After posting a career of drag race victories, Elton 'Al' Eckstrand, a lawyer by trade, retired from his competition driving role in late 1965. Despite his love of performance automobiles, he recognized that the advent of the latest musclecars could have an immense potential for disaster. Among the large number of American serviceman returning to civilian life after their tours of duty were many who did not realize the hazards 400hp machinery could have; these men were among the 50,000 fatalities a year on the highways at the time. So, working closely with upper management at Chrysler in early 1966, particularly Al's mentor Byron Nichols, Vice President, Corporate Sales for Chrysler, Eckstrand was given a '66 Hemi Charger to use in a planned tour of U.S. bases in Europe, beginning with a demonstration at the Santa Pod track in England in early June.
This unique machine was Dodge's first press pool Charger, an example driven by the media for a few weeks in the spring of 1966 prior to the car's formal introduction to the American public. Like the 426 Street Hemi motor, the Charger was new for that year, featuring fastback styling and a performance orientation. Under Eckstrand's control, the LL1 Dark Turquoise Metallic would serve well the purpose of introducing safe driving to civilians and soldiers alike. Unlike virtually any other car that came from the Chrysler Corporation, the example given to Al was never sold through a dealer and, to date, has never been formally titled. Noted Chrysler historian and documentation specialist Galen Govier has confirmed this information based on the car's IBM build record from the Chrysler Historical Foundation; it is indeed very unique, as even cars for upper management at the corporation were always processed at the dealership level.
Once in Al's possession, the Hemi press car, which had left Chrysler's Lynch Road assembly line near Detroit on March 23 of that year, was quickly prepared and flown to Europe. After lettering it up with the fabled "Lawman" name, Eckstrand began to do a series of driving demonstrations at race facilities on that continent as well as present safe driving courses to U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. As a result, this car, together with others that Chrysler later presented for this program, gave these men a primary and critical look at the high-powered cars that were being created by Detroit's major manufacturers. During the ensuing eight years, this program (supported by various corporations and the United States Marine Corp) eventually went all the way to the Southeast Asian war theater, where Eckstrand and the United States Motorsports Association he founded gave demonstrations to 250,000 outgoing soldiers.
But back to the Charger. After its six-week "tour of duty" under Eckstrand's tutelage in 1966, the Hemi car was left in England with acquaintances when it was determined by Chrysler management to not be financially feasible to ship it back to the States. Due to potential liability, Al removed the Lawman name at that time, and the car reportedly only made a couple of more trips down the dragstrip before going into storage. Al would return to Europe again in 1967 and use a 383 Barracuda for the program that year, but the Charger was always considered special. Eventually, a gentleman named Ian Frankland became its keeper with Al's blessing.
The Charger arrived at Naples...
The Charger arrived at Naples Dodge from England in this non-descript container, its first-ever visit to a Dodge dealership!
With the door open, Al Eckstrand...
With the door open, Al Eckstrand gets his first look at the car since he packed it into the container in England over a month earlier. Thanks to secure tie-downs and support, it arrived without a scratch.
Now the crew from Naples Dodge...
Now the crew from Naples Dodge and the shipping firm are moving the car out under Al's watchful eye. The height of the trailer/ container would have required an equally-high loading dock as ramps weren't feasible, but...good 'ol Yankee ingenuity won out.
This seal is used to make...
This seal is used to make sure the delivery is to the right person and location (quite important considering the number of containers that might come over in a given cargo vessel). The number compares to that on the delivery receipt from Rail Connection Transport.
Frankland, a mechanic by trade, would be responsible for its preservation during the next twenty-plus years. He did so caringly, restoring the "Lawman" moniker to the sides and displaying it at various car shows. Later, Al himself moved to Europe in the mid-1970s, and the "Lawman" driver would make occasional cruises in the "Lawman" car at British Chrysler and performance car events during the next two decades. However, by 1997, a couple of changes had developed. For personal reasons, Frankland wanted to sell the car, and Eckstrand was intending to return to America permanently. In late 1998, a deal was consummated between the two and Eckstrand began to make the necessary plans to bring the car back to the United States when he returned.
The Hemi was pulled out of the car and a set of new bearings put into it, and a coating of spray-on black asphalt (a popular rust preventative in England) was scrapped away from the engine compartment. At some expense, Eckstrand had new paint and the original-style gold-leaf lettering restored on the car (the replica letters had been done in vinyl). Due to some wear to the machine during its 30-year stay, some parts on the car have been replaced, so the purist may find fault if they look hard enough. Nonetheless, due to its early release date, racing background and remaining originality, it is a very significant piece of Mopar history.
