We had the honor of meeting with Ray and Paul at Ray's office in the Nichels Engineering building on June 22, 2004. It was without a doubt one of those experiences that any journalist would look back on as one of the highlights of his career. The following interview with both men came from that meeting.
Mopar Muscle: Your story with Chrysler began as the door closed with Pontiac. GM, fearing a U.S. Justice Department investigation for possibly monopolizing the automobile industry, halted all promotional activities, including all racing efforts. This put Pontiac out of racing, and all teams were abandoned by the factory. How did you make the transition from Pontiac to Chrysler so smoothly?
Goldsmith: I think Ronney Householder had a lot to do with that. He was with the Chrysler people, and he could see how that would help them market their products, their cars, Plymouth and Dodge, specifically. He hired Ray Nichels Engineering, and at the time, I was driving with Ray. We just started building a car. I can remember the first Plymouth-it was for Norm Nelson, and I think that Ronney was responsible for helping him out with parts.
They didn't really have any power then, using the wedge engine. I can remember driving one of Norm Nelson's cars at DuQuoin, Illinois, on a one-mile dirt track, and that thing didn't have enough power to turn the tires on the dirt. Later on, Ray and I were working with the car and got a little more power. We kept working on it, and soon Chrysler came out with the Hemi engine and from there on, they were in the racing business!
MM: How did building unibody Mopars differ from building full-framed Pontiacs? Were there any significant differences in, say rollcage construction or anything like that?
Nichels: Not really.
Goldsmith: We just had to reinforce the frame with the rollcage and tubing. We made heavier spindles, axles, the torsion bars, and all the brackets for the Plymouths and Dodges. It was a little different in that respect, getting used to using the torsion bars instead of coil springs.
MM: There is a story floating around that has Nichels Engineering putting a complete Pontiac front suspension under a Mopar stock car. How accurate is that?
Nichels: Well, what they're talking about is that Chrysler didn't have race-grade heavy-duty spindles. All the stuff we had on the Pontiacs, we wanted converted to Mopar.
Goldsmith: Who made those spindles for us, Ray?
Nichels: Ted Halibrand on the West Coast. He made a lot of those types of things for us.
MM: So you had to make your own heavy-duty stuff, and you designed it from parts you had previous experience with.
MM: Did it take a lot of development work to get the torsion bar systems to work?
Nichels: Not really.
Goldsmith: No. At first, our previous Pontiacs handled a lot better, we were used to them and knew how to make them handle. It took a lot of testing and work to make the Chrysler product handle. Then they came up with the fastback Dodge.
If you remember how the roofline was contoured-that car didn't handle worth a darn. We were running 165-170 mph, and it wanted to fly. So then they came up with the spoiler to put on the back, and it would hold the backend down. That was the beginning of the spoilers on racecars.
MM: As time went on, Chrysler began getting more interested in aerodynamics and began developing more slippery body styles. Were you able to work with Chrysler designers, and let them know what worked and what didn't? Did you have that kind of access?
Goldsmith: We worked a lot with the Chrysler people. The guys I remember working with were Larry Rathgeb and some of those guys. They helped us a lot with both aerodynamics and suspension development.
Nichels: George Wallace was also a big help.
MM: Did you have to do a lot of aerodynamic testing with the different body styles on your own or was it exclusively with Chrysler designers?