Up until about 1998, if you were a Mopar racer and wanted to run a big port cylinder head like a Max Wedge or Indy piece, there really wasn't a good intake manifold available unless you used the '62-'64 cross-ram intake. There were some tunnel-rams and big, single, four-barrel intakes, but nothing was available that could be used for the Nostalgia Super Stock racer or the NHRA Super Stock racer. However, in the spring of 1998, Indy Cylinder Head brought out its Max Ram intake manifold and solved that problem instantly. The manifold was good for two- to three-tenths and as much as 7 mph in the quarter-mile. It was a fairly inexpensive and quality built piece that went together without any grief. I believe that manifold is now recognized as the manifold of choice for almost every class racer required to run a big-block engine with two four-barrels. how quickly this trick manifold evolved makes for an interesting story.
We had been running a 572 Indy-headed engine with a highly modified Weiand Six-Pack manifold that was converted to a two four-barrel configuration to comply with the rules of Nostalgia Super Stock. This manifold had the runners and plenum enlarged, and I thought it worked pretty well.
At the Mopar Nationals in August 1997, Russ Flagle of Indy Cylinder Head walked over, looked at the engine in my wagon, and after a few minutes, simply said, "I bet we could help that with a good intake," and then walked away. My original reaction was, "Wait a minute, where are you going?" When we arrived back home, I started calling Russ to ask what he meant and what kind of ideas he had. I called mornings, afternoons, and left messages without any success. I was told he was involved in a project and wasn't available.
The last week of August 1997, Russ called and asked if I was going to attend the Monster Mopar event in St. Louis. If I was, he would ship me an intake manifold he wanted to try. He said he had been working on this manifold for the past two weeks and was sure it would help. Indy Cylinder Head first came on the Mopar scene with their original performance head, the 440 CH. When I first read about that head, I was quite skeptical because the power gains they were talking about seemed unrealistic. When I finally tried a set, the improvement was phenomenal. They knew what they were doing, so I figured if Russ made a manifold, it should be worth at least a tenth of a second.
A few days later, the manifold arrived at the shop, and it was completely different than what I had anticipated. Russ had said he made it out of sheet aluminum, but I guess I thought it would look more like a low-level tunnel-ram. Instead, it looked nothing like that. It was really neat. We installed it, made the necessary throttle cable brackets and linkage, and waited for St. Louis. I called Gateway International before the event and found out the track runs a test-and-tune session on Friday. I called Russ and told him to plan to be there early because we could get some runs in on Friday. We both arrived about noon, only to be told we could make no runs until that evening at 7:00.
By 7:00, I couldn't stand it much longer. I wanted to know what this new manifold was going to do. Russ and Fred Flagle and Kenny Lazzeri had set up the Indy Cylinder Head display and were also waiting for the time to test this new manifold. When the track finally announced they were setup and ready to go, I jumped in the wagon, hit the starter, and the engine backfired and blew the top off the manifold. The Indy guys must have used a paper gasket between the upper and lower halves of the manifold because all of a sudden there was smoke and confetti floating through the air. It bent the hood, messed up the linkage on the carburetors, and ruined about two weeks of Russ's work. Needless to say, it scared the hell out of me. I had to go over to the Indy display tent and tell him what happened. I wanted to crawl under a rock. Russ came over, looked at it, and coolly said, "no problem." He would drive back to Indy, make the necessary repairs, and be back by morning. That didn't sound good to me, since the Indy shop was probably 250 miles from St. Louis. About that time, a gentleman showed up that had a machine shop close by that Russ could use to make the repairs. So, off to the machine shop we went. Fortunately, it was a well-equipped shop. Russ, Fred, Kenny, and our unknown friend went to work to fix the mess I had created. With repairs completed at 11:00 p.m., we headed back to the track and reinstalled the manifold. Kenny pretty much glued it together with RTV. We would let it set overnight and test it first thing in the morning.
Kenny and Russ explained to me that an intake valve happened to be open, and the rotor on the distributor just happened to be pointing at that same cylinder. When I turned on the key, a major explosion.
The next morning about 9:00, they opened up the event, and we were able to make our first time run. The wagon, up to this point, consistently ran a 9.95 to 10 flat e.t., and would generally run 132-133 mph. The very best it had ever run was 9.92 at 133 mph. When it was time to make the first run, I staged the car, brought the engine rpm up slightly, and when the car left the line, I could tell there was a difference. The car didn't spin a tire, and I knew it was going to be a good run. When I arrived at the time card shack, the young guy handed me a slip that read 9.584 at 138.97 mph. Russ's manifold had just picked the car up over three-tenths of a second and 6 mph in the quarter-mile. I drove directly to Indy's display and jumped out of the car to show Russ the ticket. He said, "I think it will go better than that." I went and cooled the engine down to get ready for the second run. About an hour later I made the second run, and Russ was correct. It went a 9.564 at 140.29 mph. The manifold had helped the car pick up over three-tenths and 7 mph for its best run ever. I took the time slip over to Russ, and he started asking questions about idle characteristic, drivability, flat spots, and so on. it was my opinion there were no problems. It really worked great.
While I knew the sheetmetal manifold was not legal for Nostalgia Super Stock, I wasn't quite ready when Russ said, "When you get home, take the manifold off, and ship it back." Ouch! I thought I'd be able to play with this thing a little bit longer, oh well.
Indy Cylinder Head has its own pattern shop and in-house pattern maker. As soon as I returned the intake to Indy, they immediately started making the mold for a cast manifold. To show how fast an idea can become reality, Indy Cylinder showed the new manifold at their spring show in February, and we had the first cast manifold on the wagon for the first event that spring. The cast version ran just as well as the sheetmetal version.