Copyright © 2006 by Curtis Redgap, Orlando, Florida. All rights reserved. See Part I.
The war was on. At the end of the Daytona 500 in 1963, Lynn Townsend called his engineering department. He told them that they needed to start thinking about building something for Petty. He had the skill, now he needed the equipment. A few ideas were laid out. For the summer, it seemed to go on a back burner. At the end of the racing season, Townsend loosed the hounds as he called down with orders. Build something that will win!
There wasn't much debate over in the Chrysler Engineering labs. The way to go would be to put hemispherical heads on a V-8 engine. There wasn't much debate about which V-8 engine since the current 426 block had proved itself in racing. This decision had been reached at the end of March of 1963! The problem arose when the engineers tried to mate the two.
The current wedge type heads on the 426 had a four bolt pattern around each cylinder. With the combined experience of the group that had originally built the first Hemi V-8 for Chrysler (and there were still a lot of them around) it was determined that to handle the additional power, 5 bolts would be needed in the Hemi head. Many designs were suggested, but, in some way, each failed to work. The additional bolt interfered with the valve train which could not be redesigned. A few weeks went by, then months of wrangling. Townsend was getting anxious. The 1964 Daytona race was in February. It was now October 1963, and no such Hemi 426 yet existed, except as an idea.
Finally, it was realized that the troublesome fifth bolt did not have to go on the top of the head, but could be added through the bottom of the head, coming up through the engine valley. Problem solved. It took about two weeks to design the head casting and get them poured in cast iron.
At the end of November 1963, after spending 80 hours hand assembling the new Hemi 426, the engine was ready for testing. The 426 block had been deepened, with the bottom end receiving additional strength as well as being fitted with a four bolt cross pattern on the main bearings.
Testing was set for the first week of December 1963. That left about 11 weeks before the new 426 Hemi had to be ready for the Daytona 500 race. The first tests were dynamic. Chrysler never released the actual results. Some sneaky guys spirited away some sheets from the lab that had been "misplaced." The results were great. The big engine was cranking out some 700 horsepower. More was available. That put it about 100 horsepower above the Ford 427. Elation ran wide through the corporate offices.
Then along came the cold water on the parade. Longevity tests revealed some inherent weakness in the 426 block. It could not withstand the stresses of the power made by the twirling mass of the pistons and rods against the right side of the block. It was cracking. As such, this type of engine block would never finish a race.
Moving quickly, Chrysler engineers went to their best foundry out in Indianapolis. Design after design was tried to make the "thick walled block" work. Time was wasting. Finally at the end of January 1964, some 3 weeks away from the magic date of February 23, 1964, a solution was found. After working through a 24 hour stint, a means was created to allow the block to be poured without losing porosity and blowing holes through the casting. On February 3, 1964, the first of the thick walled blocks was poured, a mere twenty days before the race; this created a small crisis, because these thick walled blocks would not be ready in time for the race practice or qualifying for the Daytona.
Chrysler decided to gamble. Believing that the original 426 engines would last through practice and the 40 lap qualifying races, Chrysler choose to install these engines in the team cars. Practice began in earnest on February 4, 1964. It was mainly a Ford and Chrysler show. Chevrolet and Pontiac were practically non-existent. Jumping ship, hot foot Junior Johnson was in a Dodge with the new Hemi. In an interview after his retirement, he still held the Hemi in awe. He said that he had never experienced an engine with that sort of power. Even after the 1963 Chevrolet mystery motor, he said that the Hemi was just way above everything. He continued to say that even at 180 miles an hour on the back stretch of Daytona, you could lift off the throttle, and then push it back down, and the Hemi would just pick up and go!
Engaging in an obvious conspiracy, the Chrysler team drivers kept their practice speeds at around 165 miles an hour. Ford had elected to stand pretty pat for 1964. A redesign on the big Galaxie was in order, but the Sport back roof and 427 V-8 engines were retained. The Fords were practicing at around 165 miles an hour as well. However, they were near flat out, and the Hemi equipped cars were merely sand bagging.