Everyone was all smiles as...
Everyone was all smiles as that big Hemi motor came to life. As noted by the lettering shown on the front quarter panel, Al has restored the car to its original as-toured paint.
The car was put into an overseas container and left England in late December by transport ship. Since the container would be directed toward Naples, Florida, where Al had taken up residence, once it arrived, a suitable truck was needed. By chance, Eckstrand met Alan Harris, the manager of Naples Dodge. Harris, a diehard Mopar fan who owns a '68 440 R/T Coronet, found exactly what type of support semi-tractor the container needed (one without ramps or needing a commercial unloading dock). So consequently, the Charger hit American soil again at a Dodge dealership (its first ever appearance at one) in February 1999!
Although Eckstrand could have been a major force as drag racing grew into the world-class sport it is today, his desire to pursue his other cause was to benefit and impact positively on the driving attitudes of tens of thousands of returning servicemen. This car is the original tribute to that effort.
It is not often that an individual who made it to the upper echelon of the corporate world becomes a race-day champion. Indeed, the opposite is sometimes true. However, in the early 1960s, a young lawyer for the Chrysler Corporation did just that. Elton 'Al' Eckstrand not only raced some of the best-known vehicles of his era, but he won with them, and used those achievements to create an even more important program by the end of the decade.
"To me, drag racing was like the knights of legend," says Eckstrand, now retired and living in Florida. "I was fascinated by those stories when I was younger. You came with valor and chivalry to a joust or sword fight, and at the end of that short encounter one of the two challengers would be victorious. There really are a lot of similarities between the two."
Al Eckstrand Chrysler's "Lawman"...
Al Eckstrand Chrysler's "Lawman" in the Super Stock Era
Rolled into the front of the...
Rolled into the front of the dealership as the star of an impromptu car show, Al (right) stands with Chris Sweet (left) and Willie Rae (center).
This is Eckstrand putting...
This is Eckstrand putting a Chrysler 300 through its paces on the beach at Daytona in 1960 for a television commercial. The man with the flag in this posed photo? Bill France, Jr!
In his mid-20s, Al was already...
In his mid-20s, Al was already becoming a force in the sport of drag racing. He is seen here on the hood of a Chrysler 300 at one of the local tracks in Michigan.
Eckstrand was like many people coming of age in the second half of the 1950s. After graduating from law school in 1955, he went to work for the Chrysler Corporation in their Organizational department. Prior to that, he had never been a serious car enthusiast, but he began participating in a new sport called drag racing at a drag strip in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit. So in 1957 he bought a new Plymouth Fury and became part of the growing Woodward Avenue/M59 'street crowd.' That was followed by another Plymouth Fury in 1958, one which had the latest 361ci Wedge engine (new for that year). Unafraid to ask fellow Chrysler employees for technical help, the young lawyer soon became the man to beat at the tracks in the region, and this car racked up an impressive win record in the area. Assisted by friends Jack Charipar and Ronnie Householder in the Plymouth Division, he also built and briefly raced a late-model B/Gas entry in 1959, a Fury with a 413ci engine under the hood. Although that particular experiment never yielded any major successes, at the NHRA Nationals held in Detroit that year Eckstrand won a class title in his parent's station wagon.
It was Eckstrand's own ability to work with people in upper management that contributed to the factory's direct involvement in the sport. During the late '50s and early '60s, while the manufacturer's self-imposed racing ban was still in force, Al's position in Chrysler's management, coupled with his drag racing efforts and enthusiasm, permitted him to be a prime conduit of information for the sales and engineer corporate chiefs. Among those convinced that racing could promote car sales were executives including B.J. Nichols (Vice-President, Corporate Sales) and E.C. Quinn (President, Chrysler/ Plymouth Division), both of whom supported Al in his racing efforts. Bert Bouwcamp (Assistant Chief Engineer, Chrysler Division) subsequently set Eckstrand up with a new Chrysler 300F that ran on the sands of Daytona for a promotional film in 1960 which today is a key part in the 1999 Chrysler 300M advertising campaign.
