The year was 1973. There was no question the '60s were over. The Nixon administration was reeling beneath the growing Watergate debacle, OPEC's oil embargo resulted in the gas crunch that put the final nail in the coffin of the American supercar, and a variety of strikes and boycotts led to overall monetary instability. For car enthusiasts, the highlight of the year was the release of American Graffiti and its reflections on a simpler time. If you were racing a Chrysler in Pro Stock in 1973, it was indeed a time to be somewhat melancholy, though Dandy Dick Landy would win the AHRA Pro Stock World Championship.
During 1970 and 1971, Dodge and Plymouth ruled the Pro Stock roost in NHRA, thanks to Hemi motivation and a handful of talented drivers and engine builders. However, under pressure from the other manufacturers and drivers, the largest sanctioning body in the sport began a steady string of rule adjustments that slowly demoralized the Chrysler troops. The rule adjustments added weight onto the cubic-inch-per-pound formulas then being used to try and equalize the superior (read Mopar) and inferior (read most everybody else) vehicles. Every time the Chrysler guys found something to make them competitive again, the pencils came out and more weight went into the trunk. But that may be getting a bit ahead of the story.
Dick Landy was, and still remains, one of the best-known names in the sport. In a driving career that spanned almost 20 years, Dandy Dick and his trademark unlit cigar was among the elite group who spearheaded the move to develop Pro Stock in the late '60s, and also was a noted spokesman for the Dodge Division during most of his career. The Dodge Dart Sport shown here, owned and restored by a team led by Minnesota-based collector Dean Klein, was the final Pro Stock car Landy himself toured with and drove in the '70s.
State of the art for the era, this particular car was built at Dick Landy Industries for noted car owner Larry Huff, who also campaigned a Funny Car driven by Richard Tharp. It was one of four Pro Stock Darts Landy put together that year. the other two went to the late Irv Beringhaus and the team of Miller & Sons on the east coast. With lightened sheetmetal parts chemically milled (acid-dipped) by Aerochem, the company who had done the work on Landy's stuff since the infamous '65 altered wheelbase program, the body was built around a sub-structure of square tubing and chrome-moly pipe that had been put together by West Coast chassis wizard Kent Fuller. Onto this base went the latest tricks in suspension technology, Hemi engine science, and car weight distribution. Huff's car was identical to Landy's own car, which won the '73 AHRA crown.
Huff drove the car for about two years, posting wins at AHRA races in Ohio and Washington in 1974. Huff also garnered several final round showings and several low e.t. numbers using Landy power--it was good enough to take home another AHRA Pro Stock World title for Dodge in 1974. When Dick totaled Huff's car's twin in a racing accident, Larry sold the car back to him. Landy would campaign it until he debuted a new-model Dodge compact in the late '70s. When that occurred, this Dart went down the road, and Landy hung up his driving gloves and put a couple of drivers in the new car (Brad Yuill and noted Bill Jenkins pilot Ken Dondero), but finally quit for good when the powers that be again began penciling the Mopar combinations into obscurity (see sidebar).
Dave Giese, the gentleman who bought the car from Landy, had a good idea of what it was, and, unlike a lot of '70s era Pro Stocks, did not butcher it up. Though the paint was changed, and the original Pro Stock motor was replaced, Dave ran the car in Pro Gas with a wedge motor for a couple of seasons and then put the car in the garage. In September 2002, Dean Klein jumped at the chance to own it when he heard that slice of history might finally be for sale.
Dean is an innovator by trade, creating life-changing medical devices through Carbon Medical Technologies, a company he helped start. When he is not working, he enjoys doing family things with his wife and two sons, or helping with his brother Donald's muclecar diecast/t-shirt business (Little Detroit Collectibles). But his hobby is researching and restoring old Mopar drag cars. Since he was already in the process of restoring the '73 Sox and Martin Pro Stock Duster, the '73 Dodge Dart made a perfect addition to his stable. because of Giese's preservation efforts, the project would not need to be as intensive as some restorations. With the technical assistance of Dick Landy, Dean gave artisan Erik Lindberg the nod to begin bringing the car back to life.
Of course, there was really only one place to get a proper engine, and that was from Landy himself. Since Dick had put together a mill for another racer some years back, that is what ended up between the fenderwells of this restoration. In keeping with the era, a Weiand tunnel ram supporting a pair of reworked 6214 Holley Dominators tops off the engine. Hooker headers and 433 aluminum heads in single-plug configuration (Landy ran both 8-plug and 16-plug combinations) finish the top-end. Behind this is the transmission that revolutionized the sport in 1973--the Pro Stock Lenco with its multiple gear levers. Stewart-Warner gauges monitor the vital signs, though a hand-painted factory Dodge dash layout is visible behind the steering wheel.
