Story and Photos by Bill Swanson Mon, 2018-12-24 14:08
The Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals recently presented its milestone 10th edition in Rosemont, Illinois. It has become the pinnacle event in the muscle car world, with every succeeding gathering surpassing the previous.
MCACN Managing Member Bob Ashton and his team leave no stone unturned to secure the finest in American Muscle. Displays ran the gamut, from restored classics to unrestored survivors, to unearthed "barn finds". And of course the focus of CompetitionPlus' coverage, classic drag racing cars.
1968 was a significant year in American history and drag racing. MCACN celebrated the 50th anniversary of this milestone year with historic cars and feature displays. The most significant of these displays was the Hurst-HEMI Super Stock Invitational. It featured nearly 20 1968 Plymouth Barracudas and Dodge Darts that were specially built by Chrysler and the Hurst Corporation for straight line competition. Along with these cars were several of the key individuals that built and raced them.
MCACN 11 planning is underway and is scheduled for November 23 & 24 2019 at the Stevens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL.
Herb "Mr. 4-Speed" McCandless quit his job at a Memphis printing plant in 1968 to race professionally with this 1968 Dodge Dart. Taking delivery in May of 1968 after securing a loan, McCandless entered over 50 races and did so well that he had paid the car off by October of that year.
Racing out of Illinois, Larry Griffith purchased this Dart in 1968 through Schuller Dodge and subsequently took delivery from Chrysler. Griffith immediately prepared it to race in the Midwest with UDRA, where he earned the Super Stock Championship in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 he converted the car to run in the new Pro Stock class at Dodge's direction, winning the UDRA class championship.
Besides having the HEMI program cars on display, a panel discussion hosted by HEMI collector Jim Kramer and moderated by journalist Geoff Stunkard was conducted both show days. The panel included drag racers Herb McCandless, Larry Griffith, Bucky Hess, Larry Pontnack, and Jim and Tom Tignanelli, retired Chrysler executives Joe Hilger and Dale Aldo, and historians Del Jones and Mark Janacky. These men shared their first hand experiences in the development, construction, and competing in these cars.
Bucky Hess and the SS/AH "Psycho Kuda" represented the modern rendition of the HEMI program cars. Hess won the inaugural HEMI Challenge at the US Nationals in 2001.
The SS/A "Psychotic Reaction" 1968 Barracuda is a survivor. Regarded by experts to be the most original of the 1968 HEMI program cars, it still wears the original paint that original owners Leon Crzew and Bob Harrop commissioned, and features the original engine and suspension. With a total of about 130 runs with two owners, the car was parked in 1980. Knowing it's historical significance, Jim Kramer acquired "Psychotic Reaction" in 1981 and has been caring for it since.
1968 also marked the debut of Ford's Cobra Jet Mustangs. A vision by Bob Tasca Sr. and built by Ford at his encouragement, the Cobra Jet of Al Joniec won Super Stock Eliminator at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals in its competition debut.
The car featured at MCACN is one of 20 lightweight cars that Ford/Holman-Moody-Stroppe produced. It was sold through Russ Davis Ford of Covina, CA to California racer Phil Glass. After selling to another racer, the Mustang was reportedly parked in 1974, where it sat until 2008 when David Garton acquired it. Unrestored, this CJ Mustang still makes an occasion run down the 1320.
In the hey-day of the muscle car, Jim Luikens was the manager of Berger Chevrolet’s High-Performance Parts Department, which he guided to national prominence by taking advantage of Chevrolet’s COPO program and establishing the dealership’s “Prescribed by Berger” racing program. Nationally recognized as an expert in GM Performance, Luikens conducted a seminar with collector Joe Cheeks on how to search out and acquire rare muscle cars.
In 1969, Michigan State University engineering students were looking for a collaborative project to apply their newly learned skills. They found it by going drag racing with the help of Oldsmobile, which donated a 455 W-31 Cutlass. The MSU Project W-31 team turned the car into a competitive G/Stock race car. MCACN X became a reunion for these men, where they shared stories of the car they built, and the bonds they forged.
California’s Bill Thomas had already established his shop as one of Chevrolet’s preferred performance suppliers. By 1966 Bill Thomas Race Cars was building front sub-frame kits and lightweight body parts for the 1962-1966 Chevy II for Factory Experimental competition. This restored example of a Thomas built car is part of the Nickey Performance collection, the successor company to the legendary Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago.
Nickey Performance sponsored the Gasser Invitational display that featured recent builds as well as vintage straight axle goodness. The 1955 Thunderbird of Jim and Patti Jard was recently constructed by Nickey, but it is an era correct gasser, right down to its vintage Hilborn injected Ford 312 Y-Block.
The “Dragnasty” 1962 Corvette Gasser is a true vintage veteran of the Gassers Wars. It wears original paint and patina. It is also adorned with competition decals from New York state tracks such as West Hampton and New Yourk National Speedway. Rescued from a 44 year slumber by Jim Jard and brought back to life by Nickey Chicago, the tunnel ram equipped 327 is stick shifted and sees occasional on-track action at vintage drag race events.
Illinois racer Lee Smith acquired this AWB Plymouth Belvedere in early 1965. Primarily match raced, Smith drove “The Haulin’Hemi II” to a runner-up in B/XS at the 1966 US Nationals. One of two surviving of the six AWB Belvedere’s built, the injected HEMI powered piece of history was restored by Jim Welch with Smith’s input.
MCACN's Barn Finds & Hidden Gems section again featured several drag strip survivors, including the 1963 Dodge A990 Max Wedge Coronet that was raced by Ken Permenter. If you were in attendanceat Mid South drag strips from the mid 1960’s and into the mid-‘70’s, you may recognize this car. Other than years of storage dust, it looks much the same as it did when it raced at tracks such as George Ray’s Wildcat Drag Strip.