Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins started his life’s work fixing tractor engines in Malvern, Pa. Malvern is a tiny borough in Chester County. Its tight-knit population was 2,998 in the 2010 census. People there keep to themselves, which may explain why one of Grumpy Jenkins’ famous drag cars never went very far away.
My friend Bill Osterhoudt went to college at Cornell University with Jenkins. He says he wasn’t grumpy at all. He was smart and studied engineering until leaving college as a junior to start his drag racing career with a ’55 Chevy ragtop. By the time he began building engines for Dave Strickler in the early ‘60s, Jenkins had earned a national reputation by constructing 30 record setting cars.
As he grew famous, Jenkins’ cars became known as his “Toys.” Grumpy’s Toys ranged from COPO Camaros to Vegas. This is the story of Grumpy’s No. 10 Vega, which now belongs to gasser and drag car collector Mark Pappas. Mark has a pair of Grumpy Jenkins tribute cars that appeared with “the Grump” at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Ill. , where the two talked. That was in November 2011. The following winter Jenkins died.
Pappas knew that Toy 10 had evolved from a NHRA rules change in 1972 that allowed drag racers to switch to lighter cars fitted with Chevy small-blocks. 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-sec. run. The car then took five of the year’s first eight events and six nationals, earning him $250,000.
During the muscle car show, Jenkins and Pappas went over a list of Grumpy’s cars and he learned that No. 10 was still in Pennsylvania. Between Grumpy and Jake Barbato—the general manager of Jenkins Competition in Malvern—Pappas was able to make contact with the family that owned the car and was still running it successfully. “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,” says Pappas. “The family kept everything boxed up and had all components to build a correct engine, except for the heads. We reproduced the heads with a set of 292s.” Over 60 percent of the motor is built from original pieces, however.”
After Pappas bought No. 10, it went to Windy City Rods & Restorations in Niles, Ill. where Rich Dolido and Paul Dellisario researched the car before restoring it. “A body in white had no title or vehicle identification number,” Mark said. “But we have total documentation on the car, letters Bill signed, plus materials from Jenkins Competition that put all the paperwork in order.”
During the restoration process, Mark and the others involved painstakingly poured through photos, so that every detail of the restoration could be done authentically. “Every week to 10 days, I would fax questions to Bill and he would answer them,” Pappas recalls. “He was as sharp as a tack right to the end.”
Mark first took the restored car to Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. (www.maplegroveraceway.com), Jenkins’ home track. Permission had been obtained to have Grumpy’s well-known driver Larry Lombardo make a quarter-mile pass in the car. Then, its official debut was carried out at MCACN. Pappas considers the car too valuable to race, but he plans to let a lot of people see it.