by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club
Jim Thornton’s design for a link-coil rear suspension evolved into a single strut extending forward to the frame with coil-over shocks for rear springs. A complete assembly was fabricated using a new 8¾-inch rear housing. The rear axle assembly, including the tires and leaf springs, was removed, and attaching points for the new suspension were welded in.
While the new assembly was being installed, the old system was sitting on the floor. “Eagle Eye” Dick Jones called us over saying, “Look at this rear end.” Sure enough, it had substantial toe-in – maybe 5/8-inch. The distance between the tire patch and the spring mounting created a very big moment during hard acceleration that had bent the housing. The toe-in was further increased under power causing the car to go in the direction of the rear tire with the heaviest loading.
Feeling that we had really found something, we designed and installed a girdle on the link-coil housing. The girdle was the first ever and is now considered a standard modification. I have one on my ’65 Dodge.
The new suspension was tested during the Tuesday test at Detroit Dragway. Wow. On about the third burnout the car moved like it had never moved before. But when the car stopped, it was sitting left side up and right side down by several inches. Inspection revealed severe bending throughout the system. The frame attachments were bent.
When the car was built we had installed a ¼-inch guard under the driver’s seat since it was just six inches above the rear U joint. The U joint had gouged nearly through the guard. That was the end of that experiment, and since we felt that the car would now go straight with a new reinforced rear housing.
One Friday night, we were booked into Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia, for exhibition runs on the 1/8-mile track. We hired a guy to drive the truck and trailer while we flew into Washington National. By the time we arrived at the track it was dark. On the way to the track, I commented that Manassas was the site of a battle during the war, never thinking that I would live within 15 miles of the battlefield for over 35 years and become an avid student of the late unpleasantness.
Well, I made a pass, not noting that there were no lights in the shutdown area. I don’t remember the speed, but the general lighting stopped at the finish line. The speed was not enough to inflate the parachute, and the car only had 10-inch drum brakes on the rear axle. There was a 60-watt light hanging from a tree at the end of the paved shutdown lane, which I passed at maybe 80 mph.
By then it was like going into a clothes closet and closing the door. The shutdown area became gravel, and I hoped that there were no trees. There were none. For the next two runs, we had a fleet of cars down there with their lights on. Track records for speed and time were established.
The next experiment was with Hydrazine to sensitize the nitro. Hydrazine was, and still is, a rocket fuel. The guy who supplied us with the stuff lived in Nitro, West Virginia (what a great name for a town), and ran a record-setting AA/G dragster with two 426 Hemis. It was shipped it to us by Greyhound and came in a cardboard box with two inches of Styrofoam around a wooden box that was approximately 5" x 5" x 10". Inside the box, packed in vermiculite, was a ½-pint bottle of Hydrazine.
This stuff is wicked. Inhaling the fumes is fatal. Spilled on a rag, it will catch fire. Chris Karamesines reportedly set his Cadillac tow car on fire with the stuff.
At the track, it was diluted with methanol and poured into the nitro. When we got out the chemistry equipment to perform this operation the crowd really backed up. Sometimes it worked, and other times not. When it worked the car really moved, and we often caught a red light. After a weekend of racing on 98% nitro and Hydrazine, up to four cylinders were blowing blue smoke. The pistons in these cylinders had stuck top rings due to the piston tops yielding. The pistons also had a blue dye-like color. Engine maintenance requirements were skyrocketing.
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