WHERE IT ALL BE­GAN

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

Ground zero for the gasser stance.

When Paul Soliz de­scribed his or­ange Ply­mouth gasser—our cover car—as “so ugly it’s bitchin’,” he could have been talk­ing about this un­gainly (but very his­toric) Ply­mouth drag car. The orig­i­nal High & Mighty ’49 Ply­mouth busi­ness coupe was not only the in­spi­ra­tion for the name on Paul’s gasser, it’s con­sid­ered ground zero for the whole nose-up stance that to­day is a gasser hall­mark.

The Ply­mouth, orig­i­nally known as the Ram Rod, was the brain­child of a group of young Chrysler engi­neers for whom drag rac­ing was a pas­sion and a com­mon bond. In the late 1950s, they formed a club called the Ram Charg­ers (later Ram­charg­ers) and, at first, worked on mod­i­fi­ca­tions for their per­sonal cars. They soon re­al­ized, though, that to make a real mark in drag rac­ing, they’d need to col­lab­o­rate on a pur­pose-built race car. The fact that the NHRA was bring­ing its Na­tional meet to Detroit in 1959 pro­vided fur­ther mo­ti­va­tion.

Their next-to-no bud­get lim­ited their choice in ve­hi­cles to this Ply­mouth. Its en­gine was a wounded 354-inch Dodge truck Hemi that was re­paired and then fit­ted with all kinds of, for the time, ex­per­i­ments in mak­ing power, in­clud­ing an in­take man­i­fold with long run­ner tubes to cre­ate a ram ef­fect for the in­com­ing charge and in­di­vid­u­ally tuned header pipes with dis­tinc­tive trum­pet-shaped out­lets.

Mak­ing power is one thing; get­ting it to pro­pel a 3,000pound Ply­mouth quickly was an­other chal­lenge al­to­gether. As engi­neers, though, they were able to lit­er­ally do the math to fig­ure out how to get as much of the car’s weight over the rear tires as pos­si­ble when the car launched. Their so­lu­tion was to raise the car’s cen­ter of grav­ity. As Ram Charger found­ing mem­ber Bill Shope told Steve Mag­nante in Steve’s story about the car in the Aug. 2000 HOT ROD,

“When we were done, we had the en­gine raised up so that it was nearly 3 feet from the strip sur­face, and the car sat al­most 6 feet tall, even with the chopped roof !”

The car may have looked strange, but it worked. As Bob Pen­der­gast wrote in his cov­er­age of the “Mo­tor City Spec­tac­u­lar” in the Nov. 1959 HRM, “No lack in in­ge­nu­ity was ap­par­ent with ‘Ram Rod’ en­tered by Ram-charg­ers club of Detroit prov­ing point with new ‘C’ Al­tered record.” The car’s owner, Her­man Mozer, drove the Ram Rod and is cred­ited with the 109.75-mph record.

Mozer didn’t win the class that week­end, nor did the 392-pow­ered, newly painted, spon­sored, and chris­tened The High and Mighty win C/al­tered a year later when it ran at the Detroit Na­tion­als again. But it upped its own class record, this time to 111.52 mph. And with the awk­ward but ef­fec­tive Ply­mouth on their ré­sumés, many mem­bers of the Ram Charg­ers would go on to make rac­ing his­tory for Ma Mopar.

• PIC: PHOTOS: BOB D’OLIVO, JOHN GER­AGHTY, ERIC RICKMAN, PETERSEN PUB­LISH­ING CO. AR­CHIVES

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