For this year's caravan, I was headed to the heart of performance territory, going south to Memphis, trucking up through Bowling Green, and on to Columbus. While these cities may have other claims to fame, it wasn't Graceland or the National Corvette Museum that had the adrenaline pumped for this Mopar freak, but the chance to visit two of the premiere aftermarket performance facilities in the industry-Competition Cams in Memphis, and Holley Performance Products in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
After working intensively with both of these companies over the years in various tech stories, I'd finally have a chance to put some faces behind the names on all of those long-distance phone calls. That I would come knocking on the door after pulling into the gate in a glitzy Prowler, with a Caravan of some of Mopars finest muscle machines, made the prospects all the more tasty.
Touching down in Memphis, Chris Brown of Comp Cams had the Prowler waiting after it had been delivered right to Comp by DaimlerChrysler and MSX. This year, I was riding shotgun with Mopar Muscle Publisher Doug Evans. I would leave most of the driving chores to the hard-driving 6-foot, 6-inch Marine, while handling the on-the-road photography.
On Wednesday morning, we sat on our luggage from our hotel and made the trip to Comp, hoping that someone with a bit more cargo space would offer us some. The crew at Comp had a large reception set for our arrival, and Doug and I waited for the caravan participants to arrive. With about half a dozen cars checked in, we began our tour of Comp's extensive facility. Now when I order a cam, I'm even more amazed when a few short days later that Comp Cams box arrives at my door. These guys have the production facilities to get the job done. Often, for Winston Cup clients, they turn out and ship a custom billet cam the day it's ordered.
While we were touring the plant, the number of Mopars outside more than doubled, so another tour group was put together while the rest of us bench raced and told lies under the Comp tent outside. Jamming the Comp lot were enough 'Cudas, Chargers, and mid-'60s B-Bodies to make it look like 1971, only the modern muscle and trucks that also joined the scene would assist in correctly setting the date.
We loaded up and hit the road for Bowling Green. Five minutes out, someone from our tour pulled up to tell us he was out of gas. We swung into the nearest station and promptly lost all of the trailered vehicles, which were lagging the pack. Back on the road, we made the run with what remained of our original group, and made the haul into Kentucky with no casualties.
By Thursday morning, we had regained a portion of the crew that we had lost the previous day, and headed out to Holley. Holley, for those of you who haven't been paying attention, is not just a carburetor company anymore. With the largest production facility of any aftermarket company, Holley now includes Weiand, B&M Superchargers, Hooker Headers, their own line of ignition system products, multipoint fuel injection systems, and the list keeps growing. We toured the plant and got a look at what goes into building the carburetors, but also had a chance to check out the extensive R&D lab and product development. These guys are serious about performance. We headed out of Holley and set our sights on Columbus.
As the first group of caravan...
As the first group of caravan arrivals went through their tour, the number of participants hitting our starting point at Comp grew, so we ran a second tour. Complements of Comp, there was plenty of shade, cool drinks, and eats to go along with the bench racing outside.
Getting the most from your...
Getting the most from your Mopar means driving it once in a while. Here's Robert cruising Brice Road.
The lovely Tammy Holland of...
The lovely Tammy Holland of Comp organized and directed our visit. All we could offer in return was the keys to the Prowler for a cruise. Thanks, Tammy!
The meeting place for the...
The meeting place for the Memphis caravan was performance ground zero-Competition Cams headquarters. On the inside at Comp Cams, we got the low-down on what is behind the grind.
Joe Lee, out of Bowling Green,...
Joe Lee, out of Bowling Green, Kentucky, had no trouble catching-up with the Caravan in his 340-powered '72 Challenger. The E-Body turns 100 mph in the quarter and performs flawlessly on extended highway jaunts. It's our kind of machine.
Hitting the road, we had some...
Hitting the road, we had some late iron to go along with the early muscle. Rick Phillips with his modified, black '97 Dak. Space was sparse in our lead Prowler so Rick's truck hauled our gear. He was better prepared than us-packing an extra CB, which he kindly let us borrow.
