A 528-inch Hemi crate motor, no restrictor plate, and an invitiation to the Old World
While we did the photography for our NASCAR issue last fall, longtime Mopar enthusiast and driver Tim Wellborn told us the reason why the No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge Daytona was not available for the photo shoot was because it was on its way back from Europe. Moreover, he had just finished a stint of driving exhibitions there, seeing some of the most fabled racecourses in history and actually putting the vintage iron through its paces. The more we talked, it became apparent that Tim's experience deserved to be enjoyed by Mopar Muscle readers. So to celebrate this golden anniversary of the Hemi issue, what could be better than the baddest NASCAR wing car in the history of planet Earth?-Editor
I guess you could say this all started on September 14, 1969. I was a boy, but my father was an avid fan of stock car racing, and we went to the first race at Talledega, Alabama, our home state. The Dodge wing cars made their debut at that race, and I saw this car running at that time. I haven't missed a race there since. Never would I have dreamed that I would someday have a chance to touch, fix, and drive this car, let alone drive it halfway around the world in Europe.
Due to my father's close association with the founders and builders of Alabama International Motor Speed (now Talledega Superspeedway), I was also part of it. It was a great personal honor to be appointed to the track's executive board of directors by the governor of Alabama in 1982, and as a result, I have been intimately involved in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and museum. The library at the museum is now named in part after my father; he did much of the construction work to archive the material.
In 1995, I put a call into then-Chrysler President Bob Lutz. I told him who I was, and that we were trying to get a Hemi engine to put the K&K Daytona we had in the museum's holdings back into running condition. When the late Harry Hyde had donated it to Hall of Fame in 1976, it had a dummy race block in it with all the NASCAR accessories mounted to it. Amazingly, I was able to talk directly to Bob, and he agreed that the car needed to get back together; he was very excited about it. So he told me he would let me have a Mopar Performance mule engine as soon as they were done with it in the test lab. In fact, this engine was the first Hemi built as a production engine since 1971, and moreover, since the factory was developing a stroker package, it was the first 528-inch Hemi from them as well. It was basically shipped to us complete and ready-to-run, with a reported 658 dyno'd horsepower on tap.
Roger Gibson and his crew prepped the car and installed a 528-lung to create the nastiest
We pulled all the original pieces we could from the junk K&K engine-the intake, carburetor, exhaust headers, alternator, dry sump-and they bolted right up in place of the stuff that Mopar had stuck on the crate engine. So other than the actual block, the engine has all of the original NASCAR pieces on it.
Since I own some vintage Mopars myself, restoration man Roger Gibson and I go way back. With an engine secured, I called him and asked him if he would be interested in helping get the car back together. Like Lutz, he was excited and agreed to do it, volunteering to do the work without charge. He prepped the car and then installed the engine, and the car fired right up for the first time in decades. In fact, it has never missed a beat since that time. Remember, this car is truly original in every way, the same suspension and all. Basically, all that has been upgraded is having the engine installed. All of this time, though, we had no intention of actually driving the car on any racetrack; I wanted to take it from being a static museum piece to becoming something that could be started, moved under its own power, taken to car shows, and so on. Roger had the driveshaft balanced, rebuilt the rear end, put a real transmission in it, and even found some N.O.S.-type original Stewart-Warner gauges to replace ones that were broken or gone.