Recollections of a Ramcharger #7: Testing Tires in 1963; New Rig
During the remainder of the winter and spring, we built a manual-transmission station wagon, thinking that the extra weight in the rear would make the car competitive. A Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed transmission was installed, as no other 4-speed was available. I failed the transmission on the second burnout at Detroit Dragway, and that was the end of our manual-transmission efforts.
Before the racing season began, some teenagers stole my ’56 Dodge out of the driveway of my rented house. I received a communication from the police in Morgantown, West Virginia, that they had my car and it was not in good shape. So Steve Baker and I took off on a retrieval mission with the new truck and trailer. The car was somewhat damaged but it still ran. We pumped up the tires and drove it on the trailer and took off.
Dodge came up with a really nice D-3 Crew Cab truck with a 426 Street Wedge and a utility body, and a custom heavy-duty trailer. It had stout construction but rode on eight-inch wheels, with tiny brakes. The rig was undrivable due to trailer wag. We let all the air out of the front tires and pulled the car as far forward as possible. The trip home was at 45 mph.
We took the trailer back to the manufacturer and had him move the axles two feet rearward and cut off the rear overhang. Thornton took the rig on the first road trip of the year and failed most of the small tires. We then had the axles modified with Dodge spindles, hubs, and brakes, and high capacity trailer tires. That truck/trailer rig performed flawlessly for the next two years.
Overall, 1963 was a great year for the Ramchargers and the entire Maximum Performance effort of Chrysler. Engines and Torqueflite transmissions required very little maintenance and never broke. Match racing was still the name of the game, and often we raced other Mopars as the competition could not keep up. Ford was still running the full-sized Galaxy and was at least five mph off the pace. GM was “not into racing,” but a number of Chevrolets and Pontiacs were around and competitive to various degrees.
Early in the summer, we were approached by Goodyear about their interest in getting into drag racing tires, if we would conduct the necessary testing. The money seemed good, and an initial test was scheduled for Detroit Dragway. Goodyear brought in about a dozen tires that had different compounds, all on M&H carcasses. We quickly found out that the 10-inch brakes were totally inadequate. All told, we made over 60 runs that day in spite of the poor brakes and did identify the best compound. Naturally we got to keep the good set.
A month or so later, another test was scheduled at Detroit Dragway, which was timely as the Goodyear tires on the M&H carcasses were worn out. This time we had the 11-inch police brakes with the sintered metallic linings which still proved to be inadequate.
All the tires provided for the test had the same compound on various Goodyear carcasses. The control set was still on M&H carcasses and proved to be superior. Before the next test was scheduled, we wore out that set and requested another set from Goodyear. They were not real happy, but did provide the tires. It was neat because everyone we raced thought we were on M&H tires.
The final test was scheduled for Ubly Dragway, in the thumb of Michigan, because of some issue with Detroit Dragway. Jim Thornton was not available, so Herman Mozer drove that test. The brakes were still totally inadequate, and we were pouring water over the drums between runs to cool the brakes. Midway through the test, Herman crossed the finish line at about 123 mph and touched the brakes. The right front locked and the car went off the side of the track and tripped on the edge of the pavement. The car did an endo landing on its roof in a corn field. Herman was badly shaken but unhurt.
A photo of the car is in the book We Were the Ramchargers. At its lowest point the roof came in only six inches, but the aluminum front end looked like crumpled tin foil. This was before roll bars and exotic seat belt systems. The car did have a lovely safety feature in that the single strap holding the fuel tank failed, allowing the tank and gasoline to slide down the track well away from the crashing car. The Federal Government subsequently required greater fuel-tank retention, another step backward.