Another Lefty Story

Harrah and his Hemi

By Larry Jett

Early spring of 1967. Just a few months into an 18 month training program at the Chrysler-Plymouth Regional Field Office in San Mateo, California. I was initially assigned to the distribution desk for Plymouth. This first of several in-office assignments, was to familiarize the trainees in all the aspects of dealership functions leading to a field assignment as the factory/dealership liaison for one of the nine districts in the Northern California Region for Chrysler. Plymouth, Imperial. Dodge cars and trucks had their own managers and offices. Graduation to the rank of District Manager with salary increase, expense account, and a new company car every 2,000 miles was this Mopar motor head's dream at age 27. My job was to open the day's Plymouth mailed order sheets from the 92 dealers, inspect for errors, log the order count for each dealer, and take the paper orders to the women who transferred this paper data into IBM punch cards for transmission to the various assembly plants when requested for build.

One morning a caller on the distribution phone announced that he was Bill Harrah, president of Modern Classic Motors in Reno NV, a Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial dealer. He didn't have to tell me of his other accomplishments including casino magnate and car collector. His question was simple and direct. How do I get a 426 Hemi in a Belvedere station wagon when the code books claim it is not available? I suggested that it was none of my business, but why would he want that much motor in a fleet-cheap grocery getter? He was honest, in that he wanted to move money between casinos and didn't want to attract attention but if the car was "made", his people wanted to get "gone".

Being new to the game, I asked the Distribution Manager for advice. He suggested, only since it was Bill Harrah, that I call the Special Bid office in Michigan. These folks price and program highway patrol cars and special needs vehicles nation-wide. Their response, days later, was that Mr. Harrah could have his order but that engineering had no specs on the manufacturing of such a car and that Harrah would have to pay the costs to see how it might be done. The build could be simple or complex but it would take time to ascertain. The cost? Maybe $10,000 over the base invoice for a car that would retail for $2,570 in base form.

When I called Harrah back and gave him the pricing news, he shared his displeasure succinctly and informed me that the next ordering round from Modern Classic Motors would include both a Plymouth GTX Hemi and a slant-six Belvedere (none) as the two better wagons were Belvedere l and Belvedere ll. He would arrange the swap himself.

Did Bill Harrah actually do this? For a man who can shoehorn a Ferrari V12 into a Jeep Wagoneer (which is still on display at the remnants of his collection in Reno) or who installed factory air conditioning in a Plymouth B body hardtop when the factory wouldn't because of the Hemi in the car, but which has made the concours scene for years shown by the Harrah Collection, it was certainly probable. Every few years the Mopar buff magazines debate if there ever was a Belvedere wagon with a 426 Hemi installed by the factory because one has been sighted on rare occasions. So far, no sightings have been announced about a GTX powered by a slant-six......

Every day I beat my own previous record for number of consecutive days I've stayed alive.....