Survivor: Frank Badalson's '71 Hemi 'Cuda
"Hey, I may have a story for you."
It was a crisp, autumn morning in Virginia, and the statement above isn't all that uncommon. Unfortunately, it seems there are always too many stories and too few pages to support them all, so we've learned (through hard experience) to try and sort out what will work in Mopar Muscle before committing to anything. However, in this case, the person was Jeff Johnson of Classic Events, and we were all ears.
Best of Show: Joe Stentella's '70 Hemi Road Runner
If you don't know it, Johnson runs a series of all-Mopar car show/drag race shows called The Chrysler Classics. In other words, he's seen it all, and we'd already told him that the amount of material now crammed into the Lakeland files meant a moratorium on creating additional features until spring 2002. So, since he knew this, whatever he had to say would probably warrant some additional thought if nothing else.
"How about a drag test between a pair of Hemi cars? They're both factory four-speeds; one's a survivor and the other one is our Grand Champion show winner for the 2001 season. We think they'll agree to go two out of three out here today if you want them to."
A survivor versus a trailer-queen Hemi car drag race? Yeah, bud, we could probably make some room for that one.
Frank Badalson's name will probably be familiar to those of you who are into the restoration side of the market, since he partners with Roger Gibson in the parts business and is well known as an documentor of Chrysler musclecars. Badalson, who lives in nearby Richmond, came to the Chrysler Classic finale at Virginia Motorsports Park with a car he's had the pleasure of owning not once, but twice: an A4 Winchester Grey four-speed '71 Hemi 'Cuda.
Frank originally bought the 17,000-mile supercar for $1,900 from its original owner back during his college years in 1975. It's now believed that this is one of only two '71 Hemi 'Cuda hardtops painted this color. Bought new from Fairfax Chrysler/Plymouth with "delete all stripes and chrome" written on the original order form, Frank racked up some miles on the car before he graduated in 1976, and trying to be practical, he sold the car late that year with 48,000 miles on the odometer.
Nonetheless, Frank stayed in touch with the new owner in California, and this was the only car he ever decided he wanted back. A long 18 years later, in 1994, it returned to the Tidewater region of the Old Dominion State in his name with 54,000 miles showing. Regardless, the car is still as original as they come. It shows some signs of minor touch-up on the paint, and the original Hemi has been rebuilt in the interest of making sure the internals don't become externals. What remains is the farthest thing from a ringer you could find; even the clutch is original. Out back is a Dana 60 sporting a 3.54 gearset, and Frank rows through the gears using the Pistol Grip shifter. Goodyear F60-15 rubber rides on 15x7 wheels, and the car retains those four great he-man drum brakes behind them. His best time to date with the rare E-Body was a 14.01, clocked at Richmond Dragway back in 1976!
Now, coming in from the other corner for this little slugfest was car restoration specialist Dennis Kohr. Kohr, who runs a Mopar restoration shop with his brother Allen based out of Myerstown, Pennsylvania, does outstanding work, to the point that in some cases, he was losing points due to overperfection on the car he took to all five 2001 Chrysler Classics. The vehicle is a spectacular black-on-white '70 Road Runner that Kohr spent a year's time bringing back to life, and one look made it easy to see why it had drawn the accolades it received.
There was only one problem: Dennis doesn't own the car! The car was restored for customer Joe Stentella, who didn't attend the event. Joe drives the musclecars he owns, though this one often stays put to keep the mileage off the odometer. Throwing caution to the wind, Dennis agreed that going heads-up against the survivor car would be something worthy of the scrapbook, and besides, if he broke it, he could fix it. After all, what's three quarters of a mile between friends?
The car as built had seen some dragstrip time, and Kohr's Kustom had performed a full-tilt restoration on it as the 9,300 miles on the odometer had been hard ones. Nonetheless, none of the 500-plus hours spent on it were used in rust repair; this Illinois body was cancer-free. Race modifications were corrected, however, including a new trans tunnel. The warranty-replaced engine was rebuilt by Allen Kohr to perfect factory specs, and little had been upgraded save for the Centerforce clutch in the bellhousing. Like the 'Cuda, a 3.54 ring was in the Dana 60 out back, but the 'Runner lacked the benefit of the electronic ignition found on its '71 rival. It also still utilizes the smaller F70-14 tires on steel rims from the factory.
