by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club
Picking up from last week with a great quote from Dan Knapp: “If a car is quick, it won’t have a good top end, as it doesn’t have time to build up speed.”
A great seldom-mentioned guy and totally reliable Ramcharger was Jerry Donley, also known as “Friar Tuck.” He got that nickname because he looked just like Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The Friar was the hairiest guy I ever met, and we attributed this to the time he spent in the cold as he worked in the cold room at Chrysler. A large number of engine and transmission combinations were mounted on roller stands and cold-started at -20°F every day. They also had a -40°F room that was used for a lot of heater/defroster work.
The Friar passed away from a brain tumor in 1983 at age 54.
I was still working the split shift for Hemi engine performance development in the Engine Lab with Bob Mullen. Bob left Chrysler in about 1967 and moved to California. He designed the Donovan 417 aluminum engine based on the 392 Hemi.
The Engine Lab was staffed by a unique group of guys who worked on production engines. After Everet “Evinrude” Moller retired as department manager, Harry “Six-Pack” Casebeer took over. He was supported by Oren “Blowby,” Chester “Gasket,” and “Dipstick” LaRue. The secretary started her career turning pistons for the inverted V16 aircraft engine of late WWII.
In the fall of ’64 it became apparent that Chrysler was faced with some serious issues for the ’65 drag-racing season. Ford had introduced the single-overhead-cam (SOHC) engine and was planning to install it in Comets, Mustangs, and Falcons. These compact cars would have a weight distribution and overall weight advantage over our B-bodies. We also expected to have a power disadvantage. And, finally, NHRA announced that lightweight front-end sheet metal would no longer be allowed in Super Stock.
Chrysler was determined to not lose the power and performance advantage gained since the introduction of the ’62 Max Wedge cars. Engineering, primarily Jim Thornton, was tasked to get ready for the ’65 racing year with the conception and design of the A-990 cars and the special A/FX cars. This work was started early enough in the fall to assure that cars would be ready for the Winternationals.
The Ramchargers got ready for the upcoming season by ordering a new Woody Gilmer dragster chassis. The car was much longer than the early dragster. Woody cars were quite flexible and had created a reputation in California for being quick.
So as the weather in Detroit got cold we moved into a new garage on Hilton Road that was big enough for the funny car, the dragster, a motor room, and space to spare. It was a new building, and we popped for a $2,800 in-ground hydraulic lift.
The Maxwell, Thornton, and Buckel families were quite social when time permitted. Dick Maxwell had purchased a new ’63 Max Wedge Plymouth as his family driver. Yes, Norma drove the four kids around and went to the store with it. Dick upgraded the car with each improvement developed for the wedge cars, including a 13:1 compression and ducted hood scoop with no air cleaner.
One very cold night the Maxwells were at the Buckels for cards. When it was time to go home Norma asked Dick to warm up the car. Dick’s response was, “Are you nuts? It will scuff the cam.” So we rounded up every blanket in the house, bundled up the kids, and loaded them in the Plymouth, and Dick tried to get it going. He would crank and crank, get it to fire then die. Several times it would backfire sending a flame out the front of the scoop. Then when it was running, sort of, he pushed the drive button, causing another flameout. My recollection is that he started that car at least 50 times before he finally bumped out of sight down the street.
Dick is best remembered for starting the “Direct Connection,” which became Mopar Performance. He was killed on a motorcycle in 2004.
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