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Interviewed by Jessica Eustice
Where did you grow up, and how did your association with Chrysler begin?
I grew up in Akron - was born and raised in Akron, and then I came to where I’m at now. As far as Chrysler, I got into Chrysler cars because of my cousin who was drag racing a Chrysler car. I started getting into it then, and I haven’t looked back. It was about 1962.
I worked at two different Chrysler dealerships. I worked at Chrysler for one day actually, at the Stamping Plant, same place Bill Wetherholt worked. That was just kind of a fluke thing, and it didn’t work. But I did work at Chrysler dealerships.
Do you build engines?
I do for myself and for friends, but I don’t do it as a living, no. I’ve never done it to try and make money on it. I was always a mechanic most of my life. That’s basically what I did. I just got to where I liked Chrysler more than anything else, and that’s all I liked to work on.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you find fascinating about parts and the Hemi engine and all that?
Probably the best thing I can say as far as engines go, it’s kind of like therapy with me. I would rather be outside doing something like that. When winter comes, I get kind of despondent because I can’t be out there doing something. I don’t have a heated garage.
Now Dave Tyjeski is the other direction. He’s got a beautiful setup that is all heated, and he’s got all his parts on his computer and everything in shelves and drawers, all marked; numbered. He came from a line of that though - his father had a dealership, then he had worked there, and then he had all these parts and he was from Chrysler also. So he is a lot different direction than I am. I just like working on them.
I just like having something to do with them. Keeps me busy, keeps my mind functioning. Where you probably like to read, I can’t read and concentrate. If I’m reading directions on something I can kind of figure it out, but I’d rather do it all by hand. Practical knowledge I should say.
And as far as the Hemi: That was introduced way back in the ’50s. They were always a real strong … like something you would use to pull an elephant around with … because they are so strong. They used them in the big cars originally; the big Chryslers and the small Dodges had them, and then they went into the horsepower part of it. They introduced it probably ’62 or ’63 … but in 64 they come out with it in a race car; in ’65 they were still in a race-car, and in ’66 they came onto the street, you know, the street versions.
Since then they’ve had all Chrysler-type drag racing cars. The majority of them were Hemi cars. They were probably the strongest, the fastest, the quickest and probably the most expensive. It was just an engine to be had. If you wanted something in a Chrysler product to be quick, you bought a Hemi. If you couldn’t afford a Hemi, you built one of the other motors available. And that still goes on today, actually. Same motors, same cars, same people, almost.
Is there a second life coming along … for that kind of vehicle, do you think?
It’s going to be hard to say. As far as NASCAR, I really don’t like NASCAR, but as far as NASCAR goes, they’re building one body now. All the teams use that body, and they use their particular motor. I think that’s taking away from the racing, because the original NASCARS are stock car racing as I want to call it. Everybody used their car. You went out and bought a new Dodge; you raced that Dodge and build it for a stock car. Or a Ford or a General Motors car. It’s not going to be that way any more.
I’m kind of hoping they’ll turn around and go back the other direction. Even with what they say with Chrysler bankrupt [Chrysler has since emerged from bankruptcy], General Motors bankrupt, and Ford is still in the ball-game, I don’t know what they’ll do about things like that. I don’t know how they’re going to keep sponsoring cars, because in drag-racing probably the biggest sponsor is Ford with John Force, but he’s got a consistent car; he’s got a team of cars now. He races, his daughter races, and he’s got two other drivers, so he’s got a team of four cars. It’s sponsored by Ford but it was originally Chrysler parts, I mean originally it was the Chrysler Hemi, and it still looks like the Chrysler Hemi motor, but it’s not really Chrysler Hemi.
Is that what is meant by the phrase “the roundy-round?”
Yeah, NASCAR. If you know who the sponsors of the particular drivers are, then you know which cars they have. But they say
“Here comes so-and-so and his Dodge.”
Well, to me the Dodge looks like the fourteenth car behind it, which might be a Pontiac or a Chevy, but I can’t tell the difference at all until I see them coming and see the name painted on it. I have no idea. I don’t even like to watch it. To me it’s boring.