Ford teams were suspicious. Ford officials had been grumbling at Bill France that the Chrysler engine was no more a production item than the previous years Chevrolet 427 had been. As well, it had leaked out that Paul Goldsmith, in a Nichels prepared Belvedere, had seen 185 miles an hour at what was supposed to be a top secret test site in Texas. That was 20 miles an hour faster than any speed that had yet been reached at Daytona. Chrysler gently reminded Bill France that he had let the Chevrolet engine run, so a precedent had been already set for their new 426. As well, they sent whispers that they had planned to make the 426 Hemi a regular production engine in two months when the spring selling season began. NASCAR wanted to hear this.
The howls of protest began when qualifying for the Daytona race began on February 7, 1964. (The thick walled Hemi blocks, a couple dozen of them, were coming out of curing on the same day.) Paul Goldsmith in a Ray Nichels prepared Plymouth Belvedere screamed around the race track at 174 miles an hour! It smashed the old two lap qualifying track record of 160 miles an hour very easily. Ford was purple with outrage. Richard Petty then went out a few moments later in his Petty Enterprise prepared Plymouth Belvedere and also qualified at 174 miles an hour, thereby solidifying the argument against the Hemi by Ford. One by one, the Hemi powered cars qualified at terminal speeds that were way above what ever Ford or Chevrolet had to offer. The next day, on Saturday February 8, 1964, two fifty mile qualifying runs were made to set the order for the race in the first half of the field. In the first race, Paul Goldsmith in his Plymouth won at a speed of 170 miles an hour. In the second race, Richard Petty in his Plymouth won at 171 miles an hour. With his two lap qualifying speeds, Goldsmith got the pole, while Richard got the outside position.
To really top things off, Junior Johnson blew off everything on the track on Friday, February 21, 1964, when he won the first 40 lap qualifying run at a speed of 170 miles an hour! However, the team’s worst fears were realized when Junior came into the pits after the Victory celebration. Oil pressure was down to about 20 pounds. Upon tearing the engine down, it was found that the block had cracked at the oil casting line along the entire length of the valley on the right side — much worse than expected out of the original Hemi engine.
However, a miracle had really occurred. The new thick walled racing engines, all complete and ready for installation began arriving by truck that very evening. They continued to arrive into Saturday, February 22, 1964. Ronnie Householder, the overall director of Chrysler's racing efforts was there, with plenty of spares for anyone.
Upon receiving their new engines, the Petty crew installed one in Richard's Belvedere. Taking a few practice laps, a new problem popped up. It was found that the head gasket was leaking. Apparently, the block was too big. Quickly word was passed to all the Chrysler teams. A bunch of brass was heated up and fitted to replace the gaskets. It held, as we know, for Richard went on to win the 1964 Daytona 500 handily. He set a new record as well at 154 miles an hour.
At the end of the 1964 season, Richard Petty emerged as the Grand National Champion. It was his first of seven. However, just before the last race of the season, NASCAR announced new rules for 1965. Effectively, it banned the 426 Hemi outright. Ten days later, Ronnie Householder, Chrysler's racing director blasted NASCAR. He imposed a boycott on any factory team stating flatly that no Chrysler product would race in NASCAR until the rules changed.
It set the tone for the next few years. Who would rule NASCAR? Detroit or Daytona Beach?
In this instance, Detroit appeared to win. Without the Chryslers, and ever popular Richard Petty, people stayed away from NASCAR events in droves. No GM cars either, they still elected to stay away from NASCAR; so it was down to which Ford beat another Ford. Within four months, it became painfully obvious to Bill France (and he never forgave Chrysler for it, nor did his successors) that unless he did something, other than all the tricks he had already tried to do, such as reinstating Curtis Turner, who he had banned for life for gambling on NASCAR races (ostensibly for trying to form a drivers union), NASCAR was going to go bankrupt!
Evermore the shots rang out, back and forth in this war. While real gunpowder wasn't using the perception of bullets flying back and forth was very real. Finally in late July 1965, France let the Hemi back in, with some restrictions, of course. So, on July 25, 1965, the MoPar teams came back. But the war continued.
