posted July 27, 2004 12:48 PM
The Glory Years
Published Thursday, July 22, 2004
by George Klass
At the grass roots level, drag racing was the auto enthusiast's dream during the sixties. Unlike NASCAR races, at the drag strips across the country fans could see the cars and drivers up close. The manufacturers recognized that "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" worked. Sensing this trend, Ford jumped in with both feet.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) got the ball rolling by creating so-called Stock Classes for production cars. As long as the car came off the assembly line, it would fall into one of the many stock classes, based on shipping weight divided by advertised horsepower. The top class was Super Stock and the "S/S" symbol became an easily recognized logo.
Without realizing it, Ford inadvertently built the first true Super Stocker in 1960. How many of you remember the 1960 Ford Starliner fitted out with the 352 inch engine? The 352 (FE series block) came from the factory with lots of heavy duty stuff including a solid cam, 10.6:1 compression and 360 HP at 6000 RPM. The transmission was a Borg-Warner heavy duty 3-speed. Ford's goal with the special Starliner was to upstage Chevy's 350 HP, 348 W-block engine. The Starliner had a 119 inch wheelbase and was certainly no lightweight.
In 1960, several racers around the country built these cars up just for drag racing purposes. The NHRA rules forbade much deviation from stock but "blueprinting" and other subtle modifications produced cars that would easily run away from the equivalent show room stocker.
Gas Ronda, working as a dance instructor for Arthur Murray during the week and drag racing on the weekends, did pretty well with his Starliner. Ronda teamed up with another Ford enthusiast by the name of Les Ritchey. Ritchey had a dyno and engine building shop in West Covina, CA, called Performance Associates which is still in existence today.
In 1961 the battle for supremacy in Super Stock was heating up and Ford found out that there were some other players on the block.
For 1961, Ford increased the displacement to 390 cubic inches. The new engine was rated at 375 HP. A 4-speed B-W trans and 10.5 inch clutch was added in mid year just before the NHRA Nationals on Labor Day, along with a new intake manifold with three 2-barrel carbs. The new intake raised the rated horsepower to 401. By this time, Les Ritchey had a Starliner of his own and ran a 13.33 at 106.16 MPH at the 1961 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, CA, barely losing to the eventual winner, some guy named Don Nicholson. Another Southern California Ford racer was burning up the drag strip at San Fernando, CA, and that was Dick Landy. Only the old timers remember that Landy raced a bright red Starliner in 1961, and later a yellow 1962 Ford 406 before hooking up with the Mopar team.
The NHRA Finals in 1961 were held at the newly opened Indianapolis Raceway Park with 40,000 fans yelling their appreciation for the Super Stock racers. At the time, Super Stock was by far the most popular class in NHRA. Hayden Proffitt's Pontiac (owned by Mickey Thompson from Long Beach, CA) went 12.55 at 110.29 with some "just released new stock parts". The parts weren't yet approved for Super Stock competition so NHRA created a new class, Optional Super Stock (OS/S) just for that event. Another west coast racer, Don Nicholson was starting to get a reputation with his Chevy after winning the Winternationals.
In 1960 Nicholson was running a Chevy El Camino with a 348 inch engine and winning more than his share of races in the L.A area. Don worked as a tune-up and dyno operator at Service Chevrolet in Pasadena, CA. Nicholson's 1961 409 Chevy went 13.25 at 110 MPH at Indy and it wasn't long before his winning ways gave him the nickname, "Dyno Don".
The Ford Super Stock racers included Gas Ronda, Les Ritchey and a new team out of Providence, RI, Tasca Ford.
If any single year could be called "the" year for Super Stock racing it was 1962. 1962 was probably the last year in which anybody could walk in to their local new car dealer and purchase a Super Stocker, just like they saw running at the drag strip on Sunday. Here was the lineup. Ford offered the 406, Chevy had the 409, Dodge and Plymouth had the 413 wedge and Pontiac offered the 421.
The Ford 406 was an improved 390 block with a larger bore. Cross bolted mains for the number 2, 3 and 4 main bearing caps strengthened the bottom end. More compression (11.4:1) kicked the "rated" horsepower to 405. It didn't take long before NHRA figured out that using a 'weight divided by rated horsepower" formula wasn't the way to go. The factories were downgrading the actual horsepower figures. The standard curb weight for the 1962 Ford was a hefty 3800 pounds.
NHRA played with the Super Stock rules for 1962. Racers could now use a wider tire (7 inches max) and a class for the auto trans Super Stockers was created (Super Stock Automatic or S/SA). NHRA also added a Factory Experimental (or F/X) class. This class was designed for cars in which Super Stock engines could be installed into smaller (and lighter) cars of the same make. The first F/X combination to make an impact was Hayden Proffitt when he stuffed a 421 Pontiac engine in a much smaller Tempest body, starting a whole new trend. This helped the performance image of some of the brands who's cars were heavier than the new, light weight Dodges and Plymouths. The production Fords and Pontiacs fell into that category. Of course, you couldn't purchase an F/X car from the dealers but they were fun to watch and the fans could still root for their favorite brands. Brand loyalty was a big thing and the track announcers played this up over the public address system, working the crowd into a frenzy.
