Wild Bill Shrewsberry
Billy Lewis "Wild Bill" Shrewsberry (born June 26, 1938) is an American exhibition drag racing driver primarily active throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Originally from Mansfield, Ohio, Shrewsberry moved to Southern California in October 1962. Shrewsberry is best known as the driver of the drag racing replica of the Barris-built Batmobile from the 1966 television series and of the "L.A. Dart," a series of wheelstanding funny cars each with a rear-mounted, supercharged Chrysler Hemi engine and each sponsored by the Dodge and Plymouth dealers of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The result of the rearward weight transfer caused by the engine's mounting position was a "wheelie" for the entire quarter-mile at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). Steering was accomplished by a combination of the service brake pedal activating the brake on the left wheel while a brake lever from a racing go-kart activated the right brake. So proficient was Shrewsberry at this sort of driving that he would often spin his car to face the opposite direction at the end of the track and race back to the starting line, all the while maintaining the wheelstand.
He rose to fame in the early 1960s as the driver of one of only six factory-built 1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty LeMans-badged coupes and which was campaigned by Mickey Thompson. These six coupes and six station wagon variants, with their 421 in³ (7 L) Pontiac Catalina engines, transmissions and rear ends replacing the Tempest's 326 in³ (5.4 L) engine, rear-mounted Corvair-based transaxle and the small diameter drive shaft often referred to as a "rope" were described as "beyond fast". Shrewsberry's Pontiac dominated the A/FX factory experimental class in the 1963 NHRA "Winternationals" with a best time of 12.03 seconds in the quarter mile, an average of .5 seconds faster than the competition. He would later race the car in a modified configuration utilizing Pontiac's "Powershift" transaxle, developed specifically for the Super Duty. It was, in essence, a pair of two-speed Powerglide automatic transmissions joined together in a single four-speed unit. His car retains that setup today.
Shrewsberry also helped develop and pilot the Hurst Hemi Under Glass Plymouth Barracuda later driven by Bob Riggle. He also participated in the development of the Dodge Little Red Wagon driven by Bill "Maverick" Golden and the Hurst Hairy Olds Oldsmobile 4-4-2 exhibition dragsters each sponsored by Hurst Performance. Like the "L.A. Dart", the Little Red Wagon and Hemi Under Glass were wheelstanders while the Hurst Hairy Olds had engines both front and rear, each powering an automatic transaxle from an Oldsmobile Toronado.
Shrewsberry's 1970 L.A. Dart was the subject of a 1/25-scale plastic model kit first produced by Model Products Corporation and since reissued by Model King using the original tooling. That same car, updated for the 1971 season with a 1971 front grille is still owned by Shrewsberry and is undergoing restoration at his son's home in Ridgecrest. Model kits of the Hemi Under Glass and Hurst Hairy Olds were available as well; the Plymouth was replicated by MPC and Aurora Plastics Corporation while the Olds was available as a kit from Monogram. In the late 1990s, a 1/64-scale diecast model of the L.A. Dart was issued by Johnny Lightning. Presently, die-cast model manufacturer Highway 61 produces a 1/18-scale replica of Shrewsberry's Super Duty Tempest (which Highway 61 designers used as the actual basis for the model) as well as the 1966 Hemi Under Glass and 1966 Hurst Hairy Olds.
In 1979, Shrewsberry exhibited a fiberglass 1930 Ford Model A delivery truck sponsored by Knott's Berry Farm. Dubbed The Berry Wagon and painted by custom car builder Ed Roth, the hemi-powered wheelstander was capable of more than 120 mph (190 km/h) in the quarter-mile, again on its rear bumper.
He maintains a small but important collection of automobiles. In addition to the 1970–71 L.A. Dart, Shrewsberry still owns his 1972 L.A. Dart funny car with flip-up body, his original 1963 Super Duty Tempest (one of only four remaining), the 1965 Hemi Under Glass Barracuda, the Knott's Berry Wagon, a 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente 427 which he raced in A/FX that year with Jack Chrisman (one of only 50 built and similar to Ford's Fairlane Thunderbolt), a factory lightweight 1964 Ford Galaxie and until its sale to a collector/dealer in 2010, a 1966 Ford Mustang GT convertible. Purchased new for US$2871.00, the Mustang is a highly optioned black-on-black car with a high-performance 289 in³ (4.8 L) engine, four-speed manual transmission, manual front disc brakes, limited slip differential, deluxe "pony" interior, styled steel wheels, center console and the "lighting group" package which added underhood and trunk lighting. It is also fitted with an extremely rare 8000 RPM Rally-Pac tachometer and clock accessory. The car is in nearly original condition, having accumulated slightly more than 7400 miles (11,900 km) since new. This was due in large part to his relationship with Dodge the following year.
Though retired from racing, Shrewsberry maintains a relationship with the NHRA museum in Pomona and is often a keynote speaker at car club meets. He resides in the Coachella Valley where he pursues a hobby in model aviation and where the two L.A Dart cars are presently undergoing restoration.
- http://www.1966batmobile.com/shrewsberry.htm Interview with Shrewsberry regarding his involvement with the Batmobile dragster
- http://www.1966batmobile.com/shrew.jpg Newspaper photo and caption of Shrewsberry at the wheel of the Batmobile
- http://www.draglist.com/stories/SOD%20Mar%202002/SOD-030802.htm Photo of the 1967 L.A. Dart and an account of Shrewsberry's ability to spin the car 180 degrees
- http://www.sportscarmarket.com/Profiles/2009/March/American/ Article on a "barn find" of one of the four remaining Super Duty Tempests describing Shrewsberry's accomplishments
- http://www.legacydiecast.com/xq/asp/id.H6150151/qx/review.htm Review of the 1/18-scale Tempest/LeMans at Legacydiecast.com
- http://books.google.com/books?id=XS-wA3Zo748C&pg=PA121&lpg=PA121&dq=wild+bill+shrewsberry&source=web&ots=UlIxCYgkcF&sig=Wjeo408IkRCg5d8iPBYNiiWjV10#PPA121,M1 Photo and caption of The Berry Wagon
- Photos of Bill at a Batmobile event in February 2009 from 1966batmobile.com
- Photos of an example of the Johnny Lightning L.A. Dart at ioffer.com
- Photo gallery and histories at gilchristbnw.com
- Photo of the 1968 L.A. Dart in action at flikr.com
- List of Model King reissues including the MPC L.A. Dart and an enhanced decal sheet at modelroundup.com