Recollections of a Ramcharger, Part Three: After the ’61 Nationals

We returned from Indianapolis after the '61 Nationals feeling very good about the Dodge having beaten every car of note in the country. The experience had clearly identified several problems with the car. Most notable was the transmission with the pin-type synchronizers which had blocked the 1-2 shift on several occasions, costing us the race. The other transmission problem was that it drove like it had 1st, 2nd, and 4th. The powers that be at Chrysler felt that first gear was for “unusual situations” only and normal starts were to be made in second gear, so the second gear ratio was very low.

1961 Dodge Dart Phoenix

The car also consumed a lot of oil due to the lack of expanders behind the oil rings. From the starting line, the car was not visible at the finish line. Head gasket failures were a daily occurrence because of the excessive amount of material removed from the heads to get the 13.5:1 compression ratio.

The car was difficult to launch. Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Fords had conventional two-plane intake manifolds that allowed the car to be driven off the line from essentially idle to avoid tire spin. The ram intake manifold did not like to do that, necessitating slipping the clutch. Nobody knew it at the time, but the built-for-flow exhaust headers also killed low-end torque.

We ran the car at Detroit Dragway and were beaten by George DeLorean, the brother of John DeLorean, with a ’61 Pontiac. Having already beaten Mickey Thompson, the best Pontiac in competition, we felt that the DeLorean car must be phony, so we protested. The teardown was in the Sinclair station down the street. The car was very well prepared, with many of the lightening techniques used in our Dodge. Finally, we found the stroke to be 0.060 inches too long. They must have used a stock forging and cut the crank pins out to the limit of metal. We felt vindicated with that result.

Then we received a call from the promoter of the U.S. 30 Dragway in York, Pennsylvania, requesting us to come there to match race Strickler & Jenkins in the Old Reliable Chevrolet. They offered something like $200. Wow, getting paid to travel and race.

We started to think about this trip after the date was set. What would be in store for us to go race at the enemy's home track? Well, off we went, and with Jim Thornton driving, we beat the Chevrolet in three of five.

Ramchargers Idy vs. Stickler & Jenkins in 1961

We were then offered a similar deal to go race in Muncie, Indiana. The match race was with, if I remember correctly, a Ford, which we handled with ease. We were still towing the Dodge with my '61 Ford as it was the only full-size car in the club, everyone else having acquired a Valiant. The 2nd-speed gear in the transmission froze to the output shaft while running above 70 mph on the way home. It sounded like the race car started. There was no bushing on the 2nd gear, so it ran steel/steel on the output shaft, really cheap. We did a roadside propshaft removal and continued on. All the valves were bent as the car had a 4.56:1 rear axle.

Upon reaching Detroit the rear axle in my Ford was howling pretty badly. This was the second rear end as the first began howling after several passes at Detroit Dragway. Ford ultimately put in five rear ends under warranty. Mine did not live but that 9-inch rear end went on to become the standard hot rod heavy-duty unit.

By this time the magazines were coming out that gave our car great coverage of the Nationals. The first was National Dragster, the NHRA newspaper, featured us on the cover after the Nationals. All this free, favorable publicity resulted in Chrysler's decision in November to build Super Stock cars.

I was still living with the bachelor Beagles in Farmington. We car-pooled to work at Chrysler where I complained about the lack of room in the Valiant, and they complained about the ride quality of my Ford, as it had the police suspension, brakes, and 15-inch tires. The English student was Derek Harling, who brought over a MG Midget. He offered me a ride to work in the car, and I believe that I was never so cold in my life. My head protruded above the windshield, and the foot tunnel was so small that one could not hunker down. That was my only trip in that car.

Return to part 2

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