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by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club
My career at Chrysler began in 1961 as a newly minted mechanical engineer from Washington University in St. Louis, where I grew up.
1961 was not a good year to graduate as there was another recession, and I collected a number of letters that began, “Due to the current economic conditions we regret ... .” Chrysler did recruit on campus, and as a result of an interview, I was invited to visit Detroit in March. Most of the Detroit interview was with Lee Baker, the head of the Chrysler Institute of Engineering. The program awarded a Master of Automotive Engineering after two years of study from 3-6 every day. Students were assigned to various departments within engineering for three-month assignments. At that time there were about 20 students in each class, or 40 total in the program.
I was met at the Detroit airport by a current student and taken to the Pick Fort Shelby in downtown Detroit. He picked me up the following morning for the trip to Chrysler Engineering in Highland Park, a city wholly within the city of Detroit. That evening he took me back to the hotel and picked me up the following morning for the trip to the airport. On the way he asked if I had seen the morning Free Press newspaper, to which I replied no. He stated that yesterday Chrysler announced the largest white-collar layoff in the history of American industry – more than 4,000 people – and he was one of them. I read the paper on the plane home, and sure enough I received a “Due to the current economic ...” letter.
As the semester wound down, I accepted the only offer I had received. The offer came from Westinghouse, to work on steam turbines in Pittsburg. In late May, the week of graduation, I got a call from Lee Baker stating that the Institute was reopening on a very small scale and was I still interested, to which I replied something about bears in the woods. So I packed up my brand new ’61 Ford which my father had given me for graduation, and reported to Chrysler in mid-June.
Fortunately, my first assignment was in the Road Test Garage, in the old Maxwell assembly building and where experimental components were installed for testing. Experimental cars were also assembled in a secure corner of the garage, but again fortune smiled on me as Ramcharger Herman Mozer was the engineer in charge. I quickly made his acquaintance as his desk was just in front of mine.
I found lodging with a bunch of bachelors at The Beagles, an old farm house in Farmington that had a resident cook, solving the breakfast and dinner problem. One of the Beagles was Ramcharger Dick Jones, an Institute student sponsored by Chrysler United Kingdom.
There was no kidding when they said that the Institute was scaled back. There were only four Americans and one each Chrysler UK and Chrysler Australia in my class. One of the four was future Ramcharger Tom Coddington. By my third evening, I was helping Herman with his E/Gas NHRA record-holding ’53 Dodge with a little 241 Hemi. Over the next several days I met all the Ramchargers that had not been laid off, as they were just starting work on the ’61 Dodge Super Stock.
Next week, I will relate my experiences with that car and the role it played in the “Most Important Drag Race.”
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