Hot Rodding, Then and Now
The History Of The Chrisman Brothers and Cannon Hustler
by Don Prieto
The late Everett Chrisman had a shop on El Segundo Blvd. in the greater Los Angeles area, and it was staffed by his two sons Art and Lloyd. It was called, simply enough, Chrisman & Son’s Garage specializing in engines and chassis, custom painting, body work and hot rods. It was here that the name Chrisman started to gather fame in the world of fast cars. Going fast at the dry lakes, Bonneville, drag racing, and yes even the street.
In the early days of organized drag racing, and we are talking 1953-54, Art and Lloyd and partner Leroy Neumayer were actively competing with a converted lakes racer. Leroy acquired a 1930’s lakester from Jimmy Caruthers and the Chrisman garage supplied the engines—beginning with a flathead, then they added Ardun heads, then they substituted a Y block Ford, and ultimately installed a hemi Chrysler.
During its drag racing career, the “25 car” as it came to be know brought the Chrismans even more fame winning many a local event and set numerous records. Among other accomplishments, the car was the first to run 140 miles per hour, set records on the sand at Daytona Beach, and made the first run after the ribbon cutting ceremonies at the very first NHRA Nationals in Great Bend Kansas in 1955.
Frank Cannon was the proud owner of a two seater T-Bird with a Kenz and Leslie prepared 312 cid Y-block complete with Mc Cullough supercharger. He was unhappy with the way it was performing and took it to the Chrisman garage. With some judicious tuning and tricks of the day, Frank reached 106 mph at the local dragstrips, specifically Santa Ana and Colton. Pretty soon, a relationship between the Chrisman Brothers and Cannon turned into a racing partnership.
The need for speed reared its ugly head and soon the T-Bird was sporting a Hilborn injected 454 cid Chrysler under its bulging hood. The little “Bird” set records everywhere it went, turning speeds in the 116 mph range, and annihilated the competitors. Outraged, all of the D/Sports drag racers whined and complained and Cannon soon lost interest in beating them so easily.
Quite naturally, thoughts turned toward building a dragster for the strong and reliable injected Chrysler. The Chrisman Brothers started to work on the chassis and the word went out. It wasn’t long before Cannon had a conversation with Mickey Thompson, the operator of the newest dragstrip in the SoCal area---Lions. Cannon informed MT that they were planing to run 150 mph on gasoline with this new car. MT promptly bet him a hundred dollars that they wouldn’t do it.
A couple of weeks later Art ran 154 first time out and Cannon relieved Mickey of his hundred. He loved it.
While there was considerable satisfaction with the performance of the unblown motor, and it was clear that this car was going to be a runner; it was also clear that they were going to need a blower if they were to remain competitive. Superchargers, a relatively new technology to drag racing, were making their presence known but there were no manifolds yet available for the 392 Chrysler, so Art got a GMC 671 blower, a vee drive from a race boat and a huge aircraft carburetor from the surplus store, fabricated an induction system and mounted the entire mechanism in front of the engine.
After some shake down runs at Santa Ana, Art dismantled the entire car for a sanitizing. While it was apart, Red Rose hammered out the stunning bullet-shaped fully enclosed aluminum body.
With the body in white, the team loaded the car and headed for Bakersfield. On the road, there was plenty of time to plan the paint scheme and come up with a name for the freshly bodied racer. Bearing some likeness to the U.S. Air Forces new B-58, it was decided to name the dragster after that supersonic bomber…”The Hustler”.
Hustle it did. That weekend in January of 1959, the car turned a new world record speed of 174.44 mph. A month later, February 15th this time at Riverside, the Hustler upped the world record up to 181.81. The following month it won Top Fuel at the inaugural U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships also known as the “March Meet”…the race that brought Don Garlits to California for the first time. The Hustler made its mark in history at that event and continued its winning ways with Art and Frank sharing the driving chores.
The following year 1960 and again at Bakersfield, the Hustler made history upping the world record to a speed of 185.56 mph. The next year 1961, Art was Top Fuel runner up to Jack Ewell at the third annual March Meet.
Because NHRA had banned fuel in 1957 and maintained that position through 1963, the nitro burning Hustler did not compete at any of their events. Choosing instead to run local top fuel shows and big fuel events like the AHRA Nationals in Fort Worth Texas in ‘61 where they won the A/FD class but lost to eventual winner, another Californian, Zane Shubert for overall Top Eliminator.
Today the car resides in the new NHRA museum in Pomona California most of the time, but is occasionally removed to make another pass as it did recently when Art and his son Mike took the Hustler to its’ favorite race track in Bakersfield. Art served ad Grand Marshall for the GoodGuys “March Meet” at the famous Famoso quarter mile and smoked the tires for fans.
Engulfed in tire smoke, the Hustler is a sight to behold…especially when you realize that its thirty years old and still Hustling.