Don Garlits to Restore Piranha Dragster

World famous drag racer Don Garlits has wanted to add the AMT Piranha Dragster to his museum collection for many years. He just missed purchasing the car in 1990 by only a hours. Today, he is the proud owner of the landmark "funny car" and plans to restore it to its' former beauty.

After a successful tour on the exhibition circuit, the car was sold off by AMT Corporation. It eventually ended up in the huge Harrah's Automobile Collection in Reno, NV where it was stored for many years.

In 1986, Harrah's held its' third and "final" auction where they sold off 240 prized collector cars, including Gene Winfield's "Reactor" (sporting an orange paint job) and a somewhat ratty looking Piranha Dragster. Partially in primer, missing engine parts and shod with whitewall tires, the car was Lot #175 and sold to a gentleman named Glenn from North Carolina for $6,500. Winfield's Reactor went for $14,250.

The Piranha Dragster as shown in the Harrah's Vehicle Auction magazine for June 27-29, 1986. "Poor overall condition ... not in running condition ... missing parts."

Then, in January 1990, an advertisement for the 1966 Piranha Funny Car appeared in "Hemmings Motor News" at a price of $8,000. A young man named Rich Riddell immediately called and purchased the car over the phone and sent the money the next day, just beating out Garlits who had also seen the ad. Riddell had found the car in storage at Harrah's but had missed the publicity for the sale and didn't attend the event. Rich had been a fan of the car for many years and had even met Fred Smith, one of the builders of the car.

After towing the car back to California, Riddell immediately started the task of restoring the vehicle. However, he soon lost interest in the project and it sat untouched for many years.

The front part of the lower tub still had the original Winfield paint job and lettering.

In 2001, he pulled the car out of mothballs and started work again. The car had been completely disassembled and some parts refurbished when Rich died in November 2008.

Riddell's wife offered the car for sale early the next year. Respectfully, Don Garlits made an offer for the car and it was eventually accepted. Here are some recent photos of the Piranha Dragster before Don purchased the car.

Don has had the car transported from California to Florida and work has begun on a full restoration of the car and eventually it will be displayed in Garlit's Drag Racing Museum in Ocala, Florida. Rumor has it that Gene Winfield will repaint the car as it originally was done.

Good luck on your new project Don! We can't wait to see this legendary car back in racing trim.

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© 2009, Nick Whitlow Page Updated: 2009