Words Bob Sblendorio, and photos Chris Penree:
Al Brandolini may be—just may be—the only person in the world to officially win a ¼-mile drag-race with a bone stock 24 hp Model A against a ‘60s era muscle car…an Oldsmobile 442 to be exact. Is that really possible?
It was 1968 at the New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire and Al was competing in the Open Stock class, meaning the line-ups were completely random. The speedway was packed with fans. There were many cars lined up behind the starting line—all muscle cars—revving their engines. It was loud and there were people everywhere. There were GTOs, Corvettes, Mustangs, Hot Rods and many more…but only one Model A.
It was especially noisy at the starting line. There was the pungent smell of exhaust fumes and burnt tires from the 442 doing a massive burnout just prior to the start. Al tried to keep his composure and to not be intimidated, but it wasn’t easy. An in-line 4-cyl versus a big powerful V-8 muscle car…what was Al thinking? Most would have stood-down, put their “tail-between-their-legs,” turned around and left the track, but that wasn’t going to happen in this case.
Al held his position at the starting line and was watching the light pole, known as the Christmas tree. As he was intently watching and waiting—the yellow light lit-up—and then the green—and the 442 “exploded” off-the-line! …and rolled about 100’ down the speedway and that was it. What? The engine blew-up and the 442 was done! Without missing a beat, Al carefully took off…“putt-putt-putt” down the track he went…“putt-putt-putt.” Al won!
And the final speed and time at the finish was—who knows—because it didn’t really matter. What really matters is Al officially beat an Oldsmobile 442 in a ¼-mile drag race with his bone stock Model A. It really doesn’t get much better than that. (His best estimate was it took a couple of minutes to cross the finish line.)
Why a Model A?
The Model A came out after its predecessor and highly successful Model T in 1928. There were a range of body styles and colors to choose from. The Model A was manufactured until 1932, and in four years there were more than 4.8 million sold. They have electric starting motors and can cruise at about 45-50 mph.
Al came from a working Italian family that owned a shoe business. In his mid-teens, he was working while going to school, but would not get paid. It was just the way it was. At 16 years old he wanted to buy a car from a friend’s brother. His mother encouraged the idea of him purchasing a car because she was tired of chauffeuring him everywhere. With his father, they went and looked at the car, a 1931 Model A. His father was not impressed. It needed a lot of work and was over priced at $600. Besides, his father was frugal…I think Al may have used the word “cheap.” The bottom-line: his father was not going to be the financier for this purchase.
‘Go ask your brother for the money,’ was the certain kiss-of-death his father assumed. Surprisingly, Al’s older brother agreed to be the financier. This was much to his father’s chagrin and utter surprise. To this day, his father (94) still laughs about that story. Al worked three jobs that summer to pay his brother back.
Oh yeah, so why did Al purchase a Model A? Not sure…maybe to go drag-racing, a good deal, or maybe to impress girls in high school.
First…and Last Kiss:
Al had his first ever kiss in the back seat of his Model A. Not exactly an uncommon occurrence for teens then or now…except in Al’s case there was a problem! Some might say a big problem…their braces got locked together and wouldn’t release. With lips locked, his date “trying to scream,” panic setting in, Al remembered and then managed to reach behind the seat and grabbed a pair of cutting pliers from a pile of tools. Somehow he cut his braces (and no lips or gums) to free them. This may have been his first kiss, but not too surprising, it was his last kiss and last date with this girl.
It made me ponder how different it would be if that happened today. In Al’s case, I’m sure it didn’t take too long for the word to eventually spread around school back then; but if that were to happen today—in the age of cell phones and social media—just how quickly and widespread the news of that first kiss would get around.