This Wild Quadruple V8 1981 Buick Wagonmaster Is Up for Grabs

Built and raced by Tommy Ivo, this beast spent many years as an exhibition car before it was retired.

Tommy Ivo 1981 Buick
Mecum Auctions

When Gary Runyon was 16, he frequently visited Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) in Indianapolis, absorbing racecar culture. On several occasions, he saw a fantastic slingshot dragster with four Buick Nailhead 401 CI V8 engines displayed in a glass-sided trailer in the staging area. The teen thought it was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen.

Later, Runyon became a renowned car collector and once mentioned to a friend that he’d give anything to own the car that fueled his childhood dreams. The friend picked up the scent and found the dragster in California, but the owner didn’t want to sell. For some reason, the owner soon had a change of heart and allowed Runyon to purchase it. After years of enjoyment, the collector is giving someone else a chance to own it and it’s scheduled for auction in Kissimmee, Florida through Mecum Auctions in a few weeks.

Mecum Auctions

Built by racer and personality Tommy Ivo (aka “TV Tommy”) on a Kent Fuller chassis, the car was ostentatious in its design. Two of the four Nailhead Buick engines on the left side powered the front wheels and the two on the right drove the rear wheels. Dubbed The Showboat, the Buick debuted on July 23, 1961 at the San Fernando Drag Strip, and Ivo raced it himself before the NHRA decided it was unfit for the sport and limited The Showboat to exhibition runs only. Ivo ran it one last time in 1996 at Goodguys Nostalgia National in Raceway Park.

We never put them on dynos in those days, but [the Showboat] probably made between 1600 and 1800 horsepower for all four engines," Ivo told a Car and Driver writer in 2009. "[It used] naturally aspirated motors running on gasoline because, at the time, the NHRA banned nitro.”

Finished in black, orange, and red with a black interior, the Showboat was honored with cover placement on a 1961 edition of Hot Rod magazine and the centerfold position in the September 2012 issue of Hot Rod Deluxe magazine. It sports Cragar rear wheels, a luggage rack, roll cage, parachute, and chrome side exhaust stacks. Originally built as a more traditional dragster, it was converted to the Wagonmaster in 1981 by a previous owner.

This vehicle is one of 32 Runyon and his wife Jackie decided to sell as part of their collection, including several 1960s-era Corvette examples (Runyon describes himself as a "Corvette freak"), a Barris Kustoms-built 1964 Turbosonic dragster, a 2016 Pagani Huayra, and an unusual 1936 White Model 706 Glacier National Park Tour Bus. I have my eye on the 1957 Ford Ranchero E-Code in Colonial White over Silver Mocha. 

I asked Runyon why he's giving up his collection, and he said that he's 71 now and wants to be the one to send them off to good homes while he can. He and his wife are in the process of buying their dream home in Hawaii and he knows he can't take all of these with him. The one car he's retaining is Parnelli Jones' 1963 Indy Car because Runyon promised Jones he'd keep it in Indianapolis for occasional visits. 

Incredibly, this is the second full collection the Runyons have put up for auction; in 2017, they sold a 52-car collection through Mecum and started from scratch. He says another reason he's selling his second set is because his three kids aren't interested in the cars. I asked him if he'd like to adopt me and he just laughed. 

Got a tip on a great build? Send the writer a note: kristin.shaw@thedrive.com