In 1964, Chrysler introduced the “Elephant Motor” Hemi. By combining a head design based on the Firepower engine with modern intake improvements and plenty of displacement, they created a motor that far outclassed anything on the market. Hemi-equipped cars so thoroughly dominated NASCAR racing that the engine was banned by the racing body. The company left the ’65 season in protest.
As it so happened, Chrysler’s racing budget was split between NASCAR and NHRA. With NASCAR out of the equation, their drag racing division now had a massive influx of cash. The result was the “W051” code Dodge Coronet, designed to conquer NHRA’s Super Stock class.
NHRA was getting wise to the tricks being used in “stock” cars like Ford’s Thunderbolt and Mopar’s own Max Wedge cars, leading to a ban on plastic windows and fiberglass body panels. The W051 employed several tricks to skirt around these rules including chemically-treated glass, body panels made from 0.018-inch steel, and metal parts lightened using acid dips. The inner high beam headlights were replaced by an extended grill, the rear corner windows were fixed in place to remove the need for cranks, and the seats were replaced with a set from the Tradesman van fitted with aluminum rails. A giant battery designed for buses was placed in the trunk as a rules-legal way to improve traction. Likewise, the custom headers were attached to a small muffler and tailpipe to meet federal regulations for production cars, knowing these would be removed before hitting the track.
The car could be bought at any dealer, but with no warranty, a need for constant maintenance and a lack of any creature comforts, it was no daily driver. Aluminum heads and a magnesium intake manifold saved weight, while a 12.5 to 1 compression ratio and dual Holley carburetors ensured massive power, but it was intentionally underrated at 425 hp to dissuade casual buyers. Its actual output was around 550 hp.
The car’s biggest impact wouldn’t be in the NHRA. The company designed “Altered Wheelbase” models for the AHRA Factory Experimentals (A F/X) exhibition class and its more lax regulations. By moving the wheels forward and shortening the wheelbase, Mopar was able to improve traction. These oddly-proportioned racers earned the nickname “funny cars,” helping spawn a new class of drag racers beyond Super Stock.
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