NHRA News: Famed car builder Lil John Buttera dies (3/2/2008)
John Buttera, who left his stamp upon the drag racing world in the 1970s by building a series of winning Funny Cars and dragsters, created some of hot rodding's most beautiful street rods of the 1980s and 1990s, and built the first billet wheels, died March 2 after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.
Buttera began his career in his native Kenosha, Wis., when he teamed with Dennis Rollain to form R & B Chassis. They fielded a very light unblown fuel dragster, but a chance meeting with Mickey Thompson in the staging lanes at the U.S. Nationals lin the late 1960s led him to move to Southern California
, changing his life forever.
After initially working for Thompson on his Ford-powered Land Speed Record streamliner, he built Thompson's blue Mustang Funny Car in which Danny Ongais dominated the 1969 season. He then opened his own chassis shop in Cerritos, Calif., where he built a radical streamlined dragster for Barry Setzer. His talents soon led such customers such as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Don Schumacher, and Shirley Muldowney to his door for both dragsters and Funny Cars. He built Schumacher's 1970 Indy-winning Funny Car, the Hot Wheels entries of Prudhomme and McEwen, the national record-setting Braskett & Burgin Vega, and many, many more.
Dragsters, Funny Cars, street rods, motorcycles and even Indy cars have all felt the touch of Buttera's innovation. Known for his exceptional craftsmanship, Buttera was involved in all areas of hot rodding.
Buttera brought the high-tech, billet era to street rodding, and was first to manufacture his own wheels and independent suspensions from machined aluminum. He also did extensive development work for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and even entered a stock block-powered car in the Indy 500 for which he received the 1987 Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award.
Ironically, Buttera died just fours after the passing of his longtime good friend and hot rodding contemporary Boyd Coddington, who died Feb. 27 of liver failure at age 63.
Buttera is survived by his son Chris, daughter Leigh, son in law Ronnie Capps, granddaughter Katie, and grandson Max.