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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

What Were the First Funny Cars?

By Bob Plumer and Phil Elliott

Bob: I know a lot of you feel that the funny cars started with the Dodge Chargers or Jack Chrisman.

I kinda feel it really started in 1960. It was in 1960 that the factories really started throwing the meat into the factory cars. Of course, they didn't have a class called funny cars but that's where it went. They called them Super Stocks, Option/Super Stocks, A/FX and God knows what else they use to call them.

I know that in 1960 they used some aluminum parts and didn't Dave Strickler have an aluminum hood in late '61 or was it fiberglass? I know in 1962 Chevy, Dodge, and Plymouth did and Ford used fiberglass parts.

Take a good look at Dave Strickler's '63 Chevy. Looks like a lot of overhang there, which might have Chrysler thinking about their altered wheelbase cars. Of course Dave's Chevy had a stock wheelbase but Chrysler move theirs 2% in '64 and we know what they did in '65.

What year did Chrysler started using Titanium cross members and A-frames that weren't allowed in NHRA?

In '61 there was no winner at the NHRA Nationals as Don Gay won but was found using illegal parts that claimed had GM part numbers.

There are other things also but my mind drawing a blank right now. What is your opinion? I'd like to hear it.

And to answer your question, I'm going somewhere with this but I need your opinions first.

Thanks, Plum

Phil: Your tho'ts that most folk construe the Dodge Chargers/Chrisman's Comet era to be the first FCs is true. Indeed, if you count the blown late model sedans previous to those, it is a small number.

Others tho rationalize that cars like the 554 coupe are the first FCs and that builders just copied their style over into late bodies.

Your suggestion that the actual FX evolvement came much earlier is true and you have even cited a few decent examples. I'm not sure when the first fiberglass or aluminum parts went on which cars but certainly by 1961 the practice was happening. And, modifications in the field were quite well known. Things such as minor engine relocations were common in even legal S/S cars.

And before I say anything else, I must remind those younger that these cars ran in STOCK eliminator. There was no such thing as Super Stock eliminator. When cars were produced that had more advertised horsepower per advertised shipping weight/pound than A/S allowed, Super/S and Super Super/S classes were added on top.

OK, so the factories were into the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" gimmick and knew if they could find an advantage it would help BOTH. A few sheets of aluminum thrown in the body panel dies gave them hoods and fenders and doors.

Pontiac, who was winning heavily in NASCAR, went to not only aluminum panels but went after their frames with hole saws to create the infamous "Swiss-Cheese" cars. That was mid 62 and their 63 Catalina racecars were all like that.

At the same time they were lightening things, the factory guys were adding more cubes. AND, even more importantly, other factories were taking notice. The 409 Chevy, 389 Pontiac, and 390 Ford were joined by the wild 413 Mopar in 62 and engine that when coupled to a "slush box" was a dominating factor. Of course, the asterisk to that is that Chrysler only offered a HD 3-speed at the moment for the stick shift lovers.

I would say that 1962 was the biggest leap forward in factory development. For 1963, Chevy offered the Z-11 evolvement of the 409 - 427 cubes with aluminum intake and pretty racy pieces, an aluminum nose and a bunch of GO. Ford also stepped up to 427 and aluminum pieces. And Mopars received the 426, again with aluminum body pieces.

The advantage here went to Mopar. They may not have had the best engine, transmission, or whatever, but the overall combination was superb. The body they chose to race, while appearing large, was more of a midsize than what GM and FoMoCo was offering. The wheelbase was at least six inches shorter.

BTW, the Z-11 was never allowed in NHRA Stock and was forced in A/FX. Why? The non-race edict came from on high. GM was out of racing at least in corporate minds. Numbers for the Z-11 were never high enuf for legalization. They were built for SS/S but.

Pontiac had stuck their 421 in teeny Tempests for A/FX.

Can you see why Ford dropped their Galaxie program and went with Fairlane-based Thunderbolts? Can you see why GM racers stuck Z-11s in Chevelles and Chevy IIs, and 421s in Tempests? And, Chevelles and Fairlanes were roughly the same wheelbase as the Dodge/Plymouth B-bodies Chrysler was already racing.

This nutshell description of the Stock -to- FX evolution - which could/should take a book - is just a way to agree with you.

In 64, minor wheelbase alterations were being done to remain competitive, whether at the factory or garage level. And, what added to the excitement was that a small group of folk gambled that this new movement would pay off and developed publications. East and west versions of Drag News covered the door cars, and in early 1964, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated debuted, devoted fully to exactly what its name implies.

Racers like Don Nicholson and Ronnie Sox, both who moved from factory Z-11 Chevrolets in 63 (mostly due to the GM deletion of racing activity) into factory Mercurys in 64, discovered that they were bigger than sanctions and factories. They were in huge demand coast to coast. And the publication covered them.

1964 was also the year of the Dodge Chargers, an exhibition team only to show off what was essentially a show or dream car with a supercharged engine. A pretty interesting idea which was quashed when Mercury allowed Jack Chrisman to build his Comet. Nitro changed things and though Chrisman ran the Comet at very selected venues, it received the desired effect totally - it pulled the ink away from the red, white and blue Dodge Chargers!

Without going through a history of race class wins in 1964, suffice to say that the FoMoCo and Mopar factories stepped up their production of showroom-available racecars (including the Hemi), and there were still enuf independents to make it look like GM hadn't left. Magazines/newspapers covered it all, fans demanded more, tracks gave it to them, and the whole movement took on that snowball-headed-downhill effect.


BTW, the Don Gay incident is not as big as you make it. His A/S Catalina was disqualified for lack of front bumper brackets which the tech inspectors tho't flagrant. That the car had tow-bar brackets obviously beefier than the bumper brackets failed to change opinions.


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