Pat Bilbow, Joe Tucci & Lyndwood Chassis: Part 2, The Joe Tucci Saga

April 22, 2016

Quantico, Virginia’s Joe Tucci (in car) readies himself for a push-start in his 454 CID Chrysler Hemi powered AA/Gas Dragster. Tucci’s Lyndwood Welding chassis shows its robust construction. Tucci later replaced the front wheels with a pair of spoked motorcycle rollers. 

Story by Jim Hill

Joe Tucci And The Leatherneck Missile

Joe Tucci’s success at the end of the 50’s and in 1960 gained him considerable acclaim for his noteworthy performances. Tucci’s first fast ride was his ’32 Ford five-window coupe. Channelled and riding low, the ’32 ran B/Altered with a 392 Chrysler and a full-house manifold upon which rested six Stromberg carburetors.

Jow Tucci’s ’32 Ford B/Altered sported a 392 Chrysler Hemi and six Stromberg carburetors. Note the dragster-like backswept headers and Moon spun aluminum wheel discs up front. (Photo courtesy of David Hales)

Joe’s success with the Altered was promising, but he wanted to go faster, and the only scratch for such an itch was a dragster. His Hemi engine was already making good power, and unencumbered by the weight of a steel body and full chassis, he planned to put that power to better use.

To realize that next step ahead Tucci contacted Pat Bilbow, of Lyndwood Welding chassis, in Wilkes Barre, PA. Lyndwood’s reputation for building sturdy, fast dragsters impressed Tucci and he opted to go with a Lyndwood Eliminator chassis. After outfitting his new dragster with his 392 Chrysler, Tucci began getting comfortable in the open-wheel car. The unblown, six-carb system was very competitive in B/Dragster, but Joe was not satisfied with running 140-150 mph. That old, familiar itch for more speed soon surfaced.

The 392 Chrysler from Tucci’s ’32 Ford dropped comfortably into the frame rails of his new Lyndwood Eliminator chassis and Joe began challenging area B/Dragsters for class and Middle Eliminator trophies.

Tucci decided to retain the basic 392 Chrysler Hemi, but with greater cubic inches, via a stroke-lengthened crankshaft, and with forced-induction, notably a GMC 6-71 supercharger and Hilborn fuel injection. Soon after Tucci’s big, blown Chrysler and its Lyndwood chassis showed up at Mid-Atlantic drag strips, track records began to take a tumble. Tucci’s choice of the Lyndwood chassis and the headline grabbing ET’s and speeds he was recording did much to promote the handling and performance of Pat Bilbow’s chassis. Tucci was a boost for Lyndwood’s reputation. Pat Bilbow’s influence and interaction with Tucci was likewise good for Joe’s racing success.

Here in its early form, Joe Tucci’s blown 454 CID Chrysler is ready for push-start by his ’54 Mercury. Front wheels were sprint car items, rear wheels Halibrand magnesium. Tucci’s car is intentionally simple and functional, no chrome or gadgets. Tucci favored Isky cams, valve train and blower drive. Long back-swept headers were homemade.

June 1960 snapshot shows the lean, mean side silhouette of Tucci’s car. Rear mounted drag chute was new, but useful stopping after 160-170 mph runs. 

Joe Tucci’s Lyndwood chassis used for his unblown engine was the standard 96” wheelbase. The basic Lyndwood chassis design handled very well. This proved helpful, especially after Tucci got the new big-inch, gas burning blown engine combination dialed-in.

By early 1960 Tucci was cranking out speeds in excess of 170 mph and ET’s in the middle eights! This was highly notable in an era when twin engine cars dominated on both coasts. Tucci was also putting all the eastern top dogs on the trailer.

Tucci’s 1960 success carried through to the end of the season as he claimed many Top Eliminator titles and set numerous track ET and speed records. The new big-inch Chrysler was a thumper, and presented few mechanical issues with its conservative tune-up and high octane gasoline diet.

It was at the Petersburg, Virginia airfield drag strip that Joe Tucci’s splendid streak of luck ran out. Another Virginia team, The Lickliter Brothers, Pete and Howard, from Staunton, VA, ran a Cadillac powered A/Competition Coupe on a homebuilt dragster chassis with a gutted Austin Bantam body hung over the roll cage. With Pete driving, they won a lot of Middle and sometimes Top Eliminator trophies in the area.

Lickliter’s A/C car was on hand that same day. As Tucci was slowing after a run against Lickliter the clutch in the A/Comp car blew. The engine dropped down, and its headers fell onto the drag link, disabling the steering. Unable to steer or stop, Lickliter plowed into the rear of Tucci’s slowing car.

It took over an hour to remove Tucci from the mangled car. The airfield track was located remotely, and it was a long time before an ambulance reached the accident scene to transport Joe to a hospital. Tucci’s injuries were critical, and treatment for severe spinal injuries were far less effective than today.

Joe Tucci, who carried the banner for Pat Bilbow’s Lyndwood Chassis had suffered a severe spinal injury, paralyzing him from the waist down. His walking and dragster driving days were over.

This head-on shot gives an idea of the robust design of Joe Tucci’s Lyndwood chassis and the imposing size and brawn of its 454″ Chrysler Hemi. Tucci (leaning into cockpit), an East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame member, readies the car for another run.

The Phoenix Returns… Faster Than Ever

Pat Bilbow had been close friends with Tucci, both on and off the track. Bilbow brought the mangled race car home to PA, and removed the engine and whatever salvageable parts remained. By agreement, Pat would build a new car using Joe Tucci’s drivetrain. The car would be known as the Tucci & Bilbow Special. Optimistically, Joe Tucci was listed as driver, although it would be Pat Bilbow driving while Joe tuned from his wheelchair.