But drag racing is boring to everybody else, especially women. Only to see two cars go a quarter of a mile and then stop. And then, actually now, with the bigger horsepower cars, they are only racing an eighth mile. They’re trying to introduce eighth mile racing everywhere. And to me, that’s boring. I like to see the cars go the full quarter mile, you know?
What does ‘stock’ really mean?
At one time you would take, maybe like the family car, you know, whatever you might be driving, you took the car, and you modified the suspension a little bit, for going in circles. You know, they go in left turns only. So you mount them so the chassis is kind of tilted kind of to one direction. And then you clamp down the springs real tight, and you put in your motor. If you were racing a Chevy, you use a Chevy motor, and vice versa; Ford, Chrysler … and you built it up as good as you could, to what you could afford, and you went racing, because there were a lot of local tracks back then.
There was a lot of stock-car-racing. There is still a few around here, but not as many. And then they got into the big racing. That’s when it became NASCAR and those people were all sponsored by manufacturers and manufacturer’s motors, and you had your own team of cars. Some of them have two and three teams now, and it’s all very, very big dollar. It’s not affordable for a normal person to get into it. You could be a driver but you’ll just be driving for somebody else. Maybe one or two drivers that have their own teams.
Did Richard Petty upset some car companies by what he did with his engines?
Not really. He just won so many times … his Dad always raced … Lee Petty was his Dad, and he raced for years. That was when they raced old Hudsons and old whatevers, Studebakers and everything. They used to race on beaches actually, there was no place to race, what they call a track, and they’d race a big oval or a big circle on the beach, where there was a lot of room to race. And then his uncle got in with one, when Richard started to get in with his… no he was with what they called stock-car-racing way back when … his Dad and his uncle Maurice, I believe; did the motors for him, and he drove and his dad was the man behind everything.
As he drove more and more and his father passed away, and then Richard by then had his own company - Petty Enterprises and then of course Richard had a son and his son had a son and Richard’s grandson got killed in a race a few years back. So Richard’s son kind of backed off in his racing. He races not as much, and he does more to the business side of things. I don’t know if he still really is racing.
But they’ve got a big company now, you know, Petty Enterprises, and for awhile Richard drove for General Motors -- after Chrysler got out of stock car racing. STP was one of his biggest sponsors. All of his cars are red and blue. He always had his own before that; it was all Petty Racing; Richard Petty Racing. Good family. I was lucky enough to meet them all down in Bristol, Tennessee, years ago. That must have been in like ’64 when they opened up the Bristol, TN track. You’ve heard of the track down there? They call it Thunder Valley now, but it’s a drag strip and a stock car track side by side. It’s right on the line between Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA. They are really a fine family they are.
What did you do for Arlen Vanke?
Well, he got into drag racing when we were young. I met him when I was nineteen. And he always had been drag racing, and so had I, but at that time, that was the only thing I liked to do. When I met him he was driving an old Ford at that particular time, you used to see him at the drive-ins periodically. He was from a little town called Barberton, Ohio, and I was from Akron.
Then when he, in later years, got married and moved to Copley, Ohio … right on the edge of Akron. That’s when he picked up the name Akron Arlen. That’s when he started driving for Chrysler, because he had been in the drag races (with “gassers”) for a lot of years, where, like I said before that he was not in the professional line, so when he got into, when Chrysler picked up on him, right around ’64, ’65, and the Hemi car, well he didn’t have a Hemi at first, but he got into those and then Chrysler got behind him and the ’68 Barracuda and that was his first big, big car for Chrysler. From then on it was all downhill with him racing the cars.
I had already been working for him offline. He had a speed-shop in the younger days, and I worked for him there, and then I was out of there, and then … we always kept in touch with each other, and then when he was working on his … they called it originally Pro-Stock … do you know what Pro-Stock is?
