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Mopar performance: building street cred in 1962

I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. - Curtis Redgap

by Curtis Redgap

Lynn Townsend, newly appointed President of Chrysler, didn't like what he didn't see on the streets. No ChryCo cars kicking butt in the great American race, the one from stop light to stop light on any given city at any given time. Chevrolet was ruling the streets, though (most of the time), the police were easily apprehending the speeding kids with a Mopar car!

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Townsend had two teen-aged sons. He often queried them about what was happening out on Woodward Avenue. They dutifully reported that the Plymouth-Dodge duo had no presence at all.

Townsend also was committed to making the Petty Enterprise Group the hottest thing in NASCAR. Less than a month after assuming the Presidency, Townsend sent down a research order to the engine group. "Develop some engines that will kick some [I should have my mouth washed out with soap for using such terms] on the street and the track." The engineers had the knowledge. The 413 engine was right for the job.

Townsend dutifully polled the dealers, and truly took the suggestions to research to see about development. Dad became excited about the idea of a 413 block in a Savoy-chassis Plymouth. "Such a car would kill anything that Chevrolet or Ford could put between red lights!" Yes, my Dad endorsing street racing. You can only guess what he would have done to me, had he known how many stops lights I had raced from with my cars. But, at the time, they were dreams of a growing teen-age boy.

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There was a series of high level dealer meetings, and Dad, from his experience with the Fury, was directly invited by no less than Townsend himself. Townsend also wanted to know a lot about the way Dad ran the dealership.

Of all the Chrysler Presidents, less Walter himself, Lynn Townsend was the only one that ever came to see the operation. He spent a week with us, just observing, and a guest in the house. He was critical of the lack of a huge showroom - this would have repercussions later on.

Lynn Townsend was as down to earth as anyone. He was always smiling, which I am given to understand belied a huge vehement temper. As he was leaving, he promised Dad that we would be the first to receive the new Plymouth Sport Fury (model name revived) along with the new race ready models. Good to his word, he made sure we got some of the new Sport Furys, which bowed in mid-term. To our surprise, the hardtops had the 383 4-barrel dual-exhaust engine. They were awesome.

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Dad's cousin, who always wanted the fastest Chrysler, managed to finance a new Fury with the 383. He should have waited about a month. But, Dad wouldn't have sold him the newest edition of the Plymouth anyway. It was never meant to run on the street.

The Hot 1962 Savoy 413 at the races

Within a couple days after the bright red Savoy came off the truck, my cousin James arrived. He stayed with us for nearly a month, while the guys in the shop along with James worked over that new Plymouth. They made no modifications. They just tore the engine apart, examined all the parts, weighed them, balanced them, and then reinstalled them. The exercise was a waste of time. It was already, balanced, polished and ported.

In our area, there was quite a contingent of drag racers. A company had leased a portion of the old aircraft factory's runway. NHRA sanctioned it from its inception. It had a timing tower with electronic timing equipment that was certified accurate by Bulova. It consisted of 1,320 feet of good level concrete, followed by 2,640 feet of shut down. After that was another 2,640 feet filled with 18 inches of pure white bleached sand. There were accidents, but no one was ever killed in the entire 22 years that it operated. The facilities were constantly upgraded. A national event was held there, but that was after we were no longer in the business, and I was in the Air Force, a long ways from home.

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The main nemesis for the stock drag racers was my older brother. He was also a thorn in my Dad's side. Those two never hit it off for some reason. My brother, who was in the Navy, had volunteered to become a naval recruiter. Instead of sending him to some far off, exotic, and out of mind place, the Navy sent him home! There, he managed to corral some Navy money and build himself a drag car. He was running a 1960 Chevrolet with a 348 CI V-8, and it wrankled Dad every time someone mentioned how well my brother was doing. It was good. It should have been, all my brother ever did was tune it up. It would turn the 1/4 mile in 15.5 at 90 miles an hour, fast by 1962 standards.

All those who came into contact with that bright red Savoy were sworn to silence. Chrysler engineers had developed the placid people-hauler 413 into a monster that developed 410 or 420 horsepower, depending on compression ratio. That was a load of fly attraction! With the 12.0 to 1 compression ratio, these full bore race ready 413s were bristling with at least 500 horsepower. The car was ready. Now, it was taken to a corner of the shop and covered up.

The Daytona race was thrilling as usual. Richard Petty, put his 1962 model Savoy 2 door hardtop onto the back bumper of Glenn "Fireball" Roberts' Pontiac and hung on to take second place. Plymouth and Dodge did not have the horses of the Pontiac or the Chevrolet, and there was no way for Petty to muscle his way past Roberts. Richard Petty managed to finish an impressive second in points again. Endorsements began to come his way, besides Plymouth's help.

Sales were fairly steady into Spring. Valiant and Chrysler were doing well. Plymouth and Dodge were pitiful. However, a rumble had started out on the West Coast. Plymouths were suddenly feared whenever they showed up at the strip. "Rumors, that is all they were," according to my brother. Dad smiling a lot in anticipation of the first event of the season at the drag strip. So far, no one had talked about that secret '62 that was covered up in the corner of the garage.

Next door to us was a lovely family that had 15 children, including Sarah, the drum major for our high school band. She was also red-haired, blue eyed and freckled, all over. She was four years older than yours truly, and I think the apple of my father's eye. I think he saw a younger version of my mother, since they really did look like more like mother and daughter than Sarah and Mary did. Dad took the boys aside and taught them what they needed to do to pit crew a car. He then had Sarah take driving lessons so she could earn her NHRA driver's license, and even furnished a traded-in police unit for her practice.

