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Mopar innovator Jim Thornton remembered

by David Zatz on

by fellow Ramcharger Mike Buckel

Jim Thornton, a key member of the legendary Ramchargers, died of cancer on June 6, 2014.  He was the technical and spiritual leader and a gifted innovator who led to the Ramchargers’ success.

jim thornton

He joined Chrysler in 1960 and immediately became involved with the Ramchargers club car, the High & Mighty C/Altered record holding car.  That car became obsolete because of rule changes for 1961, and Thornton led the effort to secure minor sponsorship from Dodge Division for a ’61 Super Stock.  That car defeated every car worth beating at the Nationals in Indianapolis and triggered Chrysler’s serious participation in Super Stock drag racing with the Max Wedge cars and later the 426 Hemi.

Jim led the Ramchargers from 1961 through 1967 as the primary driver, technical innovator, and spark plug.  At Chrysler, he was elevated to Manager, Race Vehicle Design.  His desire to make the cars ever faster resulted in numerous Ramcharger wins and Chrysler innovations.   Thornton designed the ’65 A-990 Super Stock cars and conceived the idea of relocating the wheels for better weight distribution.  The ’64 A/Factory Experimental car featured a modest wheelbase alteration that was greatly expanded for the ’65 A/FX cars, giving Jim claim to being inventor of Funny Cars.

Thornton designed the Torque-Cancelation chassis that was first incorporated in the Little Red Wagon and featured in the Ramchargers most successful ’67 Funny Car.

jim-thornton-2010In 1969, Jim joined Rupp Industries as the Chief Engineer for Snowmobile Racing, remaining until Rupp closed in 1972.  He moved on to Jeep as the Director of Vehicle Engineering, and retired after the French took over American Motors.  With two partners he formed Applied Technologies Inc., whose products were designed for many elements of the automobile industry including the Dodge NASCAR engine block.  Jim’s final retirement was in 2004 when the business was sold.

Thornton was raised in Richmond, Missouri, close to Kansas City.   He was an Eagle Scout, Valedictorian of this high school class, summa cum laude in his Mechanical Engineer class at Missouri University, and was ranked first in the 1961 class at the Chrysler Institute of Engineering where he received a Masters of Automotive Engineering.

His wife of 46 years, Margaret, and his grandson, John, preceded Jim in death.  His brother John, his children, John, David, Jama and Renee, 9 grand children, and one greatgrand child survive him.

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