Pro Stock evolved from a couple of different things. They had the original cars like he had his Plymouth Duster and they were changing it over, they were trying to figure out different ways to class these cars because General Motors and Ford were getting all mad because Chrysler was just … with their Hemi motor, was just tearing apart all the classes and they were trying to do something about it. So they started calling it factory experimental. It’s called AFX. And cars that were racing with those motors, some of them turned to those motors and stayed with AFX; then they called it Super-Stock Racing, then they called it Pro-Stock because all these people had to have sponsors and money and the good cars to be able to compete in it. So, not just Chrysler; Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all did the same thing.
So anyway, he proceeded in the Pro-stock and I was still working for him in his shop out there then, and there were times in between when I worked at other places too, but I’d still be working there part-time – but I was with him until he totally retired. That was probably fifteen years ago. Then he moved to Michigan, and he wanted to get out of it completely, but then he couldn’t stand it so he got in with another, a body shop up there, and he got back in and had some kind of Chrysler backing, you know, nothing radical, and he got back into “nostalgia racing”.
Now the nostalgia cars were the same ones that they had run back in the sixties but they weren’t running under the same rules and regulations. He built a Barracuda again, and he had a ’64-’65 Plymouth that he had. He went through about half a dozen different ones actually, and he put together quite a few of them for different people.
His father passed away in Deming, New Mexico, and his mother was there alone, and he decided to take care of his mom because she took care of him for all of his younger life, and that’s the way to do it. So he just about, a couple years back, maybe three years ago, he moved to Deming, New Mexico, with his mother … and that’s where he is.
Some of the big races he does appearances with different people, different drag strips and different shows … and he’s always being called up for something or other. He’s a well-known person, not like; you’ve probably heard of Ronnie Sox, his name is probably a bigger draw, because he always had a bigger corporation for himself because a team that he worked with, but Arlen did everything himself: his own motors, his own cars – his own building, you know, just kind of independent. All the other people had a full team going helping them out, so. It was kind of good. He’s got a tremendous name and a personality that kind of backs it up and that’s about all I can say about him.
Do you collect cars yourself?
I can’t afford it. I have one, I always have one, which I drive, that I like to cruise in, a Chrysler car and actually I just sold it and a guy’s just coming from New York to pick it up Saturday. I’ve got another one on line that I want to get as soon as he leaves my house.
So do you buy them, fix them up, and then sell them?
I don’t like to do that way, I actually like to drive them. They call me the world’s oldest teenager around here. I just like to go to the cruise-ins and have fun. That’s kind of what Bill Wetherholt and I do. Dave Tyjeski doesn’t get around as much because his health is kind of failing a little bit, but he’s got a beautiful collection of cars. His are all DeSotos, old DeSotos. They are beautiful cars. But that’s just the way it works out for him.
Bill Wetherholt is saying that he’s got one car for the cruising and for the driving, but he also does have his other cars of course. And I just have one car at a time because that’s all I can do. I am lucky to put gas in it let alone I get the car looking as good as it used to be, but I still have my fun, you know. That’s the name of the game.
So, what the auto industry is going through right now is really hurting you isn’t it?
No. Actually that won’t bother anybody that wants to do what we do, the only way it will hurt us is if you can’t get parts. And I think there are probably enough parts in the world that we can always keep something going. There are enough machinists around that could make something for you if you couldn’t buy the part. As far as like suspension and brakes and pieces like that you can always still go to parts stores and get them. It’s a little harder but you can still get them.
And as far as the engines go, there are enough engines around and all the different brands that you can still get pieces and the machinists to do it with. And as far as the car goes, what you can’t get is sheet metal now. There are a lot of companies that are reproducing with the original presses that built the fenders and quarter panels, and floor panels and you know things like that. And roofs actually, trunks, hoods, you can buy all that stuff new, brand new, it’s not impossible, it’s just more expensive.
It saves a lot of people that can afford it, but then there are some people that do nothing but spend all their money on a car. I like it as a hobby, I don’t want to ruin it, you know, start taking household money to do that, but I just have my fun.
Do you have any discoveries or experiences or any parts that you’d like to talk about?
