Fact 1: Not long ago, few in the general public knew or cared what a Hemi was. But thanks to the massive revival of all things hemispherical at Chrysler (and a brilliantly conceived 2002 advertising campaign built around the legendary engine) even soccer moms now know to ask, “That thing got a Hemi in it?”
It’s all such a contrast to the dark days of the mid 1970s when Chrysler was in full retreat mode from its Hemi glory days. But a funny thing happened in 1975.
Bruce Springsteen revived the word Hemi in a song that was heard by millions around the world. Listen closely to “Born To Run” and you’ll hear The Boss sing, “Beyond the Palace, Hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard.” Sweeet!
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Fact 2: Is the Hemi ’Cuda coming back? With the unfortunate passing of the Plymouth nameplate after the 2001 model year, one year late for the Hemi’s third-coming in 2002 (albeit aboard Dodge light trucks), we’ll never get to see any rear-wheel-drive Hemi-powered Plymouth passenger cars again. Or will we? Recent rumblings con- firm that Chrysler has fi led for patent protection of the ’Cuda name. With the Fiat-Chrysler merger going along quite smoothly, rumors persist the next-generation Challenger may get a name change to— you guessed it—’Cuda!
Other indications predict a shorter wheelbase and tidier dimensions for the new rear-wheel-drive pony model. And yes, Hemi power is a virtual sure thing! So while the Plymouth brand is highly unlikely to come back, the same cannot be said about the ’Cuda. Fingers remain crossed. I’m completely okay with the blending and merging of legacy nameplates, as long as there’s Hemi power involved. You should be too.
Fact 3: Plymouth fans were confused in 1973 when new Pontiacs appeared with RTS emblems affixed to their instrument panels. The seemingly twisted revival of Plymouth’s Rapid Transit System (where member cars must run the quarter-mile in 14 seconds or quicker) was actually Pontiac marketing-speak for Radial Tuned Suspension. It seems Pontiac engineers and marketers weren’t aware of Plymouth’s prior use when they decided to tout RTS status on new Pontiacs sold with radial tires; none of which could run a 14 in the quarter-mile.
Fact 4: One of the most bizarre Mopar magazine tests of all time was titled “The Airstream Grand Prix” and involved a 1968 Hemi Road Runner (and a Buick LeSabre 350/280, Chevy Caprice 427/385, and Pontiac Ventura 400/340). A self-admitted “abusive test of car, hitch, and trailer,” the story appeared in the November 1968 issue of Motorcade magazine.
To explore the challenges of towing a mobile home, the Hemi ’Runner automatic hardtop was fitted with a $92.50 Eaz-Lift equalizing trailer hitch then connected to a 4,200-pound, 27-foot Airstream Overlander International Twin travel trailer. Testing was conducted at the (now defunct) Riverside Raceway and included a slalom course, 0–60 acceleration, 35–55 mph passing tests, and 65–0 panic stops.
Test driver and story co-author Jim Wright wrote: “One would think that any car with 425-plus hp would make an excellent trailer towing car. This is not necessarily so . . . this type of engine is very sensitive to high combustion heat. There was no problem at level cruising speeds but the slightest load (such as any type of hill) on the engine produced serious detonation. I’m afraid that if this car were used regularly for trailer towing it would result in burned pistons and/or valves.”
The Hemi bested its closest competition (the 427 Caprice) by a wide margin. The Torqueflite, 3.23-geared Hemi Road Runner did 0–60 in 14.9 seconds, 35–55 in 7.2 seconds, and the 65–0 panic stop in 193 feet—virtually the same as an unloaded Road Runner, thanks to the Airstream’s self-contained brakes. Today it’s impossible (but so much fun) to imagine flogging a rare (one of 443 built) Street Hemi treasure this way. Also, you gotta wonder why the Motorcade test crew didn’t adjust the Hemi’s ignition timing.
Fact 5: The Plymouth Prowler was a hit-or-miss proposition. With 11,702 built between 1997 and 2002, its retro styling was a hit. But few appreciated its V-6-automatic-only status. At the 1999 SEMA show in Las Vegas, a hint of what never came to pass was displayed: a V-8 Prowler prototype called the Howler. Packed with a Power-Tech 4.7-liter V-8 and 5-speed manual transaxle, the concept proved Prowler’s chassis and suspension were fully ready to make the leap to V-8-stick-shift stardom.
Unfortunately, a number of factors (4.7 V-8 supply problems, CAFÉ skewing, federal crash certification, etc.) overshadowed the dream. Why wasn’t the Howler fitted with a Gen III Hemi? Remember, the Hemi’s return was still a few years away when the Howler made its showing. Too bad, huh?
Fact 6: To address the termination of the Plymouth brand in 2001, Prowlers were shuffled, with no substantial changes, under the Chrysler banner. All 2001 and 2002 Prowlers are correctly referred to as Chrysler Prowlers. Of the 11,702 built, 3,170 wore Chrysler badges. No Prowlers were built (for retail sale) in 1998.
Fact 7: It’s a recorded fact that Sox & Martin may have remained with Mercury for 1965 had it not been for Lincoln-Mercury’s refusal to supply two personal-use cars for Ronnie and Buddy. Plymouth’s generosity won them over, so to speak, and the rest is Hemi drag racing history. So what kind of cars did Ronnie drive when he wasn’t on the track?
The April 1970 issue of Autodriver magazine offers this fascinating insight from an interview with Ronnie at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan: “The new Hemi ’Cuda drives a lot like the 1969 Hemi Road Runner I’ve been driving on the street. But it’s lighter, lower to the ground, and it handles a little bit better. The Plymouth people gave me an Imperial to use for a while, but I like my Road Runner a lot better. I don’t feel old enough for an Imperial. I’ll probably go for that six-barrel ’Cuda this year, but it won’t be easy to decide.” At the time, Ronnie was just 28 years old.
Fact 8: “I know that you expect people to get killed in auto racing sometimes. You don’t like it, but you expect it. And I suppose spectators take a certain risk any time they go to a track. But you don’t expect little boys, you don’t expect any spectators to get killed or injured . . . .” Those were Richard Petty’s words in an interview published in the February 1966 issue of Car Life magazine.
A year earlier, in April, 1965 before a crowd of 12,000 spectators at a small drag strip in Dallas, Georgia, a tie rod broke beneath Petty’s Outlawed 43 Jr. match-race Hemi ’Cuda, sending it into a crowd. An 8-year-old boy was killed, adding a sad footnote to Petty’s distinguished racing career.
Ultimately, lawyers settled with the claimants and Petty’s ’Cuda was rebuilt with enhanced wheelbase alteration and a Hilborn-injected Hemi in place of the carbureted job in the crash car. Chrysler and NASCAR also came to terms over the 426 Hemi (giving birth to the 1966 Street Hemi) and Petty went back to roundyround action. The rebuilt Barracuda was campaigned for a few more seasons with Eddie Ratliff in command of the operation.
Fact 9: Why didn’t Plymouth counter the 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang with a similar Barracuda? The Formula S was a good start, but not nearly as hardcore as Shelby’s offering. According to research conducted recently by SCCA racer Mike Ritz, it almost happened.
Ritz (who currently campaigns the Team Starfish 1966 Formula S Barracuda in vintage road race events) uncovered a 13-page FIA homologation request, on Chrysler letterhead, claiming that between November 15 and December 15, 1965, Plymouth built 500 1966 Barracuda GTs. The goal was to secure assurance they’d be legal for competition in FIA-sanctioned Group 3 GT road racing events. Each Barracuda GT was purportedly powered by a 318 small-block (a year before it’s official introduction for the 1967 model year) with an aluminum intake manifold, Holley 4160 carburetor, 8-quart oil pan, steel tube headers, and full-length dual exhaust.
Other exotica included an 83 ⁄4 rear axle, 11-inch front disc brakes, 10-inch rear drum brakes, 15×7 cast-aluminum wheels, with steel rims, a thin Plexiglas rear window, a trunk-mounted battery, twin 20-pound front bucket seats, and, in place of the rear seat, a 22-gallon auxiliary fuel tank, which, combined with the stock 18-gallon unit, allowed 40 gallons of fuel for endurance races.
The crazy part is that the FIA Standard Certificate of Minimum Production document is signed by Bob Cahill (Manager, Special Performance Events) and H. E. Weiss (Manager, Valiant Product Planning).
So did these cars actually get built? Unfortunately the answer is no. Perhaps Plymouth witnessed Shelby’s sale of a mere 561 GT350 Mustangs in 1965 and got cold feet. The concept was revisited—with excellent results—four years later with the arrival of the 1970 AAR ’Cuda.
Fact 10: Dozens of first-generation Barracudas were converted into Hemi-powered match racers in late 1964–1966. Unlike later E-Body Pro Stock Barracuda race cars, which were often based on bodies-in-white, these early efforts began life as showroom-stock Barracudas. Here are some interesting facts about the origins of a few of the better known “big glass” ’Cuda match racers.
The Hurst Hemi Under Glass was born a jet-black 273 2-barrel car with 4-speed and radio/heater delete. As for Bob Sullivan’s Pandemonium V, magazine construction photos tell us it started life as a Slant-6, three-on-the-tree, radio-delete stripper before he packed it full of supercharged 392 Hemi power and made it a real stripper.
