The story is told of George Manessis, a Northern California NHRA Super Stock racer who wanted more. With help from Chrysler and San Francisco's Sunset Dodge, a '64 Dodge "Ramcharger" 330 sedan was ordered with the goal of competing and dominating in SS/A--a hotly contested class where the Max Wedge Mopars dominated.
Manessis would line up against the SS/A drag racing legends--names including the other Mopar-sponsored Northern California Max Wedge of Tommy Grove in the Melrose Missile sponsored by Melrose Motors of Oakland, California. Manessis would mark his years in the Sunset Dodge entry, which was later re-lettered in Van Ness Dodge nomenclature, with a fair degree of success, including an event win at the Northern California SS/A Championship. In addition to the quickest e.t. George ever made--a 11.14/126 pass--the sedan competed at legendary lanes of asphalt and concrete such as Cotati, Half Moon Bay, and Fremont. At these coastal California drag strips, the dense, cool air helped create the spectacle of Max Wedge domination.
Sometime after a build date of February 17, 1964, Manessis took delivery of his Dodge 330 and began to campaign the aluminum-paneled sedan. With its hinged aluminum hood; dual hump aluminum hoodscoop; aluminum fenders; aluminum bumper brackets; and acid-dipped components including the front bumper, doors and decklid, all seemed well. But looming at the Daytona Speedweeks in February 1964 and then on the April '64 cover of Hot Rod Magazine was Chrysler's new "Modern Hemi." Was Manessis' Wedge-powered SS/A #122 soon to be a thing of the past as magazine soothsayers made their predictions?
Hot Rod's Ray Brock warned the Wedge faithful, "For those of you who might have a car powered by 413- or 426-inch Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth engines, you are out of luck if you've jumped to the conclusion that you can buy a pair of heads, some pistons, and a few other parts to convert your engine into a Hemi." Brock would go on to discuss the technical aspects in the April issue and history would prove that the Hemi would be the dominant SS/A engine--even to this day!
Is our mission here to slight the Max Wedge? Never! Only to place its time. Today Max Wedge-powered Stockers still enjoy numerical advantages in NHRA Stock. Additionally, the rarest Wedge lightweights continue to court buyers with the biggest dollars, and replicas of the famed Max Wedge cars are easily among the most desirable.
So how did the good fortune of locating the '64 come? Owner Larry Shangle says, "I was at work looking through the San Francisco Chronicle and found it. It had a 383 4-speed in it, but all the Max Wedge parts were in the garage. I got it all for $1,200 in 1974!" Larry initially purchased it because he wanted to get back into racing. He notes, "I got engaged and had to pay off a brand new truck, so little money was left over for racing." While the girl would eventually go, Larry hung on to the Max Wedge.
Larry would race for a little while, but a business venture took him out of the Bay Area where the car remained. Larry says, "It sat for four or five years." However, by the late '80s it became very apparent how important the car was as a Max Wedge. "I started restoring it," says Larry. "However, it was in the shop for three-and-a-half years. At Scott Buddy's shop, to get something done well, it takes time, especially a lot of long-boarding to make those aluminum panels perfectly flat. Additionally, other projects whose owners were less patient seemed to have precedence." Larry chose to restore it to as-delivered condition since he could not get any pictures of it as it was when lettered with Sunset Dodge.
Perhaps these reasons make Larry's former racecar so much more important in our lineage of Mopar performance. It marks the end of the Wedge and the beginning of the Hemi, but for Larry, it is so much more. Larry notes, "If you talk to [Jim at] Kramer [Automotive Specialties] and other people, they no longer installed Max Wedge engines in lightweight cars after February. Everything was Hemi in March of 1964. Galen even dubbed it 'the last Max Wedge lightweight car made.'" Additionally, Larry says, "The car has only 442 miles on it. The interior is all original except for the floor mats." Larry even offers some humor: "All the interior panels are stamped February 14, 1964. Maybe that's why it is so red."
As for Manessis, Larry notes, "George came out one time at a Goodguys show," says Larry. "He brought a trick tool for setting valve lash correctly. We talked about the car and as quickly as he arrived, he left." Despite the short discussion, Larry did get to ask one important question of Manessis. "I asked George one time if he had ever beat Tommy Grove. He replied, 'No, only when he %$#@ed up.'" Larry also discovered that Manessis did buy a used torque converter and a set of slicks from Grove which, according to Manessis, "really made the car run." Larry says, "Manessis may have lost his sponsorship to Shirley Shahan--The Drag-On Lady--but even Shirley has said to Larry, "I should never turn my back on that car or it would be gone."
For Larry's efforts in the 330's restoration, the car won the '94 Goodguys Musclecar of the Year netting him a trophy and a $1,000 cash prize which may have been enough to repair the damage caused by onlookers poking at the aluminum masterpiece. As such, Larry chooses to only show it on rare occasions. "It's fun to have," he says, "but when you have an aluminum front end car and it says so on the sign, people have to check it out for themselves. What gives people the right to beat on it?" As a result, the last time Larry had it out was more than three years ago. But what has been a joy is the relationships the car has helped produce. "I want to offer special thanks to Dale and Sheryl Boomgaarden," says Larry. "Dale helped me with assembling the motor and getting it running. What made Dale's assistance so critical is that he worked at a Chrysler dealer and his partner was Clare Sanders. They had a big garage they shared with legendary racers including Richard Hammand, Richard Abates, Jim Lieberman, and Don Williamson and the old Hairy Canary car." "Let's not forget Craig Norton--Mr. Gold Star." The untimely death of Craig has had a serious impact on Northern California Mopar enthusiasts and Larry wanted us to share the fact that without Craig, the hobby in California could not enjoy its current success.
Larry has gone out and seen what it can do. "I had a set of M&H Drag Masters, 10.5 inches wide, that fit perfect, but they were old and crusty, so I went out and bought a set of 29x10.5-inch Firestone 500s. They rubbed hard. The tires rubbed both side to side and in the top of the wheelwells, but I made a pass anyways and ran an 11.99 and immediately lunched the trans when it lost the dog teeth in the front pump."