Proos of Chrysler's V8 Pacer ATCC racer plan

De­bate has raged for decades whether Chrysler Australia in­tended to race a 340-en­gined Charger. But what if we told you it wasn’t the Charger that Ton­s­ley Park orig­i­nally con­sid­ered for a V8-based rac­ing pro­gram? With help from for­mer Chrysler em­ploy­ees,

Australian Muscle Car - - Front Page -

New ev­i­dence has come to light point­ing to Chrysler’s ea­ger­ness to join the tin-top rac­ing scene in 1970 and 1971 with a V8-pow­ered model. Tied to this, was the de­ci­sion by Chrysler Australia to im­port a small num­ber of its po­tent 340 cu­bic inch V8 en­gines to this coun­try to cap­i­talise on the ex­pected suc­cess of its V8 Pacer racer. That’s right, Pacer.

While the V8-pow­ered rac­ing pro­gram and a limited edi­tion road-go­ing V8 Pacer model never hap­pened of course, Chrysler en­gi­neer­ing cor­re­spon­dence from 1969 has emerged which pro­vides new in­sights into the Pen­tas­tar brand’s en­thu­si­asm to up the ante on Aussie race­tracks and in show­rooms.

Back in the US, Chrysler had de­vel­oped the

340 as a small-block race en­gine to com­pete with Ford’s 289ci and Chevrolet’s 327ci small-block V8s that were clean­ing up in NASCAR and Tran­sAm rac­ing over there.

Through the 1960s Chrysler Australia went from be­ing a leader – wit­ness the pan­de­mo­nium sur­round­ing the Jan­uary 1962 re­lease of the R se­ries – to be­ing a fol­lower as seen by the Valiants that fol­lowed on from the S se­ries in 1963. The R and S mod­els were stun­ners in style and king of the road in terms of per­for­mance with near100mph avail­able off the show­room floor from the 145bhp slant six. From AP5 on­wards it seemed as if the com­pany was designing and build­ing cars for the cardi­gan set. By com­par­i­son they were bor­ing even though Chrysler could sell ev­ery one they could build.

What was needed was a car to get the pulse of buy­ers mov­ing and that car ar­rived in 1969 in the form of the VF Pacer sedan. It was a bud­get spe­cial in that it was de­vel­oped in six months on a shoe-string bud­get. Nonethe­less, it was amazingly suc­cess­ful with more than 10 per cent of all VFs built be­ing Pac­ers.

It was with the Pacer that Chrysler dipped its cor­po­rate toe into the world of mo­tor­sports here in Australia. And man­age­ment liked what they saw. Man­ag­ing direc­tor David Brown and chief en­gi­neer Walt McPher­son (a grass­roots mo­tor­sport par­tic­i­pant) okayed Syd­ney-based na­tional ser­vice manager, Brian But­ler, to go out and re­cruit some of the best driv­ers avail­able. But­ler be­gan by sign­ing one of our best, Leo Geoghe­gan. It was quite a coup. Oth­ers like Doug Chivas, Des West and Norm Beechey fol­lowed.

While Leo did not win any big races with the Pacer, there were some no­table class wins in the sec­ond half of 1969. Off the back of this ini­tial ac­tiv­ity came the en­thu­si­asm to push the bound­aries. Pretty soon the idea of bring­ing in the po­tent 340 V8 was be­ing dis­cussed openly at Ton­s­ley Park.

Be­fore we de­tail the cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Ade­laide and Detroit, we need to paint a pic­ture of the Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing scene at the dawn of the 1970s.

Chrysler Australia’s afore­men­tioned Pacer for­ays were in events for Se­ries Pro­duc­tion cars, in show­room spec, with limited mod­i­fi­ca­tions per­mit­ted, es­sen­tially for safety equip­ment. Most events for th­ese cars were quick sprints at jam-

packed multi-cat­e­gory race meet­ings. The most no­table ex­cep­tion was the 500-mile en­durance race at Mount Panorama each Oc­to­ber, which was fast grow­ing in sta­tus each year. There was also, from 1968, a Septem­ber en­duro at Sandown, in Mel­bourne.