Tom McEwen’s radical mid-engine Hemi ’Cuda I got the most exciting donor of the bunch, a legit bright red Formula S with the raspy Carter AFB–equipped high-performance 273 and chrometipped single exhaust system. The eye-catching white racing stripe on the completed 1,000-hp stormer was no add-on. It was there from day one, part of the Formula S package (and a no-cost delete for more restrained tastes).
As for Petty’s original ’Cuda, though plenty of magazine photos were taken during construction, the cameras arrived too late to record its as-delivered specifications. It’s assumed it was a 273 V-8 car—or did Petty add the V-8 emblems to its front fenders? Regardless, in the summer of 2010 King Richard told me he was thinking of building a replica of 43 Jr. Though a controversial car, we both agreed it’d be appropriate and a huge hit with fans.
Fact 11: We’ve all heard stories like this: “My girlfriend’s brother had a Superbird that outran a police helicopter going 200 mph.” Should we believe it?
As much as I want to believe the mighty Superbird was a 200-mph showroom muscle car, the math simply doesn’t support the claim. Certainly not with stock 3-series (3.23, 3.54, or 3.55:1) axle gearing, a stock non-overdrive 1:1 transmission, and Goodyear Polyglas tires. But drop the top-speed claim closer to 150 mph and things become very plausible, assuming the absence of optional 3.91 or 4.10:1 gears, which would limit top speed to a shade over 120 mph with any stock 440 or Hemi under the hood. Regardless, it’s safe to say the reduced aerodynamic drag gave the Superbird a 15-mph top-speed advantage over an identically equipped Road Runner.
Fact 12: Dodge received 1,200 orders for the 503 1969 Charger Daytonas built within three weeks of its official introduction on April 13, 1969. So why was the 1970 Superbird such a showroom dud? It stems from a change in NASCAR’s minimum production requirement for 1970.
For 1969 and before, a mere 500 street-going production cars was all it took to legalize special aerodynamic body panels and/or engine packages for NASCAR race duty. But seeking to curb the proliferation of exotic factory aero packages (which NASCAR felt didn’t resonate with the average spectator), the minimum production requirement for 1970 was increased to 1,000 units, or one-half the total number of the brand’s dealerships, whichever number was greatest.
With nearly 4,000 Chrysler-Plymouth dealers active in North America, Superbird output needed to be nearly four times that of the Daytona. In the end, Plymouth built 1,935 Superbirds—clearly more than market demand warranted and some unsold units remained on dealer lots well into the 1972 model year. It’s true that you can have too much of a good thing.
Fact 13: Pioneering Barracuda Hemi match-race and exhibition teams had fun with the Barracuda name in 1965–1966. Sox & Martin emblazoned the tail panel and chin spoiler of their 1966 ’Cuda match racer with the tongue-twisting nickname “Baccaruda.”
Meanwhile, the funsters at Hurst Performance applied the “Bear-Of-A-Cuda” logo to the underside of the 1965 Hemi Under Glass. To fully view it, the car had to be at full wheelstand.
Other fun wordplays included the Dorsey Salter Crazy Cuda, Tom “Smoker” Smith’s Smokerruda, Bill Fisher’s Kingfish, and the Sites Brothers’ Skootin ’Cuda—all were new for 1966.
Though Plymouth Division officially embraced the Hemi ’Cuda moniker in 1970, Tom McEwen seems to have been the first racer to combine the two words, thus coining a very popular phrase. His mid-engine 1965 Barracuda wore stylized “Hemi ’Cuda” logos on its B-panels. So too did the Hemi ’Cuda II, which was constructed as a replacement after Hemi ’Cuda I became airborn and was destroyed at Lions in late 1965.
Fact 14: Visitors to the Chicago Auto Show were witness to history when, on January 10, 1956, Plymouth formally introduced the limited-production Fury. So, was the 1956 Fury (Plymouth’s first muscle car) powered by a Hemi?
Unfortunately, while corresponding high-performance models from Chrysler (the 300B), DeSoto (Adventurer), and Dodge (D500) carried exotic hemispherical, double-rocker shaft heads, the first Plymouth Hemi cars didn’t arrive until the A-864 426 Race Hemi of 1964 (when approximately 50 sedans and 12 hardtops were produced).
Instead, Plymouth’s first muscle car was motivated by a cheaper-to-produce 303-cube polyspherical head V-8. No slouch, the 240-hp single-4-barrel Fury proved its guts and broke NASCAR flying-mile (124.01 mph) and standing-start mile (82.54 mph) records at Daytona Beach. A total of 4,485 Furys were built in 1956, each priced at $2,866, some $254 less than a same-year Corvette.
Fact 15: Prior to 1955, Plymouth’s performance image was a nonentity. Aside from a few NASCAR race victories (some with Lee Petty at the wheel), Plymouth’s appeal to the youth market was zilch. I own an all-original, 47,000-mile 1954 Savoy four-door (217 flathead six, three-on-the-tree) and can attest to its utter lack of performance intent. Charming? Yes. Exciting? No.
Things changed drastically in 1955 with an all-new frame, suspension, body, and for the first time in Plymouth corporate history, available V-8 power. Early 1955s received a Dodge-built, 241-inch V-8 with polyspherical heads. However, supply shortages spurred rapid development of a Plymouth-specific 259-inch replacement. A product of the new Mound Road engine plant in Detroit, the 259 (assigned design code A479) was unique for its integrally cast rocker shaft supports (similar Dodge-sourced polyspherical head V-8s used bolt-on supports and share very few parts). The A479, with its 4.46-inch bore spacing and 9.6-inch deck height, was the genesis of the A-engine program that led to the 1964-up 273, 318, 340, and 360 LA engine family and legends such as the 340 Six Barrel of 1970.
Fact 16: Were full-size Plymouth C-bodies ever offered with 426 Street Hemi power? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. But, spectators at the 1965 Southern 500 (Darlington, North Carolina) could be forgiven for assuming the opposite.
Though never available on the showroom floor, a pair of privately constructed 426 Hemi-powered, full-size 1966 Fury hardtops were campaigned by Buddy Baker (car #86) and Curtis Turner (car #14) at the prestigious 500 mile race. Baker’s never-was C-Body Hemi took second place behind Ned Jarrett’s 427-powered Ford Galaxie.
Check out the November 1965 issue of Motor Trend magazine and see it for yourself. By limiting the potent 426 Hemi to the bulky C-Body Fury (instead of the svelte Belvedere B-Body), NASCAR succeeded in leveling the playing field so midsize 427 Galaxies (with significantly less frontal area) could stick with the Hemis. Baker’s Hemi-powered #86 Fury also finished second at the 1965 Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach, Florida.
Fact 17: Ironically, Buddy Baker didn’t start the 1965 Southern 500 in Darlington aboard a 1966 Plymouth Fury Hemi C-Body. Rather, a 1965 Chevy Impala was his mount, until its “Mystery 427” engine blew at lap number 123. Baker’s father, Buck, then vacated the Hemi Fury’s supersized cockpit so his son could continue the race.
Another interesting twist is the fact Curtis Turner’s #14 1966 Hemi Fury was co-owned by NASCAR president and founder Bill France. It finished the Southern 500 in 35th place thanks to a broken front spindle. Why France (who brutally squeezed Chrysler over the Hemi program) owned the car is unknown.
Fact 18: Model builders might remember the 1/25-scale 1966 Plymouth Fury hardtop plastic model kit from Jo-Han (kit number C-1266 149). The box art depicts two possible build options: a sleek, black custom job or a never-was Sox & Martin Fury match racer, replete with the team’s striking red, white, and blue colors (see Fact #506 to learn of its origins).
Other build options include showroom stock or Norm Nelson’s #2 NASCAR racer. But get this: The only engine in the kit is Jo-Han’s excellent 1/25-scale plastic rendering of the mighty 426 Hemi with a single 4-barrel (stock and NASCAR) or a choice of the magnesium A990 cross-ram or Hilborn mechanical fuel injection for the drag version. Nope, Sox & Martin never raced a C-Body Fury, but you have to wonder if Jo-Han was shown a preproduction C-Body Fury Street Hemi (from which to create the kit tooling) and just assumed it would be available to the public in 1966.
Fact 19: How about a C-Body with factory 440 Six Barrel power? It happened in 1970 with the Sport Fury GT. Though the majority of the 666 built carried T-code 440 4-barrel power, 61 were built with 440 Six Barrel engines for a mere $119 extra (and carry the vaunted V-code in the fifth spot of the VIN).
External identification was unique. While the standard 440 4-barrel cars wore die-cast metal 440 emblems affixed to the outboard surfaces of the twin hood blisters, Six Barrel cars got adhesive 440 6-barrel logos, which were quite austere and not shared with any other Plymouth 440 Six Barrel application. The Sport Fury GT was continued for 1971 (375 built) minus the Six Barrel option. The U-code 440 Super Commando replaced the T-code (non-upswept exhaust manifolds) used in 1970.
Fact 20: Okay, how about 4-speed Plymouth C-Bodies; were any built? Yes. When the full-size Fury was added to the line in 1965, the 4-speed was readily available in any style (Fury I, Fury II, Fury III, or Sport Fury), though the take rate was less than 5 percent. Fouron-the-floor Fury availability continued in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969, but was discontinued for 1970, just in time to miss the mighty Sport Fury GT option list.
