Watch Don Garlits fire up his old Chrysler V8-powered air raid siren

Air raid sirens aren’t in use like they used to be. At least, as it relates to war-time activity. There was a time, however, when residents in certain parts of this country might hear a terrifying wail. These sirens were in place to warn of any pending attacks. And the sound they produce needs to travel far. So old-school air raid sirens were powered by car engines. And old-school drag racing legend Don Garlits has one in his Drag Racing Museum.

This clip is old. The Internet says its from 1997 but for some reason the voiceover work and music make it feel even older than that. Regardless, Don Garlits takes the host of the video (Robbie Coltrane, AKA Hagrid) for a look at his vintage Chrysler V8-powered air raid siren. The two make sure the mill is in working order, give it some juice, then fire the whole thing up. Earlier, Garlits said the siren could send its song out over 25 miles. So why not fire it up in a garage?

It’s a unique piece of history. Loudly unique. I wonder what one of these would sound like with a supercharger?

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9 responses to “Watch Don Garlits fire up his old Chrysler V8-powered air raid siren”

  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    It can be heard 25 miles away *in Florida*. To understand how sound travels so far in the Sunshine State, take a gander at the convoluted mountain road to central Florida’s highest point, Sugarloaf Mountain, dominating the peninsula at 312 feet above sea level, a mere 50 feet lower than the panhandle’s Britton Hill (which, face it, might as well be in Alabama.)

    If you miss the apex on that one, you must be dead.

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    How can they film this without proper hearing protection? Yikes! We still got sirens around and they are tested occasionally. It’s quite impressive, and with the cultural ballast this particular sound has, you’ll be inclined to take it serious.

    Many European countries have in recent years updated their desaster preparedness rules. Guidelines on the amount of water, food, medicines and a radio have been put out that have lead to fair amount of discussion. My city friends think it is hard to meet these guidelines, while we are prepared to survive in the house for at least ten days (more by accident and remote location; no preppers here).

  3. Scoutdude Avatar

    Very cool, I’ve known about these for many years but have never seen one running and how it was hooked up with a manually engaged clutch to start the horn. I do remember the air raid sirens when I was a kid, there were periodic tests. I don’t know that those were the Hemi powered units. I’m pretty sure they were an array of horns in a circle to point every direction at once. I remember it was unnervingly loud if you were near it when they started the test.

  4. salguod Avatar

    A friend of mine has built a rat rod several years ago and went looking for an old school hemi for it. The Craigslist ad said this engine had something like 40 or 50 hours on it. Turns out it was a recently decommissioned air raid siren engine and had only been run for the periodic tests. Then he found an army surplus Chrysler 727 transmission brand new, still in the crate. So he ended up with an old but essentially brand new drive train.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      That… is fantastic.

  5. outback_ute Avatar

    A bit different from the fire brigade siren that used to be tested every Sunday when I was growing up in a small town (only a couple of blocks from the station)

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      And different from what I believe is the Tsunami siren I would hear tested when I lived closer to the beach.

  6. 0A5599 Avatar

    Yes, from 1997. Here’s a better-quality transfer of the whole episode.

  7. nanoop Avatar

    I was reminded by this that there was something called Atomic Toaster. Next article about mercury steam engines please!