Forrest Pitcock, seen here...
Forrest Pitcock, seen here in a Chrysler press photo, was the engine wizard on the Golden Commandos team car as well as the dyno operator on the Max Wedge and Hemi programs. He worked for Chrysler from 1955 to 1988.
As we all know, Chrysler was a technology leader in terms of creating solid engine packages. To create engines that would withstand the severe duty requirements of drag racing, circle track competition, and street abuse meant replicating that environment in a laboratory. The data would be analyzed, small changes made, and the cycle would start again.
For Forrest Pitcock, who spent more than 30 years working for Chrysler, that dyno work would take on a different tone when he was assigned to the cell that tested the company's biggest, most powerful engines. Of course, that wasn't all; in his spare time, he piloted the Golden Commandos machines in 1963-'64. We had a chance to talk with Forrest, who now resides in Tennessee, about those days, and we thought our readers would enjoy his reminiscences of the golden supercar age.
Mopar Muscle: Well, Forrest, let's begin by talking about how you ended up working at Chrysler.
Forrest Pitcock: I was already into cars, if that's what you mean. My family moved to Detroit when I was young; we returned to Tennessee, but my dad needed work after World War II, and we moved back to Michigan for good. People were already driving their cars up and down Woodward Avenue on the weekends between the drive-in restaurants. I had a job on the assembly line at Ford, but my number came up and I joined the military on January 3, 1951. I went into the Air Force, doing equipment repair, and when I got out in December 1954, I went back to Ford. I did that, worked in some gas stations doing garage work, and a friend at church asked me one day if I was interested in working for Chrysler. As it turned out, he was the manager of employment; I filled out the paperwork and it went right through. I worked for Chrysler from December 14, 1955, until December 31, 1988.
MM: What did you do at first?
FP: I hired in as a dyno operator, which could mean certain things. Normally, when you start out, you begin in the Endurance Lab. This area was used to run engines 24/7, all the time, to see how they lasted. For testing production engines, tests were run on 10-hour intervals. The engine was set at a certain rpm level, with a certain load from the dyno, and the operator recorded the results. We would check the power level and record the engine oil and water temperatures. Fuel distribution was checked using a Cambridge analyzer. Every 10 hours, the rpm would be increased or decreased based on instructions from somebody in charge.
The best-remembered machine...
The best-remembered machine from the Golden Commandos team was this '65 altered-wheelbase Plymouth, which Al Eckstrand drove. It is seen at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. This car posted a runner-up at its debut in Phoenix and took the Unlimited Fuel title at '65 Super Stock Nationals in York, Pennsylvania. (Eckstrand collection)
Once you proved yourself, you would be assigned to a dyno room where more specific work was done. As it ended up, before I was moved into a dyno room, I was laid off, but three months later, I was called back, came in, and they told me I was to report to room 48; this was all in Highland Park at Chrysler Engineering. At that time, I had no idea that room 48 would become the place where the performance dyno work was done.
MM: So you were there at the beginning of the performance age.
FP: The first big engine I remember doing was the 413; you have to remember, we were years ahead of the release of these engines, so this was in the late 1950s. I was involved with the B engine; I did the 350, the 361, and so on. Normally, we would be testing spark plugs, or lubricants, or whatever. Once the performance era began, we did hand-fabricated headers, cylinder heads, fuel injectors.
The early Hemi was done before my time, though I did some Hemi work in room 42 for a Pike's Peak car, since that room had a huge vacuum pump to allow us to simulate the altitude. I did some work on the 1950s-era optional fuel injection over in room 52. I also did some work on the chassis dyno; this was attached to a huge wind tunnel to simulate wind speed over the car. We could also change the air temperature in that room and run in very cold or very hot conditions.