Like a nuclear bomb stuffed into the tiny confines of a businessman's demure briefcase, the unpresuming figure of 61-year-old Steve Hagberg standing next to his run-of-the-mill-looking '66 Plymouth Belvedere wields more punch than what the eyes would perceive. Though other participants in the True Street Challenge might have exceeded the Plymouth in one category or another, what ultimately landed this elephant in the winner's circle was a perfect balance of near perfection in every facet of the competition's judging. Calm and collected on the street, smooth and manageable at freeway speeds, but a bar-room, back-door brawler on the quarter-mile, Steve's Hemi Belvedere stood atop some of the best machines we've ever had compete in the Mopar Muscle TSC.
Steve, a resident of Berthoud, Colorado, purchased the ruby-red, two-door, post business coupe new in June 1966 in Denver. The red-on-red coupe was saved from nearly every add-on option that would weigh down the car. A single bench-seat setup was enough for Steve's taste, with a three-speed automatic shifter on the column. No A/C, no expensive radio upgrades, no special light or interior packages, nothing, and it remains that way-untouched, all original. The car was ordered barebones; all his money was spent where it really counted. Steve ordered the car with the infamous 426 Hemi and 727 TorqueFlite option backed by an 831/44 with 4.10 gears from the factory.
The Belvedere did see street time (about a week's worth) before being committed to the world of drag racing. A set of Doug's headers were bolted to the big orange monster between the fenders, while a Sun Tach was screwed into the dashpad above the gauge cluster. In 1966, regulations regarding cages and safety equipment weren't what they are today, so Steve never felt it necessary to change the pristine, spartan interior. With only minor modifications, the car had become somewhat of a national contender, making appearances in the '67 Spring Nationals at Bristol, the U.S. Nationals at Indy, and the '68 Winter Nationals. At the end of the '68 season, Steve garaged the Plymouth and went off to Vietnam to serve as a U.S. Navy pilot. Steve served his time and returned home unscathed to his family and friends, not to mention what awaited him in his garage.
Early on, the Belvedere loaned its power plant to a committed race car, as Steve didn't want to modify the original B-Body. Instead, the car served as a driver with a gas-mileage conscious 318 between the fenders during the '70s. Returning back to its rightful place in 1981, the Hemi was driven only periodically for a decade until 1991 when Steve decided it was time to bring the Plymouth back to its former glory. During its time as a race car in the '60s, it had received a slew of different paint jobs for advertising sponsors. The car has since been stripped of the bill boarding and returned to the original hue. The engine had been built and massaged over the years so it required little work besides the necessary cosmetics. Steve boasts that 90 percent of the car is 100 percent original; claiming that if it isn't OEM, it is period correct.
Steve competes in the strictest of pro stock classes, which requires the cars be identical to factory specs and cannot deviate from engineering specs set from the factory. Because of that, Steve's Hemi only pushes 439 ci with 10.8:1 pistons, Manley 6.86-inch rods, with the Hemi's original steel crank. A Racer Brown (remember them?) camshaft with .527-lift lobes regulates the near stock top-end. But with all these numbers bordering on the mundane to the untrained ear, Steve has beaten his late '60s best with a fearsome 11.29 at 120 mph at last year's Mopars at the Strip show.
At this year's True Street Challenge, Steve caught us off guard. What we saw was a restored '66 Hemi car that looked like a survivor and garage queen. What we didn't know at the time was this Belvedere sees its share of road time around Colorado's high altitudes and still makes passes through the traps in the 11s. Many other participants had the power in the right spot, but suffered on the road and under Nevada's grueling temperatures. Steve's Plymouth trudged along without a hitch.
Steve's attitude was so pleasant that it was hard not to spend all our time just chatting with him. Calm and quiet spoken, this retired airline pilot manipulated this stocker down the quarter, passing up fuel-injected E-Bodies and Super Stock Hurst Hemi clones. It just goes to prove that the saying "experience and cunning wins over youth and brute strength" was never truer.
|FAST FACTS |
|Owner: ||Steve Hagberg, Berthoud, Colorado |
|Body: ||’66 Plymouth Belvedere |
|Color: ||Red |
|Engine: ||439 Hemi, Manley 6.86-inch rods, JE 10.8:1 pistons, Racer Brown .527-lift camshaft, iron heads, stock intake, stock AFB carbs |
|Transmission: ||self-built 727 TorqueFlite auto, 3,000-stall 10-inch Turbo Action torque converter |
|Rearend: ||83¼4 with stock 4.10 gears |
|Exhaust: ||Doug’s headers, Dynomax mufflers |
|Wheels/Tires: ||front: Bogart 15x3.5, Firestone M/T 205/75/15; |
| ||rear: Bogart 15x8, Firestone M/T 28/11.50/15 ET Street |
|Quarter-mile: ||11.32 at 119 mph |