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ITALY 1 Gasser.jpg
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ITALY 1...

A big THANK YOU to Mike OGNIBENE and Hans HUBER for their precious help in compiling this section.

Well, Volkswagon gassers that survived the times are few and far between... Some were destroyed while racing, some were put in storage and abandoned a long long time ago, but some are are still intact today...ITALY 1 of Mike OGNIBENE is such a time machine...

Yes, that car was built in the early 70's and was racing way before the majority of us were born... Beauty here is that this car is still racing today in the hands of the same owner...Talk about a love story...

Mike is still really involved today, and it's not unusual to see Italy 1 at the Nostalgia races, and see Mike wrenching between rounds... I have enclosed some recent pictures on the right yellow bar.

Now, is it awesome or what? Yes, this is how Italy 1 project began back in the days... Rare... and only on the Cal-look.com nostalgia corner ;) Fiberglass parts are evident on these great picture! Note that the car was retaining his trims at that time...

Interestingly enough, Italy 1 made it on the cover of Volkswagen Greats magazine for the June 1975 issue, but there was no feature inside this one... Amends to that omission was made in the October 1977 issue and here is the complete story for your knowledge...

"Italy 1 is a '63 L/Gas Type 1 sedan owned by Michael OGNIBENE of Fresno, California. Mike and his brother Joe did the majority of the work on the car. The engine, which has probably seen more drag strip miles than the average person drives a year, displaces just over 2100cc and is said to put out an honest 215 horsepower.

Another treasure picture by Mike DITTY showing the car on the trailer!

The '71 Type 1 case has been fitted with 92mm Gene Berg pistons, Total Seal rings, Chevy 302 Z/28 rods, Engle FK89 cam and a Gene Berg stroker crank. Berg also ported and polished the heads on the 13:1 motor and used his pushrods.

A pair of 48 IDA downdraft carbs are bolted to Berg manifolds. Mounted atop the engine sheetmetalare two squirred cage electric cooling fans. The generator and V-belt -driven stock cooling fans were discarded because they simply robbed the engine of too much horsepower. The engine also features a Gene Berg exhaust system fabricated out of 1 5/8 inch tubing and Bosch 010 distributor.

Impressive wheelies were Mike especialty, just like the one on Volkswagen Greats cover...

The driveline consists of a Berg flywheel and clutch, beefed-up Type 1 transaxle with Crown axles and close ratio third and fourth gears. M&H slicks measuring six inches in width transmit the power to the ground. Chrome plated wheelie bars insure that there'll be no more high-flying antics for this beetle.

Other chassis modifications include a Berg front axle and engine support bar. Overall weight of the beetle has been pared down to a mere 1530 pounds through the use of fiberglass front and rear fenders and hood and deck lid, aluminium floorboards and Plexiglas windows.

Another run at the track back in the days... I love those old gems pictures...

At present, Mike andhis brother are considering revamping Italy 1. Most of the changes will center around an all-new engine. Since the car runs 11.30s at 115mph as it sits, it won't take much to get in to the 10s. And that, they figure, would be one hell of an accomplishment."

Mike was friendly enough to answer some of the questions I thought might be interested for us all regarding that gasser. Thanks for that Mike!

Are you aware of the currently big interest in the seventies bug Gassers?

Yes. it grew in popularity. Currently in the 70s we were running modified eliminator H/gas and L/gas and there was approximately 12-15 vws running in these classes and others. Unbelievable!!!

How do you explain Italy 1 survived the time all those years?

Not racing it more than 3 times a year. Raising a family could not afford the expense at the time. In other words if I had raced it 16 races a year probably the car would not be around.

Another pre-wheeling action picture! Note the rear tire shape...

What's your best memory racing it? Funny memories?

1- My best memory was winning Orange county Bug-in 19 at OCIR(10-16-1977)

2- Bakersfield ET Race 1978. There was 13 crew members. I collected winnings of 100$ (ha ha). I took them all out to dinner and it cost me 125$. But we had fun.

3- Taking 2nd place at Sonoma in 1994.

4- Going 4 rounds in 1984 NHRA Superstock I won 300$. It was special because I was number 42nd qualifier out of 46. I had great luck because 3 of those rounds the cars red lighted against me. They were intimidated by my wheelies...

5- Winning Sacramento Bug O Rama 1981. Winning 500$ for my bracket. I broke a transmission, other driver broke transmission, but I finished the race first coasting across the finish line. I won an additional 100$ for 2nd place for Top Dog of the meet.

6- Having 1/8 mile record in Bakersfield for one month in L/Gas division 7 NHRA!

7- Front cover of VW Greats magazine 1975...

8- When Hans and I went 4 rounds out of 7 in Nostalgia drag racing, March Meet 1997. We were the crowd favorites for the whole weekend. This race is not just bugs. It's all types of drag cars and dragsters...

Which tracks did you preferred back in the days?

Bakersfield, Orange County, Sacramento, LA County Raceway, Sonoma. Mostly because they were within 200 miles of our home which is Fresno California

How did you become interested in racing a little VW bug?

went to the NHRA races with my uncle racing his car and dragster when I saw a VW winning a lot of races for division 7 approximately 8 out of 12 in Modified Eliminator and other classes. That fascinated me so then I started building my car...

When did you built it?

bought the car in 1971, and finished it in 1973. I debuted it at Raisin City Raceway.

What's your future plans with the car?

ell the car complete with trailer. I'm getting older... I want to sit in a soft seat and have an automatic transmission. I've taken up motorcycling...

Would accept to sell it to me, I would cherrish it ;)

es. We'd have to call it France 1 though (ha ha ha...)

THANKS for your contribution Mike!!!


Below are some pictures by Rich CANTU of the car at the Nostalgia drags events a few years back... As you can see, it's pretty much the same and it survived the time very very well...

In fact, I guess the only changes are some more blue paint (flames...) and some stickers... Awesome piece of VW drag racing history...

All images are thumbnails for your viewing pleasure ;)