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Text and Photos by Gene Yetter
The Chrysler Employee Motorsport Association (CEMA), the club whose members are present or former employees of Chrysler, held its 2010 Charity Car Show at The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on June 12th.
Not your ordinary Mopar celebration, the annual CEMA show typically attracts a great array of historic or special vehicles as well as speakers and many spectators – racers, collectors, business people -- whose lives are intertwined with the company's history and products. Open to non-CEMA members, all car makes, and trucks and motorcycles, the event benefits the non-profit Walter P. Chrysler Museum Foundation. That entity is listed by the U.S. National Park Service among 16 “Motor Cities National Heritage” attractions also including The Henry Ford Museum and The Automotive Hall of Fame. The Chrysler Museum is located at the corner of Featherstone and Squirrel Rds. in Auburn Hills, at the southeast corner of the 500-plus-acre Chrysler campus.
This year's show spotlighted the compact, sporty and fast "pony cars" of 1970, including the AMX/Javelin, Barracuda, Challenger, Camaro, Cougar, Mustang and Firebird; cars in that category were parked around the Museum’s main pavilion.
The program also presented three speakers who lived or studied Mopar history: Charles K. Hyde, author of Riding the Rollercoaster: A History of the Chrysler Corp.; Larry Shepherd, a former Chrysler engineer known to performance enthusiasts as "Mr. Mopar"; and, Dave Rockwell, author of We Were the Ramchargers, about the drag race team that established the Hemi engine on quarter-mile tracks, where they then competed successfully for more than 15 years. The High & Mighty II, a replica of the Ramchargers' first C/Altered racer, was on display in the show area. Team members Tom Coddington and Jim Thornton along with author David Rockwell were present to autograph copies of the book. (Highlights of the three talks appear below.)
According to the official CEMA count, car owners registered 232 vehicles for the show: 191 Mopars and 41 non-Mopars. Another 12 vehicles were exhibited by vendors or in special displays. Mopar vehicles included: 155 Dodges; 55 Plymouths; 15 Chryslers, 1 Imperial, 1 Jeep, 1 AMC and 2 Willys. 73 entries were registered by CEMA members.
Judging of show cars got underway about 10 a.m. and ran through 2 p.m. when awards were announced. 20 awards were made in 11 classes including ten “Bests” (1970 Pony Car, Muscle Car, Modified, Original, Truck/Jeep, “Tuner” Vehicle, Sports Car, Race Car) and Participants’ Choice. General information about CEMA and the show, and over 300 pictures by club member and photographer, Marc Rozman, are accessible at www.cemaclub.org.
Employees’ rides were not limited to the famous Mopars of the muscle car era, or the modern Prowlers, Crossfires and Vipers. Jim Kemichick, a technician with Chrysler for 31 years, owns a white 1979 Dodge Aspen 2-door, one of Chrysler’s F-body vehicles that, in their day, went from representing Car and Driver’s “1976 Car of Year” to being one of the most recalled carlines in American automotive history.
Jim’s car has good things going for it, including the fact that by 1979 the factory was doing a better job in sending out defect-free F-bodies. Also of interest, it came with the 360 c.i.d. police motor. According to a Galen Govier report that Jim had done, “There were only 384 2-door F-bodies built with the police 360 – the E-58 motor, the true police 360.” That motor went mostly into 4-door vehicles with special floor pans accommodating a second exhaust, but the 2-doors also got dual exhausts and the special floor pan.
Jim started working for Chrysler in 1978 and purchased his Aspen a year later. He drove it for a year before taking out the original motor in near-new condition to preserve it. That motor now sits, covered, in the corner of Jim’s garage. “I replaced it with a 4-inch stroke small block,” he explains. “It’s actually 414 inches, and it makes close to 500 horsepower. It’s got a Mopar Performance cam, oversized intake valves, headers. I’ve had it down to Milan Dragway where I ran it from idle -- like taking off at a stoplight. It did the quarter in 12:04 at 114 mph. I think if I were to put on slicks and launch, it’s an 11-second car.”
With less than 30,000 original miles, the car is survivor reflecting Jim’s longevity with Chrysler through more than one corporate crisis.
allpar.com had a tent at the CEMA show; the Allpar crowd drove in a wide range of vehicles, including a 1962 Imperial, a few Challengers, a vintage Dodge truck, and a variety of Daytonas — a 1977 Charger Daytona, a 2007 Charger Daytona, and a 1991 Dodge Daytona. A few cars down were a Ram Daytona and a 1970 Dodge Charger Daytona to complete the range.
Webmaster Dave Zatz hosted the regional get-together of 17 of the site's regulars. Special allpar awards went to Craig Barut, for his 1971 Dodge D100 (1st Place), and to former Chrysler employee Dave Van Buren, for his 1962 Imperial (2nd Place). The Editor’s Choice award (Dave Zatz being the editor) went to Walt McChrystal (Rochester, NY) for his 1998 Sebring. “Partly because Bruce’s 1977 Charger Daytona is a perennial award winner!” Dave said.
