Earlier this month, Mike Mantel, the most recent owner of one of the famed original Hemi Under Glass wheelstanding Plymouth Barracudas, made headlines when he announced his intentions to build an all-new version of the car that wow’ed fans around the world for decades, in the form of Gen III Hemi-powered, late model Dodge Challenger.
But the ’68 Hurst ‘Cuda isn’t the only piece of history that Mantel has in his fleet. The Southern California native also owns the original 1965 Little Red Wagon Dodge A100, made famous by Bill “Maverick” Golden. The truck was destroyed in a crash in Quebec, Canada in 1975 (believed to have actually been the third crash it had endured, but certainly it’s worth and final).
Referred to as truck No. 3 by Golden, Mantel acquired the paperwork and original serial number with its remains, which confirm that it was in fact truck No. 1, not No. 3, and that perhaps Golden simply updated the first truck and referred to it as the third. Nevertheless, Mantel is supremely confident this truck, which fans have poured over at each and every event that he’s displayed it at, is the very first Little Red Wagon.
It, of course, is a bit worse for wear — the truck tumbled end-over-end numerous times at high speed in the accident, sparing Golden’s life but rendering it unrepairable. Built in unibody fashion, the mangled left rear fender was cut away, meaning the rearend could no longer be bolted into it. What remains is the crushed cab and the relatively unscathed passenger side flanks.
“Maverick told the story that he had built truck number three from one and two — why he said it that way I don’t know, because those trucks are unibody, so you can’t change the bed, you can’t change the cab, they’re all one unit. But trucks number three has to be truck number one, because it has truck number one’s serial number on it. This is the original truck, he just kept rebuilding it.”
“I bought the truck from Maverick’s best friend, George, who saved the truck. It had been sitting under a tree at the back of Maverick’s house for about 25 or 30 years. It was just wasting away, and George told Maverick that people would really like to see the truck and he told him if he wanted to do something with it, he could display it or do what he wanted with it until he passed away and then he could have it.”
Mantel added, “people really like this original truck, and I’ll tell you, I think it’s because when people see it, they know it’s the one from the magazines from 1965. That was really the Wagon’s heyday, those first 10 years to 1975, and if they saw it in 196m8, this is the truck. I had a guy in Pomona a couple of years ago stand next to it and cry, because when he was a kid, he wanted nothing more than to go see this thing run. It was a big deal back then, because there were slot cars and cartoons about this truck, and his father, who has since passed away, took him to Irwindale to see it run. That was a big day in his life, to see the Wagon. And here it was in front of him again at Pomona.
“People just love seeing it in the condition it’s in. Part of it I think is people see a lot of things that are picture-perfect real nice paint jobs. But this tells a real story of disaster.”
According to Mantel, Golden built a total of three Little Red Wagons: the original that was crashed, a second truck that was built without a running powertrain for display in Don Garlits’ museum that was later sold to a private collection, and a third that was built following the Quebec crash, which is the version Golden performed in until his retirement in 2003.
But thanks to Mantel, there is now a fourth.
Mantel, in recent years, acquired a rust-free ’65 A100 and built a brand new Little Red Wagon from scratch, which he revealed a season ago and has displayed numerous times on the West coast. The new machine is powered by an all-aluminum Gen II Hemi, in line with the aluminum headed engine Maverick ran in the third Wagon over the last three decades of his career. He recently put it through its paces at the Tucson Dragway in Arizona, and following bodywork and the application of the traditional candy red paint, will go on the exhibition trail around the country, alongside the original Wagon and both of the Hemi Under Glass cars.
Mantel released the following press release, containing additional details on both of the Little Red Wagons in his collection:
In 1965, the very first photo of the Little Red Wagon doing a wheelie appeared on the cover of Chrysler Bin and Bench. Most were unaware that it was Jay Howell behind the wheel driving for Dick Branstner and Roger Lindamood of Color Me Gone fame. Chrysler/Dodge had enlisted their help in sorting out the unpredictable and wild handling 90-inch wheelbase truck fitted with their new 426 Hemi engine and intended for match racing. The truck would later go to Bill “Maverick” Golden and, as they say, the rest is history.
In the 1970s, the original Little Red Wagon got off course, hit a rut, and went end-over-end nine times then rolled another six times. It happened late at night at the top end of a poorly lit track and there are no known photos or film. This was the third crash for the truck. The crash was so devastating that the engine and transmission were thrown from the truck, which was totaled. The driver, Bill “Maverick” Golden, managed to survive and had a replacement truck built which he ran until 2003. It has been 16 years since Maverick retired and the Little Red Wagon lifted its wheels for a final run at US 131 in Michigan.
Shortly after Maverick passed away in 2015, stunt driver Mike Mantel purchased the original Little Red Wagon and has been displaying it at events. In March, Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars and Mantel were both attending the same car show. Carini stopped by to look at the original Little Red Wagon and advised Mantel not to ever restore it but to leave it as it is.
Mantel, who is also the owner and driver of the legendary Hemi Under Glass, was originally going to take over ownership and campaign the ’69 car that got rolled on Leno’s Garage. After the crash, he was told the chassis was bent so he switched to the ’68 Barracuda – the longest performing Hemi Under Glass. According to Mantel, a lot of people don’t know that the ’69 car crashed with Leno was a brand-new build with no racing history and there had never been a ’69 car built back in the day. People are also unaware that the footage was edited to make it appear that the car rolled several times but the car only rolled once and landed upright so it ended up being more of a television prop car. Mantel said, “I had strongly suggested that the ’69 car not be repaired and should be displayed exactly the way millions of people had seen it crashed on television. I was told that no one wants to see anything dented and scratched up then a new body was put on the car. For me, it was like filling the bullet holes with bondo on the Bonnie and Clyde death car. It was the first time I saw a car ruined when it was wrecked and then again when it was repaired.”
Mantel has finished construction on a new Little Red Wagon wheelie truck that will tour with the original. Mantel says that it has been his goal to have these two icons of drag racing under one roof so fans can enjoy seeing them. Mantel is quick to point out that the new Little Red Wagon is not a tribute nor clone but the “real deal” as much as the truck was that Maverick had built to replace the original when it was wrecked.
Mantel is behind the wheel in these photos taken at Tucson Dragway and becomes the only driver to pilot both the Little Red Wagon and the Hemi Under Glass. Will there be a new generation Little Red Wagon in the future? “We already have the Little Red Fire Truck wheelstander. It’s a Hemi-powered Dodge Ram. Kids and adults love it and that’s what we’re doing for now.” The new Little Red Wagon, a 1965 A-100, will now go in for body work and several coats of Candy Apple Red — the color it’s best known for.