All Sport Fury GTs carried specially calibrated high-upshift 727 Torqueflite automatic transmissions, though lesser 225, 318, and 383 (non-GT) Furys could still be had with the antiquated three-on-the-tree A230 manual transmission. Can you imagine how cool a 1970 440 Six-Barrel GT would have been with a pistol grip shifted 4-speed under the hump?
Fact 21: Knowing it’d need to produce four times as many 1970 Superbirds as 1969 Charger Daytonas, Plymouth sought to streamline the construction process as much as possible to minimize losses and get them all built before the January 1, 1970, NASCAR race-eligibility deadline.
Instead of reverse-engineering complete Hamtramck-built Charger R/Ts at the Creative Industries modification/completion center at 17630 East Ten Mile Road in East Detroit, Plymouth instead produced the Superbird on the regular Detroit Lynch Road assembly line. The workers installed everything except the steel nose cones and aluminum wing structures. For final assembly, Superbirds were trucked 5 miles to Chrysler’s Pre-Production assembly line in Clairepointe, Michigan, where pre-assembled nose cone and wing assemblies were mated to each car.
Fact 22: Plymouth Superbird manufacturing engineers were hoping to recycle as many parts from the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona as possible. Unfortunately, clashing body lines forced production of specific parts for the Plymouth.
The nose cones are different, the Superbird’s vertical stabilizers (wing uprights) are 40 percent larger and have a steeper rake, the fender-top air extractors differ, and the rear window filler panel is also non-interchangeable. The sole item that’s truly identical between the two is the fiberglass headlight bucket assembly and 1968 Charger-based, vacuum-lift mechanisms.
Fact 23: If the Superbird’s front fenders and hood look familiar to 1970 Dodge Coronet owners, it’s because Plymouth snatched them from the Dodge parts bin, with slight tweaks. The leading edge of the Coronet’s hood was cut away and replaced by a welded-on filler panel. The seam is clearly visible immediately ahead of the hood pins. Rendering a specific hood skin for the limited-production Superbird program was unjustifiable to Plymouth product planners.
Fact 24: The Superbird’s horizontal wing was adjustable via a set of countersunk Allen-head screws. The angle of attack could be adjusted a total range of 12 degrees (plus 2 to minus 10). The factory setting was zero, which perfectly merged the contours of the inverted Clark Y airfoil “wing” to the vertical struts.
Fact 25: Unlike Road Runners and GTXs, every Superbird is built with a black headliner, regardless of whether the rest of the interior is black or white (no other colors were available). The Superbird’smodified rear window was unlike the standard Belvedere unit, forcing a specifically cut headliner. Limiting the color choice to black reduced cost.
Fact 26: Ever wonder why E58 (360 4-barrel) Volare A57 Road Runners and A67 Super Coupes came with a single exhaust outlet? It’s because Volare/Aspen (F-Body) development engineers worked under the assumption that dual exhaust would never again be on the menu.
Deep-breathing V-8s were seemingly gone forever and the expense of catalytic converters was likely to limit them to one per vehicle. Accordingly, the floorpan and gas tank designers specified a wide, shallow tank, positioned close to the left-side (driver) frame rail. The exhaust was routed down the passenger side of the car and passed through the resulting gap. This worked fi ne for the Slant-6s and 318 2-barrels that made up 98 percent of output.
As for the 360 4-barrel minority, in 1979, Chrysler stepped up and approved dual catalytic converters and mufflers in a welldesigned system, until it reached the tailpipe. That’s where the dual pipes merge over and behind the rear axle to feed a single tailpipe with a massive 3-inch outlet diameter. The few surviving systems are pretty intimidating for a single-exhaust setup.
Fact 27: The most intimidating single-exhaust layout of all time is found under the 1965 RO51 Hemi Super Stock Belvedere I sedan (and its WO51 Dodge Hemicharger 426 cousin). Even though the B-Body floorpan readily accepts a pair of conventional high- fl ow mufflers, the lightweight Race Hemi S/S cars came directly from the factory with a ridiculous, but ingenious, single cross-flow muffler positioned beneath the rear bumper.
On the driver’s side of the muffler case, a length of 2-inchdiameter pipe makes a gentle 90-degree turn and vents spent gases. The simple layout was fed by a Y-pipe joining the dual headers, which were meant to be uncapped. So, does a single-exhaust Race Hemi actually run with the header outlets capped? Yes; I’ve seen it. But the Hemi sounds constipated, and unless the dual Holleys are jetted specifically for corked operation, plug fouling and cylinder misfire results within a few miles.
And merely to satisfy the rulebook’s mandate for full “street” equipment, the big muffler also happened to be an excellent storage spot for 80 pounds of molten or pelletized lead ballast.
Fact 28: In his excellent book, Car Spy, legendary automotive spy photographer Jim Dunne’s camera exposes numerous preproduction prototype test cars from Detroit and abroad.
One of the most fascinating stories involves a bizarre Plymouth Prowler engineering mule car fitted with a Jeep Wrangler body cap affixed to the rear half of the stock Prowler body! It seems the proving grounds test crew wasn’t willing to brave winter test conditions in a standard open-cockpit Prowler, so a hastily cobbled fiberglass Wrangler hardtop was affixed to the chassis to keep the test engineers warm at the Chelsea, Michigan, test track. Did Chrysler want the freaky Prowler publicized? No way.
Fact 29: Dealership service mechanics were undoubtedly grateful when Plymouth (along with Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge) switched from a floor-mounted to a “hanging” (suspended under the dash panel) brake pedal in 1955 and beyond. The relocated brake pedal was a consequence of the entirely new body and frame that focused on lower, sleeker styling, all part of Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” design philosophy.
Before the redesign, Plymouth positioned the brake master cylinder under the driver floorboard, where adjustment and bleeding required several trips under the car. By contrast, the reduced cowl height of the sleeker 1955 body shell forced relocation of the brake master cylinder to the firewall, where access and service was much, much easier to accomplish.
Fact 30: Adding a subtle performance flair, all 1970–1971 Sport Fury GTs and 1970 Fury S/23s were equipped with a front chin spoiler. The stamped-metal spoiler was 11 ⁄2 inches tall and nearly as wide as the chrome hoop bumper. Painted to match the body, this was the only application of a factory chin spoiler in the history of the Fury model name.
Fact 31: The 1975–1976 Plymouth Valiant A38 police package was only available in the four-door sedan body style. When fitted with the E58 360 4-barrel in Federal (48 states) trim, it was the only fourdoor Valiant ever offered with a factory-installed, full-length, dual exhaust system.
Rated at 220 hp, the E58 Valiant was a mixed bag. Though law enforcement appreciated its nimble compact-size handling and maneuverability (unlike same-year A38 Gran Fury and Fury police models, which benefitted from additional frame welds and a rear crossmember reinforcement), the Valiant (and its Dart cousin) was based on a standard passenger car shell. The result was chronic metal fatigue and front suspension failure in heavy fleet service.
Fact 32: Did Plymouth ever offer a Road Runner station wagon? Sort of. While the “classic” 1968–1975 Road Runner was available only as a coupe, hardtop, or convertible (1969–1970 only), in 1978, Plymouth announced the Load Runner, a Road Runner–inspired appearance package offered on the Volare station wagon.
Adding the Volare Road Runner coupe’s optional Sport Pak chin spoiler, fender flares, and tape stripes to the wagon was handled by Motortown, an off-campus vehicle modification center run by the father of the Pontiac GTO, Jim Wangers.
Responsible for similar “decal supercars” such as the Mustang Cobra II and Pontiac Can Am, Wangers’ Motortown was also in charge of the Volare Road Runner and Aspen R/T vehicle conversion programs between 1976 and 1980. A number of Load Runners were built between 1978 and 1980, probably a few hundred.
Fact 33: The Volare Road Runner Sport Pak fender-flare kit (mentioned in Fact # 632) is not the same as the body kit conjured for the 1978 Volare (and Dodge Aspen) Street Kit Car. Kit Car flares are much larger and have flat outboard surfaces with simulated fastener mounting holes. The larger flares cover the hand-trimmed wheel openings necessary to clear the massive 15×8 steel wheels and GR60-15 Goodyear GT Radial tires.
Other Kit Car–specific body add-ons included a huge deck lid spoiler, deep chin air dam, fake four-corner hood pins, massive Richard Petty–inspired “43” racing numbers (supplied in the trunk), and five aluminum windshield locking tabs, none of which was shared with the more subtle Sport Pak. Shepherded by Chrysler performance planning honcho and former Ramcharger Dick Maxwell, the Kit Car was a handling and appearance package, not a high-powered muscle car.
Said Maxwell in the November 1977 issue of Motor Trend magazine: “We can’t build a real race car anymore—those days are gone.”
How true. Still, modern collectors have really begun to warm up to the Kit Car. Clean examples command in excess of $10,000, and rightly so.
Fact 34: Volare A43 Kit Cars were only available in two-tone red (Dodge Aspen Kit Cars were two-tone blue). V-8 power was standard—the 318 with either a 2- or 4-barrel carburetor. The 360 however, was only available with a 4-barrel carburetor and included large vinyl “360 cu. in.” engine displacement decals affixed to the hood. Lesser 318-powered Street Kit Cars were (wisely) barren of hood displacement markings. There isn’t anything sexy about “318 cu. in.” callouts.
