Words by Cliff Gromer
face it. Everybody wants to go fast on the cheap. Except maybe
rich guys who want to pump some more fanfare into their act.
The more they spend, the better they like it. You know, the
guys with 6-piece gold-plated wheels fastened by platinum-plated
allen-head bolts. When cheap guys like me go the custom route,
it’s a pair of fuzzy dice—used...on eBay.
Photos by TheBruntBros
Rich guys go fast with a zillion dollar dual blower setup,
or a custom-built megacube mill, the price of which allows
the engine builder to retire to a life of leisure in the Bahamas
or the south of France. Me? I’ll take a fast 2500 horsepower
for $500. And, because I’m mechanically challenged,
I don’t want to spend more than a half-hour monkeying
around trying to “dial it in,” as the phrase goes.
And, I don’t want have to buy all kinds of special equipment--like
a 3/8” socket set.
Impossible, you say?
Maybe you never heard the story about the Air Force sergeant
in Arizona, who got hold of a JATO (Jet-Assisted Take-Off)
bottle which is used to supply additional thrust for heavy
aircraft, or aircraft on a short runway. The sergeant thought
it would be fun to have the additional thrust on his car,
a 1967 Chevy Impala, so he attached the rocket to his roof.
While on a straight, desolate stretch of road, he got up to
80 mph and fired the JATO, instantly bringing his speed to
over 300 mph.
The road had a slight upgrade and a curve with a mountain
beyond. The Chevy remained on the straight highway for approximately
2.6 miles (15-20 seconds) before the driver applied the brakes,
completely melting them, blowing the tires, and leaving thick
rubber marks on the road surface—for 1.5 miles. The
vehicle then became airborne for an additional 1.3 miles,
impacted the cliff face at a height of 125 feet, and left
a blackened crater three feet deep in the rock.
The sarge had the right idea—fast on the cheap—but
his execution left something to be desired. Here we are, some
10 years later, and we have better laptop computers to crunch
all the necessary numbers, and better stimulants to keep us
from falling asleep at the wheel.
Now, you may not find a JATO bottle at your local auto parts
store (they’ll tell you that they’ll order one
for you, and then try to talk you in to buying a can of octane
booster, maintaining that it’ll give you the same results—don’t
If you’re persistent in your search, you will be able
to come up with a JATO. We found one for 500 bucks (plus shipping)
on the Internet that was made in China. Authentic-like U.
S. military markings were a $10 option—something our
cheap nature at first balked at, but it would put a bit more
fanfare into our act. We sprang for it! The JATO came as part
of a bolt-on, wire-on, glue (epoxy)-on kit. We couldn’t
figure out all the brackets and such, and relied mostly on
lots of baling wire, and stuff that we could install with
a pair of Dollar Store pliers.
Chinese-made Deluxe JATO rocket came
with optional U.S, military markings. The 80-pound unit was
said to deliver 1000 pounds of thrust for up to 15 seconds.
(Photo: Scott Longman)