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 As the speeds increased and new technologies were developed, the hybrid stockers were superceded by faster (and, we might add, safer) versions made of chrome-moly tubing and fiberglass.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.
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