story by Stewart Pomeroy; photos by Joe Pappas and Dick Oldfield, courtesy of Stewart Pomeroy
Joe Pappas wrote that the “wire car” was built by Dan Knapp as a test car in the Mopar Missile series, a “first generation” small-block (340 V8) Pro Stock car. At that time the Hemi was being penalized by NHRA and smaller cars like the Maverick and Vega had an advantage; hence an all-out weight reduction program. The “wire car” was never raced, but had the program continued, it might have ended up on the strip as another Mopar Missile, or at least guided the way for a new, ultralight Missile.
This car made extensive use of titanium and magnesium; the entire rear suspension was titanium, with the exception of the pig, which was magnesium. It had a floater axle setup for safety in case of an axle failure, which was a common problem at the time.
“The basic chassis ended at the rear axle so Dick (Oldfield) and I devised a steel cable tensioning system to hold up the rear sheet metal. Thus this car became known as the “wire” car. This car was so light that Dick and I could pick up the car and carry it around the shop with the front and rear suspension installed!”
“By the time the season ended,” continued Pappas, “this car was ready for exterior paint, but the test program had ended and this car was shipped down to NC along with the yellow 340 car around Thanksgiving. Donnie officially moved his operation to NC at the end of 74 and that is when I left to go back to school.”
The wire car was originally owned by Jeff Johnson, who sold it to Arnie Klann. It is mainly original except for the drivetrain, which was replaced by a B engine and automatic transmission at some point (not necessarily by Klann). The cables and magnesium interior panels are present, but the titanium has been removed.
Joe Pappas wrote, “It would have run as a new Mopar Missile in 1975. We built the car as an 'A' engine Pro Stocker because of NHRA rule changes that made the Hemi not feasible for further development. It got the most advanced methods of design and construction available at the time, and made extensive use of lightweight titanium and magnesium, with chrome-moly chassis tubing size and placement optimized using computer analysis. Complete less paint, the car was technically way over the top for its day! But we never got to race it because Chrysler canceled its Pro Stock program late in the year. The car will appear in Mopar Missile livery as was always intended.”
It originally had a front suspension which used the engine block as a stressed member, according to Pappas, but this was changed to a more conventional design with unequal-length A arms with coilover shocks.
The Wire Car sitting in Jeff Johnson’s transporter... note the rare Ramchargers rear end.
This is the wire car sitting in Jeff Johnson’s driveway:
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