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by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club
As winter approached in Detroit, we returned the ’61 Super/Stock back to Dodge. We never did learn the final disposition of the car, but it was rumored that it went to California, possibly to Mickey Thompson. In any event, it was never heard from again.
We finalized a deal with Dodge for the ’62 season that included a car, two engines, and the use of a pool car on weekends, if we went over to Dodge Main in Hamtramck and picked one up. The latter was problematic as the lightweight ’62s were not good tow cars, and the full size 880 did not become available until late in the year.
We knew the 413 Max Wedge package was coming, but none of the new parts were available until very late spring, so the engine and driveline were identical to that of the ’61 car. The ’62 car was delivered just after New Year’s, and the flog was on. The only available garage was Jack McPherson's single car with no heat – cold!
The fender side shields were boxed to accommodate the short/long ram manifold. The car was completed and run in by late January and delivered to Dodge for shipment, by rail, to California for the Winter Nationals. We had no great expectations as to what condition the car would be in California, having heard many war stories about the problems with shipping cars by rail.
We arrived in Los Angeles and found the car in good condition at the Dodge Service Center. But it rained. When the Winter Nationals were postponed all the guys but me went home. I was burning some vacation time with my new wife and took custody of the car. The following weekend I drove the car to San Gabriel to try it out since there was no support crew to attempt the Winter Nationals. The track had excellent traction so the car was easy to drive, and it ran in the high-12s at 113 mph. We believed we had the first Super Stock to run under 13 seconds. Al Eckstrand was also there with a Chrysler with Torqueflite, and he consistently beat me in low gear.
There was great optimism in the group when I reported on the car's performance. The optimism turned into disappointment when we ran the car at slippery Detroit Dragway on opening day. The poor weight distribution made the car more difficult to launch than the '61, with ETs that were about the same as the '61, but the speed was considerably higher due to the lighter-weight car. (The photo on page 98 in the book We Were the Ramchargers shows just how light the car was in the rear.)
In spite of the traction issue, we held our own during opening day at Detroit Dragway in a match race against Dyno Don. We won the first two and lost the last three due to missed shifts on that lousy A-239 Chrysler 3-speed manual transmission.
Desperate measures had to be undertaken. I cast a lead-filled rear bumper that added about 100 pounds, and lead-filled tubes were inserted into the tailpipes. These measures made the car marginally better to launch but it slowed down. Out of sheer desperation we decided to try an automatic transmission. I took the car on an exhibition date to Niagara Falls, Canada. Again we were fooled by the excellent traction of that track, as I came back with some 12.7-second time slips.
The following week we again raced Dyno Don at Detroit Dragway. Feeling that we had the silver bullet, we figured we had the Dyno covered by over ¼ second – no! Slippery old Detroit Dragway got us again and we lost three of five races. It required nearly a month to learn how to drive the automatic on slick surfaces with the available 7-inch tires allowed in Super Stock. The plan turned out to be to tippy toe the car out in low gear, gradually feeding in throttle, allowing the driver and torque converter to feel the track. If the throttle was not fully open at the top of low gear, the throttle had to be closed some to prevent wheel spin on the upshift. This technique required a lot of discipline on the part of the driver, but once perfected, the ¼-second performance improvement was realized. And the rest they say is history.
My next student assignment was in Front End Design where fenders, hoods, and attaching brackets were drawn up. The contours for the fenders and hoods came from Styling, and these shapes were converted to lines. The drafts were on 5' x 12' lacquer-coated aluminum sheets with lines scratched in the lacquer with gold-tipped scribes. That was my first and only experience with union draftsmen, who were the laziest guys in the plant. Most of them made three lines, not more than a foot long, per day; morning, afternoon, and evening overtime. I was offered a permanent position in that department, which I turned down without any reservation.
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