This week’s installment is against the strictures of our esteemed editor, who said to keep this Australian, but we need somewhere to have a discussion about the three American sedans which set up much of Australia’s drag racing from 1964 into the 1970s.
These cars were known locally as Ramchargers, a name adopted from an American racing team that raced out of the Chrysler factory in the early 1960s.
In 1964 Sydney car dealer Ash Marshall, already with a long history in motor racing in everything from speedway midgets to the ex-Jack Davey D-Type, took a buying trip to the USA. He stayed with a guy named Bob Fuerhelm, workshop manager at a Pasadena Plymouth dealership. These were the high point of US manufacturing involvement in motorsports, particularly drag racing, and they were just commencing the great years of US muscle car production.
Fuerhelm took Marshall to a meeting at the Fremont Drag Strip and it blew his mind. There were over 500 factory specials competing, and they organised for Marshall to take a ride in an 11.7 second Super Stock Plymouth.
Bound for Australian Drag Racing
Marshall instantly bought two of these supercars, a 63 Savoy Max Wedge and a brand new blue 1964 Plymouth Belvedere. They landed in November 64 and a few weeks later were at the Castlereagh track. To put it in perspective the fastest Australian quarter mile time was from Melbourne racer Eddie Thomas’ dragster at 10.74 seconds.
The 64 Belvedere ran a best of 13.70 at that first showing, a heavy lump of a car with a factory performance 426 Max Wedge engine producing 415 horsepower. It was beaten only by the 600-horse 1963 Plymouth and a blown Chrysler dragster. The next quickest car was a Milano GT which ran a 15.27.
The car went on to be raced by Lionel Larson, with Max Stevens as his driver, then by ex-circuit racer Bert Needham, mostly with racer Bob Honeybrook as the driver. He upped the maintenance schedule, fitted much bigger rear slicks and ran best numbers of 12.06 seconds and 119mph.
Selling the car to Joe Fitzpatrick
In 1972 Needham sold the car to Joe Fitzpatrick, with driving done by Bob Reischl. This team pushed the car to a best of 11.81 seconds but the loss of several engines resulted in the team parking the car in July 1976.
The big blue meanie Plymouth sat in Fitzpatrick’s garage until he passed away, putting an end to his plans for a major rebuild and it was sold a couple of years ago to a new owner.
In the US these early 60s factory performance cars are in great demand and an expected value would be around US $100,000 today. Along with its fellow 1963 import, and another Plymouth brought in by another racer in 1965, these cars were the core of many race meetings, always on tap for a match race to pad out an event, or even build a whole race meeting around.
They were a touch of exotica in Australian Drag Racing in the days of scarce excitement in a new motorsport.