake Raceway watching my heroes of the Chaparral Race Team conquer one of the most challenging road courses on earth. If I wasn’t doing that, maybe I was over at VDS Racing with my old man learning the finer points of putting together a Cosworth motor with the legendary Franz Weis. Or maybe my pops and I were out at the Mabee’s testing and tuning our own ProMod car.
Does the “Mabee” name ring a bell? It should. A couple of years ago, we ran a series of articles on the Mabee Special. The Mabee Special was a group project that was financed by Guy and Joe Mabee (father and son team as well as close family friends of the Cochran’s) and put together by Ray Brown and Denny Larsen. To make a long story short, the car was overwhelmingly successful at Bonneville and set a sports car record of 203 mph in 1953. The experience left a lasting impression on Denny Larsen.
In fact, the very next year Denny hooked up with another Midland oil man, Clem Barnes, and set out to break the Mabee Special record in a street driven coupe. Yes… STREET DRIVEN! A 203 mph record!
Denny followed his formula and started with a commercially available kit body – a Sorrell fiberglass unit. He then added a gorgeous chassis that was made out of 1.25 inch chrome-moly tubing, triangulated at every possible place, and had a torsional rigidity of 11,000 pounds per degree of twist. But here’s the kicker – the damn thing only weighed 55lbs dry! Add the suspension, the body, the Ray Brown built Hemi, and all of the fluids and you had a car that weighed a hair over 1600 pounds!
The light weight of the car allowed Ray to build a fairly mild Hemi. It was bored 3/16 of an inch, stroked a 1/4 inch, and featured Hilborn injection. The combo was good for 350 horsepower and word has it, that it would sit in traffic all day without getting hot. This was, after all, a street coupe.
The big day came at Bonneville in 1954. Half way down the course, the driveshaft let go. The car tripped the trap at 183 mph, but was going well north of 200 mph before the inconvenient mishap.
I’ve asked around for years as to the whereabouts of the car. I’ve been told that Denny took it road racing for a bit and then lost interest. It could have been scrapped, but many believe it’s sitting in a hangar in my home town – Midland, TX. It is, after all, a car town…