I remember one day when I was working there, a couple of the big shots from the office came down and asked me if we could build an engine for them that night. What had happened was that one of the Hemi motors in the Miss Chrysler race boat had blown, and they needed another one by morning. So Walt Ulrich and I went over to Lynch Road, got a new block, a new crank, and a whole mess of parts-some that were already looking a little rough-and built that engine. We were loading it into a truck by the time they got there that morning, and it headed out to the Detroit River. The boat won that day, but I don't know if they used my motor for power or as a spare anchor; no one ever told me!
MM: What other race engines were you involved with on the dyno?
FP: The Summers Brothers had Keith Black build the four engines for their land-speed record attempt soon after the Hemi came out; Black built them one at a time, then sent them here where we broke them in and put Hilborn injectors on them. That car, called the Goldenrod, set the piston-driven record and it stood for many years.
MM: Ever run nitro on the dyno?
FP: Nitro? (laughs) We did unofficially! Mike Buckel, an engineer who was a member of the Ramchargers, was like a big kid sometimes, he was game for anything. We once flew down to Toledo at lunchtime to get a hamburger! So, after our "real" testing was done, we would play around with nitro and made some real big power with it. Couldn't do much, though, because under power, the engine would burn through 25 gallons of nitro in a few minutes. Mike was involved with building "tickler," or test, engines. We'd run the tests on them, and once we were done, everything would be torn down and inspected. I worked with all of those engineers as well.
MM: Let's go back to the Commandos again. You got to drive for them once in 1965 at Beeline Dragway in Phoenix.
FP: You have to remember, most of the dyno work on the Hemi was done on my dyno; that's why the Commandos and the Ramchargers were so close together in performance, we knew about things as soon as they did. We did the tests on the injector lengths and all that stuff, and I was fortunate to drive the car with the first set of injectors that went on. That was the mule altered-wheelbase car the factory had built to figure out how the 1965 FX cars would be built. One thing about that car was that it wasn't lightened; the cars everyone else got had been acid-dipped. This one was just a test car; we didn't care how fast it went as long as we had a baseline. Anyway, that car was sent out to Town & Country Chrysler Plymouth in Phoenix, and we went out a week early and did tire tests and painted and lettered the car in the dealership work bays. They let us work there at night. The other cars came in and they were real, real weak from the dip tank. I mean, when Sox would hit a gear, you could see the whole rear quarter-panel buckling. So, we took the cars back to the dealership and we'd put them up on 55-gallon drums to take the weight off of the quarter-panels, then put in this small box frame we designed. It was a lot of work.
MM: Did you drive after that?
FP: No, that was about the end of it. The truth was, I had been made supervisor over the motor room, and I just could not get away. Plus, I had a family to take care of. Tom Hoover had taken a lot of the performance work out of Engineering and moved it to the garage on Woodward Avenue, and a lot of things were also being done over at Lynch Road. Ron Mancini was a carb technician at Highland Park and was supervising the garage, which he ran with Hoover and Dick Maxwell. I went over there a few times to help with things they wanted done like changing bearings and stuff like that.