16 Amazing (and Odd!) Finds at Don Garlits Museum

OCALA, FL — About the only thing missing from the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala is the roar of engines and the smell of exhaust. What you will find is a comprehensive history of the sport of drag racing curated by the father of the sport, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. The Tampa native has been setting records since the 1950s. After losing his foot in a crash in 1970, Garlits went back to work on a new vehicle design that eventually transformed the sport. In 2014, at age 82, he set a 184-mph speed record in an electric dragster.

In addition to the cars that made history — including 34 of his “Swamp Rat” dragsters — here are a few of the odd and unusual exhibits that made us do a double-take. Check them out:

Don Garlits Museum

Mad Dog IV was the fastest race car in the world when the winged car reached 181 mph at the Daytona International Speedway in 1961.

This 1974 Karman Ghia has only 27 miles on the odometer. It was purchased new in 1974 and has never been titled.

1950 Mercury Lead Sled

The Fonz drove this 1950 Mercury Lead Sled on the TV show ‘Happy Days.’ In the show it had green flames. It can still be seen some Friday nights around town with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits behind the wheel.

1954 Roadster

This 1954 rear-engine 27T roadster was once the world’s fastest drag racer. It clocked 169 mph in 1957. It was also the first drag racing car to use spoked ‘bike’ wheels in the front.

Chrysler Air Raid Siren

This monster from Chrysler created a sound that brought dread in the 1950s. It was one of 100 air raid sirens bought by the U.S. government in 1952 to warn of Russian nuclear weapons. It came from the roof of the Jai Alai Fronton in Miami, Florida.

Crosley Hotshot 1951

Long before the Toyota Prius, this little Crosley Hotshot got more than 50 miles per gallon. Crosley Motors built cars in the United States between 1939 and 1952.

1913 Metz Roadster

This DIY Kit Car was among the first of its kind in American history. The 1913 Metz Roadster was donated to the museum by Florida Representative George Albright.

Ike & Tina 1956 Chrysler

Here’s an Ike & Tina concert we didn’t know about! This event for the Nixon campaign in 1960 is featured alongside a 1956 Chrysler purchased by Mamie Eisenhower for Dwight’s birthday. The car included a custom, built-in 45 rpm record player.

Supercharged Lawnmower

This lawnmower is powered by a supercharged big block Chevrolet engine. It was featured in a TV commercial starring “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

1904 Orient Buckboard

This 1904 Orient Buckboard was known as the cheapest car in the world. It sold for $375 and cut costs by using flexible wooden slats in the suspension system.

1923 Ford Depot Hack

How did station wagons get their name? This 1923 Ford “Depot Hack” was used to transport travelers from train depots to their hotels. When train depots became known as stations, the vehicles became known as “Station Wagons.”

1955 Bustle Bomb

This car was the first dragster ever to top 150 mph. The Bustle Bomb driven by Lloyd Scott clocked 151 mph in 1955.

Tommy IVO T.V.

The Tommy IVO T.V. was a dual engine Buick that set speed records between 1959 and 1962. It was featured in Life magazine in 1960, and is one of the most famous cars in the sport.

World's Fastest Top Fuel Dragster

The world’s most advanced Top Fuel dragster was the mono-wing Swamp Rat 34. Lined up here with other mono wings, it was driven by Don Garlits between 1993 and 2003. It topped 323 mph in the 2003 Gatornationals.

P-40 Powered Race Car

This dragster was powered by a P-40 fighter engine from World War II. The “Pollutionizer” from 1959 was powered by a V-12 Allison engine that saw action in Burma with the “Flying Tigers.” It even had a bullet hole in the crank case!

Baby Moon Eyes Rocket Dragster

Baby Moon Eyes was a 1960’s-era rocket dragster that could reach speeds above 500 miles per hour!

Darn Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is located at 13700 SW 16th Avenue in Ocala, Florida near I-75 and SW County Hwy 484. It’s open daily from 9 to 5. Phone: (352) 245-8661.

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