Carl Kiekhaefer never intended to be remembered as an icon in the realm of stock car racing or motorsports, but he will always be known as the man who set NASCAR on its ear for the first time and the man who made Chrysler 300's famous overnight.An engineering genius in the field of boat motors, Carl earned more than 200 patents and formed his own company, Kiekhaefer Corporation just before WWII.In 1954, he decided to enter auto racing to promote his outboard boat motor company, and started with three Chrysler New Yorker coupes – his cars won all three races they entered!In 1955, he bought Chrysler 300s, driven by the likes of Tim Flock and Buck Baker.The amazing 300s started 45 events in 1955, and they won 22 of them!This domination of NASCAR by Kiekhaefer continued throughout 1956, and after a battle with NASCAR's Bill France that the team was cheating (because nobody could win that many races without cheating), Carl walked away from the sport he had forever changed.In two years, he rewrote how stock car racing would be conducted, and was the first person to bring major corporate sponsorship (Mercury Outboard Motors) to the sport.Carl's operation is universally recognized as the first "super team" in the history of NASCAR.
Dave Koffel's one of the nicest all-around guys (and one of the smartest) in the entire realm of Mopar drag racing.Koffel began drag racing in the early fifties, but his "Flintstone Flyer" '48 Packard Gasser of the early sixties really launched him on the path that changed the sport forever.By 1965, he had been introduced to Chrysler's Bob Cahill and began running Super Stock Plymouths.In '67, he built and campaigned his iconic Barracuda A/XS funny car, and by 1968 Chrysler hired Dave to work full time in Cahill's racing group as a design engineer.Dave was one of the major pioneers of Chrysler's initial Pro Stock efforts.Koffel remained with Chrysler until 1980, when he left to open his own racing shop, "Koffel's Place."Continuing his work, working hand-in-hand with Chrysler, Dave Koffel developed the famous B-1 heads, and has built numerous drag cars since that day, continuing to push the envelope on technology farther and farther.
Virgil Exner will forever be tied to his radical styling work for Chrysler in the fifties, which was dubbed "The Forward Look" by corporate ad execs.Exner began his styling career in 1938, working for the legendary Raymond Loewy, but parted company with him in 1944 and was hired directly by Studebaker.Most people don't realize it, but it was Virgil Exner, not Raymond Loewy, who designed the famous postwar Studebaker Starlight Coupe.In 1949, Exner joined Chrysler and worked on the design of virtually every Chrysler vehicle made from 1950 through 1962.His Ghia-built show cars of the era are legendary, and his work with fins, interiors, and exotic grilles put Chrysler on the cutting edge of fashion throughout the late fifties.Exner left Chrysler in late 1961, going on to design boats with his son, Virgil Exner Jr., and he continued to design exotic cars the rest of his life.Exner passed away in 1973 from his long-fought battle with a heart condition.
"Big Willie" was a New Orleans native who moved to Los Angeles in 1962 and immediately began street racing a '57 Oldsmobile.Joining the Army and going to Vietnam, when Big Willie returned in 1966, he was upset by the race riots tearing Southern California apart, so the 6'6" muscle-bound giant went around to gangs who were ready to kill each other and convinced huge numbers of them to settle their differences with drag racing!That was the beginning of his Street Racer's Brotherhood, which eventually became an international organization.Dodge recognized Willie's good efforts in 1969 and presented him with a new Charger Daytona.This led to him owning three Charger Daytonas, becoming close friends with the legendary Keith Black, and from that time forward, Willie was forever associated with winged cars and Hemis.Known for his ever-present bowler hat in the sixties and seventies, he swapped his chapeau for a beret as time went on, and throughout his life, Big Willie worked tirelessly to get inner city kids to put aside their differences and work together, building hot rods and racing them safely at places designated by cities and police forces across the country.We lost our good friend, Big Willie, in 2012.
Like the "General Lee" Charger, the "Vanishing Point" 1970 Challenger R/T is one of those cars that inspired countless tens of thousands of young guys (and girls) to become Mopar fanatics.The original movie, released in January, 1971, the movie was initially a flop, but after good showings in Europe, it was re-released and did better, but it wasn't until the late seventies, when it gained a cult following, that the film truly took off.Richard Zanuck of 20th Century Fox was the man insistent on using white '70 Challengers for the film, and five new 1970 R/T's were delivered by Chrysler; four were 440 four-speed cars and the fifth was a 383 automatic.And the rest, as they say, is history.The movie was remade in 1997 for Fox Television, again featuring white 1970 Challenger R/T's, this time with a highly altered story and the Challenger was supposed to have a 426 Hemi in it, not a 440.That movie, like the first, soon gained cult-like status among the automotive faithful.Rightly so, this handful of white Challengers has more than earned their place in the history books, and heaven only knows how many E-body enthusiasts were created by the whole Vanishing Point movie phenomenon.
