Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Altered Wheel Base Story - Part 2

In 1963, more horsepower and less weight are the rule, everybody’s got a lightweight car with aluminum this and fiberglass that.  Everyone was terrified of the Z-11 427 Chevys, well except for Dick Brannan and his 63 lightweight Galaxie and the Ramchargers and their 63 Max Wedge Dodges.  Both cars won national events and held records. Pontiac had a lightweight car that they drilled holes in the frame and support structure and used aluminum exhaust manifolds that would melt if you ran the cars too long.  Ford also has another trick up its sleeve, Tasca Ford, a Rhode Island dealer, took a page from Pontiac’s book and stuffed a 427 Galaxie motor into a lightweight Fairlane.  So we have some A F/X Tempests and a Fairlane and a slew of Mopars.
In 1964 Ford commits to the cause by building 11 427 High Riser powered Fairlanes called “Thunderbolts” and sold them to selected racers. 
Mercury did the same with some Comets.  Chevy focused on NASCAR and Pontiac faded from drag racing.  Chrysler, on the other hand, unleashed hell in the form of the mighty Hemi. The 2% rule shows up in 64, the wheelbase is allowed to be altered by 2% to allow for “manufacturing variances”.  Some Chrysler guys moved their rear axle forward 3/8ths of an inch to help in weight transfer.

Up to this point things have been mostly about more horsepower, bigger motors, and lighter weight.  One of the problems that everyone encounters is traction, how to get the power to the ground.  There are several limiting factors: tires, weak transmissions, wheel hop, and weight transfer.  Tire technology was barely out of the recap era, when you could have your street tires “capped” with stickier rubber that didn’t have any tread.  Drag slicks were in their infancy and you could only get so much tire in the wheel well anyway.  Transmissions were developing at a rapid pace, 3 speeds evolved to four to give more bottom end grunt and automatic transmissions were getting better.  Chrysler cracked the code on the automatics with its “Dial-a-Win” push button transmission. 
Ford practically told the Thunderbolt drivers to use aluminum Borg-Warner T-10 4 speeds so they wouldn’t have to put its super heavy cast iron boat anchor Lincoln “Cruise-O-Matic” up against the super strong lightweight aluminum 727 trans the Chryslers had.  Wheel hop is when the tires try to get traction and then lose traction intermittently and very quickly, it causes the tires to “hop” or jump causing the car to shake violently which leads to broken parts.  By 1964 almost every car had traction bars or a pinion snubber to solve the problem.  Traction bars allowed the axle to move up and down but not twist under acceleration, they were usually just long square bars attached to the axle and then to the frame with a way to pivot up and down.  A pinion snubber was favored by Chrysler cars and is simply a rubber knob sticking up from the top of the axle housing at the center that does not allow the axle to twist forward. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages.  The last problem was weight transfer, or getting as much weight over the rear axle as possible.  One trick was to put a large truck battery in the trunk to put more weight in the back, another was the “Cowboy Rake”.  The cowboy rake is where the front of the car sits higher than the rear and was very common in the early days.  The idea was that since this was the natural motion of the car as it accelerates, it would help to get it in that position early, helping the weight to shift to the rear for traction.  Racers also used lighter springs from 6 cylinder cars and worn out shocks inn an effort to aid weight transfer.  You could also move the motor back in the chassis, which would move the center of gravity towards the rear, but that was illegal.  So if you can’t move the motor back, what if you moved the wheels forward?  By doing that you have effectively moved the motor back in relation to the chassis.  This is where the 2% rule come in, the Ramchargers moved the rear axle an inch forward on their ’63 car with great success and later in ’64 they moved the front wheels forward 3 inches and the rears 4 inches. 
This is all headed in one direction – altering the wheel base to get traction so all of the motor’s power gets to the ground.  Chrysler strikes first.
More to come, until then, keep modeling!
"Rat Fink" Ron

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Altered Wheel Base Story - Part 1

I thought I’d write a little about the altered wheel base cars that came about in the mid-sixties because of a few discussions I was involved in at a model car show the other day.  Let me start by saying that this is by no means a complete history of these cars because I’m sure the whole story is lost to time, things were changing rapidly during this era and several ideas came about in different places at about the same time.  It would be hard to say exactly who had what idea first so I’m going with the general consensus.  The story of drag racing in the early sixties is secondary to NASCAR because NASCAR sold cars, you could see your car on the track beating other cars and then go buy one the next day.  Drag racing was still a bunch of hoodlum teenagers making racket. In the late sixties that began to change as drag racing began to mature and gain a following, partly because of the stock and super stock classes that looked like the cars you could buy at the dealer, but mostly because of the show that the “funny cars” put on around the country.  Altered wheelbase cars are the embryo that grew to the fire breathing, tire smoking, flip tops that ruled the early seventies. So let’s start at the beginning.
In the beginning there were two classes of cars; stockers and dragsters.  Stockers had fenders and doors, dragsters were all motor and frame and were specially constructed to race.  Then guys began to modify their stockers a little while still staying within the rules, so to even things up a new class emerged: Super Stock.  Which was like stock with a few modifications.  This class started in about 1957 and opened the door to the idea of power to weight to set the classes.  1960 allowed any engine from that manufacturer in a car, any “non-visible” changes, and the next size larger tires. 1961 allowed floor shift conversions, ignition upgrades, and open headers. 1962 introduced the FX classes and allowed any size tire that would fit in the wheel well.  1963 set the cubic inch limit at 427.2, 1964 saw rules to keep the current model cars competing against themselves and older models in their own class, and 1965 saw the 2% wheelbase rule come about and some relaxing of the camshaft rules.  All of these changes led to some pretty wild cars by 1965, so let’s look at the effect of these rules.
In 1957, Chevy and Ford were battling on the big ovals of NASCAR with their latest hot rods: the 57 Chevy “Black Widow” with the 283 fuel injected V-8 and Ford’s 57 Supercharged 312 “Thunderbird” V-8.  Somebody figured out pretty quickly that if they were fast on the ovals, they would be pretty quick at the drags. Then came the dreaded AMA (Automobile Manufacturers Association) ban, no more hot rods were to be built by the big three.  That lasted about 15 minutes. Every manufacturer broke it repeatedly, even Chevrolet who still tries to maintain the higher moral ground.  Anyhow, in 1960 the horsepower game starts in earnest with Pontiac’s 389 Super Duty winning at Daytona and an all Pontiac final at the NHRA Nationals at Detroit.  The NHRA relocated their national event from Kansas to Detroit and the Big 3 saw an opportunity.  
Since a big drag race was right in their backyard, all the manufacturers got involved.  With its Super Duty program Pontiac also offered special lightweight aluminum bumpers, Chrysler stuck its 350 cid SonoRamic Commando motor with its long tube intake manifolds in Plymouths, Chevy stuffs its 348 cid truck engine into its passenger cars, Ford steps up its 352 cid “Police Interceptor” motor for more power. 1961 and ‘62 see improvements in power and cars begin to lose weight, but something interesting happens in 1962.  The big hulking Pontiacs shrunk to Tempest size. They stuffed a 421 cid Super Duty motor in a tiny little Tempest and ran A F/X class.  Mopar switched from full frame cars to unibody construction to save weight and began the “Max Wedge” engines that were predecessors to the Hemi.  Chevy’s 409 motor is the one to beat for a while.
Next time we'll discuss more of the evolution of drag racing and altered wheel base cars, until then keep modeling!
"Rat Fink" Ron