Then I’m going to be boring because the only thing I do is: if you gave me a bunch of engine parts and I had them in my garage, I could put it together on my engine stand and have it in a car and running … and I’ve been known to have an engine built in one weekend … engine together put a drive train in, in a different car, like with this car I’ve got right now, Plymouth Duster, when I got it, it was a six cylinder with automatic and air conditioning with power steering. Now it’s got a 440 motor in it now. … the heads are where the big difference comes in …
…With a Hemi, the reason it’s called a Hemi is because of the heads. They call them hemispherical heads. That’s where they got the name Hemi from. And it’s because all the valves are opposing each other and the valves point down the center … it’s really strange, the spark plugs are all oriented to the center, the head, and the valves are opposing them on each side in what they call the combustion chamber. And on the engine I’ve got, you just have a row, four spark plugs off to the side and the valves are in the top, so they’re not opposing they’re in a row and it’s just a real simple operation. So if you could drill the holes in the block and bolt a set of Hemi heads on that, you’d have a Hemi engine. Which is basically all they did, they just put extra holes in the block and they bolt a Hemi head on it, and it’s a Hemi. But you can’t just bolt those heads on it; drill holes in any engine and put the Hemi heads on it. It’s got to be made for the Hemi heads.
[To swap from slant six to 440] was easy. I just pulled the engine out, pulled the thing out of the car and cleaned everything out and prepped for what I wanted to do and then I sent away for … now most of these cars you can send away for motor mounts from a couple of different companies, and bolt them right to your motor or bolt it into that particular car. So I got a set that would fit a 440 motor to go into a six cylinder chassis. That way you don’t have to … a lot of guys like to spend all the big dollars and change all the structure, but you can unbolt – it’s not really called a frame on these cars because they’re a unibody car – it’s called a K-frame because it’s the front structure … and they unbolt that and take the suspension out of the car and put that different one on and everything, and bolt all the suspension back in and just to bolt a motor in, I think it’s stupid and expensive … so you just buy these motor mounts; they cost me $150.00 and I bolted the motor in, it was ready to go in, and I had no problem with it. But it’s a lot simpler that way, and it’s better for the hobbiest who doesn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on something like this.
Then again, there are a lot of people who have the money to send them off to a shop and have that all done. Well, you know, when you’re doing it as a hobby, like I do it, it’s a lot easier, a lot cheaper, a lot simpler just to do it this way. And I like it that I can do it in a weekend. There’s no big thing about it - other than having help which I never have, because everybody still works. The only one I have ever had help me, and I’ve helped him a lot, has been Bill. He’s not far down the road, and it makes it kind of handy.
So, can you tell me about the various engine families?
Okay, I can do that from Chrysler on back. In the early thirties, when Chrysler, they were using what I would call a later type of motor, what every body understands is what they (engines) look-like, they had what they call an in-line six. That had a flat head, in other words the spark plugs were exposed. You know, you open the hood and look in, and you can see the spark plugs standing straight up, that was an in-line six.
And then down the line, let’s see, in 1959, Chrysler came out with what they call the slant-six. It’s an engine that actually looks like it’s leaning off to one side. And it’s an overhead valve. Overhead valve means it’s got a cover on the top of the motor that you don’t see the spark plugs or anything because they’re on the side. They are actually pointed to the passenger’s side in other words. You wouldn’t see them from just looking at it, you’d have to walk to that side and look down to see them.
Hemispherical motor? It’s got a valve cover on that thing that is mammoth. They call it the elephant motor. They’re probably, the valve cover was shaped, was probably 10 inches x18-20 inches long. It’s just a big thing and the spark plugs are right down to the center of that. You couldn’t miss that because these wires come up over the top of these valve covers into the motor. And that’s a V-8.
The Hemi must make a really powerful engine sound. Dave Tyjeski said it’s a really, really powerful engine.
