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...
The interior was brought back to '68 race specs, including the shifter that Larry had laying around his shop.
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.
The engine is a true testament...
The engine is a true testament to power-13.0:1 compression ratio, magnesium intake, twin correct Holley carburetors, and a bumpstick with lobes big enough to skate board off of.
Since Larry was a Chrysler-supported driver, Maxwell told him that the direction for 1970 was the new Pro-Stock class. To create new car appearances, Maxwell had all the necessary parts sent to Larry, who along with bodyman Al Voss, cut the rear off the body and turned it into a '70 model. With a Weiand intake manifold and Holley 4500 carburetors on special spacers, early '70 match races found the Dart running 140 mph with e.t.'s of 9.80s to 9.90s. Larry took the Dart to the '70 Super Stock Magazine Nationals at York U.S. 30, where he beat Ronnie Sox in Pro-Stock class eliminations.
In mid-November 1970, Larry sold the car to his friend Larry Pontnack in Oregon, Illinois, to finance the Pro-Stock, Hemi-powered Demon he was building at Chrysler's direction. Dave Koffel was now in charge of Chrysler's drag racing program and wanted to put full efforts into Pro-Stock with the latest products. Along with the Demon came a new deal with travel money, a truck, and hauler for the team. During the '71 season, Griffith shared driving duties with Pontnack in the Dart, and in 1971, it again won the UDRA Championship.
The Dart was retired in 1972. Also in 1972, Larry sold the Demon. At the same time, he and Pontnack converted the Dart back to its '68 appearance and Super Stock configuration, adding a distinctive red, white, and blue paint job. For the first time, some physical changes were made to the Dart- the wheelwells were opened up and the rear springs updated. Pontnack sold the Dart to Gil Kirk and Roger Townsend of The Rod Shop in 1974, and neither saw the car again until Griffith spotted it at K.C. Spurlock's Gambler Racing in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1993.
The introduction of the '68 Hemi A-Body Dart and Barracuda was not lost on young Joe Hilger. While still living on a farm near Wichita, Kansas, Joe wrote to Chrysler Corporation in 1964 asking for information on the new 426 Hemi engines that he and his dad had read about in an issue of Hot Rod magazine. Then, when the '68 Hemi Darts and Barracudas hit the dragstrips, Joe decided there was something happening, and he wanted to be a part of it. Already having a deep respect for the early Hemi, as well as the Top Fuel and Funny cars, there was something about the 426 Hemi Darts that made him think, I have to own one someday.
As things go in life, he had to wait. Between getting a degree in Automotive Technology at Pittsburg State University (then Kansas State College) and going to work, his need for a Hemi car was put on hold. After college, his deep respect for the technology coming out of Chrysler helped him decide to go to work for the company in 1972. Still following his love of drag racing, he worked in the field offices at Chrysler for a number of years. In 1984, he became Director of Mopar Parts Marketing. In addition to the Mopar Parts brand, Joe was responsible for Direct Connection where Brian Schram, Larry Shepherd, Larry Henry, and other greats in the business reported to him. Budgets were super tight, yet somehow they continued to grow.
Then one day in a budget meeting, he was ordered to close Direct Connection. Rather than close this legendary department down, he convinced management to keep the performance group alive and rebranded it as Mopar Performance. Not only were they able to save the department and pull it closer to Mopar, they were also able to use it as the halo for much of Mopar's marketing efforts and bring some life to the brand. Cars, parts, performance, and brand image were all linked together, and Joe helped bring more of the drag racing sponsorship from Dodge to Mopar. Many of those early efforts helped to shape today's Mopar racing programs. Joe capped these actions as then-Director of Mopar Sales and Marketing with the 1992 trademark registration of the name "Hemi." In addition, it was his encouragement and support that led to the subsequent retooling and release of the new Hemi blocks.
Fast forward to June 2002, when Joe, now vice president of Global Service at Chrysler, found a '68 Hemi Dart for sale. The owner, Charles Provance, had purchased the car in disassembled condition through an ad in Hemming's Motors News in 1998. Charles had restored and repainted the Dart gloss black as it was when featured in a December '99 Mopar Muscle article. Joe finally had the Hemi Dart he had wanted since 1968, and he was going to enjoy it.
