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The Zappia Chronicles by Kim Soia – Perth Street Car Magazine Vol 4 No1 1996 (used with permission and copyright applies)
John Zappia has a long history of crushing his opposition with achievements such as 1990 Drag Racer of the Year, 1995 Top Doorslammer Champion, the World’s first Super Stock car in the sevens, the first doorslammer in the sixes and the second racer in the 200mph club. John Zappia has defended West Australian honour against the Eastern States and America on many occasions. In the 1989-90 season Zappia won every time he staged the car. Serious domination! Zap’s Rat was the 1990 National’s winner and top qualifier in 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1995.
Zap’s Rat was equally impressive against big reputation USA teams. In the 1992 Australia vs USA Ravenswood Doorslammer Series, he overpowered Wayne Torkelson’s 1959 Thunderbird. In 1994 Zappia crushed Kurt Kuhns 3-0; blasting a 6.57 ET to Kuhns’s 6.62. He has run a personal best of 6.54 at 218mph.
John Zappia began racing in a 14 second 194 CI Torana seventeen years ago. He progressed into a steel bodied HQ 4-door running a 383 small block, turbo 400 and a nine inch diff, which ran a best time of 12.86 at 113mph in 1981.
In 1982 John fitted a big block 454 LS-7 into the 4-door HQ. This only resulted in a marginal improvement to 12.75 at 121mph due to the car’s insistence on doing 1/4 mile burnouts. Due to this disapointing performance and the fact that the 4-door was now too radical for the street, John was forced to think again.
The original Zap’s Rat, 2-door Monaro body was purchased for $350. John kept the LS-7 and initially decided to race in A/Modified production. However, on a trip to the last Castlereagh ADR Grand Finals, Zappia decided a pro-chassis car would better suit his aspirations and so the story really began. In late 1984, the white, all steel, HQ put down it’s first pass – 9.39 at 148mph. This early LS-7 powered Zap’s Rat went on to a best of 9.11 at 151mph with the engine out to 460 cubes.
In the 1986/87 season, Zappia was determined to smash the 8.67/154 AA/Gas record. To destroy this record a blown 427 big block was employed. The first pass on this engine yeilded an 8.69 at 164mph. On the second meeting with the 427, Zap’s Rat became the world’s first Super Stock Car in the sevens – 7.98 at 174mph. This configuration made over 100 passes with only minor troubles. During the 1988/89 season USA chassis guru, Tom Alston, proclaimed Zap’s Rat to be the world’s quickest ladder-bar rear end car.
During the 1989/90 season, the HQ went faster. Zappia decided to progress from a big block Chev to a JP-1. John had to spin the Chev to 8,500rpm to run 7.9′s with a 5.1:1 diff. With the JP-1 he did not go over 7,300rpm and ran 7.3s and 7.4s with a 4.3:1 diff.
In 1988/89 the chassis was similar to the latest in US Pro-stockers. Not a bad effort considering that Zappia designed the entire chassis at home. John copied ideas from US magazines and then logically thought through the geometry. Many experts protested that the car needed a four-link rear suspension, but John felt the car would need to be modified too much to accomodate such a set up.
Consequently, Alston asisted John to improve the ladder bar suspension rather than replace it. Alston suggested that the single ball-joints were a weakness, so Zappia utilised double heim joints on the front bars with two diagonals also fitted forward of the rear axle assembly.
The chassis comprised a rectangular section main frame with heavy-wall chrome moly front down-tubes and sub-assemblies, with Spax coil-over adjustable shocks front and rear. The steering is rack and pinion while the roll cage is a full Funny Car style but right hand drive. The cage is a six-tube, head and shoulder encircling affair. Front brakes are Kawasaki motorcycle discs and calipers on HQ stub axles. Rear brakes are Wilwood four-spots.
John recalls, “At the first meeting of the 1989/90 season the car ran a 7.69 off the trailer. It was a radical change and caused such savage wheelstands that I had to back the launch revs down from 4,000rpm to 2,500rpm”. The JP-1 conversion resulted in a bigger 14-71 blower and higher compression. Using this configuration Zappia dominated the 1989/90 season with a best of 7.63 in the 2892 pound AA/Gasser and a 7.36 result in the 2620 pound BB/Altered configuration (while carrying 220 pounds extra weight for this class.)
The JP-1 displaced 482 CI by the use of a 1/2″ Keith Black stroker crank. Keith Black stage II heads using Manley 2.20 and 1.99 inch valves exiting gases into a set of Funny Car style pipes made by John. Venolia pistons and rods, Casale gear-driven roller cam, Crane overhead components and Manton springs complete the package.