Traveling with us were a couple of guys who came all the way out from Auckland, New Zealand, to make the Mopar Nationals. Borrowing a Chevy S-10 in Texas, they had made the run and hooked up with the caravan in Memphis. Even though they were piloting a GM product, we weren't about to argue with that kind of long-distance enthusiasm and let them run with the Mopars. Five miles out of Bowling Green, the Chevy's notoriously weak tranny finally quit, leaving them stranded only hours from the 'Nats. We figured they had suffered enough, having wheeled that Chevy pick-up halfway across the country, so publisher Doug arranged to have the truck towed in and a rental car sent to get them to the event. Get a Mopar next year, fellas.
We pressed on up through Cincinnati, where we met with the supremely far more organized Year One caravan out of Atlanta. Pulling in for fuel, the two groups assembled into a mighty procession of Mopardom, and we were on the road again. The rest of the trip, I left the Prowler to Doug, and swapped driving time with Tech Editor Brad Ocock in the Starcoach-built supercharged Rambunctious Dodge Ram truck. We hit Brice with a mile-long convoy of muscle and filed into a reserved parking lot in the thick of Brice, ready for the action to begin.
Do It All
Robert Long Came, Caravaned, Cruised,And CompetedWhat does the whole 'Nats deal boil down to? For some, it's the main venue to compete for recognition as the owner, builder-or both-of the finest Mopar in the country, bar none. For these guys, it's a mission.
For others it's to shop, and others still, to look, drag, cruise, see, or be seen. Most times, what you get out is what you put in. For the class show competitors, the meaning of this is obvious. For the thousands of others, it can be a little more vague.
Robert Long of Monroe, Louisiana, knows how to get the most from his Mopar. Trekking out from Louisiana in his Sunfire Yellow '66 Satellite, Robert joined the Return To Brice Road II caravan right from the beginning. The basically clean mid-'60s B-Body immediately caught my eye as a real car. You know, the type of car that will take you from Louisiana to Columbus without a hitch, no weeks of preparation, no worry, because you know it'll get you there.
How do you know? Because you drive it every day, it gets you to work, takes you where you need or want to go, and brings you back home again, every time. That it packs an owner-built, budget 440, and turns in low 13s at 108 mph-through the mufflers and fitted with real-world 3.23 gears-makes it all that much sweeter. That Robert built the engine himself is the icing on the cake.
After running the full length to Columbus with the caravan, we parted company with Robert and expected the yellow Satellite to disappear amongst the thousands of Mopars at the 'Nats. That night while checking out the cruise action on Brice, we caught a glimpse of the boxy yellow Satellite and the sound of its big-cammed 440 breathing through two-chamber Flowmasters. Yeah, Robert's '66, making the scene on Brice. No sitting on the sidelines or parking on trailers, it was time to cruise, participate, risk the cops, and enjoy.
On Saturday at the 'Nats it was my turn to catch the action on the dragstrip at National Trail Raceway. We had a job to do. Working my way through the staging lanes, we came upon a now familiar machine-you guessed it, Robert's '66. Drive hundreds of miles with no back-up, and then pound on it on the track; do you have to trust your machine? You bet; but there it was, staging as it has done hundreds of times before, and probably will hundreds of times again. Yeah, Robert knows how to get the most from his Mopar. Do you?
Beauty is in the eye of the...
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This Virgil Exner-penned '60 Belvedere owned by Al Wilson is equipped with a heater, 318 Poly, and not much more.
In Bowling Green, the Caravan...
In Bowling Green, the Caravan pulled up to Holley. The Holley facility is the largest aftermarket plant in the industry. The shop is bursting with equipment, spilling high performance products like no place else.
Modern Muscle? You bet. Robb...
Modern Muscle? You bet. Robb Herring's '98 Neon R/T looked the part with the sinister hue covering the sheetmetal and the silver stripes over the top. The racy looks are backed up by a potent 2.0 DOHC modified with Mopar Performance parts. Too bad I couldn't talk him out of the keys for a personal road test.