While the Bathurst 500’s star was def­i­nitely on the rise by 1969, as fac­tory or fac­tory-sup­ported ef­forts en­gaged in a fight for supremacy at Mount Panorama, Se­ries Pro­duc­tion was not the only game in town. Far from it.

In fact, the most popular tour­ing cars of the era with track­side fans were the spec­tac­u­lar Im­proved Pro­duc­tion ma­chines that con­tested the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship. For 1969, the ATCC had ex­panded from a sin­gle event to a seven-round se­ries, with a host of other, non-cham­pi­onship races over the year.

The Im­proved Pro­duc­tion tour­ers fea­tured the big­gest stars of the day: Ian Geoghe­gan, Al­lan Mof­fat, Bob Jane and Norm Beechey, among oth­ers. Although race fi­fi­fields fields were not huge, the cars embodied the best of what Amer­ica, Bri­tain, Europe and Australia had to of­fer. El­i­gi­bil­ity and tech­ni­cal rules were based on FIA reg­u­la­tions upon which the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralian Mo­tor Sport put their own twist. CAMS did so to en­cour­age lo­cal cars to take on the main­stays of such il­lus­tri­ous for­eign cat­e­gories as the TransAmer­i­can Sedan Cham­pi­onship and the Bri­tish Sa­loon Car Cham­pi­onship.

The let­ters dis­played on th­ese pages show that Chrysler here in Australia cov­eted a piece of that pie, as well as suc­cess in the Hardie-Fer­odo 500 at Bathurst. The cor­re­spon­dence sug­gests the com­pany was keep­ing its op­tions open as the 1970 sea­son fast ap­proached.

In Amer­ica the cor­po­ra­tion had the Ply­mouth Bar­racuda that was built off the Valiant floor­pan, so it ap­peared a rea­son­able thing to bolt the US bits into a lo­cal Valiant – the Pacer – and go out and head­butt the Mus­tangs and Monaro. Dur­ing 1969, nu­mer­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tions took place be­tween Ton­s­ley Park and High­land Park re­gard­ing sourc­ing com­po­nents to build a Valiant Pacer pow­ered by the com­pany’s 340 V8. While the let­ters con­tain no spe­cific ref­er­ences to events, cham­pi­onships or rac­ing cat­e­gories, the fact Chrysler Australia was tap­ping into HQ’s Trans-Am se­ries ex­pe­ri­ence and parts bin points to the fact Im­proved Pro­duc­tion com­pe­ti­tion was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. That’s be­cause Trans-Am cars were mod­i­fied well be­yond the show­room spec re­quired un­der Se­ries Pro­duc­tion rules.

Sev­eral let­ters were ex­changed be­tween Walt McPher­son, Ned Cly­mer, Don Ehr, ‘Buck’ Rodgers and Jack Kerby about the com­po­nents which had been de­vel­oped for the Chrysler-backed Team Starfish Bar­racu­das that con­tested the ear­li­est years of Trans-Am com­pe­ti­tion, al­beit with lit­tle suc­cess. We must high­light that Team Starfish was no ‘boots-and-all’ works team. It was headed

With the avail­able data, we cal­cu­lated that at Bathurst a VF Pacer equipped with the 340 en­gine and four-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion should be ca­pa­ble of 2:50 minute laps. - Jack Kerby

by Chrysler prod­uct plan­ning en­gi­neer Scott Har­vey, who se­cured the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion and fund­ing for an ‘af­ter hours’ op­er­a­tion. Chrysler en­gi­neers and em­ploy­ees do­nated their time on nights and week­ends in or­der to pre­pare, de­velop and race the Bar­racu­das.

