Nitro-fueled Funny Cars that stood on their back bumpers excited American car enthusiasts in the early ’70s as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen squared off in match races across the nation.
The rivalry between the Snake and the Mongoose was promoted through a sponsorship agreement with Mattel, the maker of Hot Wheels toys. Toy versions of their Plymouth drag cars were offered as Hot Wheels models. Cartoon decals showed a leaping mongoose fighting a ready-to-strike cobra. Hot Wheels logos decorated the real cars, which were painted yellow and red.
During the 2013 Hot August Nights event in Reno, Nev. an initial public screening of the new film “Snake and Mongoose” re-focused attention on the two racers’ friendly rivalry. Jesse Williams as Prudhomme and Richard Blake as McEwen compete in the movie, which premiered nationally on Sept. 6. [youtube id=”vosOSqvLJ3Q” width=”633″ height=”356″]
To promote the film, a special appearance of the original Snake and Mongoose transporter trucks, complete with race cars on board occurred. Don Prudhomme restored the four vehicles in his shop. The yellow Snake ramp truck carried one of his original Plymouth Barracuda funny cars. The red Mongoose truck carried a replica of the Plymouth Duster that McEwen drove.
The presentation of the Snake and Mongoose transporters and racing cars was designed to promote their entry in the 2014 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction,. “Obviously it’s an honor and privilege to have such an historical offering,” said Barrett-Jackson president Steve Davis. “But for me personally, since I was a Hot Wheels kid of that era and collected the Hot Wheels toy cars, this is an iconic cultural cornerstone.“
Davis said the racing cars are “cool,” but he said it’s the specially designed and painted transporters that make the auction consignment special. Pruidhomme agreed. “That’s really the big deal, the transporters,” he said from his Vista, Calif., restoration shop and museum. “They are the original transporters. The red one is the one the Mongoose had; the yellow one is the one I had. I completely restored them. I think they’re the coolest trucks and haulers of all time. I thought so then and I still think so.”
Prudhomme said he is a major collector of historic racing cars and no stranger to Barrett-Jackson auctions. In 2009, he joined Carroll Shelby on the auction block in Las Vegas to help sell the 2007 concept Prudhomme Edition Shelby GT500 Super Snake, an 800-hp Supercar that hammered sold for $275,000, plus buyer’s premium.
Both transporters are Dodge D700 trucks. They are essentially identical, aside from paint. Prudhomme said that he bought his truck as a used vehicle in 1969, Richard Petty’s NASCAR team traded it in. McEwen bought his truck from the Sox & Martin drag racing team and he rebuilt it to match Prudhomme’s.
Both drivers sold their truck shortly after the Hot Wheels racing program ended. “They were called ramp trucks,” Prudhomme recalled. “NASCAR guys had ramp trucks–drag racing guys, they all had these. They didn’t have tractor-trailers like they have today. This was top of the line.“
Prudhomme restored the Barracuda a few years ago and came up with the idea of finding his old ramp truck. It was still owned by the fellow in San Fernando Valley who bought it from him in 1973. The truck was in rough condition. It had last been registered in 1992 and was literally sinking into the ground. It took two years of steady work by three restorers to get the Snake truck back as it was. When it was done, he brought the transporter to the 2009 SEMA show with the racing car on it.
Finding the Mongoose truck was more difficult. Prudhomme searched all over the country. Then a man approached him at the L.A. Roadster Show in Pomona, Calif., where the Snake truck was on display. “I used to have a truck just like that,” he said. “That comment and a few other bits of information led to finding the truck in a field behind a house in Riverside, Calif. It was taken to Prudhomme’s shop and restored.
“Both ramp trucks were faithfully restored and are fully drivable,” Prudhomme said. “They will create a scene anywhere they go. When they show up at a show, it’s not just a car, it’s everything. They’re beautiful.”
The yellow Barracuda Snake car is the only survivor from the 1970-’72 Hot Wheels match racing days. It is race ready with a 446-cid V8 carrying a 6-71 supercharger. It runs on 85-percent nitromethane. Behind the motor is a B&M tweaked TorqueFlite automatic and a Dana 60 axle with 3.90 gears. The car has Hurst Airheart brakes, Cragar front rims and Halbrand rear wheels.
The red Plymouth Duster Mongoose funny car was built only for display to mark the 35th anniversary of Snake vs. Mongoose. It’s not a functional racing car, but it looks plenty authentic on the back of the ramp truck.
Both the trucks have a Dodge Industrial 413-cid V8 that produces 385 hp, a Dana 10-speed transmission and a two-speed rear axle. Each truck is outfitted with a sleeper cab, roof-mounted air conditioner and storage compartments designed to hold tools and spare parts.
Prudhomme’s research and restoration activity occurred as the Snake and Mongoose movie was about to go into production. “When they started talking about the movie was about the time I found the Mongoose truck,” Prudhomme said. “We kind of held up the movie a little bit until we had the trucks all done.”
The Snake and Mongoose transporters and the two Plymouth racing cars will be sold in Scottsdale as a single lot. Prudhomme said. “Yeah, they have to go together. I’d hate to see them split up.”
Note: This Saturday, January 18 between 1 – 3pm MST, the Snake and Mongoose Hot Wheels funny cars and haulers will be crossing the block at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event will air live on your local FOX broadcast station.