A Youth Well Spent

By John Grady

These recollections were part of a string of e-mails where various club members talked about television shows and movies where Chrysler 300 Letter Cars were part of the cast.

Yeah, I remember the CHP official road test. 135 MPH for Dodge, like 115 MPH for Ford and Chev, plus they had our 12” drums from a 300B on cop cars. You know those lousy brakes. (heads up it’s the lousy mechanic, not the brakes-that included me back then). Umm CHP tested brakes too, musta kinda worked, just lucky? Laugh

Images, frozen in my mind forever of Broderick Crawford wailing around a Ford, going 115, like he was stopped and cutting him off, ---- good brakes, I guess.

Dodge did OK at NASCAR too, over shadowed by Chrysler, (It took a blower on a 312, 1957 Ford to even come close); I love that 241-270-325 engine, designed by our 300 friend Burt Bouwkamp!

I am in the middle of one right now. I measured it, it is shorter front to back than a 273-318-340-360, yet hemi heads! 200 pounds lighter than a 392, around the same size as a SBC. You have to see the front water pump casting to believe it, all in one piece, pump, motor mount, head water connection and thermostat. They should have just kept that exact thing right to 2024.

Ran at Indy qualifying twice, kept up with Offy, scared them big time in 55 and 56, (same 270 cu. In. as them, but blew up. Private efforts with no Chrysler R&D). Indy changed the rules to 331 cu. In. if stock block, to stop that. Forced Mopar guys to de-stroked 331/354, way too heavy for Indy.

It also won C Altered at NHRA Nationals, 5 years in a row 57 to 61 against thousands of SBC, (the whole 55 Chev with small block crowd including Jenkins and Yunick), while toasting the Ramchargers big hemi Plymouth, every year (same class). Ramchargers sort of leave him out of their most recent book, just saying in passing, “A nice guy.” The guy’s name was Billy Rasmussen. 55 Dodge 270 in a 32 Ford called “Going Goat”, preacher out of Texas. Homemade 4X2 Ram manifold out of exhaust pipes, I firmly believe the Ramchargers swiped his Ram idea in 57, which led to Chrysler using it. I mean, you would notice when a guy won his class 5 years in a row. Ran into the twelves on 270 cu. In. His ram pack looks to be 15 inches long, about the same as J/K and Max Wedge, HMM.

I saw him run in Maine. He just walked away on the top end with that Hemi sound! Like you, I was so impressed by this stuff, but I was still a high school kid though, so later I bought a 57 D500, a red stripper convertible, with a stick. I was just another guy who was impressed by those tests in 56-7. What a pig the D500 was compared to the 56. Was it the state of tune or weight? The 57 had hydraulic lifters.

I got my ass handed to me regularly by a 57 Pontiac with an automatic trans. That really got to me, 347 cubes, but still. The Pontiac was the big sleeper, it was faster then the J2 Olds too. It came out of nowhere. I thought of Pontiac then as that stupid straight 8 flatty, with a plastic Indian on the hood.

That stick Chrysler transmission was a maximum dog of a trans, right through 61 or 62; it was the worst stick shift ever made. The pin drive synchros break off the ring that is carrying them, if you shift fast (the point of having a big block V8 with a stick). The pins drop right into the gear mesh and BOOM. Would you believe 15 transmissions in the summer of 61? I could change one in 20 minutes, (I got rid of the fine thread bolts in the cross member, changed to 1/4X20 Allen bolts with nuts). I still remember 11 PM thrashes in the yard, with a trouble light and right back to the lights on Route 2 by 1 AM. The source of the transmissions was Midnight Auto Supply (a junk yard in Cambridge). I’d be over the fence with a flashlight, a rope and a 20’ pipe; stick the pipe in the side window of the donor Plymouth, flip it on its side and have the trans out in 20 minutes. Later, my stick 392 would peel the teeth off of first gear like corn on the cob without using the clutch, still breaking the pins. By 61, no more glass gears, but the pins were still there. This has to go!

I fixed all of that with a 392 300D motor, (car had an under-dash wiring harness fire, junked the D, kept the engine, no main fuse, go Mopar), later a Packard OD “Spark-O-Matic”, stick on floor from JCWhitney. 19.95 I think 3800 lbs., B&B 11” clutch from a Dodge oil truck, Velvet Touch metallic disc, (Boston Clutch did it for me) at the end of the summer of 61, 3:70 gears (that D motor cost me $250, when I was making $50-75 a week). The Packard has huge gears, maybe 1.25” wide, huge bronze cone type synchros, like on a Vette T10 4 speed, but twice as big. This one I could shift!

The best score of my life followed. I ran against a 1961, 421 Pontiac Ventura coupe, gorgeous, brand new, Titan Red, red leather interior, 4 speed and 8 bolt ultra rare aluminum wheels. I won!!! But, a State Trooper caught us. I was parked in front of the Route 2 Bowling Alley, off of Lake St. lights, (I mean, it proves that I won), the trooper gives Mr. Pontiac a ticket for racing and failing to stop, ($600 back then). He comes up to me and says, “What you got in this thing (still had D500 on the trunk)? I go “392 Hemi stick”. He goes “Do it yourself”? I say “Yeah”. “Do you think it would beat my cruiser?” we both start laughing (406 Ford). He says, “I hate Pontiacs”. I say “Me too”. He let me go, we became best friends, a good guy, Mass State Cop, now waves at you. Allwright! Life was great then. Turn up Chuck Berry and go!

Soon came Max wedges and 15 or 20, 425 HP, 409, 62 black coupes, all this ended. After that, even today, all you needed was a dollar down for a fast car. It was off to college for me, so no dollars. It was American Graffiti for a short time, except it was real.

As far as winning forever, we have the 55-56 300s, Petty 1234 blue cars, all a lap ahead with new Hemi, then Baker hemi 220 MPH. The 7 second Hemi Barracudas, no blowers; all 16 Hemi Cudas. They race NASCAR now at 190 MPH, not 220. Fair to all Fords, Chevs and Toyotas. A match of equals.

Sorry, got long, you got me going.