Josh Ackerson writes:
I had seen the FI post. Very neat stuff, thanks for sharing Mr. Grady!
It's SO important that this stuff gets out there, instead of people sitting
on it. (Which reminds me I still owe Gloria and Bob some scans... I'll blame
the kids and family life which keeps getting in the way of my "me" time...
I thought this might be of interest. I have the original press release
photo from Norm's personal collection if you need any higher resolution
copies. You're free to use it any way you want, no credit or permission
needed. Same with any info.
There were several articles written, however I've only got one on hand at
the moment. By 1957 Chrysler had Norm running or assisting several racing
programs for Chrysler (pre-AMA ban). They also were using him to "tune"
magazine and VIP cars on the west coast. Chrysler Engineers get a little
huffy when you mention this, as they like to think the cars are perfect when
sent from the factory... but Norm was contracted to prep cars before they
were given to magazines. This was all authorized by Ed Quinn and ran through
the Public Relations department. He would also prep cars for executives and
their families. It always involved making a car faster or handle better.
None the less... the point is that Norm, Doug and his shop had a very close
tie to Chrysler during this time.
As the AMA ban kicked in the racing efforts went under the table. While
negotiating in 1957 for the 1958 race season, Norm was also offered a chance
to take a 300D FI across country on a publicity run. It took three days and
included a few planned media stops. Norm was paid for the trip and allowed
to keep the car for several days after to "send feedback to Chrysler". I
have no doubt the Chrysler Engineering staff wouldn't have valued his
feedback in 1957. Having an outsider give input on their project was
probably pretty unwelcomed. The entire thing was orchestrated by Norm and
Ed Quinn (Chrysler Division President) so they had to go along.
While the official press accounts say the car ran perfectly, I have
interviewed several of Norm's shop workers and race team. They've said the
truth is a little different. They had told me that the very first day was a
challenge and the car had multiple issues including horrible gas millage.
By time he hit California though, Norm felt he had the car running very
well. Although I'm no expert, this leads me to believe that mechanically it
was a solid system, but may have been a bit tricky to keep in order. I have
no doubt Chrysler Engineers would dispute any suggestion that Norm could out
tune them, however Norm literally began mechanical work beside Walter P.
Chrysler in a Pennsylvania railroad machine shop as a pre-teen. He started
racing at age 12 and was working with Studebaker Engineering on racing
projects in his 20s. He tried to project the image of a slow old man, but I
talked to a lot of skilled mechanics who said his ability to understand
machines was amazing... and these are people who did it day in and day out.
After Norm arrived in California and finished his photo shoot, he took an
unauthorized trip to the San Fernando drags with the FI car. The car did
well on the race track, although no hard numbers have been found yet. A
young Sherwood Kahlenberg was lucky enough to see this vary car run down the
drag strip. The following week the car was picked up from Norm's Van Nuys
garage. Norm's impression was that it was a good car, but not a great car.
A short time later, when all the FI cars were recalled, Norm was tasked
with returning several of them back to dual carb configurations. Chrysler
arranged to send Norm several wooden crates containing all the parts needed.
Norm was to convert the car and then place all the FI cars back into the
pallets, to be shipped back to Chrysler. Norm had a good number of
mechanics on his staff, most long term, some not. The last conversion took
place at the end of the week and the crates were stacked in the shop and
awaiting a Monday pickup via truck. On Monday morning Norm arrived to find
that his shop was broken into and at least one of the crates was missing.
Norm immediately called the LAPD and filed a report, but it's assumed it was
an inside job by one of his mechanics.
Sometime in the early 1980's a 300 club member was approached a by rather
shifty man trying to sell a complete FI setup. He was instructed to meet in
a parking lot where he viewed the setup and made small talk about Chryslers.
The topic eventually got to Norm Thatcher and the seller mentioned that he
used to work at Norm's shop. No transaction took place, but it seems pretty
clear that these two occurrences were related. I have done 8 years of
research on Norm and his shop. I've interviewed every last surviving
mechanic who worked for Norm over the decades and I can say with a fair
amount of certainty that I know just who the "seller" was and his fate.
I know this may or may not be of interest to you. But it's always
important to share what we know. I thought it's at least a little insight
on an unexplored facet of 300 FI history. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK, ALL THREE
(P.S.... I've got the VIN for Norm's car here somewhere.)
Click here for "Norm Thatcher Road Tests '58 Fuel Injection Chrysler".