Recollections of a Ramcharger, Part 2: Getting Started, 1961 Super Stock
As we left off last month, this new Institute student was enjoying his first few days’ assignment in the Road Test Garage and meeting Ramchargers. Within that first week, I was helping to prepare the ’61 Dodge Super Stock. The car was in someone's backyard, I think it was Dale Reeker’s rented house, with Tom Hoover and Dan Mancini building the engine in the garage. The heads were out to Bart Kenyon for his “super” valve job.
Dale Reeker and I were assigned the task of weight reduction. Except for the headliner, the interior was gutted. For quite a few evenings, we scraped body sealer and cut out sheet metal. The inner door panels had just enough material left to hold the door and window regulators and handles, the cross brace behind the rear seat was gone, the package tray was barely there, and every other spring in the seats, driver area excepted, were eliminated. We figured that, all told, the body weight was reduced by about 200 pounds.
The engine was a 0.060 over 413 or 426. All the rotating components were stock, but it did have the hardened truck crankshaft and tri-metal bearings. The pistons were flat top, so getting 13.5:1 compression ratio required considerable head milling. Hoover left the oil ring expanders out to “reduce friction.”
Jim Thornton had designed the 300-degree camshaft with adjustable rockers from marine engines. The intake manifold was a set of long rams that were cut in the middle to allow removal of the runner divider wall from the carburetor plenum to the cut, making a short ram. The manifold was welded back together and shot blasted to look “as cast.”
Hoover began fabricating the exhaust headers once the engine was installed in the car. He was assisted by Pat Brady, a master metal fabricator who worked in the Engine Lab. We did not understand the first thing about exhaust tuning at that time, so the headers were built for best flow. They came out the fender shields and over the front tires. As each cylinder's pipe came into the collector, the area was smoothly increased; the collector started at 1 7/8 inches and increased to 3 inches. It was made of numerous small pieces to make the transitions smooth. I felt extremely privileged to be able to make a few welds.
A very crude exhaust system was fabricated as, back then, all Stock cars were required to be street legal. The mufflers were a 4-inch pipe over the 2-inch exhaust pipe that had holes drilled in, making a glass pack without the glass.
The engine required break-in. Once the car was running, I remember riding in the back seat one night with Jim Thornton driving. When he wooded it, I felt like I would roll into the trunk as the seat was pretty weak.
The first outing for the car was at Detroit Dragway only two weeks before the Nationals at Indy. Both events are well documented in the book We Were the Ramchargers. I did not go on to the Nationals as I went back to St. Louis to arrange for my wedding scheduled for Thanksgiving. I had dated my bride to be, Carole, all through college.
Back in Road Test Garage, Herman Mozer invited me into Experimental Car Build-up to inspect a car. There was a ’62 Plymouth that was the most grotesque thing I had ever seen, and it was only weeks away from entering production. This was the last gasp of Virgil Exner, the stylist, as it featured asymmetric styling. The hood wind split, which is normally down the center, was aligned with the passenger and continued onto the truck lid. The rear wind split had a fin about 10 inches high. Herman explained that this was the high line car, the medium line car had a 5-inch-high fin, and the low line just had a formation in the deck lid.
Both high-beam headlights, along with both backup lights, were paired on the driver's side. Someone in the executive committee vetoed this design at the last minute and [reportedly] caused Exner to be fired and replaced by Elwood Engel from Ford. All the early Plymouth hoods, deck lids, lower deck panels, and grilles were produced on temporary Kirksite tooling.
The foreman in Experimental Car Build-up was Earl Priback, John DeLorean's uncle. A note on DeLorean: he was an Institute graduate and apparently was quite outspoken about the “old man” cars Chrysler was building. John was invited to leave, and went to Packard; when Packard folded he went on to Pontiac, where he and Bunkie Knudsen became famous for performance cars.