Ford had already announced that it had built a single overhead camshaft 427 cubic inch V-8 for competition and intended to race it. The engine was a monster. It put out a reported 650 horsepower. More like 800 was reality! Not to be outdone, Chrysler had the answering salvo in a bigger monster of an engine, a double overhead cam 426 cubic inch V-8 that probably had as much horsepower or more than the Ford.
No one could ever accuse Bill France of being stupid. He intended to control NASCAR and never again be caught up in a bind imposed by any factory. Early in 1966, he took the bull by the horns and visited the Detroit manufacturers. Pointedly, he went to Ford Motor Company. He got the grand tour. The final stop was to view the 427 OHC engine. He took one look at it and told the Ford people that under the rules that engine would never race at NASCAR.
Bill France’s intentions were the same when he got to Chrysler Corporation. Again he was given the grand tour. However, to his surprise, he was shown the new production line for the newly available "street" Hemi 426. Basically a detuned version of the racing engine, Chrysler was building the engine and making it available across the counter for anyone able to pay the price. France seemed pleased. He had won. In the final event, he was shown the new monstrous 426 DOHC V-8. His response was the same as it had been for Ford. Unless Chrysler was going to make them a regular production engine as they had with the Hemi 426, that engine would never race in a NASCAR event. Unlike Ford, which did make some SOHC engines available for other racers while constantly pushing NASCAR to let it race that engine, Chrysler wisely elected to leave well enough alone. These DOHC engines, of which Allpar purportedly says that three were built by Chrysler, still exist somewhere. It would be nice to see some pictures and find the locations of them.
Ford kept up the pressure to allow NASCAR to let them race the SOHC engine. Not relenting much, France, NASCAR allowed that the medium riser wedge headed 427 could run with two four barrel carbs as opposed to the single four barrel allowed on the hemi. Sticking to his guns, Bill France said that engines had to be a regular production item, as the Hemi 426 now was; therefore the Chrysler engine was allowed.
Ford had never really intended to build the SOHC as a regular production item. Instead they had planned on making 1,000 kits available to Ford dealers to install on engines of those that had the $2,500 entry price to obtain them. Even that price was ridiculously small. Ford never made any profit on these engines or kits, since it cost Ford about $5,000 to build one head alone!
There were some differences between the Dodge and Plymouth divisions. For years, Plymouth had been the leader in profits for the company, and had, a couple of times, carried the entire Corporation. Granted, it had suffered the ignominy of losing its traditional third place in the production race in 1954, due to being left to flounder on its own for many years through benign neglect from the Chrysler Board Room. It is hard to fathom why such a blind, foolish attitude existed. Dodge never met a Plymouth that it didn't like! Dodge quickly adopted many Plymouth designs like it was their own.
The Petty - Plymouth combination was the winningest in Chrysler Corporation history. Lee Petty scored the first win for Plymouth in 1949! He went on to score first a win for a Dodge in 1953. He put Chrysler in the winning column in 1954, using a big New Yorker to gain a NASCAR Grand National Championship. Now, in 1966, Dodge experimented for a new way to make speed, and Plymouth wasn't even informed! Not even invited to make a viewing! Does that not smack of corporate contempt, ignorance, and biases? Wouldn't you believe that the corporate president would have stepped in, recognizing that a large amount of money was going to be spent in this new racing direction, and insured that the team out there winning had a clue? Didn't happen.
Now Dodge entered the war with some battle wagons of their own. While the Dodge Coronet was a nice car in and of itself, it didn't seem to garner the interest of racing teams, taking a back row seat to the sister division Plymouth. The Petty crew was hard to beat in any event. They found power in the Hemi that other teams wished they had. But that was about to change. Dodge recognized that up until now, brute force had been the way to race, with ever increasing power. That had become finite. No SOHC, no DOHC, no increase in cubic inches. Some other means of increasing speed had to be found. Dodge hired an aerodynamicist! Several, in fact.
Dodge introduced the slippery sloped back Charger in 1966. Teams quickly adopted it not only for its 426 Hemi power plant, but for the obvious aerodynamic appearances. While it may have been pretty slippery aero wise, it would have been a lot better if it had not had its square front face.
