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Junk Car Gets New Life as Drag Car

STANTON – When Frank Adkins, an automotive instructor at Delaware Tech’s Stanton Campus, first laid eyes on the 1964 Dodge Dart he would later name “Rusty” in 2008, he thought he was just buying a parts car. “The body was in terrible shape, riddled with dings and dents, and what wasn’t dented was rusted,” he remembers.

He towed the car to the high school where he then taught Automotive Technology, while working as an adjunct faculty member at Delaware Tech. The next day, he installed a battery and connected a gas can, and to his amazement the engine fired almost immediately. After an inspection by his high school class, he found that the car was structurally sound. Although he still planned to dismantle the car, his students convinced him to turn “Rusty” into a racecar. Adkins realized he had most of the big pieces already, and with some ingenuity could put together what he calls a “super low-budget drag race car project.” And so the work began…

By the spring of 2011, Rusty had progressed, but there was still much work to do to complete it. Adkins joined Delaware Tech’s automotive department faculty fulltime in August 2011 and began to incorporate the car into his classes as a project to engage students. Adkins and his students have now completed Rusty’s transformation.

Along the way, Rusty was used in several classes. Students in Electrical classes revamped much of the wiring and incorporated a master electrical cut-off switch that disables the entire electrical system in the event of a crash, as mandated by the National Hot Rod Association. Students in Automatic Transmissions have performed various diagnostic procedures on the race-prepped transmission. They also removed the transmission and installed a racing torque converter. Students in the Manual Transmission/Driveline course have measured and evaluated the driveline operating angles, and students in the Automotive Fundamentals class have performed basic maintenance.

Rusty has visited the Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland where several students in Delaware Tech’s automotive program come regularly go to race and spectate. Adkins said Rusty has performed surprisingly well. “Although we are still battling traction issues, Rusty has posted a time of 12.9 seconds at 105 MPH in the quarter mile. Putting that into perspective, 12-second elapsed times are Viper and Corvette territory, yet we got there in a junk car built with used parts sourced from junkyards, swap meets, and eBay.”

Now that Rusty is complete, the students of Delaware Tech have their sights set on a 1965 Plymouth Valiant, which is being built by students for auto cross and closed-circuit road racing. Like Rusty, its six cylinder engine will give way to a larger V-8, and a number of chassis, driveline, suspension, and brake modifications will make the car safe, fun and competitive.