Member Dan Stanfille drove his year-2000 Chrysler 300M from Charleston, South Carolina to Auburn Hills (900 miles) and won the “Long Distance Award.” If there had been an award for high mileage, he might have gotten that too, with 300k+ miles on the 300M’s odometer. But Dan said there was actually a family connection to make in the Detroit area and that was part of the objective in the 900-mile drive.
On Saturday afternoon several allpar members toured the Walter P. Chrysler Museum guided by retired Chrysler engineer Pete Hagenbuch, whose name should be known for his contributions of technical and historical writing at allpar. His knowledge, insight and opinions covering museum exhibits made the tour a privilege for those of us who went along. (A condensed version of the tour, with extensive photography, is at allpar.) Afterwards, the Allpar contingent retired to the Mongolian barbeque down the road.
Toward the end of the tour, Pete reminisced about some Mopar muscle cars he owned: two 440 R/T Chargers, a Duster 340, and a Road Runner 340. While he had some criticism of the Chargers and the Duster, it seems safe to write that his favorite was the Road Runner.
"That was a lovely, lovely car, a '72,” he said. “I thought it was a beautiful car. I loved the front end with the bumper grille and I loved the way it drove. It had a well-matched anti-roll bar in the back and it drove like a sports car. It was light, quick, and you go through a set of esses . . . you just kind of twitch the wheel and pop the throttle, and the car swerves, like this. [Gesturing.] Then you get to the other bend, and you pop it the other way. Fabulous! I used to drive home when they were building the M-59 Expressway. I took Rochester Rd. They had a temporary overpass. It was straight lines, no curve at all! The Road Runner just loved that. Of course it used the whole road! Every night I'd pray there wouldn't be anyone in front of me when I got there."
This CEMA event offered an opportunity for drag-race history advocates in one vendor tent to promote a documentary film series entitled, Project 1320. (As in “1320 feet” equals a quarter mile!) Organized as The Quarter Mile Foundation, the group intends to document drag racing history and the growth of the "performance automotive aftermarket." It will integrate filmed narration by race veterans like Don Garlits with still photographs and old movies to tell the drag race heroes' stories. Foundation chairperson Traci Hrudka, whose father founded the Mr. Gasket Company, worked the foundation tent and reported an enthusiastic reception. "We were busy answering questions about our endeavor all during the show," Traci said.
Historic cars present for CEMA included two Wally Booth Pro Stock dragsters restored by Don Schmitz and son, Donny, of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Wally Booth himself was at the show, but this reporter missed meeting him unfortunately! Also featured in the show area, a '68 Super Stock Hemi Dart built and raced for three seasons between 1968 and 1970 by Larry Griffith of Port Byron, Illinois. Retired 33-year Chrysler employee, Joe Hilger, now owns the car, which he restored with Larry Griffith's help in 2007.
For a third historic dragster, there was Mike Ricketts' Macomb Missile, a 1977 Dodge Aspen originally built by the North Carolina team of Don Carlton and Clyde Hodges. Carlton drove the famous Motown and Mopar Missile cars, and the Aspen was to be his last project before he died in a tragic racing accident in 1977.
Discussing the Griffith car, Joe Hilger said, "Our goal was to make it back into a race-ready 1968. That included the exterior paint and the engine. Larry did many minor restorations including reinstalling the reverse lock-out lever that he still had at his shop in Genesee. Even the original spark plug wires. The car came to me with Keystone tires, and Larry put Cragars back on. The only non-original alteration to the car since Larry sold it are ladder bars, and I haven't changed that yet. That's one more project I still need to get to someday."
Larry Griffith, age 67, is now in possession of two modern "drag-pak" Challengers, Joe reported, one of which is painted like the '68 and which Larry is testing in preparation for racing it around the Midwest. See these cars at www.larrygriffithracing.com.
Larry is also named as consulting author for a 56-page wirebound book by Jim Schild, Authenticity Guide, 1968 Dart & Barracuda Hemi Super Stock. Benefitting from the restoration work done on Larrry Griffith’s Dart, the book presents very clear text and illustrations helpful in building a replica ’68 Dart/Barracuda. It and several other well-written technical books about cars and drag racing are for sale at www.theautoreview.com. The titles include a 16-page performance manual on the 2009 Challenger also authored by Jim Schild and, again, “with Larry Griffith.”
Wayne State University professor of economic history Charles Hyde has studied and written several books about the American auto industry. In Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation, he traces the company's history as it was influenced for better or worse by major executives and corporate policy. But for his topic at the CEMA show Prof. Hyde recapped another book, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson and American Motors. In that volume the author traces the lives and careers of the principle inventors, engineers and executives of the three companies as they succeeded or not in building and selling cars.
