Behind the helmet’s dark tinted bubble face mask, Jon Rowley takes hold of his monstrous dream come true. The Amado, Ariz. resident has traveled with his milestone car to Los Angeles to take part in a milestone event – the recent 2017 preview opening of the Lions Drag Strip Museum in Compton, Clif. And he needed the mask when the nitro methane race fumes started wafting about as the “fuelie” cars lit up their engines during the mandatory “cacklefest.” You could feel the cackling symphony of mega-horsepower vibrating through your bones… Much to the audience’s delight.
“I first saw the Green Monster when I was a young kid in Akron, Ohio, and decided I had to make it mine,” said Jon. “It only took about half a century.”
While this AA dragster dominated – make that terrorized – the country’s dragstrips and blasted speed records during the mid- to late-1950s, turning back the pages of history, we learn that “Green Monster” had siblings, as it were. There were several such vehicles, some powered by conventional automobile engines, but the real monsters took low level flight via jet aircraft engines. The minds, and wrenches, behind the “monsters” were brothers Art and Walt Afrons, serious gearheads focused on going fast, real fast. Moreover, nicknamed the “Junkyard Geniuses,” they built their unique machines on a small budget, outclassing the big spenders thanks to the innovative thinking practiced in their shop located on Pickle Road in Akron.
Crediting with building the first jet dragster and cars that would form the foundation of top fuel dragsters, the brothers built their first “Green Monster” circa 1952. It was technically a trike, since it rolled on a three-wheeled chassis stuffed with a 6-cylinder Oldsmobile motor. This is where the lineage of “green” entered the picture, since the Afrons, working on a budget, painted the vehicle with some left over John Deere tractor green paint. The name “Green Monster” was attributed to race announcer Ed “Paskey” Piasczik, who coined the term at its first appearance. That opening salvo was less than dramatic, the car only managing to clock 85 mph, some 20 miles slower than the fastest car against which it ran.
Performance improved drastically the next year when the Afrons launched Green Monster II, a real fire-breather that measured 20 feet long on not three wheels, but six. It was propelled by an Allison V-12 aircraft engine, the same U.S. made engine developed for WWII aircraft, including the famous Lockheed P-38 Lightning that ran a pair of the V-12s enhanced further by turbocharging. Continuing development eventually increased the engine’s output from 1000 to over 2,300 HP. The Allison also made history via the iconic P-51 Mustang fighter.
With a single Allison in place, Green Monster II took only nine seconds to clock 140 mph, topping out at 270 mph on street tires. The “tiger’s jaw” graphics, actually painted on the car by Afrons’ mother, were inspired by the famous WWII Curtis P-40 Flying Tiger fighters flown by American volunteers in the early days of the Second World War in China.
The brothers made over 25 variations; one Monster hit 564 mph, and thrice held the land speed record during 1964 and 1965, eventually succumbing to Craig Breedlove’s 600.601 MPH Spirit of America – Sonic I.
Seen here is Green Monster #5, built by the Afrons in 1955, now owned, restored and driven by Jon. When first built, it ran a 770 cubic inch Ranger aircraft engine mounted upside down and backwards, but it was not monster motor enough, thus the eventual upscaling to the V-12 1720 cu. in. Allison.
Green Monster #5, as seen here, was campaigned from 1955-1958 in every NHRA National event, eventually clocking 157.89 at the 1957 First International Drag Meet in Chester, SC. In that same year, #5 changed hands when Lee Pendleton of Ashtabula, Ohio wrangled the Green Monster into his own stable of dragsters. Lee made his own “upgrades,” including narrowing the rear axle, adding dual slicks and cooling the brakes with air scoops. Then a fender bender required a new nose, and repairs were made before #5 again changed hands, going to fabricator par excellence Charlie Hall of Tucson, who added the distinctive integrated mirrors, further enhancing the car’s personality. After another mishap in the early ‘60s, the car went into hibernation.
And here Jon Rowley enters the picture, his long quest realized. In 2008 he bought the car from his longtime friend Charlie and began the meticulous restoration, hunting down parts from the West Coast. His goal: Having it ready to re-launch for the 2009 NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. The work took placed at Chrisman’s CARS in Santa Ana, Calif. It was no small challenge getting the AllisonV-12 roaring again after 50 years, but no problem thanks to Yancey’s Allison, the facility located in Rialto, Calif. As for the famous “Green Monster” graphics, the repaint was handed over to Dan Rusk in Tucson. Now “as new” and after years of flying beneath the radar, it’s back on track.
Currently Jon Rowley and Green Monster #5 tour the country, much to the enjoyment of all who have the pleasure of meeting both Jon and his scary cool friend.