by Ray Alexander
years ago students attended three room schools for grades one through
eight. In the northeast corner of
Arkansas one tried to contain Marion Todd and Ray Alexander. Marion is the subject of this article
and Ray is the writer. Marion was a year behind me, which
was of little impact during grade school, but tended to separate us in high
This area of Arkansas was farm country. It was a perfectly good swamp before
being drained. Because we helped
with the planting and harvesting, we attended school during July and
August. During those warm months
the school building was adding absolutely nothing to the carbon footprint. In winter, there was a coal-fired stove
in each room for heat. In this
environment, students actually failed and were forced to repeat a year or three. Grades one
and two were in one room, three, four and five in another and six, seven and
eight in that desperately sought-after third room.
The family car was not
intended to transport students; we walked to grade school and for high school
they had nifty yellow busses with numbers on them. Our ride was ten miles over the roughest roads you could
imagine. After that ride we were
very much awake.
Marion retired from school in the
eleventh grade and went to Phoenix starting work as a carpenter. Later, he went to the L. A. area and
became a union carpenter. “I went
to Pascagoula, MS and went to work for a company building houses. I was never called a carpenter, I was
the material man. It had nothing
to do with Madona. This job did not suit me. Since I was facing a mandatory draft, I joined the U.S.
Navy. There I received electronics
training that served me well.”
Marion returned to Arkansas in the
seventies and tried his hand at farming. There he began to dabble in old Mopars. Farming is a tough game especially for the small operator
and about 1990 Marion decided to give it up. He sold all of his Mopars, built a cabinet shop at a
different location and moved. He
bought enough acreage to begin collecting in earnest. In one acquisition he paid $100,000 for three loads of “junk”,
this “junk’’ yielded 95% of a 1964 Dodge hemi car. He has two identical 1964 Plymouth hemis, he put Hooiser
slicks on one and M H on the other so he could tell them apart.
The doors on the one in his home garage shut with
unbelievable precision. He said, “You
would not believe what I go through to achieve alignment of body parts.”
About three years ago we
reestablished contact. I had a 2006
Dodge Charger SRT8 and he had a SRT8 Challenger on order. His Challenger has a crack in the
windshield. He bought a
replacement from the factory for collector correctness. If you buy his car and do not seek a
remedy for the windshield, he will keep the new one.
During a conversation about drag
racing, I commented that I wish manual transmissions in cars were constant mesh
like motorcycles. This design
allows one to up shift under full power without using the clutch. Marion countered with, “If you grind
half the teeth off the syncros, the transmission will shift fairly well under
power, but you need to hold the shift lever when you back off or it will jump
out of gear.”
I think I have him talked into
coming to “Mopars at the Strip” next year. He doesn’t know what car he will bring; it will not be the
Challenger. He claims the
Challenger is the slowest car that he owns.
In his shop there are ten engines
ready for build. These are either
hemis or max wedges, not a small block in the bunch. Forged cranks are in these bins. Original Mopar super stock parts are everywhere. Wait a damn minute, how did this 455
Buick engine get in here?
He also has hemi drag boat
engines. In his paint shop there
is a rotisserie for frame off restorations. At first glance one might question organization, but he
knows where everything is. It
helps to look at this as four separate shops: body restoration/paint; engine
build; seats/windows/trim; and final assembly.
“When Richard Petty was busy
winning 200 NASCAR races he switched between the Hemi and the wedge. When restrictions became too tight on
one he switched to the other. Why
is NASCAR still using carbureted engines?”
Marion is currently building a new
house on the river. He thinks the
garage will hold five cars, I think it will hold more. The garage also has a storm
cellar. He is working 6 am to noon
on the house, he is anxious to get back to the shop, the shop has A/C. He has one guy helping him build the
house. He certainly does not live
as if he knows the value of his possessions. He plans to complete his life fishing and working on cars.
Marion is going to begin selling
some of his collection. So if you
see something you want you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t ask about the AMC Javelin, if he
doesn’t restore it, I want it.
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