Fact 35: The 1969 Plymouth Barracuda hood lived on for several years after the final second-generation Barracuda was built in 1969. In a twisted version of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, the Barracuda hood (base style, minus simulated hood vents) was revived for installation on 1973–1976 Dodge Darts and Dart Sports! What of 1967–1968 Barracuda hoods? They fi t the 1973-up Dart hood opening, but lack the raised “beak” added in 1969, which results in a prominent contour mismatch with the Dart header panel.
Fact 36: Ever notice that some 1969 Barracudas, Road Runners, and GTXs have front-seat headrests while others don’t? Federal safety regulations forced Plymouth (and the rest of the auto industry) to include standard front-seat headrests in every new vehicle produced after January 1, 1969. Before the New Year’s Day deadline, dual headrests were a $26.50 option. Headrests could also be ordered individually for $13.25 apiece.
I personally helped restore a single-headrest, bench-seat 4-speed 1968 Hemi Road Runner. The bottom of the build sheet was clearly marked “1 head rest” in black grease pencil. Though technically possible, it’s doubtful any cars were built with a headrest on the passenger side only.
Fact 37: The Bostrom Thin Line front bucket seats installed in 1964 Hemi lightweight sedans, 1965 A990 sedans, and 1968 Hurst Hemi A-Bodies differed from the seats used in Dodge A100 compact vans and pickup trucks in one major detail. While the truck-sourced units were rigid, those destined for passenger car applications featured hinged uprights for easier access to the rear compartment. Truck-sourced seats also had round-section welting stitched into the major perimeter seams while S/S upholstery lacked this feature.
Fact 38: Even though Pontiac’s GTO was first on the scene with a plastic-coated Endura front bumper in 1968, Plymouth jumped on the bandwagon in 1970 with the ’Cuda A21 Elastomeric front bumper option for $66.50. Going a step beyond the GTO, A22 covered both bumpers in urethane for $121.30. Not to be confused with simple, painted steel bumpers, the Elastomeric treatment consisted of a flexible plastic coating that added graceful faired-in contours to the bumper ends and eliminated the exposed bolt heads seen on base chrome bumpers. The Elastomeric bumper option also included body-colored side mirrors.
Fact 39: In the early 1960s, the term “hemi fender” was used to describe the aluminum (1964) or thin-gauge-steel (1965) panels bolted to lightweight Belvedere I Race Hemi sedans. By 1970, the phrase focused more on handling than straight-line sprints. Thanks to the Hemi ’Cuda’s standard E60-15 Goodyear Polyglas front tires, the stock front fender wheel lip flanges had to be manually rolled for adequate sidewall clearance.
To identify the hand-massaged front fenders, 1970–1971 Hemi ’Cudas bear an additional trim tag, stamped with the words “Hemi Fender.” The big E60-15 skins were also optional on nonHemi ’Cudas (340, 383, and 440) as the U82 tire upgrade package for $47.95. Some of these non-Hemi-powered cars are known to have been delivered with Hemi Fender tags.
Fact 40: The 1967 Belvedere hardtop RO23 B/Stock Hemi package cars (55 built) carry a unique hood scoop. Shared with same-year WO23 Hemi Coronet hardtops (55 built), the scoops may look similar to 1964 A864 and 1965 A990 items, but are unique. The 1964 scoops were aluminum, an exotic metal outlawed by the NHRA for 1965. Subsequent 1965 A990 scoops were made of NHRA-accepted thin-gauge steel but have a more rounded rear contour to suit the 1965 B-Body’s cowl contour and hood opening cut line (the 1965 Factory Experimental scoops were class-legal fiberglass).
For the 1967 RO and WO cars, Chrysler revisited the 1965 A990 steel scoop, but with a straighter trailing edge to match the 1966–1967 B-Body hood cut line. As with the 1964 and 1965 scoops, an aluminum adapter ring was secured to the underside of the hood to direct cool outside air into the carburetors.
Fact 41: It’s not commonly known, but the Slant-6 was initially designed around a 64-pound die-cast aluminum block. When development began in 1957, aluminum was the rule, with concurrent 130- pound cast-iron block development seen as a hedge against initial production problems.
In the end, high cost and frequent die-casting flaws scrapped the aluminum-block campaign but not before nearly 50,000 diecast aluminum 225 Slant-6 blocks were released for production in 1961–1962 Valiant (and Lancer) A-bodies. The aluminum block was not part of the Hyper-Pak performance option; rather, it was merely a quick way to shed 66 pounds from the nose of any 1961– 1962 A-Body for a mere $47.35.
Fact 42: Costing nearly ten times as much as the aluminum-block option, the $403.30 price tag of the 1961 Hyper-Pak racing parts conversion kit for the 170/225 Slant-6 enjoyed minimal popularity. But it didn’t matter. Chrysler’s sole intent was to dominate NASCAR’s “Baby Grand” compact car race class, which it did.
The centerpiece of the Hyper-Pak setup was a beautiful, castaluminum intake manifold with 17-inch ram-tuned runners and a matched Carter AFB 4-barrel carb. The second coolest detail was the twin, streamlined, cast-iron exhaust manifolds. Both items have been reproduced by Doug Dutra/Clifford Performance in the past decade and have become popular with Slant-6 performance fans.
Fact 43: Chrysler produced some of the muscle car era’s most memorable air cleaner units, and the dual 14-inch filters supplied with the 1962–1964 Plymouth 413/426 Super Stock (and Dodge Ramcharger) Max Wedge are among the coolest.
But did you know, after being discontinued stateside in 1964, the Max Wedge air cleaner lid was revived in Australia? The application was the 1967–1970 VE Valiant, which was available with a small-block 2-barrel V-8 or one of two optional Slant-6s: a 145-hp 225 with 1-barrel carburetion and a 160-hp high-performance 225 with a 2-barrel carburetor. You guessed it—the 2-barrel Slant-6s came with the ex-Max Wedge air cleaner lid, but with a specific base plate to suit the Carter BBD’s smaller choke housing.
In early 1970, the Australian-built Hemi Six replaced the 225 but not before the manufacture of several thousand high-performance Slant-6s. Before the advent of reproduction Max Wedge air cleaner assemblies in 1988, savvy scavengers used to import Australian lids for profitable resale to Super Stock restorers. The former Max Wedge air cleaner lid also seems to have been used by Chrysler of Mexico, South America, and perhaps Brazil, for similar 2-barrel–equipped Slant-6s.
Incidentally, US Slant-6 buyers had to wait until the 1977 arrival of the Super Six to enjoy 2-barrel induction. Excepting the handful of Hyper-Paks and 2-barrel marine applications, every passenger car Slant-6 sold here breathed through a tiny 1-barrel carburetor.
Fact 44: The 1970–1981 Australian Hemi Six stands as one of Chrysler’s first “self aware” efforts to capitalize on the Hemi mystique—but it was barely a Hemi. Developed in Detroit in 1962 as project A941 (a possible replacement for the displacement-limited Slant-6), by June 1966 the decision was made to allow Chrysler Australia to accept ownership of the engine, which was redesignated the A167 program. A major impetus for shuffling the engine program “down under” was the need to satisfy local laws, which mandated a certain percentage of each vehicle be designed, developed, and manufactured in Australia to ensure worker engagement.
The resulting family of 215, 245, and 265-cubic-inch Hemi Sixes were potent, especially the triple-Weber-carbureted, 302-hp E49 Hemi Six-Pack of 1972. The surprising detail is that this family of so-called Hemi engines lacked true hemispherical combustion chambers, centrally located spark plugs, or double rocker shafts. Instead, these “Hemi” heads featured a very subtle shift in the valve angles, but were otherwise nondescript.
Fact 45: As if the 426 Hemi wasn’t potent enough, Chrysler began preparation of a four-valve-per-chamber Hemi variant immediately after sweeping the 1964 Daytona 500.
Intended as a countermeasure to Ford’s SOHC 427, two versions of the four-valve engine were designed, both of which carried engineering code A925. One was a pure overhead-cam configuration with direct-acting cams riding atop the valves. The other used pushrods and two camshafts mounted side by side in the block. Ultimately, NASCAR banned the exotic SOHC Ford so development work was halted before a single running A925 engine materialized.
Curiously, 1/25-scale plastic model kit manufacturer AMT included a highly detailed DOHC Hemi in its 1992 release of the 1970 Coronet Super Bee model kit (PN 6140). Though rendered in miniature, the kit engine offers a highly detailed insight into what might have been.
Fact 46: At the time of its introduction, the 1966 Street Hemi offered far more sheer performance than any mass-produced vehicle to that time. To ensure the rest of the driveline was up to the task of enduring the Hemi’s under-rated 425 hp and 490 ft-lbs of torque, Chrysler specified the Dana model 60 rear axle assembly for installation behind 4-speed-equipped Street Hemis.
In the September 1966 edition of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated Roger Huntington interviewed Chrysler’s Bob Rodger (special car manager) who said: “We ran a special durability schedule on the prototype experimental cars to check the strength of the driveline for drag racing. We set a minimum standard of 400 full-throttle standing starts with street tires. We even did some runs with slick tires, to add even more load on the driveline parts by having more traction. But admittedly, we can’t get anywhere near 400 starts with the slicks, even with the Spicer axle. You have no idea of the forces that go through the driveline on the drag strip with a biginch, high-performance engine in a two-ton car.”