Yes, very much so, because they have a whole lot more torque than the other engines do. They call them “stump-pullers” and “elephant-draggers” and they call it the “elephant motor” actually. When they came out they were just a big bulky heavy (laughing) klutzy thing. Now they make so many parts that are aluminum, cast out of aluminum; make all the component parts out of aluminum, and actually you can buy an aluminum block, so it lightened them up a lot. Of course, that’s for professional drag racing, basically, that’s a lot of money. The basic average person couldn’t do it, unless you had nothing better to do with your time and your money. Then you can do anything you want.
I’ve had a couple of Hemis myself, what they call a street version, I had a couple of them, and I had fun with them, but I just can’t afford to do it. You know, I’d love to do it, but I don’t believe in using my household money to have fun. I just do what I have to do. I do a lot of horse -trading, and Bill and I are always looking at something or other.
Finding something that I can do … actually that’s how this Duster that I have now came about. We were just looking at stuff on e-bay. Looking at cars; at pictures, and I spotted this one from Ohio, and I looked at where it was from, and it was about 15 minutes from my house. So he and I went over and looked at it and it was winter time and I ended up buying it, dragged it home, actually the guy brought it on a trailer, but it was a running car. But it just went from there.
Setting up a car ... for the street and for drag racing …
For the average street car, you can do what they call “pump-gas” … you can go down to your local gas station, put gas in it, and go. For most of the drag-race cars, you have to buy racing fuel, which is very expensive now. The cheapest I’ve found it around here is $4.50 a gallon. I used to use it as a mix, I’d do like a gallon of racing fuel and blend with about 5-6 gallons of pump-gas, and I was ok, because of the way my cars are. The more compression you have in a car, the better the fuel you have to have. Then you’re getting out of pump gas and into the racing fuel.
Down the road here, it’s probably about eight miles up the road there’s an airport, and I used to be able to buy aviation fuel. Aviation fuel is nothing more than racing fuel anyway. It was cheaper. I could get it on my credit card. So I’d just get some of that, like 10 gallons of it in a container, and just pour it in as a mix in my car or my motorcycle.
Then as far as suspension and everything, you use completely different springs. A different kind of set up in the front end on a car on a drag strip. Because, as your going down the track the faster the car is going, the higher it’s lifting, so they put, on a lot of the cars they have a spoiler on the back that pushes the back of the car down to keep the tires on the ground harder. On the front end they put a spoiler on the front underneath the bumper to push the front end down, because the higher its lifting the lighter the front end gets and the lighter the front end gets, the worse the handling is because then you can’t steer it. You want to keep the whole car pushed down on the ground but you’ve got to keep aerodynamics also.
On the street when you go around a corner kind of fast, your tires have a tendency to want to lean, the front ones. On a drag strip the faster you go you want to keep them straight all the way down. Because as the car lifts up in the air, the wheels, you might have heard of castor camber, that changes as you’re going down the drag-strip. So you want to keep it squatted down closer to the ground for the spoilers come in and push it back down - keeps the wheels going straighter all the time so then you don’t have as much trouble handling the car.
Then if you have a short wheelbase car, that makes it real hard to handle. Because as it’s going down the track it wants to weave back and forth. Somebody will say the back end is trying to pass you as your going down the track. So you’ve got to keep the car corrected all the time. So when you’re going down the track you’ve got a lot of things going on in your mind. If you’ve got an automatic car, you have to shift it which is nothing, you just bump a lever and it’ll shift, or you can put what they call an air shifter on it. Just push a button and it shifts it, or they have another set up now that automatically does it, as the rpm changes, they have it hooked up into the tachometer, so as it gets to a certain rpm it automatically hits a momentary contact which shifts it. So it’s like what you might say is a full automatic, because all you have to do is put it on gear in the starting line. But on a stick shift car, big race-cars, the Pro-Stock Cars, you have to shift it five times. There you go again. On the street you’re just driving your car, just like you would do every day; I mean that’s the same with our cars, with my car, Bill’s car, Dave’s Tyjeski’s car. You know, it’s nothing special about it.
What about the width and wheelbase?
