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1966: Nitro and Aero Challenges (Ramcharger Recollections #20)

by Mike Buckel, Ramcharger • courtesy of the North Georgia Mopar Club

1966 was the first year that we did not have to rush car assembly for a Winternationals event. The extra time was needed, as we were building a car from scratch. We knew that the Mercury team was going with a Logge chassis with a flip-up body; we decided that the weight penalty of a self-supporting fiberglass body was too much, and went with a very light body on a rigid chassis. Remember, this was the days before carbon-fiber construction.

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The chassis was simple as we had designed it and Woody built it. The body was a different story as nobody had a '66 Dart body mold. We finally got B&N Fiberglass in Dayton, Ohio, to use a car to make a mold. The body then was modified to stretch the front fenders and move the wheel openings around.

After the body was attached, Dick Jones and I took it to Ohio to a friend of Dave Koffels for the interior. This guy was a master of thin aluminum fabrication, and within a few days it was finished.

The strategy for the car was based, for the most part, on the proven components used on the '65 car. The wheelbase was to be long, and the car as low and light as possible. The front axle was a leaf-spring suspended-beam axle with no brakes. The 8¾-inch rear axle was retained but narrowed so that the tires fit within the body. Rear leaf springs were retained. The driver was positioned as far rearward as possible with the top of the roll cage sticking out the rear window opening. The passenger door opened for driver access. A small console was fabricated for the Torqueflite pushbuttons between the driver's legs. The nitro-loaded, fuel-injected engine was just forward of the windshield. The transmission required the short A-100 rear extension. The driveshaft was very short. The car came in at 1,940 pounds, below the 2,000-pound target.

As soon as the snow melted, we began testing at Detroit Dragway. Starting with 50% nitro, we escalated to 90%. We determined that the car worked better with about 100 pounds of ballast at the rear axle and that the car was too low. Following the dragster leader Dan Knapp's advice, we tested the big Hilborn pump and discovered it was worth a lot. This added to our confusion about what was going on with nitro inside the combustion chamber.

The car had a rather inauspicious beginning during a best of three-match race with Seaton's Chevrolet at Detroit Dragway. We had just sold the '65, and the buyer wanted a demonstration that we were giving him a good car and engine. The new car won the first round at 8.91 seconds at 155 mph. The tow rope was mistakenly tied to the tie rod instead of the front axle, resulting in a severe bend. The old '65 was rolled out and nitroed up for the second round. It won the race at 9.00 seconds at 150 mph. The new buyer was happy.

Aerodynamics became a major issue as funny cars attained the 160-mph range. People who were still running in nose-up configuration were crashing, and a few died. Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen crossed the finish line at 150 mph on the roof of his Barracuda funny car.

We had a slight advantage as some of the Ramchargers had been doing NASCAR aerodynamics work. We knew, for example, that no air should be allowed under the car, a front spoiler was effective, and only a minimum amount of air should be allowed through the grille. The car soon sprouted a big front spoiler that resembled a snowplow blade and a rear spoiler to prevent the rear from getting light at high speed.

As speeds increased and ETs lowered, it became obvious, especially to the drivers, that the car would not consistently launch straight. On some tracks, we were able to adjust the rear spring shackles to make it better, then it was still off at the next track. Excessive deflection of the rear springs became the primary suspect, so Jim Thornton began design a four-bar coil-over-shock rear suspension modification.

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