The Tucci & Bilbow team continued to race across the eastern seaboard with success. After a while, business interests of the chassis shop and Lyndwood’s growing list of fabrication and welding clients prevented them from further campaigning the car. Eventually, non-racing business activities and changes in the perceived design and function of modern dragster and roadster chassis reduced the demand for Lyndwood race cars and components. Pat Bilbow shuttered the Lyndwood race car operations finally in 1971.

After Joe Tucci’s accident Pat Bilbow built a new car. Bilbow drove and Tucci tuned from his wheelchair. The Tucci & Bilbow Special was longer than the standard 96″ long chassis, to accomodate its 170+ mph speeds as a Aa/Dragster. A four-hole Hilborn injection was also new and necessary for feeding the thirsty 454″ Hemi. Joe Jacono laced and built front wheels.

The Quantico Kid

Joe Tucci grew up in the shadows of the U.S.M.C. base and joined The Corps as a youth. After serving his hitch he returned to home to Quantico, and quickly became involved in area drag racing. Joe was a major figure in the early and formative days of eastern drag racing, well-liked and respected by his peers. Tucci also displayed an early affinity with building and tuning racing engines, a talent that would grow during his many successful racing years.

Like the Marine he was, Tucci soldiered on, minimizing his handicap’s impact on his lifestyle. In spite of his great success and the national acclaim his AA/Dragster brought, his life and career is today mostly forgotten. Only those who raced against him and knew Joe remember how talented and gregarious he was, and what a huge drag racing career lay ahead for him had fate not cut that future short.

Joe Tucci died in August of 2000 following many years of being wheelchair bound after his accident at Petersburg.

Pat Bilbow, who brought life to Lyndwood Welding’s more than 400 production dragster and roadster chassis passed away in September, 1985.

Lyndwood Welding remains in its hometown of Wilkes Barre, PA location, and is today known as LynWeld Co. The firm continues to thrive with an active and growing client list and market. Pat’s sons Bob and Pat Bilbow retain managerial positions in their dad’s legacy firm. They list “Metal Specialties, Material Handling Equipment, and Steel Concrete Forms” as their current product lines. There is no race car activity within the firm, but fond memories of the days when Lyndwood chassis were the main topic for drag racers coast to coast still persist.

Bill Klein & Bob Bilbow Keep The Lyndwood Flame Lit

Pat Bilbow’s legacy of designing and building quality, safe race cars is today honored and maintained by Bill Klein. Bill has become an authority on Lyndwood Welding chassis and of Joe Tucci and Pat Bilbow’s racing days. That Pat Bilbow built a large number of Lyndwood dragster and altered chassis is evident even today as more and more of the sturdy cars mysteriously surface. Many are true “barn finds”, having been raced hard and then stashed away in the corner of a barn or garage, only to reappear half a century later.

Klein has assembled his own vintage Lyndwood Eliminator II chassis.  It’s powered by a 6-71 blown 392 Chrysler, a clone of the car Joe Tucci and Pat Bilbow ran in the early 1960’s.

Looking like a dinosaur among the long, sleek front-engine cars at the California Hot Rod Reunion (near Bakersfield, CA), Bill Klein’s Tucci & Bilbow Special demonstrates what drag racing was like in its infancy. Klein and Pat Bilbow’s son Bob travel with this car to many nostalgia events during the year.

Several years ago Klein and a partner formed C&C Motorsports, in Manassas, VA. C&C was later sold to an area racer, Carol Carter, and Klein stayed on as an advisor and associate. C&C MotorSports is a major source for specialty racing parts, alloy blocks and heads for the Ford 429 Boss Hemi and its aftermarket clone versions.

Bill Klein drives and tunes his refreshed and restored Lyndwood car at drag racing nostalgia events and cacklefest appearances. He is often accompanied by Bob Bilbow, son of Lyndwood’s Pat Bilbow. Other members of the surviving Bilbow family didn’t inherit Patrick’s love of racing, but his son Bob did. Today Bob is the Bilbow Family’s keeper of the Lyndwood racing flame.

Paul Cavaliere has restored this Lyndwood Eliminator to spit-shine glamour with a blown small-block Chevy and two-hole Hilborn injection. 

Bob Bilbow and Bill Klein are very involved in helping the many Lyndwood chassis owners still out there to restore or maintain their classic drag racing machines. The growing interest in drag racing nostalgia has created an expanding number of old-timers returning to the sport and younger enthusiasts wishing to experience the thrills and satisfaction that racing brought to their fathers, and grandfathers.

Bill Klein faithfully brings the car to the annual East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Weekend, during mid-October, in Henderson, NC. Both Joe Tucci and Pat Bilbow are deserving inductees of the Hall of Fame. Both Klein and Bob Bilbow eagerly anticipate the lively and often enlightening discourse that begins when a spectator walks up and asks: “Hey! Isn’t that a Lyndwood car?”

John Fetty’s blown Chrysler Lyndwood car ran out of S&S Parts Company, in Alexandria, Virginia. Fetty’s car wisely followed the successful path taken by Joe Tucci and his similar AA/Dragster. (Photo courtesy of David Hales)

This author gratefully acknowledges the generous assistance of Bill Klein, Bill Ott, and David Hales, who provided valuable images and information that went into the creation of this story.  

-Jim Hill