To many Mopar enthusiasts, 1965 is considered a time of transition between the carryover models of the early part of the decade and the dramatic, well-defined body styles of the musclecar era. The Street Hemi was still a model year away; the biggest street engine roaring in 1965 was the 426-Wedge. However, motorsports politics made 1965 the year the Chrysler Corporation pulled out all the stops in its drag-racing program.
The primary reason, of course, was the NASCAR banishment of the 426 Hemi. The factory withdrew from that sanctioning body in protest, funding the buildup of several special models for drag duty. Some were one-off machines like Richard Petty's Barracuda, an infamous dozen were created on an altered-wheelbase program for match racing, and approximately 200 (100 for Dodge and 100 for Plymouth) special package cars were put together for Super Stock racing.
The factory had created packages like this before but never in such large numbers. According to internal factory paperwork referenced in Anthony Young's HEMI book, Willem Weertman, manager of engine design at Chrysler, stated 210 examples (coded A990) would be built, commencing on November 16, 1964 and finishing on January 8, 1965. The engines would be hand-assembled at Chrysler's Highland Park facility with some changes from the A864 Hemi package that had dominated the '64 racing season.
Hundreds of hours of dyno time were spent refining the package during the months following the engine's Daytona 500 introduction. That led to the creation and production of a set of aluminum cylinder heads (with redesigned intake runners for better fuel flow) and an ultra-light magnesium intake manifold supporting two Holley carbs. Compression was set at 12.5:1, and other aluminum goodies found their way onto the engine package. A set of heavy but high-flow exhaust manifolds funneled backward toward a single muffler behind the rear axle (which was basically there to say the car had street-legal exhaust, not for any practical purpose).
The rules in NHRA Super Stock for the new year precluded the use of lightweight body materials, meaning the fabled aluminum fenders would be a thing of the past. Instead, the cars were made of steel, albeit stamped from a gauge material lighter than what production models received. The Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere sedans were further lightened with stripped-down interiors and modified for better weight transfer by moving the battery to the trunk and reducing the wheelbase (down to 115 inches) by reworking the rear leaf-spring mountings. In the end, the car crossed the scales at 3,408 pounds-not bad for a B-Body.
Once on the track, the machines proved the factory had made a good investment. They took victories at many events, set records on a regular basis, and Bill Jenkins (yes, the grumpy one) won the NHRA World Championship in a Plymouth called the Black Arrow. The era of Hemi dominance in the upper tier Stock classes had been cemented.
Those who follow drag racing these days will probably recognize the name Billy Harper, who owns the A990 '65 Dodge seen here. Harper, who owns a construction firm in Puducah, Kentucky, is noted for his nitrous-breathing Pro Modified Viper, which will again run the whole IHRA season and selected NHRA events in 2003. A die-hard Hemi enthusiast, he bought this car in 1978 through a for-sale ad in a Mopar newsletter. Originally sold by Evanston Dodge in Illinois to a Ronnie Bullard, it had not been campaigned extensively and was unique in that it had never been tubbed for wider rear tires. Billy took it down the track a couple of times but decided it was too close to original to turn into more than a weekend plaything. It was garage-stored until 1994, when it was chosen for a full restoration.
Red Line Restoration-which Billy himself started in 1989-was given the task of bringing the Dodge back to stock. There was a rollbar in the car that had to come out, but the biggest problem was a replacement driveline because the engine, transmission, and differential were not original. Billy finally located a complete '65-correct Hemi engine in California and admits he paid more for that engine in 1994 than he had for the entire car in the '70s. Luckily, most of the car was still there, including the muffler setup. The odometer still shows just 493 miles, as the car was never street-driven. The only piece that proved to be "unobtainium" was the unique '65 Hemi TorqueFlite tailshaft housing; otherwise, the car is correct. The job was finished by applying a fresh coat of white paint (replacing a pearl race scheme) and refurbishing the beige inte-rior. The result-a Bronze concours honor at the '96 Mopar Nationals where the car was shown for the first time. Today, it's part of Billy's small collection of 426 Hemi machinery.
Times have changed since the '70s, when Billy was able to buy this A990 as a used race car. Although a few monsters continue to ply their trade on the quarter-mile, they're basically too valuable to take a chance on a guardrail dance, and survivors are treasured by their owners.
Complete with a copy of its original title and its fresh appearance, this trendsetter will continue to live on as a relic from the golden era of drag racing.