If you missed it in the 1960s, you could catch it in the 1970s. Missed it then, and you could still catch the quarter-mile wheelstanding action of the Hurst Hemi Under Glass Barracuda in the 1990s and beyond. Whether young or old, if you’re into musclecars you probably have a story about this iconic car and the last time you saw it perform.
We witnessed the final wheelstanding run at the Muscle Cars At The Strip (MATS) show this past March in Las Vegas. You see, the Hurst Hemi Under Glass first entertained us over 50 years ago, and although the Barracuda has gone through some changes over the years, the one constant (for us, anyway) has been car owner/driver Bob Riggle. We got a chance to sit down and talk with him about his iconic car, his career, and the recent close call that everyone’s been talking about with Jay Leno as his co-pilot.
Prior to the accident in the video above, Bob has only had one other accident in his 50-year career, and it was far worse than this recent rollover. It happened back in 1974 at US 30 dragstrip and Bob tells us it was a scary time. “I ran a 9.66 at a hundred miles per hour on the rear wheels and something went through the tire and I began to spin,” he said. “And then I ended up on the roof against the light pole, it was a bad accident.”
After getting out of the hospital and heading home, he said, “I felt like I was going home to die, I was hurting.” His wife, Nanci, didn’t even find out until the next day after the crash. “Well, we didn’t have cell phones back then so there was no way I could tell her until the next day,” he said. “My head was hurting, and she would lean down to make sure I was still breathing. It was that bad.”
I didn’t quit because … it’s the people. When people are applauding you from the stands, how can you not do it anymore? -Bob Riggle
In 1992 he had run into the famous Hurst Shifter girl, Linda Vaughn, at the SEMA show in Vegas. Bob says, “I saw Linda at SEMA and she she told me, ‘You know, nostalgia is making a big comeback’, and it got my attention.” That was enough to get Bob back into the driver’s seat, and encouraged him to entertain his fans again.
He returned to the scene in 1992 with a replica of the 1968 car and had to get his license again to do wheelstands; after making a few passes later that year, he was officially back in business for the 1993 season. “It became more of a business,” he said. “I learned a few things in my time off from these guys in NASCAR. They had t-shirts and hats, and I needed to get into that.”
Things surely have changed since the days back in 1965 when Bob first piloted the Hurst Hemi Under Glass, and there was a whole new world out there to cheer him on and take a little piece of history home with them.
Of course, the concept for this car was not necessarily planned for entertainment value. It was a racecar concept created by Ray Brock and George Hurst, scribbled out on a napkin. With the large, greenhouse-type window in back, the Hemi was easily visible, and the “Hurst Hemi Under Glass” was born. By placing the engine where the rear seats were in a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, they both figured that the car would be great at the quarter mile thanks to the terrific weight transfer, and they planned to run it in altered class.
But the car did something they didn’t expect, and the crowds went absolutely nuts about it. Bob shared driving duties of the Hemi Under Glass with “Wild Bill” Shrewsberry, and was also the mechanic. They were able to get the car to wheelstand coming off the line, and they couldn’t keep the front end of the car on the pavement. When Shrewsberry left the team, Bob became the sole driver and wowed the crowds with that famous wheelstand.
It was the beginning of an era; Hemi Under Glass spawned dozens of other wheelstanders in the years that followed, and to this day the crowds still gather like ants at a picnic to witness the spectacular show. We miss the days when we could watch Bob take his Barracuda down the quarter mile, side by side, with other wheelstanders like the LA Dart – Shrewsberry’s new ride.
A Close Call And Near Forced Retirement
Like many others before him – whether it was sports, acting, or racing – Bob has retired more than once in his long career. He retired in 2005, and again in 2009. But he always missed the fans. “Without our fans, we’re nobody,” he said.
This past March, however, he promised his wife that he would call it quits. Yes, there have been last rides before, but this time he says he means it. After all, how many 80-year-olds do you know who can take a 2,500 horsepower musclecar down the track on its rear wheels? There’s probably only one, and that’s Bob Riggle. If anyone has earned a retirement, it’s Bob.
But let’s back up the retirement train to earlier this year in February when another famous icon in the automotive world asked Bob to help him fulfill his bucket list. Jay Leno says, “When I was a kid, one of my heroes was a guy named Bob Riggle.”
Jay stated that it’s been on his bucket list since those days when he first watched Bob put the Barracuda up on the rear bumper. Jay asked Bob to take him for a ride, and Bob obliged him (and who wouldn’t?) and they headed out to Irwindale to pull a couple of wheelstands in the infield area of the circle track.
Bob had taken Jay for a ride in the iconic Barracuda about 15 years ago on the back lot of the studio. “It was a quick ride,” Bob said, “we hit second gear and lifted the front end and it went right back down. But Jay wanted a longer ride, so we made plans for March of this year, and then that got changed to earlier in February.”