Fact 47: Though often overshadowed by the Dana 60, Chrysler’s 83 ⁄4 Hotchkiss-type rear axle earned legendary status for its durability and ability to absorb abuse. It was so tough, Chrysler felt con- fi dent of its survivability behind the Street Hemi, as long as a 727 automatic transmission was there to cushion the blow during fullpower upshifts.
Chrysler’s Bob Rodger explains to Roger Huntington in the September 1966 issue of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine “Our standard heavy-duty passenger car axle would have been okay for normal street driving. But when you put a big set of slicks on the car, and start blasting off the line at the drag strip with 6,000 engine revs, those rear axle gears and shafts take a terrible beating. The big Spicer axle was the only answer here.”
That said, I have never experienced a failure when running an 83 ⁄4 axle assembly on the street or drag strip—and that includes plenty of runs with wrinkle-wall slicks. Unlike certain muscle car competitors, Chrysler vehicles were built to take plenty of abuse.
Fact 48: Plymouth muscle cars with B-series 383 big-block engines were never teamed with the massive Dana 60 rear axle. With “only” 425 ft-lbs of torque, it simply wasn’t deemed necessary. But in the case of 1966–1972 B and E-Bodies packing a 4-speed and 440 or 426 power, the nearly 500 ft-lbs of torque triggered installation of the Dana 60 (also true for 4-speed 1968 Hurst Hemi Barracudas).
So what about buyers of 1965–1969 full-size C-Body Furys who ordered the RB 413, 426, or 440 wedge and 4-speed stick? Did they too get the overkill Dana 60? No. These cars were equipped with a standard 83 ⁄4 rear axle unit.
It could be argued the nearly 5,000-pound heft of the C-Body combined with the 440’s 480 ft-lbs put even more strain on the axle than a lighter 383 Road Runner, but Plymouth banked on tire spin as a “fuse” to limit the shock load on the axle gears. Plus, the expense of crafting a specific extra-width C-Body Dana was likely vetoed given the extremely limited demand. Finally, the probability of 4-speed Fury buyers visiting the drag strip or installing hightraction drag slicks was low. Plymouth crossed its fingers and stuck with the general-purpose 83 ⁄4 with good results.
Fact 49: Were all 83 ⁄4 axle shafts created equal? No! Those made before the 1965 model year utilized two-piece axles with keyed hubs. Though strong enough for use behind Chrysler letter cars (up to the 1964 300-K), Max Wedges, and 1964 Race Hemis, the need for an axle pulling tool complicates service. New for 1965, one-piece flanged axle shafts eliminated maintenance hassles, but still featured the beefy 30-spline configuration used previously.
Fact 50: How about gear sets? When is an 83 ⁄4 not an 83 ⁄4? The answer is when it’s equipped with the light-duty gear set, which used an 81 ⁄4-inch-diameter ring gear and corresponding pinion gear.
Commonly found inside differential cases bearing casting numbers ending in 741, the 81 ⁄4 gear set is not to be confused with the mundane Salisbury-type 81 ⁄4 rear axle unit that arrived in 1969 and saw service into the 1990s beneath Dakota pickup trucks. The best 83 ⁄4 center sections bear casting numbers that end in 742 or 489.
The key difference between the two cases is the pinion gear stem diameter. The 489 stem is tapered with a 17 ⁄8 major diameter. It’s marginally stronger than the 13 ⁄4 pinion stem found in the 742 case. Both are far superior to the 13 ⁄8 pinion stem used in the 741 case. The 489 case arrived in 1968 and was used under most Plymouth performance cars, though some 383 Road Runners and 340 Dusters have been verified with factory-installed 741 cases.
Fact 51: The 1970 Sport Fury GT borrowed some goodies from the Dodge Challenger parts bin. Namely, the twin rectangular exhaust tips were also shared on 1970–1971 Challenger R/Ts and 1972–1974 Challenger Rallyes. For the 1971 Sport Fury GT (375 built) Plymouth reverted to twin, unadorned, down-turn tailpipes.
Fact 52: 1964 and 1965 426 Race Hemi rocker covers (and gaskets) do not fi t 1966-up A102 426 Street Hemis. 1964 iron A864 heads (casting number 2468016) and 1965 aluminum A990 heads (casting number 2531110) have a straight gasket surface on the left-hand end of each head. The iron heads used on the slightly civilized A102 1966-up Street Hemi (casting number 2780559) were redesigned with a curved contour in this spot to allow fitment of an optional power steering pump, an item not available on weight-conscious 1964–1965 Race Hemi package cars. Mixing straight and curved heads results in gasket and/or cover oil leaks.
Fact 53: Plymouth 340 and 383 muscle cars use a version of the New Process A833 4-speed gearbox different than 440 and Hemi cars. The key difference is the spline count on the input shaft. The Hemi/440 ’box has 18 splines; the lesser unit has 23. Naturally, clutch discs are not interchangeable between the two models.
Fact 54: Seeking an alternative to the costly-to-manufacture A102 426 Street Hemi, Chrysler launched the A279 Ball Stud Hemi program in 1968. It was named after its simplified valvetrain, which used Chevy big-block inspired canted valves, pushrod guide plates, and ball-shaped (spherical) rocker arm fulcrums. The design wasn’t a true Hemi, but Hemi-size 2.25 intake/1.94 exhaust valves and generous rectangular intake ports easily supported one horsepower per cubic inch.
Like the big-block B/RB wedge, the Ball Stud was to be offered in short-stroke (3.38-inch) and long-stroke (3.75-inch) variants. They shared a common 4.32 bore diameter and delivered 400 or 440 cubic inches, respectively. Just as the project was coming to fruition in 1970, weak corporate health and renewed federal safety/emissions scrutiny forced termination of the program. Instead, Chrysler refocused efforts on existing engine lines.
Fact 55: Dual-point ignition distributors were used on all of Plymouth’s most serious muscle era (1956–1972) performance engines. Race Hemis, Street Hemis, and even the 273 Commando benefitted from the superior spark generated by twin points. As for the 383 and 440 wedges, dual-points were less common but available.
A quick way to identify a garden-variety, single-point distributor is to check the construction material. If it’s raw aluminum, it’s a single-point (or a breaker-less electronic conversion kit). A cast-iron distributor (usually painted black) generally indicates the presence of dual points, as used on A33 Track Pak and A34 Super Track Pak cars.
Fact 56: Where did the A279 Ball Stud Hemis end up? Of the approximately twelve running prototype engines built, only two are accounted for today. One of them, a 444-cubic-inch tall-deck version with a single 4-barrel was recently installed in a 1969 Barracuda hardtop that was bought new by Tom “Father of the Hemi” Hoover.
The work of noted Mopar engine builder John Arruzza, the what-if ’Cuda began life as a BH23M 440 hardtop. It was one of the 360 M-code RB 440 conversions done by Hurst Performance for Plymouth in 1969 (breakdown between hardtop and fastback body styles is not known).
Incidentally, Hoover’s ’Cuda frequently served as a “rolling research laboratory” on Woodward Avenue with a variety of engines, and appeared in the November 1979 issue of Hot Rod magazine sporting a stroked 371-cubic-inch small-block, Six-Pack induction and lots of tire smoke. Arruzza’s Ball Stud Hemi installation offers a fascinating glimpse of what might have been.
Fact 57: The 1967 A-Body redesign of the 1969 ’Cuda 440 added engine bay width to allow normal assembly-line fitment of the 383 big-block wedge. But with the jump to 440 power, Plymouth (and Dodge) turned to Hurst Performance for some off-campus assistance.
It seems the body-drop method of mating the engine/ K-frame unit to the body shell worked well with the 383. But thanks to the 440’s extra stroke and taller block, overall engine width grew by 21 ⁄2 inches, which was just enough to cause problems on the regular Hamtramck build line.
Every 1969 Barracuda (and Dart) 440 conversion was initially built at Hamtramck as a complete 383 car but with an M (special order) engine code in the fifth spot of the VIN. Finished cars were then trucked to Lansing for partial disassembly, and reconstruction with 440 power, before being sold through normal dealer channels.
Fact 58: Authenticating a 1969 ’Cuda 440 is easy. The VIN must show the letter M in the fifth position (see Fact #657). On all but very early cars the fender tag must display code A13, which identifies the Hurst 440 conversion package (727 Torqueflite, 3.55:1 geared 83 ⁄4 Sure Grip, E70-14 red line tires, 14×5.5 steel rims, heavyduty suspension, and ’Cuda 440 fender graphics).
Interestingly, while the 4-speed was available with the 383 big-block in 1967, 1968, and 1969, 440 cars were strictly limited to the 727 Torqueflite, so code D32 must appear on the fender tag. 1969 was the only year the second-generation ’Cuda was available with 440 power from the factory, though some 1968 440 Barracudas were built by tier-two aftermarket conversion shops.
Fact 59: The problems faced by the Hurst 440 ’Cuda engine swap team were simple compared to the challenge of stuffing a 426 Race Hemi in Plymouth’s steel fi sh. While the issue of relocating the brake master cylinder outboard to clear the left-hand cylinder head was handled with an elegant machined-aluminum spacer plate, blunt force trauma was employed on the right-hand side where the passenger-side shock tower fought the Hemi’s valve cover for space. Torches and sledge hammers did the deed on each of the 67 Hemi Barracudas (and 72 Darts) churned out by Hurst Performance in 1968.