Charles Nash, for example, born in 1864, was orphaned at age 12 in rural Michigan. By 1910 he had overcome his circumstances and rose to become president of the Buick Division of General Motors under William Durant. Nash actually hired Walter P. Chrysler to manage the Buick factory before Chrysler got started in his own enterprise. In 1912 Durant was forced out of General Motors by financial backers and Nash became president of GM. Durant went on to found Chevrolet and soon regained control of General Motors by merging it with Chevrolet. Durant got even with Nash, forcing him to resign from GM. But Nash then bought the Thomas B. Jeffrey Co., which had sold its first production car in 1902, a vehicle called the Rambler. More than 50 years later there would be another Nash Rambler on American roads, a very popular vehicle that is still considered the first modern compact car.
In response to a question from the audience about the survival of smaller car companies, Prof. Hyde noted: “I think, in the end, what did in Nash, Hudson and ultimately American Motors, was that they were simply too small to compete with the Big Three. You know, there are economies of scale either in making parts for your own use or in buying parts from suppliers. If you are one of the big boys, you get your parts and components a lot cheaper than if you are small. You get breaks and you'll have more suppliers competing to take care of you. The other thing that people don't think about much, is that, if you are a small company, the cost of design, engineering and styling new products is enormously expensive in relation to your sales volume.
“One of the legacies that I should have mentioned that came out of Chrysler's purchase of American Motors, was the ‘engineering platform team.’ That was an American Motors innovation which they had used for several years. . . . It was a way of having all of your design, engineering and styling staff working on only one model at one time and doing it in close quarters. . . . It helped them produce a fair number of models quickly. And that's the key. Instead of taking 5 years to produce a new design . . . at American Motors you could do it in two-and-a-half years with a platform team. So that was one of the big legacies that is still with Chrysler today.
“It was very, very hard for small companies to compete. Just think about the Kaiser-Fraser Corp. which was established right after World War II. They had several hundred million dollars in investment to get started but they never got big enough to compete head-to-head with the Big Three. In one of their top years they produced only 200,000 vehicles. Around then, the Chevrolet Divison of General Motors alone was bigger than the entire Ford Motor Company, and certainly much bigger than Chrysler.”
Larry Shepherd retired in 2001 from Chrysler where he had worked in the Performance Parts Division. Over his career he authored several in-house technical manuals on various engine configurations. He also wrote two popular books published by HPBooks: How
to Hot Rod Small Block Mopar Engines, and How to Rebuild Your Mopar Magnum V8.
Speaking and taking questions for about an hour from the DJ booth in front of the Museum, Larry said he would limit his talk to drive-train parts. "Drive trains, transmissions, etc., tend to be universal between various cars," he said. "Whereas engine parts are usually specific to the particular blocks. That gets complicated." He spent several minutes talking manual vs. automatic transmissions with emphasis on the superior speed of the Mopar Torqueflite over the manual 3- or 4-speed, in most drivers’ hands.
"In the late '60's and early '70's," he added, "virtually all GM and Ford cars ran Chrysler transmissions, clutches, flywheels, drive-shafts and U-joints, and in many cases, the 9¾-inch rear end, which was really a Dana. The Mopar performance parts were durable and known to be available to purchase new." He concluded with comments on rear suspension.
Dave Rockwell's talk recapped many events described in the Ramchargers book, which was published in 2009 by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Dave identified all of the Ramcharger members, it landmark events, and the many break-through engineering innovations that made its cars formidable competitors. One episode exemplified how the team rallied to produce successful race cars.
When they got the go-ahead to build a Top Fuel car, to power it they chose an unused "B engine, block #4" made in the company’s effort to win Daytona 500 honors in 1964. “Those engines were known for superior bottom-end strength and the team felt this would allow increased spark advance,” Dave said. "With the small-block Chevys and early Hemis, spark advance usually ran about 30-35 degrees, with blower and fuel and so forth. The team began experimenting with 60-70 degrees spark advance. With that the car took off like a rocket. As many as 90 degrees at times was dialed into the car with the predictable results, although they had to work out some reliability problems."
Tom Coddington, a charter member of the Ramchargers, was present with Dave in the auditorium. He commented that Don Garlits was, "not having any luck at all with a 426 Hemi in his Top-Fuel car and he was about to put his 392 back in. From the Chrysler executive office, we got word to work this out for Don. He tells a funny story about how he couldn't figure out how we could go so fast.”
Tom C. continues, “Well, we broke a lot of parts. It was a steep learning curve. Nitro superchargers were not something we had a lot of experience with. We were the Super Stock guys. Don finally figured out that spark advance really was the answer. He scared his mechanic so bad! They tried another 5 degrees and it worked. They tried another 10 degrees and it worked. By the time they got to 50 or 60 degrees, the mechanic wouldn't even stand near the car. It was such a dramatic difference from 30 to 70 degrees with nitromethane. Basically, it was the chamber shape, and the nitro, which burns very slowly compared with gasoline."
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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