Well, it could matter. On some cars like I used to deal with, an Anglia, or an Austin, or a Henry J, those kind of cars, they are narrow, plus they have a short wheelbase on top of that. So those things will be (laughing) – we used to say if you could drive one of those things, you could drive anything. Because they would go all over the track when you are going down the track. On the street they’re not so bad until you start going real fast. And then they were kind of wandering around the road. Probably when you’re going to the drag strip, you’re going to put a big wide slick on the back of one of those things. And you got a little tiny tire in the front. You’re not even actually driving the car, you’re aiming the car. Because the back tires are so big, they want to push the car whichever way they want to push it. So it’s a sore to go down the drag strip in one of those cars. And they are bad; unsafe, rather than bad I should say.
But, people still race them. And a lot of very, very fast cars are made like that. You have to get into some more drag racing books to understand about those cars. A lot of them were called ‘altered cars’ because of the altered wheel base and the motor sat way back on the chassis, or some of them even have motors on the rear. Years ago guys played with that for awhile. But the more you take off the front of the car the harder it was to handle. So you had to know what you were doing. You still have to know what you are doing actually.
Are you loyal to Chrysler?
Oh yeah! I tell people they are not allowed in my driveway if they are driving a Chevy. Yeah, I really, yeah, I wouldn’t have anything else.
Why is that?
It started out with I liked the way they were quick and affordable. Then I got to liking the Chrysler car, and every year I got a different one, or two or three or four, or whatever. Back in those days I was always trading somebody something for a car or whatever. And I just got into more and more of them, and the faster they were going the more I liked them.
I had my Chevys, I had new Chevys. My first new one was in 1957; my last one was in 1960. And as far as Fords, I had a lot of Fords when I was real young, in my teenage years. That’s all I had: was Fords. What I did was the brakes and transmissions in them and, but that’s all everybody had back then was Fords. And then when Chevrolets caught everybody went nuts for Chevy because they had one of the quickest ones around. 1955 they came out with that V-8 overhead valve motor, and that was the start of “quicker.”
That and Oldsmobile, because a lot of teenagers back then were putting Oldsmobile motors in cars. And then in ’62 my cousin bought his, and in ’63 I bought my first Chrysler car. I’ve had my share of them.
As the car industry changes to hybrid and electric, will mechanics need to be entirely retrained?
Oh yeah. That’s why they’re all certified mechanics now, they’re all trained. They have to take training in order to be able to fix these cars. Usually what they’ll do is they will have factory training. The dealerships have to send the mechanics up for whatever, a week or two weeks in order to be learn to do this particular stuff.
You know all the computers on the cars now, they don’t have just one computer on the car, they have anywhere from 2 to 10. And if there’s a problem with a car you have to read the code and find out what’s wrong with the car. The thing under your dash they just plug the computer reader into it and it reads it into your computer or it prints it out if you have a printer, or a big screen if you have a big monitor, at the dealership, but there’s some you can actually plug in and drop your car. You know, at the same time to tell you what the problem is.
If I have a problem with one of my cars, I’ve got a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and my wife’s got a 2008 minivan - and if something happened with one of those cars, I wouldn’t understand it. I have no idea.
I guess that means there is going to be a centralization of service providers. It will all be done by dealers.
Dealers are good mechanics. A good mechanic has to have the computers and the readout and all that stuff now. My stepson has a small shop not to far from here, and he’s got everything to do it with, and he’s got, he still does general work like motor changing and stuff, but he also gets into a whole lot of the new cars. I’ve had a couple times when, not with the cars I have now, but with the cars I did have, when I’d say,
“Why in the heck is this light coming on in the dashboard?”
it would say: “Check engine”. Well “check engine” can mean anything. It could be anything from a loose fan belt, to a bad battery connection. So you have to go to somebody who can read that thing and tell you what it means. My step-son has that and all he has to do is just plug it in, but the code has to be visible on the dash or whatever, and he can read it out of his computer and tell you what the problem is basically. Sometimes it’ll tell it needs a spark plug and it might need a spark plug wire. You know, something like that. Which is something else they’re doing away with. (laughing)
The new cars don’t have distributors any more. They’ve got what they call coil packs. Each spark plug has a little short wire that comes out of it and it attaches it to a coil pack. So everything is changing like you said. And you have to be a specialist; you have to know what you are doing. I’ve got a neighbor, who works at a General Motors dealer, and he does work at home on the side and he can’t do that stuff at home. People bring him a car, and he’s got to have it there two or three days because he’s got to bring something home from work to plug in to it to read it. He’s got to borrow one because even him, because he’s a mechanic at a dealership.
