Pat Foster & his 1970 Triumph

This story begins in 1999 when recently retired Dave West, for a fun project, went searching for an old dragster to restore. When he couldn't find a suitable car (with a history), West decided to do the next best thing ... recreate his favorite car of all time, the Beebe & Mulligan "Fighting Irish" AA/FD in its 1969 Winternationals winning trim. Problem was, there was a short list of people truly qualified to do the project to its exacting expectations. Few of the original craftsmen are today active, able, or willing to fill this need. The succeeding generation, while willing and eager, have only a few of the bones as a guide, but none ever got close to riding the dinosaur.

To West's mind there was a singular exception for what he wanted done and that was Pat Foster of Foster ProFab. Over the last 35 years Foster has literally built everything from Gas Coupes to Land Speed Record cars with every iteration of Dragster and Funny car in between. Working with the likes of Woody Gilmore (where he built the original Beebe & Mulligan car), Ronnie Scrima, Frank Huszar, Jim Hume, John Buttera, Nye Frank, Tom Jobe and Mickey Thompson... Foster was involved in virtually every aspect of the Southern California cum national racing scene.

Beyond his craft and innovation, Pat was the test pilot de rigueur. Best remembered as a touring professional, he was generally the first one turned to for the shake down runs in a new design or to sort out a the evil spirits haunting an existing ride. Neither reckless nor foolish, Foster was the ultimate behaviorist when it came to sorting out a hot rod. Today he lives and breaths due more to his technical understanding than blind luck and bravery. Although, the latter is subject to considerable debate.

Thus West commissioned Foster to recreate his dream car from the ground up. These pages will chronicle the 2000 construction of the car at Foster's shop in Wichita, Kansas. Every effort was taken to make the car identical to its 1969 predecessor. By all accounts the end product was so excellent - so remindful of the original - that it literally brought tears to many racers eyes when debuted in October of 2000 at the California Hot Rod Reunion.

 


 


It all began on Foster's "operating table" - this custom made aluminum chassis jig that takes up a large portion of his home based shop. The handles allow Pat to wheel the fixture in or out of the shop - depending on the project. Small wheels on the far end make it basically like a wheel barrow.

 


The aluminum tube in the center emulates a front axle while the spindles locate in the up-rights which are adjustable for proper tread width.

 


Mock up motor plate and drive line bolt onto the jig. These are the key measurements from which the chassis is built around.

 


 

The following article appeared in the Wichita Eagle in 2000.

Hot rod nostalgia spurs creation of exact replicas

For 10 years, Pat Foster has rebuilt cars in Wichita that look, sound and perform exactly like they did in the "good old days."

By Mike Berry
The Wichita Eagle - 2000

Pat Foster isn't living in the past, but he is working there and loving every minute of it.

Foster, who came to Wichita about 10 years ago, is a one-man automobile manufacturing plant. But he doesn't build just any old cars. He restores, and in some cases recreates from the ground up, the classic front-engine fuel dragsters he once drove as a slightly wild kid growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California.

"There's quite a nostalgia craze in the country but not a lot of 'spot-on' (100 percent accurate) recreations of these kinds of cars," Foster said!

That's his goal: rebuilding cars that Look; Sound and perform exactly like they did back in the "good old days."

'My interest (is) in creating a piece to have the work done by someone that was there, during that era, both as a builder and participant," he explained.

Foster, 61, originally a race car chassis builder, was the third driver to push a funny car through the 6-second barrier, with a 5.89-second run. His top speed in a quarter-mile was 263 mph, shortly before his driving career ended in 1980 with a life-threatening crash of one of the first-ever rear-engine dragsters.

Foster knows not many racing fans can afford his brand of nostalgia. A car that cost $1,300 to build in the late '60s will probably end up setting its new owner back as much as $50,000, Foster said.

He charges $60 an hour, which includes researching, measuring every dimension and angle and then hand-fabricating out-of-production parts to build a particular dragster. Materials are extra. A big help is the fact that Foster still has many contacts in drag racing and regularly communicates over the Internet with both old-timers and younger fans who appreciate the early dragsters and know where old parts are.

He believes he has found a niche market for his highly specialized skills. He figures he can make a decent living even if he builds only two or three cars a year.

Foster was head of fabrication for Nissan's exotic sports car racing program in California, building cars that cost $1.6 million each, when his longtime friend, Tom Hanna, contacted him in the early 1990s. Hanna, a legendary builder of race car bodies, was living in Wichita and was looking for help to produce his dream, the world's fastest street-drivable sports car.

Foster moved here to work on that project, now in the clay mock-up stage in Hanna's shop. But he couldn't resist a return to his drag racing roots when the opportunity presented itself. Foster has two dragsters in the works for clients at his one-man shop, Foster Pro-Fab, at 127th East and Harry. One is the restoration of the Creitz & Donovan fuel dragster driven by Steve Carbone. Carbone and Bob Creitz commissioned him to restore the chassis, with Hanna reworking the body.

The other car is a duplicate of the Beebe & Mulligan fuel dragster that tragically crashed at the 1969 National Hot Rod Association Nationals in Indianapolis, claiming the life of driver John Mulligan. "This is going to be the green car. A few people knew it as the 'Fighting Irish' car," said Foster, looking over the low-slung chassis with the 392-cubic-inch Chrysler hemi engine block stuffed between the frame rails.

Dave West, 54, a retired California sourdough bakery owner who once raced a less powerful fuel dragster, decided to have Foster recreate the Beebe & Mulligan car at Hanna's suggestion. "This car was kind of the pinnacle of the whole thing," said West, who can't wait to fire up the ear-drum-rattling engine.

"I'm pretty pumped up," West said. "People our age — it's now or never. If you're going to do something like this, you'd better do it now before you run out of time," he said.

Foster arranged for Tim Beebe, the original engine builder, to build the engine for the replica car, and Hanna is teaching him the finer points of forming custom aluminum body panels for the machine. "I'm finally learning how to be a 'tin man,' grins Foster, a muscular, bearded fellow who still wears his mostly gray hair in a '60s-style ponytail.

Ironically, Foster isn't a big fan of nostalgia racing. That's because modern safety considerations and speed equipment developments make those cars look and sound differently than the originals. And museum-quality exact replicas end up as static display cars that can't be raced, he explained.

Foster hopes to split the difference. He wants West to experience a sort of virtual reality snapshot of what it was like to bring the Beebe & Mulligan dragster to the line for a run in the late 1960s. "We want to push the car to fire the motor, blip the throttle, pull in to stage with the motor 'cackling' and smoke the tires, maybe run it 700 feet or so," Foster said. "The car was capable of 235 mph, but we will probably only run it 180 or so."

"If I'm going to do this car, I'm going to do it right," Foster said. "I want John (Mulligan) to look down and go: 'Patty, that's right on. That's my hot rod."

"I think there is a market for what Pat's doing, and I think he's going to open the door for a lot of people who have been sitting on the fence thinking about doing this," West said.

 


 


Moving ahead, in a month Foster had the basic chassis done and a mock up engine in place.

 


Dave West made the trip from Paso Robles, CA to Wichita to check out the progress and get fitted in the car.

 

 


To do the roll cage correctly, the person who is going to drive the car needs to be in the car for the correct measurements to be made. Here Dave gets a feel for the seat for the very first time.

 

 


Foster also takes measurements for the clutch and throttle pedals.

 


Foster measures West with a helmet on so the inner height is exactly to scale.

 


Once Foster had all the measurements the cage was bent and tacked on.

 


At that point West got back into the car to make sure the hoop was correct before the final welds are applied.

 


Once the cage and pedal positions were determined, the steering wheel position was set. At this point Dave went back to California and Foster began his completion of the car.

 


Foster then finished the chassis and it was a "roller". Next project - the body.

 


 


"The Tinman" Tom Hanna reconstructed a perfect replica of the original body (which he built in 1968).

 

 

 

 


The car is done at ProFab and ready for its trip to California.


Construction - Page 2


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