Eckstrand also won the Super/ Stock Automatic elimination's title in the Stock division at the '60 NHRA Nationals in Detroit. Financing for this program came directly from Nichols' personal expense account. In addition to his racing activities, Eckstrand was also involved in the dragstrips at both Onondaga and Stanton, Michigan, which he operated in partnership with noted car show innovator and racing promoter Robert E. George from 1959 to 1970.
After setting up his own law practice in 1960, Eckstrand was one of the first stock-class drivers for the factory-based Ramchargers team, and he took their Optional/ SS '61 Dodge to round wins at the '61 NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. The year 1962 found Eckstrand running his own operation. With a 330 Dart business coupe named Res Ipsa Loquitur, meaning "It Speaks For Itself." The young lawyer from Detroit built a formidable match race reputation traveling around the South and visiting dealers in that region. Incidentally, during this travel period he met many of Chrysler's NASCAR campaigners. The annual trip to Indy over Labor Day, running in the S/SS division for the Ramchargers, resulted in a 12.72 time slip, the quickest class-winning run of the weekend that year. During the off-season of 1962-63, Eckstrand handled the legal side of developing the RMPC (Ramchargers Maximum Performance Corporation), which was creating aftermarket parts for drag racing. He became that corporation's first president.
"When I was practicing law, I was known as Elton Eckstrand," he recalls with a grin. "At the drag strip, I was Al. In some ways, it helped me know what kind of business was involved when somebody called on the phone!"
Making a lap in the '62 Max...
Making a lap in the '62 Max Wedge named "Res Ipsa Loquitur" at Detroit Dragway. It was with this machine that Al began to travel on the exploding match race circuit.
The debut of the Hemi found...
The debut of the Hemi found Al in some new machinery. The most radical was this slightly altered Hemi Plymouth that debuted at mid-season which Al named the "Outlaw." It is seen here during a corporate photo session at the L.A. Coliseum.
After winning the Winter Nationals...
After winning the Winter Nationals in 1963, Al debuted the string of "Lawman" entries. He posted a runner up at Indianapolis that year, and received a new Stage III Max Wedge Sport Fury (seen here) for the following season.
The '65 season found Al driving...
The '65 season found Al driving for the Plymouth Golden Commandos team. Running on nitro, he took this altered-wheelbase machine to a win over Dick Landy at the first Super Stock Magazine Nationals in York, PA, of August that year. It would be his last major win in drag racing.
The '63 season opened at Pomona, California, in mid-February. Eckstrand, now 30 and one of the premier drivers nationwide, drove the Ramchargers team car to his first major Mr. Stock Eliminator title. At that edition of the NHRA Winternationals, running as quick as 12.12 in the process (this tied for low ET of the event in Super Stock), Eckstrand beat another Chrysler, the Plymouth of the Golden Commandos. This victory was the first time an automatic entry won that title, which was considered a major victory for Chrysler's new TorqueFlite transmission and the Max Wedge engine packages that had recently been released.
He returned to the forefront of the action at NHRA's other big race that season, the Nationals at Indianapolis over Labor Day. This time he was back in his own "Lawman" '63 Dodge, and he posted a runner-up to Herman Moser, who was in the Ramchargers Dodge entry. By 1963, Eckstrand was one of the few stock-class drivers flying to the races in a personal plane and was easily able to get appearance money for the Lawman.
The '64 model year brought about the debut of the most potent version of the 426 Max Wedge, and Al Eckstrand was now in a new Plymouth Belvedere hardtop. Although victory on the national level was evasive for this Lawman Plymouth, he could never be discounted on race day, especially on the match race level. With the advent of the Hemi, Eckstrand raced in both S/S and the A/FX division at the U.S. Nationals that year.
Now considered to be a hallmark year in stock-bodied drag racing, 1965 opened with Eckstrand combining forces with the other Chrysler factory team, Plymouth Division's Golden Commandos. At first sharing driving chores with John Dallifore and Forrest Pitcock, Eckstrand drove an A/FX legal version of a '65 Plymouth at the early winter meets that year and then took over the controls of the team's altered-wheelbase car. His legal work responsibilities were such that he raced mostly in the Detroit region, but he did run in the "match-bash" program at the new Bristol International Dragway that year. He also came out for the first Super Stock Magazine Nationals at York US 30 Dragway in August. Running in the Unlimited Fuel division with a healthy dose of nitromethane, Eckstrand proved he had lost none of his ability when he won that class title, beating Dick Landy's 9.58 with a holeshot assisted 9.67.
