by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club
Development of the 8-barrel 426 Hemi proceeded in parallel with the 4-barrel in dyno rooms 12 and 13, now on a 10-hour, two-shift (7-to-5 and 5-to-3) basis, with ex-Ramcharger Bob Mullen and I alternating shifts. The NASCAR engine was developing about 550 bhp and the ram-manifold engine running at about 565 bhp. The 8-barrel was running the Carter carburetors. The big power numbers along with the Daytona 500 win had us all looking forward to the Winternationals in Pomona, California.
We knew that Ford was going be running A/FX Falcons and Comets, so Jim Thornton came up with idea of moving the wheels ahead to improve the weight distribution. The plan was to move the fronts ahead three inches and the rears ahead four inches. Four cars were built for the debut of the Hemi, going to the Ramchargers, Dave Strickler, Golden Commandos, and Tommy Grove. These cars later became known as 2% cars even though the wheelbase was moved over 3%. Unbeknown to us, the funny car had just been invented.
The Ramchargers prepared two new cars, one with a ’64-legal Super Stock Stage IV wedge engine, and the A/FX Hemi car. As a last-minute decision, we included a leftover ’63 Super Stock with a Stage III Wedge for a total of three cars shipped to California.
In what proved to great foresight, Tom Hoover rented the Fontana Drag Strip for shake-down testing of the Hemi cars. All four A/FX cars were there along with the Super Stock cars from the same teams. Then came the big disappointment: the Hemis were the same or slower than the wedges. We extensively flogged the cars to no avail. Bob Cahill, Chrysler’s overall director of racing, ordered that the cars be parked until the problem was corrected.
The trials and phenomenal success of the ’63 car is well documented in We Were the Ramchargers as it lost Stock Eliminator by four inches to Tommy Grove’s Melrose Missile Plymouth. That ’63 car set low ET by three-tenths and three mph over the next fastest Super Stock, our ’64 car.
How to get the Hemi cars going was the number-one job upon returning to Detroit. Ramcharger Gary Congdon, the on-site Holley carburetor representative, suggested trying Holley carburetors, adding that the Carters were turned the wrong way. With the cobbled-up linkage, the carbs were mounted with the primary bores outboard. After sorting out the fuel distribution and jetting, the Holleys produced about 10 more horsepower.
On the first warm day, in March, we began testing anew. Wow, the car went three to four mph faster with the Holleys than with the Carters. We never looked back, it was Holleys from then until the fuel injection. There was a significant lesson to be learned, but we were not paying attention. Running steady state on the dynomometer does not represent the transient nature of drag racing. However, at that time there was no alternative to cooking the engine on the dyno under steady-state conditions.
Detroit Dragway staged the Division III Grand Opener on April 26. There was a host of new factory sponsored A/FX Thunderbolts and Comets presenting an ideal opportunity for the public debut of the Hemi. So we had two cars, the A/FX and the Super Stock, and only one driver, as Herman Mozor had announced retirement to enjoy another life. Roger Lindemood of Color Me Gone fame was drafted to drive the A/FX car. Bottom line: we mowed them down. Both cars set class records: Thornton won Stock Eliminator, and Lindemood won Street Eliminator.
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