MM: How did the Max Wedge program come about?
FP: Tom Hoover gets the credit for a lot of that stuff; he pushed a lot of that through and was promoted high enough in the company that they would listen to him. He was the one who got the ram induction program pushed through. He was an enthusiast; he owned a '57 Dodge with a 392 Hemi in it that he had built. Then, when the NASCAR thing began to grow, we started testing parts like long rams and things like that. Drag racing was always sort of the shirt-tails of the NASCAR stuff; we'd try to slip in our stuff between those tests. This was in late '62 and early '63.
Dyno room 48 was dedicated to the performance work. There were two kinds of dynos: The GE style was a motor generator that could absorb a load or drive the engine for friction, while the water-brake type was strictly a water-cooled generator, which was really for measuring top-end power with no friction of extra load on it.
MM: Were you part of the Golden Commandos from the start?
FP: No, and I'm not really sure how it all started. The Ramchargers were all engineers, and they had already been established, and a few guys wanted to build a Plymouth. Ronnie Householder might have still been in charge of the Lynch Road garage at that time, and he was instrumental in getting a few Plymouth cars and parts to the dealer for the club. I got involved in late 1963. Bill Shirey had been driving for the team, but he decided he could do better on his own, so we went to the track and all took a turn; I guess my Woodward Avenue experiences got me the job. Now, because of my work responsibilities, I couldn't be a full-time driver; I drove at the bigger events. My first race was a match race with the Bob Ford Galaxie up at a track called International Dragway Park. I won that with a 1963 Plymouth four-speed Max Wedge car. I also raced Arnie Beswick at Ubly once, but that was it for the match races I drove at.
Parts like the fabled injectors...
Parts like the fabled injectors were all part of the dyno testing that Forrest Pitcock did during the race Hemi era of 1964-1965. (file photo)
MM: Tell us a little more about the Commandos team and the people on it.
FP: There was Ray Colby. He was the first president of the club and worked as an engineer in Fuels and Lubricants; Ray developed the slick oils that Chrysler used in race cars. Chuck Hammer was a supervisor in the road test garage, and he was our go-between with the executives for money and cars and dealers; all of our cars came through Hamilton Motors near Detroit. That was how the factory gave them to us. John Dallifour was a transmission man; he worked in the trans lab and also became the permanent driver of the Golden Commandos race cars. I built and maintained the motors. For a while, we had Al Eckstrand, who had been a lawyer with the company, driving the car as well. Troy Simmons was another engineer; I'm not sure what his job was in the company. Then Ken Healey was my partner in the dyno cell. There were two dyno cells, 12 and 13, and we ran those cells together.
MM: How did the testing work, like for the Max Wedge engines?
FP: Robert "Bob" Lechner was the engineer during the Max Wedge testing, and he directed the tests. As far as I was involved, we only knew what they wanted us to know. I had no idea what they expected each day; they would give me a work order and we would do what it told us to. Now, once the testing on the 426 Hemi began, we were in locked rooms; only certain people could get in and we locked them up when we left.
Back to the Max Wedge, the ram manifolds were designed standing straight up and using fuel injectors to find the proper distribution. Pat Brady, who built our headers later, fabricated the first ram intakes, and we used a pump and jets and metering rods in gutted carbs. We would start the engines and adjust the fuel pressure to get the power we wanted; too much pressure would mean too much fuel. Then, once it was set, the engineers would plot the power and figure out what the engine needed.