Fact 60: A key difference between 19691 ⁄2 and 1970 440 Six Barrel engines is the strength of the connecting rods. First-year engines shared standard forged-steel rods with the 440 4-barrel, which was not a bad thing. For 1970, the width of the beam was increased for extra load capacity, the resulting Six-Pack rods looking almost as beefy as Hemi forgings (though the wedge’s 3/8- inch cap fasteners were unchanged).
Also used in most 1970–1972 dual-exhaust (U-code) 440 applications, the extra-strength rods each weighed 930 grams (100 more than standard) and forced the use of an externally balanced dampener and flywheel/flexplate. These rods were phased out of production after 1972 to make way for lighter, less expensive, castiron crankshafts, which reverted to standard-width forged 440 rods.
Fact 61: Built in early 1965, the first version of Richard Petty’s #43 Jr. Hemi ’Cuda match racer featured a subtly altered wheelbase. The main traction trick was moving the Hemi back 1 foot beneath the windshield and cowl. This entailed firewall surgery, and because the stock K-frame was no longer there to accept the stock torsion bar front suspension components, the Petty Engineering team whipped up tube-steel upper and lower control arms to replace the stamped-steel stockers.
The torsion bars also differed from stock in length and by having splined ends instead of the usual six-sided hex. The steering box was relocated behind the front tire and beefy NASCAR spindles were adapted. Later, after the car was damaged in an unfortunate accident, the ingenious independent front suspension setup was replaced by a simple tube axle and parallel leaf springs to increase ride height for better off-the-line weight transfer.
Fact 62: Richard Petty’s 1965 ’Cuda match racer featured aluminum front brake drums, castoffs from the 1960 NASCAR HyperPak program. The tricky detail is that the finned alloy drums were empty to save weight. By eliminating the brake shoes, mounting hardware, and hydraulic components, the gutted drums merely served as mounting points for the wheels.
At the time, the carbureted Race Hemi “only” pushed the car to 135 mph, so a pair of huge 12-inch NASCAR rear drums did the job. Later, when Hilborn injectors were added and 150-mph trap speeds became reality, a cross-form parachute helped slow the car.
Fact 63: In its first go-round, the Hurst Hemi Under Glass wheelstanding ’Cuda retained bone-stock torsion bar front suspension. Apparently, pilots Bill Shrewsberry and Bob Riggle were sold on its strength without modification, save for heavy-duty shocks and obligatory Hurst mag wheels.
Fact 64: The all-new 1976 F-Body Volare Road Runner (like all Volares and Dodge Aspens) retained Chrysler’s legendary torsion bar front suspension, but with a twist. Rather than positioning the torsion bars longitudinally (where they complicate exhaust routing, particularly the placement of the bulky catalytic converters of the day), Chrysler devised a novel transverse configuration using a pair of L-shaped torsion bars positioned ahead of the K-frame.
The results were compact, light, and capable of delivering excellent steering and handling response. Because the major bits are integrated into the K-frame, the Volare/Aspen front suspension module is a favorite among early pickup truck owners who use it to replace the stock live axle and leaf springs.
Fact 65: Knowing that a 1-pound reduction in unsprung mass is equivalent to a 3-pound reduction in sprung mass, each of the approximately 50 Plymouth Savoy Hemi-lightweights built in 1964 was factory assembled with narrow, 15×4 magnesium Torq-Thrust front wheels.
Also shared with 1964 Dodge Hemi sedans (and Ford 1965 FX Mustangs), each rim weighed a mere 10.5 pounds, versus the 17.5-pound mass of a 15×5.5 steel wheel. Shedding 7 pounds apiece, the 14-pound total reduction behaved like a 42-pound reduction in above-the-springs body weight and helped acceleration.
This is the only known use of magnesium wheels on a production-line Plymouth. Today, Ray Franklin’s Vintage Engineering offers a precise replica of the magnesium 15×4 Torq-Thrust that’s marketed as the Cecil County wheel, a tribute to the legendary Maryland drag strip where the match-race phenomenon took root.
Fact 66: And the award for thickest torsion bars used in a Plymouth passenger car goes to . . . the 1970 Sport Fury GT! 666 of these beasts were built with 440 4-barrel power (plus an extra 61 with triple-Holley Six Barrel induction), each fitted with beefy .98-inchdiameter torsion bars to minimize body roll and ensure excellent road manners. By contrast, Street Hemi B and E bodies were fitted with .92-inch-diameter torsion bars; basic 383 Road Runners received .88-inch-diameter bars. The stiff suspension helped the Sport Fury GT live up to its “daddy long legs” advertising nickname.
Fact 67: Plymouth added front disc brakes to the full-size C-Body Fury option sheet in 1965, one full year before of the midsize B-Body. The reason was summed up in an interview with Chrysler Special Car Manager Bob Rodger from the September 1966 issue of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine: “We’ve been offering Budd disc brakes on the larger C-Body Dodges and Plymouths for a year using 15-inch wheels, but these brakes wouldn’t fi t inside the 14-inch wheels on the smaller Coronets and Belvederes.
“There were also clearance problems around the front hubs and knuckle forgings. And yet most of our optional highperformance engines were going into these lighter models. They needed disc brakes more than the big cars. So now we’ve made arrangements to use the new Bendix disc brake on the medium cars. It has a smaller disc that fi ts inside the 14-inch wheels, and we’ve modified the hubs and knuckles to fi t. They’ve been rolling off the assembly lines since March.”
Fact 68: Though front disc brakes were available on B-Bodies starting in 1966, why weren’t they standard equipment on the top-performance Street Hemi? Bob Rodger explains, “They would kick the price of the engine package over $1,000, which we don’t want to do. They will have to be optional for the time being.”
As it was, the Street Hemi cost $907, not including the cost of a transmission. Still, Chrysler’s standard 11-inch, four-wheel drum brakes were extremely effective, not to mention a few pounds lighter than the total weight of disc brakes.
Fact 69: There are rumors of the ’Cuda nameplate being revived in 2015, for use on a successor to Dodge’s Challenger pony car. I can’t help take note of a fascinating magazine ad for the 1978 Dodge Magnum GT that appeared in the February 1978 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
The copy starts off with, “Ever wonder what happened to the kid who used to burn up 11th Street? He grew up.” The shocker is that the sleek new Dodge Magnum is pictured next to a 1970 Plymouth AAR ’Cuda! The male model posing with the T-top-equipped Magnum was golf pro Bruce Lietzke and the ’Cuda was his personal car. It’s still an unusual choice, especially because Plymouth was still very much alive in 1978.
Fact 70: Even though they were recalled on August 28, 1968, before signifi cant quantities reached the public, long-lead magazine previews depicted plenty of new 1969 Plymouth test cars wearing Kelsey-Hayes W23 cast-center “recall” wheels. And they weren’t just Road Runners. A 1969 Barracuda 340 with 14-inch, small-bolt K-H wheels appears in the October 1968 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
Likewise, the November 1968 issue of Motor Trend features a new full-size Fury III (C-Body) rolling on 15-inch K-H wheels. Vintage new-car price guides describe them as Cast Center Road Wheels, priced at $100.10. The recall was prompted by loosening lug nuts.
Today, reproduction “recall wheels” are available from the aftermarket and sold as Mopar Warrior wheels. Vintage K-H wheels were only available in 14×5.5- and 15×6-inch diameters. The new reproductions are sold in 15-, 16-, and 17-inch diameters with several rim widths. The lug nut issue has, presumably, been solved.
Fact 71: 1967 Barracuda and Valiant (and Dodge Dart) A-Bodies use a specific, one-year-only front suspension idler arm. A studmounted design, it was replaced by a through-bolt configuration for 1968–1976 applications.
The 1967 K-frame idler arm mount is also unique and does not accept later idler arms without major surgery that involves cutting, fabricating, and welding. Be sure to inform your parts supplier of this detail if you’re rebuilding a 1967 A-Body front end.
Fact 72: The 1968–1970 Road Runner uses specific front suspension lower control arms. They are only shared with the GTX and Belvederes/Satellites equipped with the heavy-duty front suspension option (which cost a mere $23.25). Unique features not found on lesser control arms are welded tabs to accept front sway bar end links.
I learned this during the restoration of a 1968 Hemi Road Runner coupe. Somebody snatched the original lower control arms and there was no place to connect the sway bar! Eventually the correct replacements were scavenged from a Slant-6 Belvedere resting in a New Hampshire junkyard. Yes, even Slant-6 cars could be ordered with the heavy-duty suspension.
Fact 73: The first Road Runner equipped with a rear sway bar appeared in 1971. The bar was located above the rear axle housing and reduced understeer. Most aftermarket Road Runner rear sway bar kits are designed to fi t below the axle, General Motors style—where they can tangle with road debris. By contrast, original-equipment bars are tucked up over the axle.
Fact 74: The first mass-production use of aluminum disc brake rotors was the 1997–2002 Prowler (none made in 1998). Used only on the rear of the car, each rotor was specially cast with an integrated iron friction liner because the soft parent aluminum quickly galled from pad contact. Up front, the Prowler’s conventional castiron disc brakes were taken straight from the LH sedan parts bin.
Fact 75: One notable deviation from the 1976–1980 F-Body’s transverse torsion bar front suspension was that coil-over springs were employed beneath the nose of the 1977–1980 Monteverdi Sierra. A limited-production luxury car based on the Volarefourdoor sedan and wagon, about 20 Sierras were built by Monteverdi Binningen Motors in Basil, Switzerland.
