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And This is Where The Phrase “Funny Car” Comes From

Funny Cars are a mostly forgotten class

Updated June 22, 2017

In the mid ’60s Chrysler created the wildest race cars nicknamed Funny Cars. While the Funny Car class is still around we’ll never see cars like these again.

Late in the ’64 season, Dyno Don Nicholson turned a 10.75 sec run at Cecil County Dragway in his ’65 Mercury Comet with the new single overhead cam (SOHC) engine. This really shook up the Chrysler teams who had to seriously consider how to counter the powerful Ford motor in 1966.

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Chrysler’s primary team, The Ramchargers, made up of a group of after-hours Chrysler engineers, were utilized as a sort of think tank. The Ramchargers were given the task of creating the response for 1965.

It was clear that something radical was in order. The Comets were smaller, lighter and with a shorter wheelbase than The Chrysler B-Body cars. Add to that the fact that the Ford SOHC engine made 25 to 50 hp more than the cross ram Hemi.

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Changing to an A-Body was out of the question at this time since the Chrysler Corporation had no interest in offering big engines in the compact cars. You may recall that the little 273 LA engine had just been introduced in Darts and Valiants. The team needed a plan to make the B-Body cars competitive in A/FX where the Comets and Mustangs would be running.

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The A/FX problem was not so easily solved. The Ramchargers developed  three-point program was conceived and implemented to address the perceived disadvantages: weight distribution, total weight and engine power. If all three elements were successfully implemented Chrysler would achieve parity with the Comets and Mustangs in all categories except for frontal area.

The concept was developed by the Ramchargers of altering not only the wheelbase of the car, but also where the axles were located within the length of the vehicle. They also knew they’d have to lighten the cars as much as possible, so bare body shells were shipped to an aerospace company in Los Angeles for “chemical milling” (acid dip) to shave about 200 pounds off the body shell.

The dipped bodies where then shipped off to an ambulance factory, who had plenty of experience cutting sedans and wagons apart and reassembling them as ambulances. The company installed a front end made entirely of aluminum. Their directive was to relocate the rear axle (and wheel well) 15″ and front axle and wheel well 10″ forward in the car. What hadn’t been acid dipped was replaced with aluminum, fiberglass, or Plexiglas.

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While competing with the A/FX cars the Ramchargers experimented with nitromethane as a fuel additive. The results were incredible. Running straight race gas, the car would run 10.92 and 134 MPH. They tested various blends of nitro and gas and at 90% nitro, the car ran 8.76 at 156 mph. By the end of the season the fatest time set in competition by one of the Chrysler was 8.63 at 163.63 mph. a two second drop in just a year.

The Ramchargers and the other Chrysler factory teams were so dominate Ford took out an ad pointing out how different the Dodge and Plymouth racers were than their stock brethren, and called them “funny”. And the name stuck: Funny Cars.

 

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But when the Ford Motor Company itself took a big step past Chrysler and commissioned Logghe Stamping Company to build four Mercury Comets, drag racing would change forever. The four Comets, raced by Don Nicholson, Ed Schartman, Jack Chrisman, and Kenz & Leslie, were far ahead of the competition in technology. They were even ahead of fellow FoMoCo racers who were racing Holman-Moody Mustangs. The three had everybody else catching up to them in 1966. The best known of these four funny cars was Don Nicholson’s “Eliminator I.”

In 1966, Nicholson was able to hold off the heavier stock bodied cars despite using an injected engine. The several hundred pound weight advantage clearly helped. By 1967, the competition caught up with a new generation of new flip top Funny Cars, the type we still see competing today.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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