Restoring the original ‘Grumpy’s Toy X’

I grew up on the East Coast, not too far from Malvern, Pa., where Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins started his life’s work fixing tractor engines. In fact, he went to college at Cornell University with my friend Bill Osterhoudt, who says that Grumpy wasn’t grumpy. He was smart, though, and studied engineering until leaving college as a junior to start his drag racing career with a ’55 Chevy ragtop. By the time he started building engines for Dave Strickler in the early ‘60s, Jenkins had earned a national reputation by constructing 30 record-setting cars.

“Grumpy’s Toys” ranged from COPO Camaros to Vegas, and this is the story of Grumpy’s No. 10 Vega, which now belongs to muscle car collector Mark Pappas. Mark has a pair of Grumpy Jenkins tribute cars that appeared with “the Grump” himself at last year’s Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) in Rosemont, Ill. This took place in November 2011 and Mark was able to spend lots of time talking with Jenkins. Incredibly, he found himself with the opportunity to purchase No. 10 the following February, a month or so before Jenkins passed away.

Grumpy’s Vegas evolved from an NHRA rules change in 1972 that allowed drag racers to switch to lighter cars fitted with small block Chevy V-8s. Jenkins dropped a 331-cid small block into a Vega that had the first tube chassis in his division. The car made its first appearance at the 1972 Winternationals and ultimately won the event with a 9.6-second run. The car then took five of the year’s first eight events and six nationals, earning him $250,000.

Those earnings made Jenkins the country’s highest paid professional athlete and brought him a feature story in Time magazine and additional mainstream media coverage.

“Grumpy revolutionized Pro Stock racing,” says Mark Pappas. “He was first to use a dry sump system in drag racing and first to adapt McPherson strut suspensions to racing cars. He invented gas porting pistons and held numerous patents on high-performance parts.”

Mark has been a Grumpy fan since he was about 15 years old. He had wated a historic Pro Stocker for the last 15-20 years, but never fatomed that he could own one of Gruupy’s Toys. After the Goodguys came out with a Pro Stock class in 2009 or 2010, Mark built a replica of the Lee Shepard Camaro and brought it to MACN for Grumpy’s autograph sessions. While going over a list of where the real Grumpy cars were, Mark learned that No. 10 was still in Pennsylvania and had never been more that 15 miles from Grumpy’s property there.

Between Grumpy and Jake Barbato (the general manager of Jenkins Competition in Malvern), Mark was able to make contact with the family that owned and was successfully running the car.

“Over a period of time, working with Jake, Bill, the family and I, we were able to come to an agreement to purchase the car and lots of stuff that was original to it,” says Pappas. “The family kept everything that was original for the car boxed up and Bill was a pack rat; his shop was a living museum and he had all the components to build a correct engine, except for the heads. We reproduced the heads with a set of 292s.”

Over 60 percent of the car’s motor was built from original pieces, however.