Better known for his 426 Hemi powered mid-engine Hai 450SS sports car of 1970 and 440 wedge-powered 375 High Speed touring sedans and coupes of 1967–1969, Monteverdi reskinned the Volare body with sleek sheet metal, though hints of the stock Volare roof line, window glass, and interior remain.
Unfortunately, by the mid 1970s, engine swaps were forbidden by the EPA, so Sierras were powered by export versions (no catalytic converters) of the 318 and 360 small-block rather than the Hemis and 440 6-barrels of our dreams. Peter Monteverdi passed away on July 4, 1998, but his many creations are on display at the Monteverdi Car Collection, Switzerland’s largest car museum.
Fact 76: Excluding cars ordered with optional front disc brakes, the only 426 Street Hemi Plymouths not equipped with 11×3 front drum brakes were the one-year-only 1967 RO23 B/Stock Belvedere II hardtops. To reduced unsprung mass for quicker starting-line sprints, the 55 RO23 Belvederes (plus 55 similar WO 23 Dodge Coronets) were fitted with 10×21 ⁄2-inch front drums.
The rear brakes were the usual Street Hemi-spec 11×21 ⁄2 heavyduty drums. It was a brave choice because disc-brake-equipped 1967 Hemi cars came with 10-inch rear drums (to maintain proper F/R balance) and were already in the parts bin.
Clearly the RO (and WO) planners intentionally selected the beefy 11×21 ⁄2 rear drums to put an extra 6 pounds of mass over each slick for better traction, despite the slight mismatch in braking force resulting from the combination of the 10- and 11-inch front/ rear drums. Perhaps to cover their tracks from a product liability standpoint, RO23 (and WO23) build sheets are coded for front disc brakes, which are about 10 pounds heavier than the 10-inch drums used in actual production.
Fact 77: Only three Plymouth high-performance package cars were delivered to retail customers with bare steel wheels and exposed lug nuts (wheel covers intentionally omitted). One was the 1967 RO23 Hemi (55 built), which rolled on 15x6JK hoops painted white (to match the mandatory white body color). Then in 19691 ⁄2, the A12 440 Six Barrel Road Runner was delivered with black 15×6 rims (1,412 built), but with chromed lug nuts to add eye appeal. Finally, in the depths of the smogged-out 1970s, the Volare A67 Super Coupe arrived in 1978 wearing huge, argent silver painted 15×8 steel wheels shod with GR60-15 Goodyear GT radials.
Along with 531 Dodge Aspen Super Coupes, the 494 Volare Super Coupes sourced their huge wheels (mostly, see Fact #678) from the 4×4 Plymouth Trail Duster/Dodge Ramcharger parts bin. Again, chrome lug nuts added eye appeal.
Fact 78: Two distinct styles of Super Coupe/Kit Car wheels were used in 1978, differentiated by their center spider. The most common was a plain stamping with four “legs” joining it to the hoop. A more appealing variant featured six ovoid cooling slots pressed into the spider (in a loose interpretation of the popular five-slot Chevy Rally wheels).
As with most Chrysler passenger car wheels, Kelsey-Hayes was the source and both shared the same 15×8 inch hoop and 41 ⁄2- inch backspacing dimension. Unlike the four-leg spider stamping, the six-slot type was never used on Trail Duster/Ramcharger SUV applications and is a rare commodity today.
Fact 79: 1962–1964 Plymouth (and Dodge) Max Wedges were built with four-corner, 10-inch drum brakes. The big 11-inch drum brake package didn’t arrive until the 1966 model year (standard on Street Hemis). Still, the 10×21 ⁄2 front drums were perfectly capable of safely stopping the Max Wedge in everyday (read: sane) driving conditions. By contrast, the 9-inch drum brakes fitted to certain competing muscle cars were marginal when driven hard.
Fact 80: In 1954, the hottest Plymouth packed a 110-hp flathead six. Law enforcement agencies dismissed Plymouth offerings for all but the most mundane college campus security details. But, by 1956 Plymouth had blossomed into a worthy competitor to the Ford police interceptor dynasty.
In addition to V-8 engines (which arrived in 1955), a key selling point shared with every Plymouth model were Center-Plane front drum brakes. Equipped with two wheel-cylinders per drum, the scheme promised more even brake-shoe application against the drums versus the dual-acting single cylinder used in competing brake designs.
Interestingly, Plymouth rear drum brakes continued the use of single (Lockheed-style) wheel cylinders. Though superior on the drafting table, Chrysler’s Center-Plane drum brake strategy failed to demonstrate a clear advantage over traditional single-cylinder drum brake designs and was replaced on full-size vehicles by less costly Bendix single-cylinder drum brakes after the 1962 model year. The 1962-up midsize B-Body and 1960-up compact A-Body never employed Center-Plane drum brakes.
Fact 81: The low-priced 1968 Road Runner rewrote the muscle car marketing game by appealing directly to teenage buyers. In his 2007 memoir Pontiac . . . Pizazz!, Jim “Father of the GTO” Wangers offers this glowing praise: “Much to our surprise we began to lose market share during the 1968 model year. A new competitor had appeared from out of nowhere and was eating into our sales leadership. That new competitor was the Plymouth Road Runner. Not only had the Chrysler guys created a new car, the marketing job on it had been a stroke of genius. It was so good I wish I had thought of it.”
Indeed, while the Plymouth GTX was an unabashed imitation of the original GTO image car recipe, the Road Runner blazed its own path to success and forced competitors to whip up budget supercars of their own.
Fact 82: “On the first four runs the driver, Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen, was sorting things out and held speeds in the 140-mph bracket. Everything seemed to be safe in this speed range so he decided to take it a little higher. Tom remembers everything about that famous fifth run. Just as the car entered the lights, the hood began to bulge in the middle and started to flutter violently . . . Eye witnesses report (and photos show) that the car arced over backwards until it was perpendicular to the ground, at which point several feet of daylight was seen between the bumper and the ground . . . While the car was flipping, bouncing and generally destroying itself. Tom remembers having one recurring thought, ‘I sure hope they let us build another one.’”
Such was the magazine coverage, printed in the December 1965 issue of Car Life, pertaining to the on-track destruction of Tom McEwen’s Hemi ’Cuda I match racer at Pomona. And yes, Chrysler let him build another one, the nearly identical Hemi ’Cuda II.
Fact 83: The new-for-1969 ’Cuda 340 was almost marketed as the Barracuda Mopar 340. Proof appears on page 48 of the October 1968 issue of Motor Trend magazine in the form of a sleek red fastback test car wearing matte-black “Mopar 340” front fender decals.
Road tester Eric Dahlquist explains: “MoPar as a name, wasn’t quite right, understand? It didn’t fi t. People at the drags have been calling Plymouths Mopars for years so it’s old, okay.”
Further reading reveals Dahlquist actually preferred the Mopar moniker—more in touch with the street race crowd—but understood Plymouth’s last-minute name change to ’Cuda.
Ironically, Dodge has recently revisited the concept, applying the Mopar brand to the limited-edition Mopar 2010 Challenger, Mopar 2011 Charger, Mopar 2012 300, and Mopar 2013 Dart, of which 500 units (each) were built and fitted with a full complement of interior, exterior, and performance touches.
Fact 84: Several years before decal supercars clouded Detroit skies in the mid 1970s, Plymouth’s 1970 product planning team charted a different course. In a review of the division’s 1970 muscle offerings, Motor Trend magazine wrote: “Plymouth has finally made a complete breakthrough of the performance barrier with the ’Cuda and Duster. Their performance cars have so much muscle they don’t need a lot of external razzle-dazzle to catch your eye. They’ve got your ear.”
Indeed, the Hemi ’Cuda’s hockey-stick side stripe was an option, a very popular one.
Fact 85: The 1967–1969 second-generation Barracuda stands apart from competing Camaro, Firebird, Cougar, and Javelin pony cars due to the availability of three body styles. Emulating Mustang’s three-body strategy, the mid-series Barracuda was offered in fastback (BH29), convertible (BH27), and hardtop (BH23) con- figurations.
Though the fastback was most popular, attracting 70,473 buyers (30,110 in 1967; 22,575 in 1968; and 17,788 in 1969), the practical hardtop wasn’t far behind, selling 60,950 units (28,196 in 1967; 19,997 in 1968; and 12,757 in 1969). Not surprisingly, convertible sales volume was lightest at 8,510 (4,228 in 1967; 2,840 in 1968; and 1,442 in 1969).
Fact 86: The 1968 Road Runner was predicted to sell 2,500 units, maybe 3,000 tops. But the quirky Beeper really caught on and first-year sales totaled 44,599. Only the Pontiac GTO and Chevelle SS396 muscle offerings outsold it that year.
Subsequent model year sales were as follows: 1969, 84,420; 1970, 43,404 (includes 1,920 Superbirds); 1971, 13,665; 1972, 7,628; 1973, 19,056; 1974, 11,555; 1975, 7,183; 1976, 7,350; 1977, 4,585; 1978, unknown, probably around 2,500; 1979, 1,122; 1980, 496.
Fact 87: Aside from a handful of external nameplates and a specific grille insert, it’s impossible to tell a Plymouth Volare from a Dodge Aspen, unless you look at the VIN. Volare VINs begin with the letter H while Dodge Aspens begin with the letter N.
