In the history of drag racing, Chryslers creation of the Funny Car in 1965 is considered a major milestone. This handful of radically altered Dodge and Plymouth B-Bodies was outlawed by NHRA almost immediately, and the lucky teams who did receive them attended a few big events, but mostly went barnstorming across the country on the match race circuit. Nosebleed wheelstands, gold rosin burnouts, and exotic fuels were all part of this process, and the new Funny Car entries quickly became one of the most popular attractions in the sport. For those who were not part of the factory team effort, it became a case of put up or shut up. If you wanted to go Funny Car racing, you would have to begin from scratch and build something from your own fertile imagination. For racer Jon Thorne of Valdosta, Georgia, the obvious choice was to modify his 1963 Jayhawker Plymouth for this type of competition.
The first thing Thorne needed to do was get better weight transfer, so the rear end was moved forward 15 inches, like the factory cars, and the wheel openings were sectioned and moved up. The old K-frame came out and a straight front axle out of a Dodge truck went underneath. The front wheels were farther back than the factory cars had been, and a fiberglass nose for a 64 Plymouth replaced the 1963 sheetmetal. The Max Wedge era was over, at least in exhibition stock racing, so a 426 Hemi with Hilborn injectors provided wheels-up motivation. Thorne was ready to go take on the world.
The sport moved quickly in those days, and the Jayhawker was soon outdistanced by the all-fiberglass machines that appeared in 1966. It went through several owners before Mopar restorer Fred Englehardt bought it. By then, it was little more than an old body with a dash and windows, though the lettering was still visible.
That was when Chet Gibbs got ahold of the car. A collectible diecast and racing memorabilia dealer, Gibbs was a long-time racer who had grown tired of the electronics and other advances in the sportsman classes. He and his wife, Janice Weddle, leaped at the opportunity to buy the car. This would be more then a restoration project, though. The Jayhawker had been built to click off the top end lights at the dragstrip; that was where it belonged. So they formulated a plan to bring the car up to current NHRA exhibition standards while retaining the feel of the 1965 era.
A new roll cage was installed in place of the old roll bar, but as the pictures show, the interior was left as it had been in the glory days. Other than NHRA-certified seat belts on the old A-100 truck seat, a Turbo Action Cheetah SCS shifter to keep missed shifts in the past, and an Autometer tach to monitor the vital signs, you are seeing just what Thorne saw 35 years ago.
The rear suspension was restorednot upgraded. The car still uses factory Super Stock leaf springs, an 8¾ rear axle, and a set of separate springs with casters welded to the rear of the frame. For wheels, Thrush aluminum rims shod with VW 6.00x15 rubber keep the front off the pavement while a set of stock steel rims with 29.5x09x15 M/T slicks are under the rear; even the drum brakes were retained. Make no mistakes regarding this so-called mild setup; this Plymouth still uses those wheelie casters when it leaves the line.
The lettering on the car was used to create templates so it could be accurately recreated once the bodywork and new paint were put on. Gibbs also located a gentleman who had worked for Thorne and secured photography that showed exact placement of lettering and details. The blue (which is slightly darker than the original) and silver colors were put on by Toby Tobin and the lettering was reproduced from the templates by Bob Thatcher.
Because of Chets mechanical background, the engine was his job, and he began putting together a 520-inch Hemi stroker motor that would breathe methanol for fuel. The steel block was bored and stroked, and a set of high compression forged pistons and an .850-inch Crane roller camshaft went into the short block. Due to the unique layout of the front suspension, the oil pan and headers needed to be fabricated for the car. Topping off the engine are eight tall Hilborn injectors, which receive fuel via an Endrele pump from a small tank in the grille. An MSD Super Mag and braided steel lines were the only visible changes from the 1960s, so the engine looks the part and can spin up to 8000 rpm when Chet decides to let it all hang out.
The rest of the driveline is also period specific. A 727 TorqueFlite that Chet rebuilt is in the trans tunnel, complete with an 8-inch Turbo Action converter and valve body. Under the back end, the original 8 ¾ rear uses a set of Strange 4.56 gears and Moser axles.
Chet and Janice, together with Denise and Robert Duncan and David Gibbs, are proud of the rebuilt Jayhawker. Making exhibition runs at selected events (usually against Jim Paulson and the old Candies & Hughes 65 Plymouth), the crowd comes to their feet as the car dry hops and launches with the nose high in the air. To date, the restored machine has gone as quick as 9.91 at 135 mph, quite a feat considering the old girls age!