This is the '67 Barracuda...
This is the '67 Barracuda used in the service personnel program in Europe after the Charger. At this time, Al was spending several months a year preparing and executing the efforts of the newly-founded American Commando Drag Team. Note the castle in the background.
"That was an amazing event. I'll never forget it," he recalls. "Jon Lundburg was doing the announcing. They had so many people that they finally had to let them in for free. It was well after midnight by the time that final happened. It seemed like it was just run after run after run."
At the end of 1965, Eckstrand quit driving in open competition and focused on a different race-the human race. Servicemen stationed worldwide were returning to the United States with little understanding of the high-powered vehicles coming from Detroit's major manufacturers. Using a great deal of corporate finesse, Eckstrand got approval to bring one of Dodge's new 426 Hemi Chargers to England for exhibition runs at European racetracks. Under the auspices of the American Commando Drag Racing Team, which he founded for the purpose of exposing these vehicles to out-of-country enlisted men, he would continue this program successfully for the next three years. Later, a new 383-powered '67 Barracuda also became part of the demonstrations. Before the program was over, Eckstrand had organized and participated in the U.S. Masters Drag Racing meet and toured the cars throughout Europe. It should be noted that this was done in keeping with the military's severe restrictions on commercial selling on the bases; the primary purpose was to promote safe driving habits and understanding, not marketing.
After a record crowd witnessed...
After a record crowd witnessed a Lawman grudge match between two members of the Marine Corp in 1971 at the U.S. Nationals, Al and NHRA's Wally Parks presented the winner, Corporal Michael Howard, with the keys to a new car.
In 1969, an even newer organization and program was formulated-the Lawman Performance Team-and it would be Eckstrand's most important challenge to date. With assistance from Ford Motor Company, Eckstrand toured Europe's U.S.-armed forces bases with a group of new Ford Mustangs. The following year, plans were made to tour the South Pacific rim with eight new '70 Mustangs, two of which were equipped with 1200hp supercharged Boss 429 engines. At this time, the Vietnam conflict was in full swing, and to make this latest program happen required major assistance from the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, and branches of the military. Nonetheless, Eckstrand did what many considered impossible: he got through the "red tape" and did untold amounts of good for U.S. servicemen worldwide. Among the locations visited were Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii, and Southeast Asian military theaters. One car was even driven on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Coral Sea. This program not only continued in 1971, sponsored by both Ford and Goodyear Tires, but was supported in part by NHRA founder Wally Parks, several well-known drag racers, and aftermarket manufacturers.
"You know, those men had a hard time of it," he remembers. "When they got back here after serving their country, people were yelling at them and spitting on them. Most of them didn't want to be there anyway, and it was hard for anyone to make sense of it all. So in addition to the driving skills, I felt the program helped them see that there was something worthwhile, something beyond the horrible situation they were facing. That appearance of hope became more important to me as the program continued."
By May of 1972, the fifth and final military tour began, this time focusing primarily on those bases that were hosting returning servicemen. As always, the focus was on demonstrating safe vehicle handling and driving, with Al hosting driving seminars and film showings. Ford supported this effort again, using the new 302 Maverick and Pinto models.
As a result, Eckstrand received meritorious awards from the United States Marine Corp, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Transportation, and many other state and governmental authorities for having made these significant contributions to the good-driving needs of over a quarter-million returning U.S. servicemen.
After moving to Europe semi-permanently in 1976, Elton Eckstrand turned to yet another pursuit, historic preservation, and was subsequently given major recognition for the building restoration work he was involved in. After working on Thorpe Castle House in Northamptonshire, England, he purchased and renovated Penkill Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, where he lived for the next 18 years. Because of his work in restoring this castle and preserving its priceless pre-Raphaelite artwork, he was awarded accolades by Scotland's Director of Historic Monuments. His interest in cars never waned, however, and he often worked closely with the Britain's Mopar Musclecar Association and its president, Tony Oksien. Indeed, Al's residence was frequently a venue for various British car club gatherings.
Today, Al "The Lawman" Eckstrand has returned to the United States, and resides in Florida. Though the "glory days" of his career as a drag racer are over, he still has fond memories of that time period.
"Those were great years," he says in conclusion regarding his racing career. "Drag racing was a young sport, and I was able to see a lot of the world and its peoples as a result. It was a wonderful time."