Restored to its Daytona 500-winning...
Restored to its Daytona 500-winning colors and markings, this ex-Richard Petty '71 Road Runner looks ready to conquer the high banks again.
This is the last real stock car. The last one to win a NASCAR Grand National championship using a production-based body and engine. It's also the last one to win that championship before NASCAR's so-called "modern age" began, when big-bucks sponsorships rolled in and the schedule was shortened from 48 to 31 events.
It's also a car that almost tore down Mopar Muscle World HQ from the inside, when we had it on our dyno...but that's getting ahead of the story.
Spring 1970. Ma Mopar's engineering crew was hard at work on the aero packages for the all-new '71 Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Charger bodies, successors to the "winged warriors"-the Charger Daytona and Road Runner SuperBird. Then they got a message from Daytona Beach, Florida: NASCAR mandated production bodies only for the '71-model cars in the Grand National Championship season, and much smaller (5 liters-305.5 ci) for any "winged" cars. Chrysler stopped all research and development on the '71 aero packages right there.
So what if it doesn't have...
So what if it doesn't have an "R" code on the VIN (or no VIN to begin with)! It's a real 426 Race Hemi, restored by Chuck Schaefer.
Later that year, into Petty's shop in Level Cross, North Carolina, came a new body-in-white, one of the '71 B-Body two-doors that wore Plymouth rear quarters. Not too much later came another new '71 body-in-white-this one the Dodge version, with its longer rear floorpan and distinctive "Coke bottle"-shaped quarters. These two bodies-in-white were built into Hemi-powered race cars- Richard Petty's No. 43 Plymouth, and Buddy Baker's No. 11 Dodge.
For '71, Ma Mopar sponsored only two cars -Baker's and Petty's-and the No. 43 was the only one of the two to run the full season. (The No. 11 car concentrated on the longer-distance, bigger-purse events on the schedule.)
Out of harm's way-the ignition...
Out of harm's way-the ignition box that sparks the big Hemi is located under the right side of the dash.
Still, it was a monster season for Richard and his No. 43 Plymouth. Entering 46 of the season's 48 points-paying Grand National events, he scored nine poles, won 21 races with 38 top-five finishes and 41 top tens, good for his third Championship. Those wins included the Daytona 500 (where Baker finished second), Atlanta's Dixie 500, the Texas 500 at Texas World Speedway, the Delaware 500 at Dover, and two wins each at Rockingham and Richmond. This is also the car that helped earn Richard the title of being the first driver to win $1,000,000-plus. This car and Richard actually visited the White House in September 1971 by a presidential invite.
Many of those wins-including Daytona-came in the car you see here. "The car has been restored, but it's pretty much all original," says Chuck West, the former Mopar Muscle tech advisor who manages the historic high-performance collection of Todd Werner.
With the end of Chrysler factory sponsorship after 1971, Petty Enterprises had to find support to run in what was now called the Winston Cup Series from somewhere else. "That's why they tried to attract other sponsors," says Chuck. "Obviously, Andy Granatelli came along with the STP deal, and that allowed Petty to continue testing and everything they needed to do to keep racing and stay competitive."
They also had to convert it from a '71 to a '72, which involved replacing the existing rear bumper with the redesigned '72 piece. "They didn't like having to change it to a '72," Chuck says. "The back bumper was actually tucked up pretty decently. They had aluminum aero plates bolted to the space between the bumpers and the body panel itself, so it would be cleaner, aerodynamically."
Wearing its new colors, the No. 43 Plymouth was still a popular car-and still a winner. In just 20 races in 1972, it reached Victory Lane eight times, with 18 top-five finishes and 19 top-tens, helping power Richard to his second straight title (and fourth overall). But change was in the wind-and Petty phased out the Plymouth before the end of the '72 season in favor of the Dodge.
In 20 out of 46 NASCAR GN...
In 20 out of 46 NASCAR GN races in 1971, this is how the competition viewed Richard Petty's latest Plymouth.
When they celebrated 50 years...
When they celebrated 50 years of the Daytona 500, the ex-Petty '71 led the procession that brought the crowd to its feet.
There was no rule saying that...
There was no rule saying that you couldn't give your bumpers some aerodynamic "help" back then, and the No. 43 car took full advantage of it.
Here's a dual-purpose device...