Richard Petty won the 1966 Daytona 500 in his Plymouth Belvedere. He reckoned with the toughest driver he ever faced in that year as well. David Pearson was probably the best NASCAR driver ever to that time. He and Richard competed fiercely. Petty admitted later in his retirement that David Pearson was better as a driver than he was.
Ford Motor Car Company withdrew from racing on April 15, 1966 in protest of the continued Hemi-engined Chrysler dominance of NASCAR racing. Ford claimed it could not compete under the current rules. It was an overall Ford loss. While the factory teams stayed out, a lot of the drivers did not. Like Ned Jarrett, 1965 Champion struck a deal with independent Henley Grey and hardly missed a beat. Curtis Turner went to work for Smokey Yunick out of Daytona Beach in a small block Chevelle.
The Ford boycott had nowhere near the impact that the Chrysler boycott had in 1965. Slowly, then inevitably, the realization that their boycott was a bust set in the Ford mind set. Slowly they returned to NASCAR racing in September 1966. Along with the big Galaxie models, some racers tried to bring in the Ford Fairlane model and the Mercury Comet. They rode on the same 116 inch wheelbase as the Plymouth Belvedere.
At first blush, NASCAR said no way to these cars. However, on taking a second look, they were allowed in with some new rule adaptations. Just being fair, of course, the Ford 427 had to have "in line valves." To even the score they were allowed to run with two four barrel carbs, while the Hemi was restricted to one four barrel. And the "strictly stock" designation got lost along the way because the Fairlane and Comet bodies were designed as units, with no frames, like the Chrysler cars. Yet, underneath the Ford products was an obvious shortened version of the Galaxie NASCAR racing frame. Bill France was ambiguous about this. He needed to research some. In the end, it apparently didn't seem to make much difference, at least to NASCAR.
Overall, Dodge took 18 wins in 1966, Plymouth garnered 16, Ford got only 12 and Mercury took 2 wins. The only other exception was a 1965 Chevelle driven by Bobbie Allison with a small block.
Driving a 1966 Cotton Owens prepared Dodge Charger; David Pearson won his first Grand National Title over the course of 49 races that year. It had not been easy. As slippery as the Charger looked, it was a vastly different beast at speed. Literally, it was described by Pearson like dancing with a "fat lady on skates" when speeds reached upwards of 190 miles an hour. NASCAR recognized that something had to be done. Without benefit of a wind tunnel, NASCAR approved adding a rear lip spoiler on the Charger to hold it down on the track at speed.
Richard Petty came in third in points. Pearson would go on to score 105 career victories, second to King Richard. David earned about 3 million dollars in his career, invested it well and let go of NASCAR racing in 1982. After a smattering of entries over the next few years, he competed in only two races in 1986 and then was gone from the racing scene.
1967 was simply the season beyond belief. Richard Petty and his 1967 Plymouth Belvedere were just unbeatable. It was what truly set the stage for the greatest battle of all in the war. The battle for air.
There is no way to describe the 1967 season. Ford came dressed for battle in their Fairlane and Comet warriors. The Fords were equipped with engines and bodies that should have been totally dominant. Not to be. Yet it didn't start out that well.
The first race at Riverside in California was a Ford win. The second race, the Daytona 500 was another Ford win. Grim faces set in at Chrysler. Complaints began to fly against the Ford racers. An ugly threat of a Chrysler team boycott reared its head when the April 2 Atlanta 500 approached. Team Petty looked askance. Richard made a public statement that "we are going to Atlanta with two cars, likely three, and we are going to race, that is what we do." No Chrysler sponsored team observed the boycott at all. In the meantime, things did begin to look up for Chrysler.
Prior to the threat of a boycott, Dale Inman, Richard's cousin and Crew Chief, had been looking for a means to make the 1967 cars faster. Even though the body work was only very minor different than the '66, the '67 just was not as fast. In a quiet move, Inman reskinned the '66 with '67 sheet metal. The third race of the season was all Richard Petty in that worked over '66. Even though the race was a 150 mile job, Richard and that ol' '66 won by two laps and were going away. Apparently there was some sort of magic in the 1966 model. Every single thing that Dale did to that car made it go just plain faster. So fast, that out of 48 races that year, Richard won 27! That included an unprecedented 10 races in a row. In May, Richard finally won at Darlington. His dad never won there, so it was a Petty family first. It was also Richard's 55th career win. One more win than his father Lee's 54 victories.