So it’s hard to do stuff at home any more because, unless you want to spend a lot of money – for nothing, to buy a lot of equipment, and then it doesn’t do you much good if you can’t fix it, so … there’s just too many things on a new car. So you’re on the right track when you said that. Basically you have to go back to a dealer.
Did your father also have mechanical ability like you do?
(laughing) I was the fallen son. I was the only one in the family, in our whole family I should say, cousins and uncles and aunts that liked cars. They used to always say:
“Why do you waste your time on cars? Why do you do this? Why do you do that?”
…but every time someone had a problem, guess who’s going to fix it? It got to the point when I first got married, they would call my mom and ask:
“What’s Sam’s phone number? I would like to give him a call.”
She’d say “ahh, I can’t think of it right now. I’ll call you back.” Ahem, ahem… And she would forget to call them back. Or she would make excuses, because each time you do work for relatives, you know, they’ll complain more than anybody.
So I quit doing work for relatives. And at that time I had equipment to work on engines, like I had a valve grinding machine, and a lot of heavy duty stuff. And I got rid of all of it, and all I do is keep my hand tools, which I still have more of now. Probably more than I ever had. But it just … wow … it just got to a point you know.
But I didn’t answer your question. I was the only one. I just liked cars. My dad was a hands person. He could, if you gave him a hammer and a saw, he could build a house. I mean he could do plumbing, electrical work … he did that up until he was 92 years old - I mean until he couldn’t do anything anymore. And it was always the same thing there too. Relatives used to call him to have him help them do something. And he’d end up doing the whole job himself. But I was the only one always into cars, and if he had a problem he would ask me if I could look at it, which I didn’t mind of course, my mom and dad. I did a lot of stuff for him. And then there was heavy duty stuff that had to be done in a garage. And I would tell them to take it if it was something I couldn’t get into.
I don’t know if it was good or bad to get into mechanics, but that’s all I ever liked.
Do you have any special engine-building tips for increasing power or durability?
You really start with cleaning parts and having a clean area. Then you have to practice patience, you don’t want to make mistakes.
Did you use the stock engines in the Anglia, Austin, and Henry J, or did you put in bigger or more modern engines?
We mostly used 283 or other small-block Chevy engines. Remember, this was before my Mopar baptism. You didn’t need big, heavy motors in those cars.
What kept you with Mopar all these years?
Once I saw my cousin’s first Max Wedge 1962 Dart, I was convinced that was my calling. They were quick - fast, and just plain awesome. After that, I wouldn’t buy anything without a pentastar on it.
Which engines do you usually deal with? Do you have any specific advice on setting up the 440 for street and strip? How do you set up the suspension to deal with the 440 in the former slant six car?
I use the 440 in all my cars. Arlen Vanke always said, “There’s no replacement for cubic inches.” I’ve had small block Mopars (273, 318, 340, 360) and they are quick, but I plain like cubic horsepower.
As far as suspension, I have never had a problem when I
converted from slant six to v8 engines (for street use). Some
people find and make problems on their own. For track use, there is a lot of difference, you have to
make a stable, safe and strong chassis set-up. You want to change rear springs, maybe the torsion bars,
shocks, sway bar, etc., depending on the type of racing you get involved in.
In my last 30 or so years, I couldn't afford to own just
a race car, so my street (fun) car also became a weekend drag
car. You make minor adjustments to the springs, shocks, and
whatever else your mind allows, to make the car leave harder
and handle the 1/4 mile ride. Basically the name of the game, is have fun, be safe,
and enjoy the Mopar that was put on God’s earth.
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