What Is a Gasser? A Lean, Mean Ladies Machine

A gasser is a vintage drag car that was popularized in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Its name comes from the fact that it runs on gasoline instead of race fuel. Classic gassers are nostalgic muscle cars with large engines that are modified for speed. Nowadays, some people use the term “gasser” to refer to trucks that use gas as opposed to diesel.

The Composition of a Gasser

What is a gasser? Gassers are considered the earliest hot rods. To create a gasser, closed-body vehicles from the 1930s to 1960s were stripped down so that they were lighter in weight. The lighter cars could go faster. Removing as much extra bulk as possible was important because tire and chassis technology were limited. Drag racers had to do what they could to improve the performance of the car.

Some common modifications include:

●   Replacing steel hoods with fiberglass

●   Removing or replacing grilles

●   Removing the front bumper

●   Replacing glass with plexiglass

●   Exchanging the rear bumper for a pipe bumper

●   Altering the rear wheel well to fit slicks

Rear seats were removed to lighten up the vehicle. The front bench seat might have been swapped out for race buckets, and roll bars were often installed.

Because these cars were drag racers, they had larger, more powerful engines than the stock engine. Engines ranged from Hemis and big blocks to small blocks. Sometimes they were completely replaced. Other times, they were simply remastered.

Any engine could be used in a gasser as long as it ran on gasoline instead of alcohol-based fuel. The engine would have designated the vehicle’s NHRA class. Five gas classes were categorized based on the total weight of the car divided by the total engine displacement.

One of the most notable features of a gasser is the chassis. Because these vehicles were altered for straight-line acceleration, they often rode high in the front. The high nose stance helped put as much weight over the rear slicks as possible, helping them dig in for maximum get-up-and-go. Some cars already had a straight axle, which made them lighter. Gassers also typically had the exhaust re-routed out of the front wheel well.


Gassers were some of the first modified cars to compete in their own class at drag racing events. In fact, the years from 1955 to 1968 were known for the Gasser Wars.

These cars started out being street legal. They were involved in organized drag races across the U.S. when the NHRA banned nitro-burning drag racers from 1957 until around 1963. As they continued to be modified, however, these vehicles became less appropriate for city driving and pure race cars.

Gassers were so entertaining that they were the most popular drag racing classes during the Gasser Wars years. They were eliminated from NHRA classes in 1972, though. Before that, however, they were popular for their aggressive but unique look. Their style was street-vehicle-on-steroids. They were often painted with snazzy lettering and candy colors to make them even more outstanding.

Origination of Gassers

Some say that Timothy Woods and Fred Stone, the manager of Woods’ construction company, were responsible for propelling the Gasser Wars into American glory. As legend has it, Woods and Stone were both passionate about drag racing. They transformed a Studebaker into a gasser, but it was destroyed in an accident.

After that, they commissioned a 1941 Willys to be modified for drag-racing stardom. The vehicle, which was called the Swindler II, was originally driven by racer K.S. Pittman. However, he left the Stone and Woods team in 1961. Doug Cook took his place.

The Stone, Woods & Cook team is often considered to be the team that initiated the Gasser Wars. They’re especially notable because they were one of the first multi-racial teams in drag racing. The Swindler won hundreds of times. It’s an iconic representation of this style of car.

Other racers modified their family cars to create gassers. The vehicles were inexpensive and abundant. Drag racing became a family affair.

Friends took their cars out for “grudge matches,” which drew onlookers. A fan base started to form. Building and racing the cars was a popular pastime during the mid-twentieth century.

Stone, Woods & Cook weren’t the only team to nickname their car. Others had names such as King Kong, Kamikaze Koup, Dogcatcher, Assassination, and Agitator. These cars looked fierce with their massive size and elevated fronts.

Today, gasser associations across the nation bring fans together to deliver drag racing as it used to be. Many associations require the cars to resemble original gassers as closely as possible. They usually have to abide by the NHRA Safety rules.

Popular Gassers

One of the most popular gasser styles was the ’55 Chevy. It’s the style that was featured in the movie “American Graffiti.” The idea is that if you roll around in a gasser, you’ll turn heads. A Ford was also a popular option because these vehicles were cheap and plentiful. However, any vehicle with a lightweight body style could be transformed into one of these hot rods.

The 1933-1936 Willy is one of the most recognizable gassers. This vehicle, with its small windows and unique shape, appears out of place as a race car. It was also relatively rare even back then.

The Willys-Overland Company filed for bankruptcy more than once when it couldn’t keep up with demand and dealt with labor struggles during the depression. The company never sold many cars, considering it was mass produced. New car prices for Willys were low because these cars were cheaply made. But they were light in weight and made great gassers.

Other popular base vehicles included:

●   1940 Willys

●   1948 Anglia

●   1951 Henry J

●   1957 Corvette

●   1955 Ford T-Bird

●   1949 Chevy Fleetline

●   1949 Chevy Styleline

●   Studebaker pickups

Those who are looking for cars to modify for this purpose today often use a car finder to seek out 1960s compact cars, 1930s American cars and British imports from the 1950s and 1960s. You can find plenty of hot rods and customs for sale on AutoTrader.

Technical Know-how

One of the rules for gassers was that the engines were required to be set back only 10 percent. Engines could have a blower or injection setup. The fender well headers served to tune the exhaust to the engine. They also give gassers a distinct look. Almost every gasser has a solid front axle, such as a Pontiac/Oldsmobile 9.3-inch axle, under the front.

Many people think that an inexpensive way to restore a classic car is to turn it into a gasser. But you should make sure that you’re getting a car that’s rust-free and in decent condition. Also, rebuilding the chassis can be expensive. A kit to construct a new subframe can put you out almost $4,000. Some companies provide kits with new steel bodies and a chassis for closer to $34,000.

Modern transmissions are typically allowed in today’s gassers. These allow for safe driving if you do want to take your car out on the road. Still, many associations require gassers that are raced today to have manual, four-speed transmissions. Racing an automatic car just doesn’t instill that nostalgic vibe.

Used car values for gassers vary. Some have been completely restored and are showroom quality. Others are junk cars that hobbyists get a kick out of refurbishing themselves. Autocheck helps you verify the history of any car that you purchase.

While some people refurbish gassers just for looks, others want to race them. This is made possible thanks to the gasser associations that exist across the U.S. 

If you have a gasser, you might drive it for short distances. Keeping it in your garage affords protection, but getting behind the wheel from time to time helps you take full advantage of its fierceness. Get an insurance quote from Geico before taking your car on the road, though.

These vehicles are made to appear mean and drive fast. Most people agree that they just look cool.