Monroe shocks and Firestone tires on brushed Cragar Supertrick wheels are also era-specific for the car (these original Pro Stock wheels were still on it when Dean found it). The fresh paint, applied by Randy Mueller, was based on specific custom mixes that Landy still had the formulations for, while photos and details provided by Landy were used by Brian Truesdell to recreate the lettering.
When the car made its debut last July at the York US30 Musclecar Madness event, it was greeted with surprise, as few people knew the car still existed. The mid-'70s may not have been the best for people racing Chrysler Pro Stockers, but with its championship heritage, Dick Landy's Dodge was one of the few highlights of the time period. Dean's commitment to preserving the historical significance of these cars helps assure it won't be forgotten.
Dick Landy on Pro Stock Racing in the '70s
Mopar Muscle: Tell us a little bit about what it was like to run Pro Stock as a Chrysler driver in the '70s.
Dick Landy: That was a long time ago (laughs)! I guess the biggest thing I remember from the time I ran that car, was that we no longer ran a lot of NHRA races. They had changed the rules so that you were constantly adding weight; the Fords and Chevrolets got all the breaks and were able to take over. So, I mostly ran the car in heads-up match races and on the United States Racing Team circuit. That was made up of the 16 best Pro Stock racers in the country. We still had to add 100 pounds to the car to keep them happy. Another racer and I also put together a West Coast Pro Stock circuit that ran from Texas up into northern California. We did NHRA races when they were close, like Pomona or Ontario, but we kept pretty busy with our own program.
Now, in AHRA, I took my '73 Dart to the World Championship; we ran a lot of their races and were still up against guys like Grump and Roush, but at least we were competitive. The NHRA rules got so bad that the Chrysler teams boycotted them in 1974, so I built a '70 Challenger and ran Super Stock once in a while at the NHRA races.
MM: Who were the biggest competitors in that time?
DL: In Pro Stock? Sox and Martin would have to be the toughest. Ronnie was a good driver, and they always had the latest equipment, just like we did. When we match raced them, it was always going to be close. When (Don) Nicholson and (Bill) Grumpy Jenkins would pop up, they could give you a hell of a run for your money, as well. Most of the better teams were pretty equal. However, there were a lot of other Ford and Chevrolet racers who couldn't keep up with the Hemi, and they had a lot of influence on NHRA's rules. Once we'd find something and catch back up with the other guys, NHRA would pencil it away again. It got pretty frustrating.
MM: What was your deal with Chrysler at the time?
DL: We don't talk about that much. People forget about the energy crisis and that whole mess. We did have factory support, but we raced as independents so the federal government couldn't go to Dodge and say, "Oh, you guys are using money to go racing." We even had to take the word Dodge off the car to make sure there were no problems; that's why it doesn't show up in a lot of photos of the car.
MM: Can you explain some of the better Pro Stock technology of that era?
DL: The dual-plug Hemi heads were part of it, and so were the dry-sump oiling systems. That car had heavy square tubing under it, which was how things were done. those cars were not all tubing yet. The acid-dipped body is very light, and the rollcage is the real structural part of the body. We often filled the body panels with foam for support because the panels were sometimes so thin even the wind going over them during a race could bend them.
MM: Tell us about the particular car Dean Klein restored.
DL: That car was the second '73 Dart I had. I had lost a wheel and crashed the first one sometime in 1974. Anyway, I had built that car for Larry Huff at the same time I had built my own, and he sold it back to me. As soon as we got it, we took all the stuff we had learned on the first one and changed the car over. We put a whole new rear suspension under it. I drove the car for a few more years. it was the final car I toured with as a driver.
MM: Did you ever want to go to a Dodge Colt like some of the other guys?
DL: No, but when the new little Chargers came out, we built one of those with the small-block combination. I stepped out of the driver's seat and had a couple of guys, first Brad Yuill and later Ken Dondero, drive it for me. But, when Glidden did so well with his Arrow (winning the '79 NHRA World Championship), NHRA took another half-pound off the Fords and gave it to us. that was when I quit for good. I was sick of fighting it.
MM: Finally, what do you think of Pro Stock today?
DL: Sometimes I wish I had stayed in it. It became even more popular, and today it has TV and big sponsors, but it also costs a lot more money to do it now. Still, I think it's great to see where it has gone from the days when we first started.