As hoons of finite means, we often ask ourselves “if I won the lottery, what would I buy?” This is not to say, that were we suddenly Scrooge McDuck rich, we should only buy one car. It is to ask what car amongst many would we be sure to acquire, the jewel of our collection, a car we must claim for our own regardless of cost. You’ll be hearing from us on the topic every Friday. Get your own dream car writeups ready because there are only so many of us, and eventually we’ll need to hear from you.
For me, that car–the car I would choose to have over all others–is the Tobacco King.
To truly appreciate the Tobacco King, we must first digress a bit and get to know Turbonique. Pardon me if you’re heard this story before, but it bears repeating, in summary at least. Best fully described by one Mr. Iowahawk as the “The Real Acme“, Turbonique specialized in N-propyl nitrate (they called it Thermolene) fueled rocket motors.
[singlepic id=9 w=320 h=240 float=right]The italics are there to highlight these were not rocket engines; the difference being that rather than just push hot gas out the backend (anyone can do that), Turbonique’s products used rocket fuel to spin a shaft that was hooked to something. Said driveshafts were attached to things like superchargers or “rocket drag axles”. The rocket drag axle attached the Turbonique motor directly into the rear differential, supplementing the torque coming in from the driveshaft. Let’s all take a moment to let that sink in: There was once a company that sold rocket powered superchargers and differentials. Like, you could just buy these. Out of a catalog.
Still with us? Good. Alas, like the mastodon, analog technology, free love and the COPO, Turbonique was not well suited to live past the 60s for all the usual reasons. Go read about it somewhere else. On to the Tobacco King.
From the pictures and words up to this point, you know we’re talking about a 1964 Galaxie equipped with a Turbonique rocket drag axle. This alone is Level VI Kickass, but not what makes it my dream car. Not unlike a child describing his first monster truck show, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with the name: “Tobacco King” comes from the owner, Zachary Reynolds. You might recognize that last name in association with lung cancer. Heir to the Reynolds tobacco empire, Zach had a reputation as a bit of a wild man. A wild man and HAM radio enthusiast, that is. Looking under the dash, you’ll notice a some humongous analog contraption. That would be a HAM radio, so Zach would never be out of touch. Take that, you borg-looking earpiece wearing yuppies.
Meanwhile, back under the hood, things are just getting started. Not content with the factory 300hp 390c.i. FE V8, Reynolds had a 427c.i. FE dropped in. Said 427 wears a fierce headdress featuring a Latham supercharger fed by four side-draft Webers. The setup’s definitely underrated at 425hp.
The car re-emerged in the public eye back in 2008 when it went up for auction through Mecum. The seller, an A-list car collector, had acquired it from a friend of the family and hadn’t driven it much in two years of ownership. He signed the car over to hit the auction block, but had doubts not long thereafter. It’s his 9-year-old son who saved the day, though:
“What finally did it for me was when I was loading the car to bring it here, my nine-year-old son, who was very agitated, asked why I was selling it. I told him that we didn’t use the car, and that we had other collector cars. He said ‘Dad, you can replace any one of those. This one is unique, you can’t.’ That did it.”
At auction, another buyer met the $375,000 opening bid on the car, but the seller outbid him at $376k. Bidder #1 took the hint and let the original owner win. “Win” his own car, to the tune of about $50k in auction fees, that is. At least we’ve established the market value of the Tobacco King’s ransom at $376k.
Here’s where I work hard not to use the phrase “sum of its parts”. The Tobacco King, even in its very name, embodies so much we demonize today. When the car was built in ’67, the curtain was already closing on guys hoping to make it with machine shops, basic engineering skills and some leftover aerospace parts. It’s a rolling monument to the foolhardy behavior deemed immoral in these supposedly more responsible times. It speaks to the 6 year old in all of us who lit something on fire just to see what would happen.
True, there were other cars playing in the batshit insane league of the era. Tommy Ivo’s 4-engined Buick and the burgeoning jet-powered land speed record crew come to mind. The difference is, the Tobacco King managed to blow minds while at the same time being absolutely, completely, drop-dead gorgeous. The lifted stance, unpolished wheels, late rocket-era styling and perfect black paint add up to make a car more all-American than a baseball playing mutt carrying an apple pie.
I know this car’s useless in anything but a straight line, and I know that even if you got the rocket setup back to tip-top shape there’s a good chance it would explode and kill you. That’s not the point. The Tobacco King embodies the optimism of a bygone era: a time when a rocket-powered boulevard cruiser (or snowmobile, go-kart, or bicycle) seemed like a great idea.
In the end, the nine-year-old really said it best: there is no replacing this car.
Sources: Mecum Auctions, Sports Car Market and Jalopnik as the first place where I read about all this craziness.
More Turbonique Madness in Iowahawk’s flickr set or on YouTube
More of this car on YouTube: 1, 2