06-02-09

Inch Pincher (story)

The relationship between Joe Vittone and Dan Gurney was one that would have some interesting developments. Dan was part of the Eagle racing team and Joe sold Dan a Porsche Speedster to help get Dan's racing career started. Joe took an interest in the racing sport and wanted to compete in the Grand Prix of Volkswagens that would be held in Nassau. He also wanted to promote his EMPI products at the race. Thus the Inch Pincher was born.

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The Inch Pincher began as Darrell's 1956 daily driver which had bumper guards, Type 2 wheels on the rear and Porsche rims. It was cherry red with a stock 36hp engine. For the event, the car had to remain fairly stock which would become a challenge. An anti-roll cage was installed along with a camper conpensator. The only mechanical modification was a sports exhaust. Dan tested the car in Riverside prior to the race in Nassau in 1963 and it gave them an edge at the event. At the next year's event engine mods were allowed. Dean Lowry who worked at the EMPI shop ported and polished the heads and gave it a little pep. At the race the car was too fast and was disqualified for having non-stock valve springs. So the first place trophy was handed over to the second place winner.
Joe wasn't happy with what happened and turned his interests elsewhere. So Darrell got his daily driver back, but not for long. Dean was more interested in the racing scene now and built a 1700cc engine to put in the car. At the strip the car ran well especially with the interior gutted. In 1964 the car could run a quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 91.5 mph with Darrell driving. The next year at the NHRA Winternationals, the Inch Pincher was given its name because it could win with fewer cubic inches. It ran a 14.79 quarter mile but due to transmission problems it kept it from breaking records. Now the Inch Pincher was running Denzel heads on a 36hp-based engine with Solex 40P11 carbs and velocity stacks from an old Porsche Super 90 supply the fuel. The car could run in the 13-second bracket. When the BRM wheel made its debut in 1966, the Inch Pincher was one of the first cars to have them. Several photos show the wheels as an unusual set, with the the spokes being shaped rather than flat. Nobody knows if they were a prototype or simply modified to be more lightweight. Dean exchanged that engine for a 1900cc 40hp-based unit with Okrasa heads and dual 48IDA Webers. He ran it at the Riverside 1/2 mile drags in April 1966 with a time of 22.04 seconds and high speed of 115.5 mph. At this time Dean assembled a Shorrocks supercharged 1600cc engine with a British SU carb. It registered 220 bhp on EMPI's dynamometer and helped the car to record a best ET of 12.7 at 106 mph at Carlsbad Raceway. It ran on straight methanol. In 1967 the engine was removed and put into the Jouster which was a lightweight glass-bodied Bug sedan. It didn't get very far and eventually crashed in 1968 while racing at Orange County.
For the 1967 season the Inch Pincher underwent major surgery when the NHRA allowed cars in the H/Gas to run a 10 lb. per cubic inch weight break. The front suspension, floorpan, doors, fenders, and front and rear decklids were removed. The original torsion bar suspension was replaced with straight axle and the floorpan was reskinned in aluminum. The body panels were replaced with fiberglass parts. The original oval window was removed to save weight and provide a better view for the driver. All glass was replaced with plexiglass. The car was repainted in a scheme of red Metalflake with flames and had the Inch Pincher name on the door.
In 1968 Dean left EMPI to form Deano Dynosaurs with his brother Ken. So the Inch Pincher was returned to Darrell who raced it in NHRA competitions. That year the car was treated to a vinyl roof, new fenders that housed the later one-piece headlights, and eyebrows. The engine was a 1952cc with a Porsche transmission. It was racing in the low 12-second category and was feared by most competitors.
By 1970 Darrell was looking for ways to improve the race car. The Inch Pincher was known as "the car that Dean built." So Darrell decided to build another whole car from the ground up. Actually he kept the chassis and running gear but rebuilt everything else. It had 88mm bore x 82mm stroke with SPG roller crank assembly and dual 48IDA Webers, EMPI 851 camshaft and 39mm x 35.5mm ported heads. The new body was that of a chop top 1959 Sedan with a plexiglass moon roof. BRM Wheels finished it off along with primer and Inch Pincher Too written on the door. The car ran the first time at a small race prior to the 1971 NHRA Winternationals. It ran the national record of 12.11 seconds at 111.1 mph. After the one race it was painted in an outrageous paint job of reds, oranges and blues. The interior was aluminium, polished wheels and lots of chrome. The roll bar was plated and had hand-stitched upholstery. Gold cadmium detailed both the engine and transmission.

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Darrell left EMPI in 1972 to start The Raceshop with Dave Andrews and Fumio Fukaya. The Inch Pincher Too was sold to Filter Dynamics when they bought the EMPI name. It was then driven by Jim Carlson and eventually resold from one driver to another. Nobody knows of its whereabouts today or if it even exists. It has most likely been sold to someone in South America where it was completely disassembled like so many other race cars of that era. However, someone emailed me stating that it is in a wrecking yard in Waco, Texas.
There was an Inch Pincher III which operated out of EMPI's east coast operation which ran under the NED Bug name by Denny Grove and Skip Hamm. They were good, but not good enough to recapture the spirit of the original Inch Pincher.

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