The early '60s were without a doubt the golden era of Super Stock drag racing, and Chrysler Corporation was the undisputed leader of the movement. Beginning with the Maximum Performance 413 Wedge engines in May 1962, Chrysler made it clear to all that they were playing to win. The evolution continued with the '63 and '64 426 so-called Max Wedge Orange Monsters, to the '64 and '65 426 Hemi packages considered by many to be the most complete and refined factory produced drag racing packages ever offered to the public.
If the '65 Dodge and Plymouth Hemi Super Stock sedans were the ultimate in refinement, the ultimate in sheer unbridled power and speed had to be the '68 A-Body Hemi-powered Darts and Barracudas. Introduced to an unsuspecting racing world in March 1968, these monsters combined the smallest and lightest body available with the mightiest engine ever put into a passenger car. Who could have guessed at the time that these legendary race cars would become the quickest and fastest Super Stock competitors in history, eventually causing the NHRA to create a special class-SS/AH-populated only with Hemi Darts and Barracudas. These ultimate factory machines are celebrated a few special times each year at the Mopar Performance-sponsored Hemi Shootouts at major NHRA events around the country.
Late in 1967, Richard "Dick" Maxwell of Domestic Product Planning called a meeting of the members of the racing staff and engineers at Chrysler. The outcome of this meeting was the development and production of the '68 Super Stock race cars. The original plan was to build 50 Darts and 50 Barracudas, evenly divided between TorqueFlites and four-speeds. (This production total was later increased to 80 Darts and 70 Barracudas.) By the end of November 1968, engineer Robert L. Tarozzi was given the daunting task of determining how to incorporate this idea, and he immediately proceeded with development and testing.
After dragstrip testing at Irwindale Raceway in California in January 1968, the final product was ready by the end of March. The package consisted of standard Dart and Barracuda two-door hardtop bodies with lightweight steel doors, fiberglass front fenders, and a lift-off hood with scoop. The Dart rear wheel openings were enlarged to accommodate the required larger tires. The only other major body modification was a crudely cut and hammered right front shock tower to allow clearance for the Hemi engine. The bodies were shipped in light gray primer with a black gelcoat front end. The stock black vinyl interior remained, but the rear seat was deleted, and the front seats were replaced with Bostrom thinline buckets. The windshield and backlite were standard glass, but the side windows were replaced with 0.080-inch-thick tempered glass to reduce weight.
The chassis was improved in a number of ways to improve launch characteristics and handling. The rear springs were specially designed Super Stock parts, and front brakes were changed to special discs. The Sure Grip rear axles were B-Body units with the perches moved inboard. The automatic transmission cars used an 83/4 Chrysler axle with 4.86:1 gears, while the four-speed cars used the stronger Dana 60 with a 4.88:1 ratio.
The engines were mostly stock '68 cast-iron head 426 Street Hemis, except for the aluminum or magnesium dual four-barrel crossram intake manifolds and 12.5:1 pistons. Hooker headers were installed, capped with a single exhaust pipe and bullet muffler for each side.
The interior was brought back to '68 race specs, including the shifter that Larry had layi
Veteran Super Stock racer Larry Griffith of Geneseo, Illinois, was already in line for a new car when the '68 A-Body Hemi cars were announced. Beginning in 1963 with a Dodge 426 Max Wedge, Larry had most of the factory Maximum Performance cars, including a Ferris Motors-sponsored four-speed '65 Plymouth R01 Hemi and a '66 Coronet four-speed Hemi hardtop. His '65 Hemi was one of the first Super Stock Mopars into the 10s in the quarter-mile.
Like most owners, Larry had to drive to Detroit to pick up the Dart at the new car drive-away near the Lynch Road plant, but he ordered his four-speed Dart from Schuler Dodge in Morrison, Illinois, at the recommendation of Arnie Beswick, who assured him they would help support his racing efforts. A few trips were taken down the quarter-mile with the Dart still in primer, but the livery was soon changed to a beautiful multi-hued blue with silver lace and lettering, making it one of the better looking entries for the '68 season.
Larry raced the Dart mostly in the Midwest UDRA (United Drag Racers Association) circuit, and it soon became the car to beat. After tuning and improvements, the Dart was running a 10.60 e.t. at 132 mph with the 11-inch M&H slicks on Cragar wheels. The UDRA mandated custom wheels for appearance, and tires had to be kept within the wheel openings. He ended the '68 season at the top of the UDRA point standings and led the UDRA points race in 1969, winning six out of seven races against Lee Smith's Hemi Road Runner along the way. The Dart ran in the 10.40s during the remainder of the '69 season, but with the addition of larger tires and lower 5.12:1 gears, it dipped into the 9s at an AHRA race in Kansas City in late 1969, finishing at the top of the UDRA Super Stock points for the year.