The year was 1965. The musclecar wars were just beginning to heat up with the release of the new GTO and the 426 street wedge Mopars, but Chrysler was facing a different dilemma. The dominance of the Hemi in NASCAR in 1964 had led Bill France to declare non-production motors illegal, and Chrysler, in turn, decided to sit out the oval-track season. Thus-freed NASCAR money was heading over to the dragstrip, and the results would profoundly influence history.
A Detroit-area subcontractor named Amblewagon was given the task of radically modifying close to a dozen B-Bodies for A/FX-type racing. The factory sponsored loyalists like Bill Flynn and Dick Landy and hired other big-name drivers like Ronnie Sox to pilot them. The cars were reduced from 115 inches to 110 inches by moving the front wheels forward 10 inches and the rear wheels forward 15 inches, resulting in a peculiar appearance. It is now believed that it was at their official debut at Beeline Raceway in Phoenix for the AHRA Winter Nationals that the term "Funny Car" first came into use as they rolled forward in eliminations. From Bakersfield to Bristol, the cars' appearance upstaged all but the most serious fuel dragsters. While NHRA banned them from A/FX, a situation that gave Ford a cakewalk to that crown, they were welcomed in AHRA and spent much of the year racing at smaller facilities and events. Of course, if they showed up, all bets were off as to how "small" an event might be; a near riot resulted when 25,000 fans showed up at York, Pennsylvania, for the Super Stock Magazine Nationals in early August.
Barnstorming across the nation, the cars took the sport of drag racing by storm, and their legacy of wheelstanding, nitro-burning action would be the true beginnings of professional Funny Car drag racing. In addition to the factory-offered examples, numerous individuals around the nation began making "Funny Car" changes to their own drag cars by altering wheelbases, adding fuel injection, and running nitrated gasoline. These unheralded cars actually made up the backbone of the movement; the big-name stars were highly visible and admired by the media and public alike, but it was these home-grown conversions that let many people get their first taste of where drag racing was headed. As the speeds increased and new technologies were developed, the hybrid stockers were superceded by faster (and, we might add, safer) versions made of chrome-moly tubing and fiberglass. The era ended 24 months or so after the car's first appearance.
Chet Gibbs, Mooresville, IN...
Chet Gibbs, Mooresville, IN
'63 Jayhawker Plymouth
Vehicle: Original restored.
Original owner: Jon Thorne, Valdosta, Georgia
Best e.t.: 9.94/136 mphPerhaps one of the more traveled vehicles on the AWB circuit has been Chet Gibbs' Jayhawker Plymouth, which was built in mid-1965. Since restoration in the early '90s, Gibbs has certainly garnered notoriety for high wheelstands in the Hemi-powered beast. In 2002, he has not finalized his travel plans, but normally races against the old Jake's Speed Equipment Plymouth. The car is unique in that it's an original '63 Max Wedge model with '64 fiberglass parts redone in 1965; Thorne barnstormed across the nation during the '65 and '66 race seasons and then graduated to a faster car. It also ran with a supercharged Max Wedge before receiving the altered wheelbase back in the day, making it one the first supercharged stockers as well. The fact that Gibbs is still willing to put it up on its back bumper on occasion is very cool.
Rick DeMarco, Hammonton, NJ...
Rick DeMarco, Hammonton, NJ
The Virginian Plymouth
Vehicle: Original restored
Original owner: Pee Wee Wallace, Richmond, Virginia
Best Time: 10.0 with different motor, N/A with Barton HemiThis car's restoration was completed in 1998 and it has been down the track several times. Noted collector Mike Guffey gets the credit for locating the remains of the home-built, factory-assisted machine. With plans to keep the car on the strip, current owner Rick DeMarco has just installed a Ray Barton-injected Hemi making 735 horsepower on gasoline. He plans to drive the car four times this year, including a highlight appearance at the East Coast Nostalgia Super Stock Association race at Atco, New Jersey, on September 21 (this event will also feature a Mopar car show).
Jim Kramer, Butler, PA '65...
Jim Kramer, Butler, PA
'65 The Honker Dodge
Vehicle: Original restored
Original owner: Bud Faubel, Chambersburg, PennsylvaniaMaking its debut at Bruce Larson's East Coast Drag Racing Festival in November with original owner Bud Faubel himself in attendance, the just-completed Honker Dodge may be the most important altered-wheelbase machine to be restored this year. This car won the race at Beeline in the spring of 1965 and was a major east coast player during the two years Faubel owned it. Unlike virtually all of the other Amblewagon vehicles, this one had not suffered from years of rusting and outdoor storage. Redone in meticulous fashion by noted car builder Dan Fuller of Ohio, the car will be the cornerstone of restoration-parts specialist Jim Kramer's collection. Plans now call for a serious motor to be built so the duck-adorned beast can again return to the track; at this time, Jim isn't certain that will happen this year. Once finished, Jim plans to drive it as an exhibition car before retiring it for good. We'll keep you posted.