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 As the speeds increased and new technologies were developed, the hybrid stockers were superceded by faster (and, we might add, safer) versions made of chrome-moly tubing and fiberglass.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 '63 Jayhawker Plymouth Vehicle: Original restored. Origi
Rick DeMarco, Hammonton, NJ The Virginian Plymouth Vehicle: Original restored Origin
Jim Kramer, Butler, PA '65 The Honker Dodge Vehicle: Original restored Original owne
Today, the cars that were campaigned in that fabulous era are in a state of resurgence. While there are certainly some that will never see the racetrack again, restored as exact artifacts of the era, others have received the necessary safety upgrades and are being readied to hit the strip again in 2002. We thought it would be nice to give the readers a chance to find out who is doing what with which cars.
Jim Paulson, Kenosha, WI
'65 Jake's Speed Equipment Plymouth
Vehicle: Original restored.
Original owner: Paul Candies and Leonard Hughes, Houma, Louisiana
Best e.t.: 9.89/134 mph
The shortened Jake's Speed Equipment Plymouth, the first Funny Car entry of noted race team Candies and Hughes, has been a regular at nostalgia events in the Midwest for several seasons. Owner/driver Jim Paulson plans to run several events focusing on Great Lakes Dragway, the Monster Mopar Weekend in St. Louis, the Goodguys Nationals in Indy, and several other regional Mopar and nostalgia drag shows. This car is considered the forerunner of many restored cars today, debuting with Chet Gibbs' Jayhawker during an appearance at the Chrysler Classic in Columbus in 1995. Jett Townsend will continue on the tuning chores.
Craig Handley and Bob Pickle, St. Louis, MO
'65 El Toro Plymouth
Vehicle: Original restored
Original owner: Ed Haulsey, St. Louis, Missouri
Jett Townsend is also involved in the El Toro car, which will be running out of former A/FX racers Craig Handley and Bob Pickle's stable. The car is injected on alcohol with Bob behind the loud pedal, and the car will probably be at many of the events that the Paulson/Townsend juggernaut attend in 2002. The car is currently in the paint shop. The A990 Belvedere was converted to AWB trim in 1966 using blueprints obtained from Dick Maxwell at Chrysler by owner Ed Hausley. Handley and Pickle owned the car twice, obtaining it again in sad shape in 1997 at the urging of Townsend and Chet Gibbs. The four-year restoration includes new suspension pieces from Just Suspension, upgraded safety equipment, and should be ready to rumble early in the season.
There are other cars out there. Dan Fuller recently sold a replicated altered-wheelbase car that will probably end up on the race track. Several private collectors are still working on restorations, although there is no word as to whether these vehicles will actually be upgraded to safely race once they are done. Over the course of the last dozen years or so, several other cars have shown up at various events. We, of course, would be interested to hear about others and will print information on them in Mopar Drag News.
The lead image in this story was staged at Drag Fest 2001 at Bruce Larson's farm near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last November. Larson, a long-time Funny Car racer and the '89 NHRA FC champion, opens this personal museum once a year for this get-together, which features privately owned home movies, slide shows, and photo collections from various nostalgia enthusiasts. The $12 admission charge for the day includes lunch as well. We will note the '02 date in the Events Section once it is released. Bruce does have a slew of Chevy-bodied Funny Cars on display (most of them have Hemi power, though).
Brian Kohlmann, Racine, WI
'65 S/FX Belle Dodge
Original prototype: Mr. Norm's Supercharger
Of course, no story would be complete without an update on the Belle Dodge replica, a supercharged nitro-burning beast that wows fans everyplace it goes. The blueprint for this machine was the ex-Roger Lindamood "Color Me Gone" Dodge, which Mr. Norm Kraus and Gary Dyer converted to supercharged nitro status in mid-1965; the original version of this machine remains unaccounted for by researchers. Now having run several seasons, owner/driver Brian Kohlmann continues to find time to campaign his replicated tribute despite increased costs and a hectic work schedule. For 2002, the nastiest S/FX machine the world has ever known (7.90s at 170-plus) will be racing at approximately a dozen events, with locations still being decided. Kohlmann is now hinting at considering an increase in the volume of nitro the car runs; currently, that number is around 45 percent. Another possibility is barnstorming to some of the country's most "authentic" vintage racetracks in the byways and hollows of mid-America, or perhaps an east coast tour of well-known tracks that existed in the car's heydays. Regardless, this will bring the house down.
Greg Sullivan, Albequrue, NM '65/'66 Pandemonium Barracuda Vehicle: Original restored
Rick DeMarco, Hammonton, NJ '65 Mr. Tomato Dodge (former A990) Vehicle: Original rest
Mark Ulinski, Racine, WI '65 Atlantic Dodge Flyer Vehicle: Original restored Origina