1963 Dodge 330
Competition # 979
Campaigning two cars in the 1963 season definitely proved to be the right move for the Ramchargers. Even if you have the competition covered, sometimes a mechanical failure, or the "human factor" can make you late at a light or simply break and lose to a slower car. Having an additional car in the field helps alleviate that pressure, as well as pick up the ball if it gets dropped in that type of situation. As the boys were riding high on their dominance of the Super Stock world and funneling sales by the boatload to Chrysler Dealerships all across the country, disaster strikes.
During a tire testing session for Goodyear at Ubly Dragway, Car # 981 ended up rolling off the side of the track at over 123 miles per hour. Save for a couple body panels and the drivetrain, the car was totaled. A call was once again put in to Frank Wiley at Dodge. We needed another 63 330. But as it would be, bad got worse when Frank denied that request. Not because of money or lack of sponsorship, but because it was too late in the year.
"We don't have any 63's." Wiley expressed. "We're building 64's now."
So, the gang contacted their dealership sponsor, Hodges Dodges in Ferndale. The mission was set. "Find us a plain white 63, preferably with red interior. Cheap as possible, because we have to pay for this one ourselves."
And they pulled it off. The sales team at Hodges made some phone calls and located a plain white 1963 Dodge 330 sedan, Slant 6, with red interior. For the first time since 1958, the Ramchargers were paying for a race car with their own money. Apparently, all that Match-Racing was filling the bank account. This would also be only the 2nd car in the team's history, (and one of only 5 out of an eventual 26 cars in total) that did not start life as a Race Car. The new Dodge family sedan was taken to the teams newly rented building on Groesbeck Hwy in Roseville, Michigan for its transformation. The engine, transmission and rearend were swapped out of the obliterated #981 car. As well as the right front fender and trunk lid. The two current team cars had aluminum body panels to reduce weight. So, the crew saved what they could and attached them to the new car.
With the NHRA Nationals only two weeks away, the Ramchargers were burning the midnight oil, putting in all the extra hours of work to get it ready. The first test passes in this car were done on Saturday night at Detroit Dragway at the "Detroit Stock Car Nationals", even done before they had time to stripe the roof and letter the body. Jim Thornton actually won the event with a 12.00 pass in the final, which was even Low E.T. of the event.
Continued thrashing included painting the candy stirpes on the sides of the car (to continue the stripe that was already on the left front fender) and Robert Horne was once again hired to stencil and paint the Ramchargers logo on the sides. But as it would be, time would run out and the car had to be loaded and hauled to the track. Cosmetically incomplete. When studying photos of the 1963 NHRA Nationals, you'll find that early in the day, there were no stripes on the roof or (side) C-Pillars. But as the day went on, stripes began to appear on the pillars. In between rounds, the team was using Candy Red "Rattle cans" to paint on those stripes. Never getting to the roof.
After running through the first few rounds, the two Ramchargers cars were averaging ET's approximately a tenth of a second faster than the Factory Experimental (A/FX) class. This was unheard of. In the Semifinals, after bouncing the friendly rival Golden Commandos Plymouth in the previous round, wouldn't ya know it... Jim Thornton in the new #979 car, (now called "RAMCHARGERS TOO") got paired up with former exiled Ramchargers driver Al Eckstrand in his LAWMAN Dodge. When the lights came down, Thornton "tree'd" one of the best in the business and put Eckstrand on the trailer. And to make that even sweeter, the team's idea of running two cars worked out tenfold, as this triumph set up a Final Round matchup against Herman Mozer in the Ramchargers #980 car. Yes, an ALL-RAMCHARGERS Final at the biggest drag race of the year!
As the tree fell in the final, Thornton once again grabbed the better reaction time and held out on Mozer for a 12.23 pass and the Ramchargers first NHRA Nationals Super Stock Championship.
Photo documentation of this monumental moment in time was utilized by Dodge in future magazine advertising. Their add featured a photo of the two Ramchargers cars lined up at the light in the final with a caption "Some Days You Win". Below it was a picture of Thornton in this car paired against Eckstrand's Lawman Dodge, with a caption "Some Days You Lose". This advertisement did a great job at expressing the fact that if you're in a Dodge, no matter what, your're gonna win. The following week after the Ramchargers dominance at the Nationals, Dodge staged a photoshoot between the two 63 cars, utilizing a (now outdated) "Flagman" start. The #979 car starred in the photo, still wearing its "naked" roof. It was brilliant marketing, made possible by the greatest race team and performance developers of all time.
When 1963 folded its calendar, as always, it was time to upgrade. The #980 car was sold to Ray Christian, who continued to race it under his Christian's Auto Service banner for the next few years. This car, however, with its recently striped roof, was put into the back of the shop and partially dismantled. When the 1964 Wedge car arrived, and the team was working on developing and perfecting the new HEMI for the second car, it was deemed they needed to be running two cars and the Hemi just wasn't coming around to expectations soon enough. So, they decided to take the old 63 car out of the dusty corner, the old Wedge engine put back in between the frame rails, and the #979 car was put back into service alongside the 1964 #980 car. As the Ramchargers quickly found out, a "seasoned" engine is something to be excited about. Running the two Wedge cars at numerous events throughout the 1964 season proved that the old 63 car was the faster of the two and the car to beat on any track around the nation.
As the HEMI was finally developed properly and the bugs were worked out, that car rose to become the teams A/FX car and Match-Race car, as those races had more lenience in their rules and restrictions, making it practically unbeatable. Also, by then, the 64 car was "seasoned-in" as well and was running fantastically. With 1965 looming on the horizon, having a 2-year-old race car was not going to be something they had room for, nor would its value maintain. So, this 1963 NHRA Nationals Champion was sold to another racer, Frank Balgus and hauled away from its home in Michigan.
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