Big Al's Featured Car's
The Old Reliable II
Owned by Larry Brinkley
Written by Larry Davis
Pictures by Buddy Scoville

It was a warm summer day in 1983. Brink (Larry Brinkley) and I were just leaving the Summer Randolph Swap Meet, making our way through the Car Corral of ‘for sale’ vehicles. There it sat. A white 1962 Bel Air 2 door hardtop, high in front, low in back. And we could plainly see the ‘409’ emblems on the front fenders. I could see the smile on Brink’s face. Brink had been playing with several 62 Bel Air hardtops for several years. He had owned one back in the late 1960s, a dark blue one, 409/409, 4 speed car that ran like hell. Now he wanted to recreate it if possible. He had a motor in his barn, and a white Bel Air from Carolina, to put it in. But here was one he didn’t have to build.

The closer we got, the clearer it became that this was an old race car. As we got next to it I saw it had a worn green interior, was a 4 speed car, and had these Gawd ugly aircraft seat belts on the drivers side. I said to Brink – “This looks like the Strickler car!’ I remembered those ugly seat belts from way back when. He agreed. Sitting in the passenger seat was a guy with the door open. We walked around and Brink asked – “This an old race car?” The guy replied – “Yes. If you back up and catch the sun just right, you can still see his name in the roof.” As Brink talked to the guy, I backed up and sure enough, the white paint was etched with the words – “Driver Dave Strickler”! Brink asked him how much, he told him and we walked away with his phone number. I asked Brink if he was going to buy it. He said “Maybe. When I saw that car race at the 62 Nationals, I made the joke that someday I would own that car! But back then it was like blowing smoke out your rear end.” But now……

A couple of days later the phone rang in the fire house. It was Brink asking what I was doing tomorrow night? I said “Nothing. Why?”. He said – “Want to go to Lodi?” I asked “What’s in Lodi?. “Old Reliable” was his answer. And the chase was on. We ran over to the guys house in my 62 Impala. The guy was in his barn waiting. As Brink talked with the guy, I scoured it for any details that I could recall about the car. In the trunk were two large holes crudely punched into the back wall. I remembered that was where Jenkins had mounted the electric fuel pump. I looked inside and car had a Radio Delete panel. But it was the wrong color, which I didn’t remember.  I crawled under the car and checked for the traction bars. The factory torque bars, two of them, were in place; as was a pair of old air bags. That was something I did recall that all the ‘factory guys’ used in 1962. There were old weld marks and bolt holes where some bigger traction bars had been. Again, something I remembered.

As we returned to Canton, I asked him what was up? He had talked with Dave Strickler earlier that week. Dave had confirmed many of the things I had noticed, including the incorrect color Radio Delete plate. Plus some other things that Brink had noticed. Dave and Brink were certain it was THE CAR. Dave was going to find the old paper work for the serial number. Another couple of days went by and Brink called again. He had checked with Dave about the serial number and verified that it was indeed THE CAR – Old reliable II. The car that Dave Strickler had driven to victory at the 1962 NHRA Nationals in Super Super Stock class! And Brink had the money in his pocket. We were going to bring her home TONITE!

We left the guys house about 9pm and ran home at about 70 mph. The car ran great, didn’t heat up, clutch worked good, 4 speed shifted the Borg-Warner T-10 like grease lightning. And boy did it go. Brink had his foot in both Carter AFBs many times on the route home! Within weeks the restoration of “Old Reliable II” began. The paint was crappy. Someone had shot white lacquer over the old paint with a clear coat. And it was all cracked. So a trip to Wayne’s body shop was arranged. Wayne zip-stripped it and repainted it the correct 62 Ermine White. The interior was sun faded in several spots, plus the drivers seat cushion was crushed. Brink had the front seat bottom recovered in the correct Aqua Bel Air seat covering, then redid the tops of both the front and rear seats. The rest of the interior was in good shape. After all, the car only had slightly over 6000 miles on it – all measured a quarter mile at a time. The engine was a little dirty, and the inner fenders were dirty with a light amount of surface rust. It was painted black, the way Bill Jenkins painted them at the time. The Carter AFBs leaked a bit and the linkage was a bit sloppy but it ran good. The radiator support and radiator were a bit strange to us. The radiator itself was some type of replacement. A talk with Strickler revealed it was another Jenkins ‘trick’. He replaced the stock radiator with a special made one that ‘looked’ like stock but was lighter and more efficient. And the support had two large holes cut into it directly behind the inner headlight buckets. I’d never seen that before and knew it was illegal for NHRA. But again, the Strickler gang revealed it was part of the ‘match racer’ equipment they used during the off-season from NHRA racing in late 1962/early 1963. More pieces to the puzzle.

In 1985, Brink made the decision to restore the car the way it had been in 1962. There was one problem. What color was the lettering? All the photos we had were black and white – and the lettering appeared to be black. A call to Dave Strickler revealed it was green not black. But what color of green? Dave said he had some color slides and promised Brink he’d put them in the mail as soon as possible. However, very sadly, Dave Strickler passed away that May.

That same Christmas, Brink got one of the best presents ever. The phone rang and it was Susie Strickler. They had been going through Dave’s desk and discovered an unmailed letter containing about a dozen color slides of the car taken in the dealership and at several tracks in 1962. She would post them to Brink in the morning. As soon as the slides arrived, Brink gave them to me to have my lab make prints. He then contacted an old friend, Bill Landis, a professional sign maker in Canton. Jack quickly checked the photos and knew exactly what color of green it was. He had the car re-lettered exactly as it was in October 1962, including the pinstriping around the ‘409’ emblems. Brink bought a pair of M&H Racemaster Super Stock slicks for the back. And a set of Hooker Headers to make it breathe. They were incorrect but Stahl Headers for a 409 were hard to find.  A call to the previous owner brought the original Ansen blow-proof bellhousing, modified by Bill Jenkins in 1962, home to the car. An old style Sun two piece tachometer was installed and with that, the car was basically finished.

Brink drove it to several old car cruise-ins in full lettering, before again putting it away. But before he did, he removed the entire factory street exhaust system. Old Reliable would never again see the street as it was now in the same condition as when it was a ‘southern style match racer’ as it was in 1963. The car now makes regular trips to hot rod reunions like the York US 30 Dragway Reunion in July of each year.

Brink has met all the old pit crew members and sees them all every year at York. Mike, Chad, Dave Jr. and Susie Strickler - every one of the Strickler’s has been behind the wheel of the car. One of the biggest thrills was when Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins drove the car down the strip at Quaker City Drag Raceway. For Larry Brinkley, it has been one thrill after another since owning the car.