At the 1962 Winternationals in Pomona it was mostly a Chevy and Pontiac show. Mike Lieber's 406, sponsored by Ellico Ford ran several rounds, as did Gas Ronda, now sponsored by Bill Waters Ford out of Oakland, CA.
Things picked up for Ford's image when Ed Martin (Ed Martin Ford) won the Eastern Winternationals in Miami, FL.
Ford jumped into the F/X class in mid year when Tasca Ford had a lightweight 2-door sedan especially built by Andy Hotten at Dearborn Steel Tubing. DST started with the full size Ford 300 sedan and was able to cut the weight down to 3320 pounds by utilizing fiberglass front fenders, hood, rear deck lid and aluminum inner fender panels and bumpers. The 406 engine was fitted with a new dual 4-barrel intake manifold. Unfortunately, the car fell into the AF/X class and had to run against the even lighter and smaller 421 Pontiac Tempests. Tasca's lightweight sedan was one of ten cars built by DST.
The Ford Super Stock plan for 1963 was to use a special lightweight Galaxie for drag racing. These cars were to be available in white paint only and with a red interior. Weight was 3480 pounds (700 pounds lighter than the production 63 1/2 Galaxie). The frame was from the lighter weight Ford 300 series sedan. Sound deadener was deleted. All of the bolt on parts such as the doors, trunk lid, hood, front fenders and inner fender panels was fiberglass. The bumpers and bumper brackets were aluminum. Small front bucket seats manufactured by Bostrum for the Ford Van were used. The B-W 4-speed had a full aluminum case and an NHRA legal aluminum bell housing.
Displacement was now 427 inches and the horsepower was conservatively rated at 425 at 6000 RPM. Torque was rated at 480 foot pounds at 3700 RPM. The compression ratio was up to 12.0:1. Bigger heads, more cam and two 600 CFM Holleys finished everything off.
Gas Ronda's Galaxie weighed 3425 pounds (with legal tube headers). At the beginning of the 1963 drag race season, the new Galaxie's were forced to run AF/X or Limited Production, until full production was complete. Early runs were in the low 12's at 118 MPH.
The first two lightweights were assembled at Ford's Wayne, MI assembly plant in late January 1963 barely in time to compete at the 1963 NHRA Winternationals. The cars were delivered to Tasca Ford for Bill Lawton (Tasca team driver) and Bob Ford in Dearborn, MI. At the Winternationals, Les Ritchey drove the Bob Ford car. This was all a last minute project. Parts from the Ford's Los Angeles assembly plant were shipped to Bill Stroppe in Long Beach to finish the cars in time for Pomona. Both Gas Ronda and Les Ritchey re-bodied their 1962 lightweight cars into 1963's, and nobody seemed to notice. Approximately 170 lightweight Galaxies were constructed at Ford's Norfolk assembly plane. Twenty more were built at the Los Angeles assembly plant and an unknown number of Galaxies were converted into lightweights by Holman & Moody.
Some of the Fords running in the 1963 Winternationals had parts that were not yet certified legal and had to run in the Limited Production class. Dick Brannan running out of Romy Hammes Ford was one of those.
By mid year at the NHRA nationals, Tasca Ford had converted a 1963 Ford Fairlane into a serious AF/X contender with the 427 engine. Bill Lawton was able to record a 12.21 at 118.42 before Dave Striclker took the AF/X class trophy with a Z-11 Chevy. But Tasca's 427 Fairlane definitely caught the eye of the Ford execs in Dearborn.
By now, Super Stock drag racing was a big business at Ford. A Special Vehicle program was created, managed by Frank Zimmermann. His first job was to organize the drag racing program and to establish the Ford Drag Council, composed of top drivers who also happened to be sponsored by Ford dealers in selected geographical areas.
The 427 Fairlane, soon to be known as the Farilane Thunderbolt was Zimmermann's first real project.
The Thunderbolts were designed at Ford and built by Dearborn Steel Tubing. By the time the Thunderbolts were unleashed onto the drag racing world in 1964, NHRA had decided that a minimum number of cars had to be built in order to qualify as a "production" car. Although only 50 cars were required, somewhere between 110 and 127 Thunderbolts were eventually built. As a result, the Thunderbolts were eligible to run in Super Stock rather than in Factory Experimental. If you could get one, the price was only $3900 a copy.
The NHRA weight minimum for Super Stock was now 7 1/2 pounds per cubic inch. At 427 cubic inches, this worked out to 3202 pounds. Ford knew that they could never reach this minimum weight with a full size sedan. The Fairlane Thunderbolt was lighter to begin with and also had a shorter wheelbase (115 1/2 inch compared to the Galaxies 119 inches). To make the 3200 pounds, the front fenders, hood, doors and bumpers were fiberglass duplicates. Other than the stock windshield all the other windows were plexiglass. Two lightweight bucket seats were used in the front and the stock bench seat was used in the rear. Insulation was non existent. The floor mat was a thin rubber piece with no padding.
