The Golden Commandos
The Golden Commandos club was conceived in 1962 by a small group of technicians, mechanics and engineers from Chrysler Corporation Central Engineering Department in Highland Park, Michigan. The initial group soon grew to thirteen, each individual a specialist in a given area of expertise.
In fall of 1962 the Golden Commandos stormed onto the Super Stock drag racing circuit as Plymouth’s flagship drag racing team with three 1963 model year cars. They were runners-up at the 1963 Winternationals in Pomona California.
Locally known as “Detroit’s own Golden Commandos”, the team continually set the bar at the race track. They developed and evaluated new technologies; sharing this technology with other factory teams, they advanced the win on Sunday/sell on Monday marketing of the era.
The momentum continued into 1964 when the Golden Commandos fielded two new light weight Super Stock Plymouths. The mid-season addition of the 426 cubic inch Hemi engine propelled the Golden Commandos to be the first Super Stock to break the 11 second bracket at an NHRA event.
In 1964, members were Gene Carrico, Charles Hammer, Ray Kobe, Martin Paliokas, Forrest Pitcock, Bill Shirey, Walter Ulrich, and Robert Wellbaum; associate members were Mickey Bliven, Don Ernst, Dennis Geary, and Herb Kilgus. Ernie Stiles was an associate member in 1965 and 1966.
By 1966, the members also included Carl and Warren Anderson, Don Cooks, John Dellafior, Ray Denoble, Al Eckstrand, Evan Erickson, Ken Heatlie, Gene Meyers, John Michalowicz, and Tom Reed; Glenn Caron, Don Ernst, and Troy Simonsen were inactive, and Larry Knowlton was probationary (he became a full member in 1967). Dennis Geary joined in 1967; Troy Simonsen returned to active duty in 1967.
In 1965 the Golden Commandos fielded their wildest ride yet and in doing so they changed the landscape of drag racing forever. The altered wheelbase cars became known as those “funny looking Mopars” or “Funny Cars” as we know them today. The Golden Commandos were the unlimited class winners at the Super Stock Magazine’s 1965 meet in York Pennsylvania.
This white 1965 Plymouth is, according to Marc, a tribute car done by someone locally, built to be more streetable rather than an all-out drag car; despite the appearance, it’s not one of the original Golden Commando cars.
This same year the Golden Commandos showed the drag racing world that anybody can go racing with the introduction of the “Goldfish,” an F Stock Plymouth Barracuda with a potent 273 cubic inch small block V-8. The Goldfish broke the AHRA F stock record the first time it ran [full Goldfish story, photos]. Small block racing remains today a staple in the sportsman classes of drag racing.
In 1967 the Golden Commandos introduced their first full funny car know as the “Dune Buggy with the Flip Top.”
Throughout their history, the team members had backgrounds which included being engineers, mechanics, lawyers, policemen, truck drivers, and college students all with enthusiasm, dedication and a willingness to work long hours – after a full day at work and all weekend. Membership in the Golden Commandos was also a family affair as kids ran around in the pits, wives packed parachutes and polished cars. Nobody realized they were making history at the time – they just wanted to go racing, have a good time, and win.
2007’s Plymouth Golden Commandos were Carl Anderson, Warren Anderson, Gene Carrico, Jerry Carrico, John Dellafior, Don Ernst, Ken Heatlie, Ray Kobe, Herman Mozer, Forrest Pitcock, Troy Simonsen, and Walter Ulrich. John Dellafior is still working at Chrysler; Ken Heatlie was the dyno operator in the famous Cell 13, now in the Chrysler Museum basement.
Forrest Pitcock ran the Hemis in Cell 12, and was last seen building up a 1967 Hemi car. Larry Knowlton became a personnel supervisor for a time, in Highland Park, before dying of cancer; he taught a suspension class at Motech, and was also the mechanic on site when Buddy Baker drove the #77 wing car over the 200mph speed at Talladega. (Thanks, Marc.)