The highest-judged car of the season, the Road Runner took home 107 points out of a possible 110 at Norwalk, Ohio's event, and Dennis was told by some judges that the ultrasmooth paint and lack of undercoating hurt him; it's too perfect. Today, it would get just a little dirty.
Announcer Tom "T-Bone" Keane was doing his job in the tower when we handed him a sheet of paper.
"Wait a minute, folks, it looks like we're going to have a real race coming up in a little while. We've got two real Hemi four-speed cars, and they're going to come out and get on it for everyone out there."
He then did a brief, entertaining interview with each driver, and raised his eyebrows when Kohr told him that he "borrowed" the Road Runner for the afternoon.
"Well, Dennis," he said in conclusion as he turned to announce again, "drive it like you stole it. You did!"
Moments later, the two cars rolled out from under the tower. Into the water-not a chance. Both Frank and Dennis knew better and drove around the box before doing a couple of quick dry burnouts. They lined up, and at the green, they were off. Badalson may not have slung that Pistol Grip around at this rate of speed in a while, but he took the first round, going through the timers at 14.38 at a slowing 86.35 mph. Kohr wasn't slouching, but was soft coming out of First gear to prevent tirespin, which meant catching up the rpm band to recover; his end product at 1,320 feet was a 14.69 at 97.66 mph.
An hour later, they were at it again. T-Bone's exaggerated announcement regarding the "gear-slammin', race-jammin' Hemi cars racing title for title. There's $10,000 on the line here!" had the crowd filling the fence space as the cars swapped lanes and went after it again. This time, the two drivers were a little more sure of their mounts, and Kohr, who was running the stock pressure in his Goodyears, found that the 3,900-pound B-Body was definitely not going to plant those 14-inch back tires; the car spun as soon as the clutch came out. In the other lane, Badalson had some smoke wisping in the treads as well, but recovered quicker and was again in the lead as the cars crossed the final stripe. This time, both drivers had improved, Kohr to a 14.63 at 99.55 and Badalson with a much quicker 14.21 at 102.57.
Had this been a normal two-of-three race, that would have settled it, but the feeling was that there was still some more left. Frank was busy with the car-show judging, but agreed that one more hit wouldn't hurt, and Dennis admitted that the Road Runner's internals could get used to the higher oil pressure one last time before heading off to its real owner.
T-Bone's voice echoed across the pits.
"The car was brought here in show trim; I hadn't planned on racing it. But when you get a
"I raced this car in 1975 and 1976, and the best it ever turned was 14.01 at 100 mph back
"Get ready, folks, because those two Hemi cars are waiting in the lanes for one last run at each other. We want to thank Frank and Dennis for bringing them out here today; it looks like this supercar showdown has been a big hit."
Indeed, the stands and fence areas filled up as the word went out. Truth be told, the Hemi 'Cuda had the advantage. It was a lighter-weight model with a longtime owner behind the three-spoke, woodgrain wheel; despite his joking about it, Dennis didn't want to hurt a customer's car. The cars swapped lanes and this time were careful to stage.
At the green, Kohr again lost traction slightly, but left at a low enough rpm that he recovered quickly then let that Hemi roar into the 5,500-plus range before grabbing each gear. There's no tach in either car, so both drivers were shifting by ear. Right next to him, Badalson was coming into his element as well; the pair of elephants were marching down track in tire-chirping fashion and both cars picked up dramatically from their previous times. Kohr's more aggressive driving style netted him a solid 14.34 at 100.94 mph, while Badalson tripped the lights fantastic at a 14.01 at 103.45, equaling the time he had run with the 'Cuda twenty-five years earlier.
Original Hemi Four-Speed Drag Race
|Race 1:||60 ft||1/8||1/4||MPH|| |
|Road Runner||2.55||9.65||14.69||97.66|| |
|Race 2:||60 ft||1/8||1/4||MPH|| |
|Road Runner||2.53||9.69||14.63||99.55|| |
|Race 3:||60 ft||1/8||1/4||MPH|| |
|Road Runner||2.45||9.46||14.34||100.90|| |