Although the previous owner told Joe that this was Larry Griffith's championship winning Hemi Dart, Joe had no idea at the time how to connect with the original owner. By chance, while attending a dealer council meeting in Detroit, Joe mentioned to Ron McDaniel that he just bought Larry Griffith's Hemi Dart. Ron passed the information to Marion Turpin, a dealer from Geneseo, Illinois, who was also attending the meeting. It turned out that Marion knew Griffith, so upon returning home, he contacted him, picked up some historical materials from the Dart's early days, and brought them to Joe at the next dealer meeting. From this connection, Joe was able to contact Griffith, and they have since become friends.
Joe retired from Chrysler in December 2005 and was soon thinking about restoring the Dart back to its '68 appearance. He contacted Griffith in 2006 and asked him if he would be interested in restoring his old Dart. Larry was excited about the unique opportunity, and the Dart was soon in his Port Byron, Illinois, shop. He found a local shop able to reproduce the original blue and silver colors with lace work and lettering from small color photos made in 1968. While the body was being prepared, he also went through the engine, transmission, and chassis, correcting years of incorrect modifications to make the Dart capable of running as it did in 1968.
In 1969, Larry Griffith won...
In 1969, Larry Griffith won the UDRA points Final, after racing notables like Lee Smith.
In late July 2007, Joe was invited to the historic Cordova Drag Strip, a few miles north of Griffith's shop, for the unveiling of the restored Dart. There were about 30 others in attendance at the track that warm Monday afternoon. Joe was anticipating this more than anyone else, as he had not been allowed to see the Dart before its ceremonial unveiling. A round of applause was heard across the lot as Griffith and Pontnack rolled the cover from the Dart. The car looked as it had in 1968, and the crowd and photographers gathered for the posing of the car in the same spot at the same track where it had been photographed when it was new. It was hard to say who was more proud and excited-Joe, the proud owner, or Larry Griffith and the crew that helped bring this historic race car back to life.
Greg Clause and Bill Shambauch of Joe's Paint & Body in East Moline, Illinois, performed the restoration bodywork and painting. Griffith accomplished all the mechanical restoration and provided the correct Hurst DVFX 468 Competition Plus shifter and reverse lock out for the A833 four-speed slick shift box connected to a Dana 60 with Power Lock and 4.37:1 gears. He refurbished the 13:1 compression, .060-inch overbored Hemi with a magnesium crossram intake manifold, correct 4235 and 4236 770-cfm 4150 Holley carburetors, and a Cam Dynamics .700/.680-inch lift, 320-degree duration cam. He also found a set of original Cragar chrome wheels to match those that were on the Dart in 1968 and mounted M/T DOT tires. He even found the original spark plug wires, and Pontnack found the original deep sump oil pan that they had fabricated. Guess where those parts are now.
'68 Hemi Dart
Formerly Owned by Larry Griffith
Mopar Power Engine: It's a true Hemi Dart, need we say more. But if we did have to say, the car runs an .060-overbored Hemi featuring 13.0:1 compression, Twin 770 Holley carburetors, and a Cam Dynamics camshaft with .700/.680-inch lift, 320-degree duration. Transmission: Nothing short of an A833 will do. Differential: A Dana with a Power Lock center and 4.37:1 gears. Horsepower and Performance: The pop and cackle of the Hemi tells you it's quick. The timeslips Larry got with the car prove it-9.802 at 140 mph.
Sure Grip Suspension: Stock, as much as a Super Stock Hemi Dart can be Brakes: Push and pray. Wheels: Nothing but a set of Vintage Cragar S/Ss would do. Rubber: Rears are 11-inch Mickey Thompsons, and the fronts are period-correct front runners.
High Impact Body: A Hemi Dart. The front is fiberglass-thinner than normal-and the body has "Hemi only" modifications. Paint: Greg Clause and Bill Shambauch of Joe's Paint & Body in East Moline, Illinois, performed the restoration bodywork and painting. The car looks exactly as it did in 1968. Interior: Spartan is the term. Best Performance: 9.802 at 140 mph.