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High & Mighty - the Ramchargers' first racing car

Photos by Marc Rozman, CEMA member and part of the High & Mighty II team

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Back in the late 1950s, a group of off-duty Chrysler Corporation engineers racing in their spare time decided to band together and form an organization, called the Ramchargers, to really see what they could do.

Following the ethic of that era's Chrysler Corporation, they wanted to move from insufficiently proven lore and hunches to a more scientific, collaborative approach.

Their first car was a 1949 Plymouth business coupe, probably chosen for its weight and price; their first budget was low even by standards of the day.

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The drag car was powered by what might have been the best engine of the time, a 354 Hemi, complete with 392 Hemi heads for better breathing (in 1960, they put a 392 block underneath the 392 heads; the car was cleaned up and painted white for its sponsor, Mason's Plymouth-Valiant of Ferndale). In these pre-Torqueflite days, they used a manual transmission - a three speed.

The engine was modified by a group, including Tom Hoover; the intake and exhaust were fabricated by Pete McNichols. To cut weight, they shortened the Plymouth's frame, temporarily dropped the rear fenders, cut four inches off the top, and slid the body forward on the chassis, resulting in half the engine appearing in the cabin.

They ended up putting coil springs from a Buick up front, and used a multilink suspension in back, designed by Dick Burke from the steering and suspension group. Rear wheels were moved inwards, and the engine was tilted, to put as much weight onto the rear axle; that, coupled with the multilink suspension, provided straight launches. The rear fenders weren't modified and added until 1960, from lack of time; likewise, the body wasn't repainted until 1960, when it was painted white.

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In two years, the High & Mighty set NHRA records for top quarter mile speed (12.8 seconds at 109.75 mph) and elapsed time (12.62 seconds @ 115 mph). The top speed quarter mile time ever recorded for the car was 11.8 seconds, the top quarter-mile speed 117 mph.

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The 1960 racing season was the last for the car, which was parted out. However, Bob Lees and Paul Sullins, both Chrysler executives, suggested the creation of a clone, to match the original as much as it could. CEMA, the Chrysler Employee Motorsports Assocation, raised about a dozen members to work on a tight budget, putting in a huge number of hours after work and on weekends and holidays, creating a new High & Mighty; some of the old Ramchargers team contributed their time and labor as well as drawings and photos. The basis for the new High & Mighty was a 1949 Plymouth business coupe, purchased for $1,200 from a private individual in Wisconsin. A 392 engine was procured, and then another was donated. The rear suspension was re-created under Dick Burke's supervision, but the front springs come from a truck, not a Buick.

The original intake was actually still in use in Florida, having been modified to work with fuel injection; the group bought it back and restored it, then had a custom exhaust created from photographic records.

Hear the High & Mighty II (from Chryslers at Carlisle, 2009; recorded by Gene Yetter)

The first run of the High & Mighty II was in 2006, and the car launched well; it wasn't pushed hard. Since then, it's had its motor revved for thousands of fans, and has been run down drag strips at events across the country.

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Tom Hoover said (in a speech at Carlisle):

Even in those days, it became evident that if you really wanted to get serious about setting some national records, participating at the big meets and so forth, you couldn't do it in a car that you drove to work every day in the winter of Detroit. The two are incompatible. So fundamentally, and this was kind of an intermediate stage, the first joint project where people didn't operate independently but rather got together to achieve an overall objective was the High and Mighty cars, the clone of which is over here today which you should go and see. It was a super low-budget operation. Various interested people contributed largely in what was becoming their field of expertise. For example, the first engine for the car was put together by myself and Danny Mancini. And it was a 354 Dodge Truck engine, truck-like, big truck, which had dropped an exhaust valve, sodium-cooled exhaust valve. The only money we spent on it aside from gas and so forth which we could liberate at Chrysler was a set of pistons and we had a camshaft ground for it.

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So that engine was good enough that the first time the car went out - typical of engineers we were always behind schedule - was at the Nationals in 1959. The car went 109 and some change, the best speed in the meet. I must say that it was a very difficult car to drive, and particularly because of exhaust manifold cleaning. If you look at it, it's got very long branch exhaust drafts on each cylinder along with a - well, a tuning cone on the end which is a blow down proposition. But basically it had a torquer with a very deep hole so launching it was very difficult. If you launched it too hard you'd smoke the tires. If you didn't launch it hard enough it didn't sneeze, but it had such a big hole in it that you'd bump [?]. Anyway, that combined effort fueled numerous national records and so forth.
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Joe wrote:

In 1961 the Ramchargers wanted to get into stock dragging so they set up a Dart after Plymouth turned them down. Their 413 was probably similar externally to the 300 F and G Specials, but according to a mag put out by Hot Rod Magazine, Chrysler Corporation Cars Performance Handbook (1962), the 1961 Dart that they took to the NHRA Nats at Indy had the "short" long rams of the Specials, but its cam was a 292 degree duration jobber (an RC-92 with solid lifters - imagine adjusting those with the long rams!) and 12.5- or 13-1 compression Forged True pistons. Remember, NHRA allowed all kinds of parts then to be used if they were factory approved.
Thanks to Marc Rozman, Chrysler Employees Motorsports Association (CEMA) secretary, and Bob Lees, High & Mighty Team Leader, for their help.

David Rockwell has written a book on the Ramchargers which will be published by the SAE in late 2009 or early 2010.

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