Buddy Arrington is a truly legendary figure in the realm of NASCAR and Mopar history.Arrington began professional NASCAR racing in 1964 behind the wheel of his Dodge hardtop, and for the next twenty-five years, he never missed a season; finally retiring from the sport in 1988.What makes Arrington unique in the history of the sport was his absolute dedication and loyalty to Chrysler, and his positive attitude in spite of what often seemed like insurmountable odds.Being the team owner and chief driver, Arrington drove Dodges from 1964 all the way through 1983.In 1984 and 1985, his Chrysler Imperial became the last Chrysler product in NASCAR until Dodge reentered the sport in 1999.As prolific a racer as Buddy Arrington was, and as popular as he still remains among fans, he never won a single NASCAR race.In his 560 career starts, he mustered fifteen top five finishes, and his highest points finish was seventh, achieved in 1982.Still, Buddy Arrington never abandoned the Mopar banner until Mopar completely abandoned him, pulling all parts sponsorships in 1985.For loyally racing Chrysler products probably longer than anyone else in motorsports, Buddy Arrington more than deserves his place in Mopar history.
When Dick Maxwell retired from Chrysler in 1991, he was then head of Dodge's Special Vehicle Program, but Maxwell could easily be considered the single most important executive in the history of Chrysler's performance-oriented cars.Dick Maxwell began working for Chrysler in 1959 as a student engineer, and became one of the founding members of The Ramchargers.Alongside Tom Hoover and others, he helped design and bring the Max Wedge cars into production, along with the early Hemi cars.By the late sixties, Dick was in charge of Chrysler's performance division and would later become Chrysler's vehicle performance racing manager.He pioneered the link between Chrysler and the aftermarket parts industry, and Maxwell was instrumental in getting the 440 Six Pack cars introduced, and in getting the Charger Daytona into production.Regarding the A12 Six Pack cars, Maxwell later said, "We knew our time was running out with all the Federal regulations closing in on us, and I can say this now but I couldn't say it then, we just wanted to build the last bad ass street car that we could before we got shut down."Regrettably, Dick Maxwell passed away due to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 2002.
Ted "Teddy" Spehar's shop wasn't far from Chrysler's engineering facilities in Detroit, so it was only natural the drag racer/car builder soon had an ironclad relationship with Chrysler's racing operations.Spehar gained notoriety on the national stage in the early sixties when he built a '64 Hemi Dodge Super Stocker for famed racer Wally Booth, and it was that car which put him in close ties with Chrysler's drag racing R&D group.Spehar served as Chrysler's "field test" racer, which reached its apex in the opening days of Pro Stock.Teddy built the famed 1970/1971 Challenger Motown Missile, driven by Don Carlton, then followed that up by building the Motown Missile 'Cuda and Duster, becoming one of the foremost innovators in the early days of Pro Stock drag racing.
Charles "Charlie" Stang was Carl Kiekhaefer's right-hand-man throughout the glory days of their foray into NASCAR, and throughout his long career with Kiekhaefer and Mercury Marine for that matter.Stang was the man responsible for coming up with countless innovations we now take for granted, such as the paper air filter – an idea he designed while racing their 300's and which was later sold to Fram and replaced the long-standing oil bath air cleaners.It was Charles' engineering that made the Kiekhaefer Chrysler 300s the first stock cars to break 140 mph, and which caused every other team in NASCAR countless hours of frustration.His remarkable engineering achievements place Stang in a very small group, as he actually received the American Success Award from President H.W. Bush at the White House in 1989 – an accolade very few people in motorsports have ever achieved.
Lee Smith is perhaps one of the most colorful drag racers the Midwest ever turned out – thanks in large part to his incredibly colorful "Crazee 'Cuda" Hemi Pro Stocker and its very similar Super Stock cousin, Lee's '67 Plymouth "Whackee Wagon."The rainbow-colored racers were instantly recognizable a mile away, but Lee's affiliation with Plymouth goes well back before those cars, to his racing Super Stock Plymouths in the early sixties, and then becoming one of the six drivers to receive a factory altered wheelbase A/FX Plymouth in 1965.Smith's "Haulin' Hemi II" A/FX altered car (now restored), is perhaps his best-known ride, and certainly the car which put Lee Smith on the national stage.However, anyone who got the chance to see his later cars in action would argue, his cars only got better as time went on!
Ron Mancini will perhaps always be affiliated with the famous yellow '68 Hemi Super Stock Darts he drove from 1970 through 1976.Sponsored by Gratiot Auto Supply, Ron's Mancini Racing Team cars were instantly recognizable wherever he went, but his career in racing, and with Chrysler, is a lot more diverse than most people realize.Ron spent thirty-seven years working for Chrysler, first as an engineer, then in production management, retiring in 2000.He also taught engineering and drive line mechanics at the famed Mo-Tech Institute.Starting his racing days in 1967 with a '63 Plymouth, he graduated to a '64 Hemi Dodge in 1969, then landed a Hemi Dart in 1970 – and the rest, as they say, is history.Coming out of retirement in the nineties to race Nostalgia Max Wedge for a few years, he returned to driving yet again in 2006 when he helped build and do track testing on the early Drag Pak Challengers.