Cor­re­spon­dence cul­mi­nated with McPher­son plac­ing an or­der for 200 ex­am­ples of a 275bhp ver­sion (likely to have been more than 275bhp, but down­played pub­licly for rea­sons in­clud­ing min­imis­ing in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums) of the 340 en­gine used in the Bar­racuda road car (the Trans-Am rac­ing ver­sions were re­stricted to the cat­e­gory’s 5.0-litre ca­pac­ity limit). In his spec­i­fi­ca­tions he wanted the dual-plane in­take man­i­fold, big-port cylin­der heads with huge 2.02-inch in­take valves, spe­cial valve springs, forged steel crankshaft with shot-peened radii ei­ther side of the jour­nals, heav­ier forged con­rods, a windage tray bolted up to the main bear­ing cap bolts, spe­cial tall main bear­ing caps to pre­vent dis­tor­tion at high revs (the 340 would rev to 7000rpm) and a Carter AVS 4-bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor (later a Ther­mo­quad 4-bar­rel unit) and a vis­cous cool­ing fan. The or­der was placed in Oc­to­ber 1969.

What is im­por­tant to note here is that th­ese 200 en­gines were not despatched to Ton­s­ley Park as fully built-up units. As for­mer Chrysler en­gi­neer Bob Burke com­mented, “Those en­gines ar­rived around May 1970 as com­po­nents to be as­sem­bled upon their ar­rival at [the] Lons­dale [en­gine plant] and it was my re­spon­si­bil­ity to look at what we could source lo­cally be­fore as­sem­bling them. I was lucky be­cause we were al­ready as­sem­bling the 318ci V8 us­ing many lo­cally sourced parts and I found that many of th­ese would bolt straight on.”

Lo­cally sourced com­po­nents in­cluded the en­gine sump and rocker cov­ers that were pressed in-house, pushrods, rocker arms and shafts, wa­ter pump, tim­ing case cover, har­monic bal­ancer and a quick-ad­vance dis­trib­u­tor. As Burke added, “The com­pany was al­ways very con­scious of the lo­cal con­tent re­quire­ments, un­like Ford and Holden ap­par­ently, and so I had to use as much as I could from lo­cal sup­pli­ers.”

Burke con­tin­ued, “This ini­tial batch of en­gines were the high per­for­mance en­gines. A fur­ther or­der for around 130 (some sources say 135, oth­ers 138) en­gines of a softer spec­i­fi­ca­tion was placed a few weeks later. What needs to be un­der­stood quite clearly is that th­ese en­gines were never ‘dumped’ here by Chrysler, they were never ‘left-over’ en­gines and they were not de­tuned for emis­sion rea­sons be­cause that did not come into ef­fect un­til the 1972 US model year.”

Hav­ing as­sem­bled a to­tal of 338 en­gines, they were placed on pal­lets and stored in the base­ment of the Lons­dale foundry.

In a let­ter dated Novem­ber 7, 1969, Jack Kerby wrote to McPher­son say­ing, “With the avail­able data, we cal­cu­lated that at Bathurst a VF Pacer equipped with the 340 en­gine and four­speed man­ual trans­mis­sion should be ca­pa­ble of 2:50 minute laps. Im­prove­ments in the en­gine to 375bhp should cut an­other five sec­onds off the lap times, con­sid­er­ing no han­dling im­prove­ments.”

He went on to say, “Based on the above con­clu­sions we can say ‘yes, Chrysler Australia can build a com­pet­i­tive race­car. Now, what ex­actly does it take to do the job?”

As we men­tioned be­fore,

Top left: Chrysler, via its Ply­mouth brand, dipped a toe in the fledg­ling Trans-Am Se­ries via Team Starfish. This is River­side, Cal­i­for­nia. Chrysler cor­re­spon­dence from 1969 re­veals that an ex-Tran­sAm Bar­racuda was of­fered to Chrysler Australia to help pre­pare its lo­cal V8 chal­lenger, the Pacer.

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