Near the end of the season of 1967, Ford teams were nearly despondent. Everything they tried failed to garner any sort of sustained win. Dodge was also not too happy. Even though Lee Roy Yarborough had won the Daytona 40 lap qualifier in a '67 Charger, the Dodge boys would only be able to add four more wins to their total in '67. When the dust settled, Richard Petty stood easily on top of the Grand National Circuit that year. His well earned second Grand National championship in four years. But, things were not swell on the horizon. The Petty team was now very well aware that Dodge had assigned a cadre of engineers to solve the Charger's terrible handling problem. However, no one had bothered to let the Plymouth crew in on anything that was happening. In Richard's words, "it surely appeared that we were being left out in the cold to fight our own battles while the Dodge guys were getting more help than they could possibly handle." It did not settle well to Richard's idea of getting a fair advantage.
Looking at the advanced designs for the 1968 Dodge Charger alongside the 1968 Plymouth GTX, Richard said that he wanted a 1968 Charger instead of the Plymouth. Chrysler flatly refused. He was their number one Plymouth man, and nothing else would do. But, the request startled Chrysler officials enough that a select group of engineers were assigned to share everything they learned from Dodge with Plymouth.
Lending their considerable talents to both the Plymouth and Dodge teams, the cars, while for all appearances looked "stock," they were highly "tricked" up. The details are too numerous to mention here. But, the two year advantage that the Petty team had acquired, all went away in 1968. The GTX/Road Runner body just would not lend itself to the NASCAR effort, unlike the 1966 rebodied '67 Belvedere. Due to this tremendous gained experience the Petty cars took off, easily outdistancing all the other Plymouth racers, and most of the new Dodge Chargers. Yet, it was the Dodge teams that gained the most from the shared engineering and Petty Enterprise knowledge.
But, Ford had not been sleeping during the 1967 season. They arrived in 1968 with some really sleek looking along with powerful new cars. The Ford Torino and the Mercury Montego were slick top fast backs that proved beyond a doubt the aerodynamics played just as important a part as brute horsepower in winning a race.
For the Daytona 500, Cale Yarborough in a Ford took the pole position with a new record lap speed just over 189 miles an hour. That surely fizzled the 1968 Dodge Charger speed of 184 miles an hour. And the new Charger had some handling problems that needed to be quickly sorted out. Buddy Baker reported that the Charger started to handle funny as speeds approached 100 miles an hour. At terminal speeds up near the 180 mark, it wouldn't handle at all! Baker reported that along the back stretch, he turned the wheel, and nothing happened. He turned the wheel further, and still nothing happened. The Charger kept right on blasting ahead. Finally, he let off the throttle. After a long drift, Baker clipped the retaining wall and took off the tip of the bumper. The Charger was in big trouble. So far, only the Petty Plymouth was able to keep up with the Fords.
There were two situations that caused the handling problems with the Charger. The grille was recessed. When the air rushed in, it collided with the flat surface, but had no way to get out of the way. It was ascertained that the grille design was actually causing the front end to lift at speed, creating more than 1,250 pounds of lift! Of equal concern was the rear window design. While the roof appeared to be a fast back, in actuality it consisted of two sail panels into the trunk, while the back window itself was nearly vertical. The air rushing over the roof was suddenly sucked downward in a tunnel effect, causing about 800 pounds of lift on the rear! A small spoiler on the front end resolved some of the problem, but not all.
Dodge fired another salvo. The engineering team rushed to find a solution for the aero problem with the Charger. In about 100 days, the new Charger was made public at a press review in June 1968. The 1969 Charger 500 was then unveiled. The grille had been taken from a Dodge Coronet and set flush to the front of the fenderline, eliminating the recess. The back window had been modified to make it a fast back design, eliminating the tunnel effect. Things looked set for Dodge dominance in 1969. This really frustrated Richard Petty. He had been struggling all season long with the Plymouth body. It was not suited to the high speed tracks. Yes, he had won 16 races with the 68 GTX, but they were all on the short tracks or dirt surfaces. Again, Richard asked for a Charger to run in 1969. Again, he was rebuffed. That combined with what Richard felt was a total lack of support for his team from the factory backed efforts being laid on Dodge, brought team Petty to a fateful decision.