I was never comfortable with the whole thing. It was really a bit of a gamble -Bob Riggle
They hadn’t finished jetting it or getting the timing just right. “We were just supposed to get the front end in the air for Jay, they told me it didn’t have to be a long ride,” Bob said, “so we decided to make a couple of warm up runs and then that final run you see in the video.”
All media is abuzz about that trip to Irwindale and the now infamous rollover with Jay Leno. We wanted to focus our attention on the man himself: Bob Riggle. Sure, Jay Leno is a big name and we all envy his car collection, but Bob is someone that even Jay looks up to and we think that makes him something pretty damn special.
As most everyone knows, things didn’t quite go as planned that morning, and after a few warm up wheelstands it was on. The car launched into it’s final wheelstand of the day, and all was looking great. Jay was having the ride of his life, and yet another bucket list entry was being checked off as the front end of the Barracuda aimed skyward. It was a good run, but they began to run out of room and as the front end came back down to Earth, there was a shake, a rattle, and a roll. Actually, a few rolls, to be exact.
It seems the uneven, bumpy pavement, as well as the pending embankment, was a bit too much for the fat slicks as Bob tried to steer away from the oval. The rear end bounced around a little, and finally on one of the bounces the big tires grabbed where they could’ve slipped a little, and over the car went, performing a few barrel-rolls on the pavement.
“The car was bouncing around, and when the tires are in the air like that you’re not going to stop,” Bob told us. “It was way too rough; it was not the best place to do this. You can’t hear it in the video, but I was saying that I’m not going to hit that wall. I expected the tires to slide, but they grabbed the pavement and all I could think was ‘I’m wrecking a brand new car’.”
But Bob and Jay were both great sports about it. “I reached over and I tapped him on his knee and asked if he was okay,” Bob said. “Did you hear him? They asked my name and age, and where I was, then they asked Jay and he said he was Bob Riggle.” Bob can now laugh about it all, but he does say that he felt it was his fault. Clearly it was nobody’s fault, it was just an accident and they both now have a unique story that nobody else can tell. Bob rolled a car with Jay Leno in it, and Jay got to ride in Bob Riggle’s Hurst Hemi Under Glass when it rolled.
“That second seat is in there for a reason,” Bob said, “we’ve taken others for a ride before, whether it was celebrities or magazine people.” Watching the video, it was a bit of a close call. Jay had his hand up on the pillar, but when they started to roll he pulled his arm inside the car. “We talked about things before hand, but there weren’t any instructions about what to do because we didn’t expect it,” he said.
Jay did joke afterwards, and there are no hard feelings from either of them. It was an experience of a lifetime and it’s still difficult to determine who has the better story to tell. But thankfully nobody was hurt, and a second car was put together in time for the MATS show just a short month later. We asked Bob how Nanci took the news. “She asked if anybody got hurt, and that was it,” he said. So it seems she took the news pretty well too, but she’s glad he is at home now.
For decades Bob and his Barracudas have entertained enthusiasts the world over. He’s taken this car all over the country to put the front end in the air, and even made an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of speed across the pond in Sussex, England, in 2007. If you don’t know Bob Riggle, you should; but you probably know about the Hurst Hemi Under Glass or you’re not truly a musclecar or drag racing enthusiast.
“If people didn’t know who Bob Riggle was,” he said, “I was okay with that. I would just ask them, ‘do you know the Hemi Under Glass?’ and when they said they did I would tell them, ‘well, that’s me’ and they would know who I was.” Now, thanks to this iconic rollover for Jay Leno’s Garage, people will probably remember who Bob Riggle is.
We asked Bob about his retirement, and he assured us that he promised Nanci and he’s going to keep that promise. “It makes me feel like I am retired now,” Bob said. “On the way home this time it was a different feeling. It’s the best career I could ever ask for and I appreciate everybody.”
We asked if he was going to miss anything about it now that he’s officially retired. “The one thing I’m going to miss is all the fans,” he said. “I sold the car, and I’m sure I’ll be back signing posters and making guest appearances. I appreciate all the years that people have been supporting me, and I’ll miss everyone.” But he won’t be driving the car again, because he’s keeping his promise to Nanci.
Bob is a legend, but he doesn’t call himself that. He loved what he did for a living and though his job was about showmanship, he was never a show off about it. You think your burnout was cool? Bob Riggle can drive past your burnout on the rear wheels, with the front end in the air. He’s 80 years old and he can drive a car better than you can. He’s like a teenager with a weathered smile and a receding gray hairline, and behind the wheel of the Hurst Hemi Under Glass he didn’t act his age.
But Bob is a humble man and he’ll stop what he’s doing to shake your hand, chat about his car, and pose for a picture. He’s the guy who put a smile on our face as we all turned to each other in amazement when he did his thing for the cheering crowds. Yeah, Bob Riggle is a bad ass, he just doesn’t know it. Thanks for the memories Bob, we’ll be seeing you.