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Words by Cliff Gromer
Photos by TheBruntBros

et’s 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.

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 believe them!)

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)


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