Likewise, telling a 1976 Volare (or Dodge Aspen) from a 1977 is virtually impossible because nothing was changed. The only sure- fi re method is to check the sixth character of the VIN: 6 in 1976; 7 in 1977.
Fact 88: Option code A43 resonated strongly with NASCAR fans due to the fact that 43 was Richard Petty’s racing number for many successful years. As such, it was chosen by Chrysler to designate the 1978 Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen Street Kit Car option group in 1978.
Unfortunately, that same year Petty began his shift from Chrysler products to GM offerings, somewhat deflating the impact. Though “The King” began the season in a Dodge Magnum, the winner’s circle was elusive. Despite seven top-five finishes in 17 races, Petty switched to a Chevy Monte Carlo. None of this helped Volare Street Kit Car sales, which only reached 247. Dodge dealers had an even tougher time, as only 145 Aspen Street Kit Cars found buyers.
Fact 89: “Just what is there about Plymouth’s Road Runner that influenced us to choose it over the other five finalists? First of all, the original concept of the Road Runner was one of combining a low-priced two-door sedan body with a stout but docile-running engine. Add on a firm suspension and good brakes, throw in some simple ornamentation, a silly bird emblem, a beep-beep horn and you have a reasonably-priced automobile that performs like something that usually costs half again as much . . . the basic concept of simplicity and low price is what makes it a winner.”
Thus wrote the editors of Motor Trend magazine in the February 1969 issue, as they awarded the prestigious Car of the Year award to the second-year Road Runner. About that pricing, the suggested retail figure for a 1969 RM21 pillar coupe was $3,077, which included the 335-hp 383, F70-14 tires, heavy-duty suspension, 11-inch drum brakes, dual exhaust, and a Hurst-shifted A833 4-speed manual transmission.
By contrast, a base-level 1969 Pontiac GTO started at $3,293 but stuck buyers with a Ford-supplied 3-speed manual transmission. 4-speed buyers shelled out an extra $184.80, the GTO’s $3,477.80 price tag being $400.80 higher than an otherwise similar Road Runner.
Fact 90: The bait-and-switch routine is as old as the auto industry. So how much of an ultimate performance value was the 1969 Road Runner versus its primary opponent from Pontiac, the GTO?
Top engine options included the Plymouth E74 426 Street Hemi, 425 hp, 490 ft-lbs for $813.45; and Pontiac L67 Ram Air IV 400, 370 hp, 445 ft-lbs for $558.20.
Top transmission offerings included the Plymouth 18-spline, iron-case Hemi 4-speed (included with the Hemi engine option); and Pontiac RPO 358 M21 close-ratio aluminum-case 4-speed, (included with the Ram Air IV option).
Top rear axle options were the Plymouth A34 Super Track Pak 4.10:1 Dana 60 for $102.15; the Pontiac Safe-T-Trac 4.33:1 10-bolt for $63.19 (heavy-duty four-pinion Safe-T-Track); and RPO 362 4.33:1 performance axle ratio for $2.11.
So, a Ram Air IV GTO coupe with killer 4.33:1 gears and a close-ratio stick sold for $4,101.13. A top-tier Hemi Road Runner pillar coupe listed for $3,992.60, a mere $108.53 less.
Fact 91: Today, Hemi Road Runners and Ram Air IV GTOs have equally rabid followings. Interestingly, a similar number of buyers turned out for these relatively exotic machines in 1969. Pontiac sold 759 Ram Air IV Goats versus 788 Hemi Road Runners (all body styles and transmission types combined).
Bait and switch was in full play at both dealerships as salesmen steered the majority of shoppers toward less problematic 383 Road Runners and non-Ram Air 400 GTOs, either of which was capable of impressive performance—but without the hassles associated with adjustable valve lash, high compression, and exotic induction.
Fact 92: “When you place the Mustang and Barracuda side by side, you immediately see that the Barracuda is a more finely detailed automobile. The paint, body panel fi t and overall workmanship of the Barracuda is far superior to that of the Mustang . . . you can squeeze five in the Barracuda, while the Mustang is a genuine 2 plus 2 (as long as the second two are children).”
Clearly, Speed and Custom writer Marty Schorr was impressed by the Barracuda he tested in the April 1965 issue. One big difference between these two pioneering pony cars is the fact no Mustang was ever assigned a 1964 VIN (the Ford model-year designation appears in the first place on the VIN).
They’re all coded as 1965 vehicles, even though production started in March 1964. By contrast, Barracudas built in 1964 are assigned the number 4 in the third spot of the VIN to designate the 1964 model year. Barracuda production began in May 1964, and 23,443 were built that year.
Fact 93: 14.4 square feet. That’s the surface area of the 1964–1966 Barracuda’s curved-glass back window, which at the time of its introduction, was the largest one-piece glass panel ever fitted to a regular-production vehicle made in the United States. It is ironic that one of history’s best known Barracudas, the Hurst Hemi Under Glass wheelstanding exhibition racer employed a Plexiglas replica of the iconic “fishbowl.” Formed by clamping a sheet of the clear material between two stock Barracuda windows (then warming with heat lamps), the replacement unit weighed one-fifth as much and was easily removed for engine service.
Fact 94: The 426 Hemi has many nicknames, perhaps the most common being “elephant,” a reference to its external dimensions. So what about the name “King Kong?” It appeared throughout the Hemi’s eight-year production run (1964–1971) and, after much research, seems to have been coined by Car and Driver magazine Technical Editor Jan Norbye in the May 1964 issue.
Used as a headline for a story entitled “King Kong Rides Again,” Norbye’s piece playfully breaks news of the Hemi’s dominance at the 1964 NASCAR Daytona 500 race: “A casual observer at Daytona last February might have been puzzled by the sight of several Ford engineers nervously hiding their heads and hands under the hoods while whispering mysteriously to each other about a character named King Kong. To the initiated there was no mystery—King Kong is a nickname for the Chrysler V-8 used in the Plymouth Super-Commando stock cars that ran away from the Fords at Daytona and established four new records in the process.”
Fact 95: “Snapshot sales of the road bird through model year 1971 were 4,236, constituting a drop of some 64 percent over the previous year’s figure of 11,831 for the same two month period. That’s not just an annual adjustment in the market, it is more of a terminal illness. While some of the sales loss should be written off to changing tastes in the youthful buyer as well as the youthful thinking buyer, the bulk of the loss will have to be laid directly on the high cost of insurance.”
Jim Brokaw, Motor Trend magazine associate editor, included those words in a February 1971 comparison test between 383 and 440+6 Road Runners.
Fact 96: Jim Brokaw’s 1971 Motor Trend Road Runner story explored the emerging supercar insurance nightmare and described how most insurance providers calculated rates based on the weightto-horsepower ratio. He noted that 30-percent surcharges were commonly applied for ratios under 10.5:1, regardless of the insurance applicant’s driving record.
The 383 Road Runner’s 3,857-pound shipping weight and 300 gross horsepower earned a surcharge-free 12.86:1 ratio, while the 440 Six Barrel’s 4,050-pound curb weight and 385 hp came in at 10.09:1, triggering a hefty surcharge. This helps explain why Plymouth sold 11,682 Road Runners with 383 power, but only 246 with the 440 Six Barrel (and an even slimmer 55 426 Street Hemi beepers).
Fact 97: The insurance industry clampdown explains odd combinations such as the 340 Road Runner. New for 1971, its 13.62:1 weight-to-horsepower ratio fell safely outside the surcharge zone. 1,681 (1,243 with automatic, 438 with manual transmission) smallblock Runners were built.
Still, insurers seeking to minimize losses caused by young drivers in fast cars soon countered by applying surcharges on what they considered to be “performance models,” regardless of engine size.
Fact 98: “The sturdiness of the ride is reflected throughout the car. The prop shaft is beefier than those on standard Plymouths and the rear axle has a four-pinion differential instead of a two-pinion unit . . . this is certainly the most interesting Plymouth to come along in years. It’s the hottest one ever! It’s the most super Super Stock in its class, and very likely will add a new dimension to the Ford-Chevy stock car racing battle.”
These words were published in the May 1956 issue of Motor Life magazine and make it clear the road test writer liked Plymouth’s new 1956 Fury
Fact 99: The May 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine called the new 1957 Fury, “surely the best handling production car in America.” In its second year of production, each of the 7,438 Furys built for the 1957 model year featured dual Carter 4-barrel carburetors as standard equipment atop their 318-cubic-inch polyspherical head V-8s. Also new for 1957 was Chrysler’s torsion bar front suspension, which replaced the coil spring arrangement used previously
Fact 100:“As an insurance premium beater you can opt for the lowly 318-cube V-8, but then all you end up with is a sporty looking shopping cart. The 340 is the only choice.”
How true, because the 383, 440, and 426 Hemi were scratched from the option list. The Hi-Performance Cars magazine test staff put a 340 4-speed through its paces for a September 1972 review.
Of the 16,142 Barracudas built in 1972, more than one-third (6,382) were performance-oriented BS23 ’Cuda 340s. As a means of throwing muscle-wary insurance agents off the scent, Plymouth offered the high-winding E55 340 small-block in standard BH23 Barracudas for a mere $292.70 over the cost of the base 318. 490 of the sleeper 340 Barracudas were built, making them even rarer than Slant-6-powered cars, of which 809 were constructed.
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks