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The Mooneyes Dragster: Cloning Our Heros [3 of 3]

Someone who has the time and can put forth the effort to clone a car has to have a deep admiration for the original. After looking at the Isky U-Fab dragster and the Danny Sakai Lakester, today we’re checking out the Mooneyes Dragster. In this case, Mooneyes is preserving their past and at the same time having fun, as the company always has.

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The original Mooneyes Dragster was born in a small shop in Carlsbad, California circa 1961. It was one of many, many kit chassis that Dode Martin and Jim Nelson put together. Dragmaster chassis were the hot tickets in these early days, and anyone who was anyone was running a Dragmaster.

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Once the chassis was done it was shipped up to Dean Moon for all the bells and whistles to make it his, the Mooneyes Dragster. It was built with at least a couple of purposes – first, as a working test bench for some of the more serious products Dean was making in his little speed shop located in Sante Fe Springs, California – Mooneyes. A Small Block Chevy and front-mount Potvin blower were installed.

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Why else would a speed shop build a dragster? Promotion, of course – and Dean Moon had always had a knack for it. So after winning a few races and showing off its bright “MQQN” yellow paint, the Mooneyes Dragster became a huge promotional tool and a quick hotrod icon.

The dragster made quite an impression on the hotrod community by being a serious competitor on the strips as well as a marketing marvel. The MQQN dragster sold more Revell model kits than anything before it. For Shige, the man responsible for keeping Mooneyes going after Dean’s death, this dragster is one to hold on to in the collection and preserve for years to come as a historical icon of speed.

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The problem with being an icon of speed is, after staring at it for so long you really get the bug to at least fire it up and hear it roar. As long as you’re starting it up, than what’s the harm of jumping in and hearing the RPM jump when you squeeze the pedal. From there, why not drive it around the neighborhood and to the local drag strip (the fact is it’s exactly what I’d be doing). However, then you risk the historical artifact’s preservation. Sure, it was meant to race – but this is one of the ones that never got destroyed or parted out over the years, this is a rare survivor! So what do you do? You hold onto it. 

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In Mooneyes case, they decided to clone it – so they could have the best of both worlds. The original would maintain preserved and the clone could be fired up and driven! They started by giving the original chassis builder, Dode Martin, a call to see if he was up for another build. Asked to build a replica of the Mooneyes Dragster, keeping all of today’s modern safety requirements in mind, Dode executed the request flawlessly – it would take a trained eye to tell which car was which. Most of the things Dragmaster did were so far ahead of their time, that aside from a few extra bars and different I.D. tube, their vintage chassis are mostly good nowadays.

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Builds at dragmaster start about the same every time.  First you’ve got to gather all of the needed parts and pieces that make up the car. Luckily, Mooneyes had most of the parts in stock for their car.  So into the speed shelves they went collecting a Potvin blower, gauges, and a heap of specialized Moon Equipment.

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Once all of the required parts were ready on the bench at Dragmaster, Dode could get to work laying out the chassis tubes and milling everything to fit. With the main chassis completed, the Dragmaster torsion bar and wishbone-style front-end is built from scratch and put in place. There really isn't much to these sorts of dragsters –just a vessel to hold a lot of motor and a driver safely.

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Once the Mooneyes Dragster was complete, it was ready to be enjoyed by many, many more people on drag strips all over the world and it does. It has been as far away as Germany and into Japan racing and going fast promoting Moon as it always has. The dragster usually shows up at events like March Meet and the California Hotrod Reunion in Bakersfield as well as the annual Mooneyes Xmas Show at Irwindale Speedway. While preserving the integrity of the old, the new one is way more fun to drive and brings every spectator back to 1962 where Diggers were king.

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If you’re ever in the Santa Fe Springs area drop-in at Mooneyes for a visit. Besides browsing their shop someone is generally available to walk you into their workshop – and they almost always have the two dragsters out for passersby’s. See if you can tell the difference!
10820 Norwalk Blvd.
Sante Fe Springs, CA 90670

Read more from our "Cloning Our Heros" series.

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