The 427 engine had 13.3:1 compression ratio and a forged steel crank, hi-riser heads and custom tube headers. The S/S rules called for "full exhaust" so a single small diameter exhaust pipe and muffler was included. Special modifications were required to the inner fender panels, upper A-arm brackets and A-arms. The inboard headlights were replaced with 6 inch diameter ducts designed to carry fresh air to the carbs. A Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed or a specially beefed up Lincoln Cruise-O-Matic automatic trans was available. About half of the Thunderbolts were originally equipped with the automatic trans but reliability problems caused many racers to eventually convert to the 4-speed. In the rear, "ladder bars" built from square tubing and modified leaf springs were used. To counteract torque, the driver's side had two leafs and the passenger side had three. The standard axle ratio was 4.56:1. Originally in the trunk was a 125 pound truck battery but after NHRA objected, a smaller, 95 pound battery was used. The first seven cars were painted burgundy and all the rest were white.
In the first test of the Thunderbolt in S/S trim, Gas Ronda ran a 12.05 at 120.16.
Finally, Ford had a Super Stocker that could dominate the field. The NHRA Winternationals final in 1964 was between Gas Ronda and Butch Leal, a reconstituted Chevy 409 racer from Pixley, CA. The all Thunderbolt final was taken by Ronda with a 11.78 at 123.40. At the Nationals at Indy later that year, Butch Leal took S/S honors over a 1964 Plymouth Hemi with an 11.76 at 122.78.
Dearborn Steel Tubing also built two 427 powered Falcons for Factory Expeimental (AF/X). These cars were completed at the Holman & Moody shops in March of 1964. The Falcons were offered to two of the most successful Ford dealerships; Romy Hammes Ford (driven by Dick Brannon) and Al Means Ford (driven by Phil Bonner) and created a lot of press on the match race circuit.
By 1965, NHRA raised the number of units needed to qualify for production certification, to 100 units. In addition, lightweight body panels were banned. Super Stock cars now needed to be all steel (other than the hood) and the minimum weight was raised to 3400 pounds.
With these rules changes, Ford decided to forgo the Super Stock class and to concentrate on the Factory Experimental class.
Ford had just released the new Mustang (as a 64 1/2) and decided that a 427 powered Mustang fastback 2+2 was just the ticket to create a stir in the factory drag racing wars. The 427 engines were fitted with the new single overhead cam (SOHC) heads (recently banned from NASCAR competition). The new 427 Mustangs weighed in at 3230 pounds. Since the SOHC engine was wider than the hi-rise wedge, the only way to get the engine inside the Mustang front end was to cut away the stock coil spring towers and use short leaf springs as torsion bars. Naturally, the entire front clip and doors were fiberglass. 31 inch long traction bars were fabricated and the wheelbase was altered slightly by shifting the body rearward two inches. Unlike the smaller tires required for S/S, NHRA allowed ten inch wide drag slicks for the AF/X class.
All of the AF/X Mustangs were built in Charlotte, NC, by Holman & Moody.
The SOHC engines merit some comment. The cams, one on each bank, were connected and driven by a dual strand, six foot long chain. The valves were massive 2.25 inch intakes and 1.90 inch exhaust. Camshafts had a total valve lift of .550 inches and 328 degrees of duration. The engines would run to 9000 RPM and weighed only thirty pounds more than the 427 pushrod equivalent.
The AF/X Mustangs were not available through any Ford dealers but rather to the more well-known and active Ford racers only.
The 1965 Winternationals AF/X final pitted Bill Lawton's Mustang against Len Richter's Mustang. Lawton won with a 10.92 at 128.20. At the Springnationals in Bristol, TN, Don Nicholson in a SOHC Mercury Comet won AF/X with a 10.87 at 129.12. Dick Brannon's Mustang was the runner-up with a 10.93 at 129.12. Later in the season, Gas Ronda set an NHRA AF/X record of 10.43 at 134.73 with his 427 Mustang.
The original eleven AF/X Mustangs went to the following drivers: Len Richter, Gas Ronda, Hubert Platt, Les Richey, Bill Lawton, Jerry Harvey, Paul Norris, Dick Brannon, Phil Bonner, Al Joniec, and Tom Grove. A Mustang was also delivered to Clester Andrews out of Wickersham Ford. Andrew's Mustang was fitted with the 427 hi-riser wedge engine because the factory had run out of enough parts for the SOHC engines.
1965 was an eventful year in the life and times of Super Stock and Factory Experimental racing, because it basically ended after that.
The glory years (1960-1965) of the Super Stock wars were over.
The factory production cars were getting heavier. The engines were getting more domesticated. And the match race circuit had changed from featuring NHRA legal S/S and F/X cars to a new, strange looking machine, with the bodies set back over the axles and fuel injector stacks poking through the hoods.
These match race cars no longer resembled stock cars anymore. In fact for many of the fans, this new breed of race car looked kind of "funny".
Real men race their Cobras, Concours is for CUNTS