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Birth of the Funny Car (1964): Ramcharger Recollections #14

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

The A-990 cars went into production in late 1964; they were certainly the most outstanding race ready cars ever built on a production line. All steel, with new aluminum heads for the Hemi and numerous other weight-reduction features, they would be the basis for Chrysler's continuing domination of the Super Stock classes.

Master visionary Jim Thornton also came up the radical altered-wheelbase concept, building on the minor wheelbase alteration of '64. The altered-wheelbase cars would be the A/FX that would go head-to-head with the SOHC Fords and Comets.

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Retired Ramcharger Dale Reeker, who had moved from the Transmission Lab to the race group in Product Planning, came up with idea to acid dip the cars. These ultra-lightweight cars would be provided to sponsored racers and, unknown to us at that time, the Funny Car was born.

Ford had been severely embarrassed by the almost total lack of success of the '64 Thunderbolt program, and they were coming at us with a vengeance. They used their SOHC engine, outlawed by NASCAR but allowed in NHRA, in their compact Comets, Falcons, and Mustangs, giving them a power, total weight, weight distribution, and frontal area advantage. The dipped altered-wheelbase cars would address two of the four issues we faced for the '65 season: weight and weight distribution.

The first car with the altered-wheelbase modification was an early A-990 Plymouth. The modification was conducted and well documented in the Chrysler Structures Lab. The Lab's report is included in the book We Were The Ramchargers.

The twelve sponsored racers got the bodies that had been dipped for their A/FX cars. The bodies had been framed in the Los Angeles plant and shipped to an aircraft supplier with a large acid tank. This process known as "chemical milling" was a common weight-reduction process for aircraft assemblies. It must have been quite a show as all the body filler and other contaminates went up in smoke. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) said, "You ain't doing that any more."

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Eight of the cars were delivered to the ambulance factory for the altered wheelbase modification. The other four were left with the standard wheelbase for A/FX at the NHRA Winternationals. The racers were provided with an A-990 car to get all the parts and screws to quickly assemble their A/FX racecar.

To address the third Ford advantage (power), we started the fuel injection project in the Engine Lab. The system was based upon Hilborn fuel injectors and manifolds. On the dynamometer, we were able to adjust the fuel flow at each engine speed to obtain best power. Tom (Ghost) Coddington was responsible for the total fuel system. Numerous inlet tube lengths and configurations were run; the best power was with 7½-inch tapered tubes (later known as short tubes). The Ghost was able to modify the fuel system to obtain a fuel delivery curve that matched what the engine wanted.

The first car test at Carlsbad, California (near Hilborn) identified the problem of the automatic transmission car not launching, that is well documented in We Were The Ramchargers. Back in the Engine Lab, we looked for a cure that would save our Torqueflite cars. We found that a long 15 5/8-inch tube combination provided a lot more torque and gave up only a few horsepower; so the short tubes worked on manual-transmission cars, and the long tubes worked on the automatic-transmission cars.

Getting the idle fuel rich enough to obtain a strong launch and but not so rich that it would foul the plugs before the run was also a major challenge for the Torqueflite cars. From that day on, it was fresh plugs every run. Thanks, Champion.

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