The local track's first event was April 5. Early in the evening of April 4, the cover came off that '62 Savoy. It was carefully gone over. Then it was pushed out in back of the garage. The showroom was locked. Eddie, my buddy, reached under the fenders and unplugged the exhaust headers.

The 413 engine's headers were a work of art. To make the engine fit, they swept upwards, dumping into a collector just behind the front wheels. There was a complete stock system, but the caps allowed the exhaust to exit right behind the wheels. The coil wire was taken off, and the engine was cranked for almost a minute using just the starter. That was to assure that oil had reached critical parts of the engine. The coil wire was put back on.

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That engine lit off with a roar unlike anything I had ever heard before. There was a deep gutsy rumble as the 8 cylinders fought to come up on the camshaft timing to smooth out. It was let idle nearly 1/2 an hour to get heat into the block. The gasoline was the 130 octane stuff from the airport. Dad had purchased over 100 gallons of the juice just for that Plymouth.

Finally, Dad himself got in the car and punched the "D" button. The Torqueflite locked up immediately with a satisfying mechanical bump. Dad made a few preliminary jabs at the throttle. The car practically leaped out from under him. Not satisfied, he idled it out on the back street. He then jacked the engine against the brakes, and lit the car off. Too much throttle. The back tires lit up in white smoke. He finally got the combination he wanted. The car leapt forward like a cat. He pulled it back in, grinning. About that time, Sarah showed up with her brothers. I was left out of it.

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The next day, we went to the drag strip. Dad deliberately held back so that we would arrive after the races had begun. We bought pit passes and entered the garage area. We found out where my brother was, and deliberately avoided that area.

Sarah and her team of brothers had created a huge stir. This was the first Savoy, heck, the first Plymouth anyone had seen on a drag strip in years! She said nothing. There was no engine size or markings on the car at all. Just a deep, bright, shiny red color.

Along with my brother, Sarah faced quite a few competitors that day, mostly Chevrolets, and some Fords. Her lonely little Plymouth just kept getting better. God, she was good! Her first run (with the headers capped) yielded a 15 second run at 93 miles an hour. Everyone then became confident that they could easily compete and beat this little lady with the red Savoy. Her next run was a bit better, 15 seconds and 95 miles an hour.

My brother was determined to whip this Plymouth. He was so anxious that he managed to break a rear axle on his second burn out. He was given 45 minutes to repair it and get back to the line for time. Someone had a 1959 Chevrolet and they lent him the rear axle out of their car! That was racing in those times. He came out and blew through the quarter at 14.7 and 98 miles an hour - The fastest he had ever run. He was supremely confident now that he could easily handle Sarah and her Savoy.

Sarah came up against a '61 Ford with the 390 hp 401 package. She ate his lunch with a 14 second flat pass at 100 miles an hour.

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When she went back to the pits this time, there was only one competitor left. She uncapped the headers, and M&H Racemaster slicks were tacked on the back. My brother and her squared off in the staging lane. He tried to psyche her out by holding back and not staging. She just pulled up and staged, leaving him sitting outside the line. With the headers off, the gutsy rumble was clearly present all across the race facility. Finally, he pulled up and the staged light went on. As soon as it did, Sarah jacked the Savoy up against the torque converter, holding about 1800 rpm on the engine. I could see my brother do a double take when she did that.

About that time, the Christmas tree (timing lights) began to count down, and then "GREEN!" That bright red Savoy yanked its nose into the air with a bellow that put everyone in the stands up on their feet. A roar went through the crowd. Nothing like that had ever been seen like that here before. The left front wheel was practically off the ground. But, bless her, she held it straight and true.

She hole shot my brother so badly he never caught her. About halfway down the quarter, when the Torqueflite shifted into third gear, the rear end of that Savoy came up like a bee-stung mule high-tailing it for the barn. That is how much torque was generated by those engines. It just tried to twist itself out of its mounts, sending the power to the rear axle in such a way as to actually raise the back ends like they were going down a hill!

Sarah hit the timing lights with the fastest posted stock car time ever at that track, 13.02 at 106 miles an hour. She pulled back to the pits and shut it off, the stock eliminator. My brother was furious. He must have screamed all the way to the NHRA booth. He was going to file a protest. He had to put up $50 to make Sarah tear down the engine to see if it was truly stock. He then marched over to her pits to tell her off.

The only thing was, Dad and I were already there waiting for him. Dad and he got into a real shouting match. However, finally, they both calmed down. No one filed a protest, and Sarah kept her trophy. However, the very next week, my brother went to the track with a shiny red Plymouth Savoy. He pulled a season-best 12.30 and 117.36 miles an hour near the end of the season. He never drove anything else but Chrysler for the rest of his life. I don't know what Dad had said to him later, but, to hear my brother, after that, you would think he damn well invented Chryslers.

By the way, some guy out on the West Coast named Tom Grove set a new NHRA stock car record of 11.93 seconds at 118.57 miles an hour in July 1962. The Plymouth, named the "Melrose Missile," was the first car to break the 12 second barrier. What was lacking was the long muscle of the roundy tracks of NASCAR.

Other parts of this series

More by Curtis Redgap:

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