Here's a dual-purpose device on the floor where the back seat would otherwise be. It's the cooler that keeps the differential fluid in the 83/4-inch rearend cool, while also keeping Richard (or whoever drives it) plenty warm during the race!
Just the place from which...
Just the place from which to pilot a Hemi-powered B-Body for 500 miles.
Chuck picks up its history from there: "It was sold to Herschel McGriff, who raced it for a little while in Winston Cup, and then it was eventually sold to an unknown person. Then Todd ended up finding this car in Seattle, Washington. It had changed body "skins" many times. A gentleman by the name of Chuck Schaefer out of Seattle bought it, put its whole history together, then he got with Richard, Herschel and other people to document every square inch of it-that it was in fact the '71 championship car. Then he restored it to near-perfection. It's one of two known cars that had the "peace symbol" headrest as part of the rollbar. It's just a very cool car."
An interesting story about the peace sign was told to us by one of Petty's crew members, Ritchie, who's been with Richard for a long time. Apparently, when the peace sign was welded into the car, Richard's mother came into the shop and saw it. To say she wasn't happy about it was an understatement. Apparently, the guys chuckled a little bit and left it in the car.
Inside that "box" where the...
Inside that "box" where the back seat is on a street '71 Road Runner are the adjustable coilover shocks.
That job also included a thorough rebuilding of the 426 Hemi, as well as restoring the paint scheme, sponsor markings, and contingency decals to what it wore at Daytona in February 1971. When we had that car on our chassis dynamometer, we couldn't get readings on its rear-wheel horsepower and torque, as the unmuffled Hemi was generating enough vibration and sound pressure to cause parts of the ventilation system above it to start falling down! (Fortunately, they missed the car. Unfortunately, we had to end the dyno session way too soon.)
This past August, it also shook up the Woodward Dream Cruise-with Richard Petty again at the wheel, when it made some short loops of the Birmingham section of that famous Detroit-area cruise strip, near the legendary Hunter House restaurant. Todd Werner was with him in the Plymouth, while NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch (in a New Challenger SRT8) and legendary Mopar drag racer Herb McCandless were also in the procession. As Chuck recalls, "Richard was there for two whole hours, and he signed a trillion autographs, then got a couple things to eat and we obviously talked to him at length." That was before the seven-time NASCAR champ boarded a helicopter for the short flight to that weekend's race site, Michigan International Speedway.
There's no doubt that other historic race cars are waiting to be rediscovered in barns, shops, and garages from coast-to-coast. Do you have one or know of one? "You just have to document things, and you have to know your stuff," advises Chuck. "You have to do your homework, and you have to network, but you have to be cautious." That way, you'll eventually know for certain whether or not that vintage race car you have-or know about-is the real deal.
Check out video of the photoshoot and hear this legendary car rumble here.
'71 Plymouth Road Runner (NASCAR Grand National Stock Car)
Built by Petty Enterprises, Level Cross, North Carolina
Owned by: Todd Werner, St. Petersburg, Florida
Engine: What's better than a Hemi? How about a restored 426 Race Hemi? Instead of two four-barrels, there's one big four-barrel atop a hand-fabricated intake.
Transmission: A-833 four-speed with Hurst shifter. That was easy.
Rearend: Let's see...Race Hemi, NASCAR application...that means an 8 3/4-inch Mopar rear, instead of the heavier Dana 60. Plus, its removable pumpkin meant the rear gears could be changed for each track at the track.
Suspension: (Front) Torsion bar with reinforced A-arms and dual shock at each corner (Rear) Leaf springs with tubular shocks at each corner
Brakes: Old school drums-and-shoes at each corner.
Wheels & Tires: 15x8-inch steel wheels wear a set of 800x8.20-15 Goodyear Blue Streak Stock Car Specials.
Body: '71 Plymouth B-Body hardtop body-in-white (bare unibody plus doors, hood, decklid and bumpers), with mesh grille, blocked-off head/taillight openings, and aero covers on the leading edges of the rear bumper.
Paint: What else? Petty Blue. Sponsor markings and contingency decals are identical to those on the car when it won the '71 Daytona 500.
Interior: A seat, a padded steering wheel, a shifter, a set of gauges, a full rollcage-and not much else. Full six-point safety harness and window netting as mandated by NASCAR.