On November 25, 1968, Richard Petty made a public announcement that he would not be driving for Plymouth in 1969. He had switched to a Ford Torino. Richard had also been shown the Ford answer to the Charger 500. Ford had lowered the nose with a lengthened version of the Torino, which was to be named the Talladega. The statement by Richard Petty sent a huge shock wave through the racing establishment, as well as knocking Plymouth and Chrysler officials right out of their buildings! So much so that Lynn Townsend finally got involved. He roared at everyone that Petty had to be brought back, and he didn't give a damn how, just get it done. Of course, it was not to be in 1969.
So now the stage for some of the final battles was set. Salvo after salvo had gone back and forth between Ford and Chrysler. Neither of them liked the other in any way. They had no respect for the other as well.
The first race of the Grand National NASCAR season was not Daytona as it is now. It was Riverside California, which was a nine turn road course. It was odd to see Petty Blue colors all over a Ford product. However, there it was with Richard Petty behind the wheel. He qualified fourth for the race. Despite spinning out twice during the event, he managed to stay in front and win. Ford execs were justly proud. Chrysler fans fell to the floor in despondence.
The next race was the 1969 Daytona 500. Tension was extremely high as the February event approached. A huge amount of factory money as well as sponsorship dollars had gone into the Dodge, Ford, and Mercury racing teams. As practice started, it became apparent that Richard Petty seemed down on power to the other Ford teams. He managed to qualify in twelfth spot, finishing the race in fourth. Suspecting that Holman and Moody had supplied the Petty Team with something less than an all out effort, Dale Inman managed to divert an engine meant for another team. The difference was easily discernible. Some of the Ford teams actually feared that the Petty team had advance knowledge of everything, and were out to beat them, as well as the other racers! Dale made certain that he obtained engines from a source other than Holman and Moody. He also learned very quickly how to build power out of a Ford engine. One thing he did learn that he held pretty close to his vest was that the Ford 427 was down to the Hemi 426 by at least 100 horsepower. What that amounted to was very clear in that the Ford and Dodge Charger were pretty well close in their racing trim.
The first qualifying race of 40 laps was an all out Ford triumph. A Ford, followed by a Mercury, then another Ford in third place. However, all hope wasn't lost. In the second 40 lap race, it was an all out Dodge show, with 3 Chargers finishing in the top three spots.
Upon race day, it was all out track battle. Ford and Dodge traded places in fierce competition all race long, right down to the final lap. It brought everyone to their feet, and the usual noisy crowd was quiet. Charlie Glotzbach in a Charger was in the lead. Going into the second turn, heading for the back straight, Lee Roy Yarborough slid past the sleek Charger. Glotzbach was not too concerned, because it placed him perfectly to make the sling shot pass coming out of turn four. As the time came, Glotzbach made the swing out from the high 31 degree banking, closing rapidly on Yarborough in the Torino.
However, Yarborough was not unwise in such a tactic, and began to squeeze down on the Charger, forcing Glotzbach into a lower line, cutting down the velocity he needed to complete the pass. Across the finish line, Yarborough led by less that a car length. Glotzbach had put the front fender of the Charger up to the rear fender of the Torino. No matter, Ford had won and Dodge had lost. Without Richard Petty, Plymouth had nothing to report for the entire season, by the way. Sales went down as well in the Plymouth division for 1969. Chrysler management had truly really wanted to win at Daytona. The rest of the season just didn't seem to matter much. Not unlike the Indianapolis race, it was everything. Even despite the closeness of the finish in the Daytona 500, the loss caused a reaction akin to a total disaster in the Corporate Circle.
Click here to read Part III. (Link fixed)
Once...as Jerry Olesen wrote..."The cars were production line models, which were reinforced at key points...These days, they race 'cars that never were,' so to speak, and much of the relevance to actual automobiles has been lost. "
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