The JP-1 used an Enderle 990 pump, Enderle magnesium Bird Catcher fuel injection system and a BDS 14-71 supercharger, overdriven between 44% and 52% using BDS drive components. The blower sat on top of an extensively modified Cragar magnesium manifold. The JP-1 produced an estimated 1400 BHP. The drive train in 1989/90 consisted of a three speed Lenco with a manual shifter, backed by a L&T three-disc clutch. The rear end was a severely narrowed Ford 9 inch with Strange components and 35 spline axles. The final drive ratios used varied from 4.3:1 to 4.8:1 depending upon track conditions. In the 1989/90 season, Zappia won the 1990 Nationals and was Drag Racer of the Year.
For the 1990/91 season, the JP-1′s cubic capacity was increased from 482CI to 526CI and fitted with new twin plug Veney billet heads and twin magnetos. In this configuration the engine produced 1700 horsepower. At the beginning of the 1990/91 season, Zappia had very specific aims, “we want to be running sixes at over 200mph before the season is out.”
John recalls, “At the first meeting of the 1989/90 season the car ran a 7.69 off the trailer. It was a radical change and caused such savage wheelstands that I had to back the launch revs down from 4,000rpm to 2,500rpm”. By 1992, Zappia ran sixes every pass and just got faster and faster. Racing against America’s Wayne Torkelson at Ravenswood Raceway, Zap’s Rat ran 6.80/208, 6.82/205 and 6.83/207. John, again, top qualified at the Nationals that year.
By 1993, Zap’s Rat weighed in at 1,224kg (2,693 pounds). The JP-1 was replaced with a Walt Austin Keith Black 540CI Hemispherical-headed monster producing 2,200hp using 12.1:1 compression and a high-helix 14/71 supercharger. A triple disc L & T slider clutch, a three speed air shifted Lenco and a Strange equipped 9 inch were used in conjunction with a Funny Car style solid rear end. John said, “If the car gets traction, it runs straight.” Prior to the 1993 Nationals, Zappia’s record stood at 6.78 at 214.28mph and he commented, “Here at Calder the car’s probably really leaning on it! The conditions would have to be perfect. It does 6.80′s easily.”
In 1994, John Zappia won the Australia vs USA Doorslammer Challenge 3-0 against Kurt Kuhns’s 1959 Corvette. Zap’s Rat ran 6.56, 6.57 and 6.62 at 215mph. This was also the year that John started planning the new Zap’s Rat II to take over from the original Rat. It was necessary to have a chassis which could handle the ever-increasing horsepower the engines were producing. Kim Soia was instrumental in organising the production of the new chassis. John visited the USA in late 1994 to arrange shipment of the chassis and to purchase new engine parts for the ongoing horsepower wars.
As it turned out, the new Statesman Zap’s Rat Series II could not be built for the beginning of the 1994/95 season so Zappia dusted off the Monaro and brought her out again. The Rat rose to the occasion achieving its fastest times and arguably greatest successes in 1994/95 despite many people believing it to be a spent force after 11 years of racing.
In the 1994/95 season, Zap’s Rat achieved 4 wins and 3 runner-ups from 10 events. Zappia was the 1995 Top Doorslammer Champion and using a 554 cubic inch TFX engine, producing 2,380, achieved it’s best performance of 6.54 at 218mph. Zappia was again top qualifier at the Nationals that year.
The final run Zappia ever made in Zap’s Rat was at the Winternationals at Willowbank in 1995. The Monaro ran a strong 6.60′s pass but burst into flames near the end of the track. Zap kept on the power to the end of the track and still ran 199mph.
Zap stopped the car near the fire truck. The first person on the scene was Victor Bray who dragged John out of the car. The trick front fibreglass panels were singed black but the car survived the potential tradegy. Two weeks later, John sold Zap’s Rat to Kim Soia of Soia Seminars.
Interestingly, while Zappia was racing at the Winternationals ’95, racers from Cairns, Queensland, were interested in purchasing Zap’s Rat. Their mention was to paint it red and keep racing it in enemy colours. Zap was not particularly happy about the car’s future in the East. Kim and John knew that if this icon was sold interstate, a famous piece of WA automotive history would be lost forever. Eleven years of blood, sweat, tears and incredible success would vanish. John was saddened by such a prospect but needed to sell the Monaro to finish the build of the Statesman Series II Rat. Kim Soia purchased Zap’s Rat with the view to keeping it exactly as Australia’s drag racing fans will always remember it – in its final aerodynamic nosed, huge winged, record breaking incarnation. Don’t be surprised if you see Zap’s Rat being raced in the occasional doorslammer grudge match in the future. You can’t keep a champion at bay forever.