Al “The Lawman” Eckstrand

Al Eckstrand was a true renaissance man and one of the most unique individuals we ever had the pleasure of knowing. Al was the unintentional hero, the soft-spoken guy who achieved greatness, but never boasted of it. He never meant to be any of that. He went to law school and got a job with Chrysler in the early sixties as one of their corporate lawyers, but he had a penchant for drag racing, and he was very good at it. Chrysler execs noted this, and by 1964, Al Eckstrand was not only their lawyer, he was a factory-backed Plymouth driver wielding his red-and-white “Lawman” Hemi hardtop. He set several national records in the Upper Midwest, snagged a Hemi-powered ’66 Charger media car, and in 1966, he formed the American Commando Drag Team, with the idea of bringing American muscle cars to England and Europe so American servicemen could learn to drive and race the things, and as a way to thank them for their service. Regrettably, Chrysler didn’t fully back Eckstrand’s dream. He left Chrysler in 1968 and Ford was quick to grab him. By 1969 he had a pair of heavily modified Boss 429 Mustangs that they shipped on an aircraft carrier to Vietnam with a small fleet of Mach I’s. By the end of 1970, over 40,000 service men and women had driven those cars overseas while his earlier program continued in England at the Santa Pod Dragway. Tired of corporate politics, after Vietnam, he moved to Ireland, bought and restored an ancient castle, restored centuries-old tapestries, and finally returned to the United States with his ’66 Hemi Charger in 1999 to well-deserved acclaim. He spent the remainder of his life attending Mopar events and entertaining enthusiasts with tales of the early days of Chrysler performance. Regrettably, Al Eckstrand passed in 2008 – truly, he was one-of-a-kind.

Charlie Glotzbach

Charging Charlie” Glotzbach was another mild-mannered Mopar hero and perhaps the fastest Mopar stock car driver of all time. Charlie won his first stock car race in 1960 with a Chevy, but by 1964 he was racing with Cotton Owens in a Dodge and won ARCA’s Rookie of the Year award. That caught the attention of Chrysler, who brought him onboard with Buddy Baker as their primary two stock car test mule jockeys at Chelsea Proving Grounds. All the while, Charlie continued racing for Cotton Owens and Ray Nichels, primarily driving Dodges, and his association with the winged car program will forever be cemented in Mopar history by taking the #88 test mule Daytona up to 246 mph at Chelsea, and by being a dominant factor in NASCAR throughout 1969 and 1970 with his gorgeous purple-and-white Nichels’ Chargers and Daytonas. Charlie continued racing Dodges and Plymouths for Cotton Owens through 1972 when the factory pulled the plug on stock cars, but he kept on racing until 1994. A Midwest farm boy at heart, Charlie never gave up life on the farm, and when he wasn’t racing, he continued farming and opened a truck sales business. We lost Charlie in April, 2021, at the age of eighty-two. Had it not been for Charlie Glotzbach, it’s very likely the winged car program would’ve never gotten as far as it did.

Big John Mazmanian

Big John” Mazmanian earned his nickname honestly, because at 6’5” tall, he towered over most other drag racers back in the golden era of the sport. He started building and racing cars, before he was old enough to drive, putting together a ’32 Ford when he was only fourteen. In the Mopar realm, Big John really came into his own starting in 1965 when he entered the “Gasser Wars” with his Candy Apple Red ’41 Willys coupe powered by a blown 392” Hemi. For the next two years, Big John and his arch rivals, Stone, Woods, and Cook, owned the NHRA Gasser class. He switched to an Austin body for the 1967 season, but when late-model cars were allowed into the class, he bailed out, signed a deal with Plymouth, and 1968 saw him with his first fiberglass Barracuda funny car. And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. From 1968 through 1971, his Candy Red ‘Cudas were always in the thick of the action and he ran one of the most successful Mopar funny car teams in the country. For reasons best known to John and the Lord above, he opted to retire early in 1972 and walked away from racing, but he attended a number of shows and nostalgia events in the 1990s and 2000s, always eager to talk to his fans who remembered the glory years. Regrettably, we lost Big John Mazmanian in 2006, but he left behind a remarkable legacy.

Dave Strickler

Dave Strickler is one of those legendary figures in the sport of drag racing who had an off-and-on relationship with Chrysler, but when it was “on,” he did some truly incredible things! Dave first gained national attention with his “Old Reliable” Chevys of the early sixties which were running 409s and doing all-out battle with Max Wedge Dodges and Plymouths, until Dodge signed Stickler and a guy named Grumpy Jenkins on, they formed a team initially with a lone white ’64 Maxie Dodge, and they became the original “Dodge Boys”. They ended up with three Dodges by the end of the ’64 season before parting company, but Stickler continued on in 1965 with one of the famed ’65 Dodge A/FX altered wheelbase hardtops, running match races nationwide with the injected Hemi car. But, the relationship with Dodge was strained and his friend Grumpy Jenkins pulled Dave back to the Chevy camp in 1966 and in 1967 they campaigned a Camaro. Strickler remained with Chevys after that, running an altered wheelbase Corvette and even driving “Grumpy’s Toy” Super Stock Camaro in the early seventies. Before retiring, Dave had won sixteen class championships and set more than forty national records, but for we Mopar fans, he will forever be associated with his dynamic seasons from 1964 to 1966, and for literally inventing the term, “The Dodge Boys.” He was virtually unbeatable during those short years, and the nickname he came up with stuck with Dodge corporate advertising forevermore.

John Herlitz

It’s often said that the best thing we can do in life is leave our mark on this world and leave it a better place than it was when we got here. John Herlitz most certainly accomplished that. When he was only thirteen-years-old, John began sending design sketches to Chrysler Corporation and, upon graduating college with a degree in industrial design, Herlitz went to work for Plymouth in their design studios under the watchful eye of Elwood Engel. He was the chief stylist on the Barracuda SX concept car, which became the all-new 1967 Barracuda, and by 1968, he was promoted to design studio manager for Plymouth. His greatest claim-to-fame lies in having largely designed the E-body Barracuda, which, of course, remains one of the greatest muscle cars to this day. He was also the main stylist for the 1971 Satellite/Road Runner platform, so his influence on the Mopar world is astronomical. He remained with Chrysler and assumed command of all Chrysler design by the late seventies, and played the key role in developing the K-Cars, which saved Chrysler from complete collapse, and it was Herlitz who came up with the idea for the first Chrysler minivans. If that’s not worthy of lifetime achievement awards, we don’t know what is. But, John wasn’t finished. In 1994, he became Tom Gale’s right-hand-man, and he helped designed the famed Chrysler Atlantic coupe show car, among others, and was the chief designer behind the Dodge Copperhead roadster concept car, which would have been a game-changer for Chrysler had Daimler not bought the company and then killed the idea of putting that car into production. He retired in 2000 as Senior Vice President of Design, and among his last projects was establishing the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Few people have had such a major impact on Chrysler in the last fifty years. And John retained his love for old Mopars, keeping a black ’71 Road Runner he’d bought new the rest of his life. One of the all-time greats, John Herlitz passed away in 2008.

John Samsen

John Samsen isn’t a household name in the design world, but should be. Samsen, an Indiana native, grew up not far from Auburn and his father had a Duesenberg J dual cowl phaeton, so he was destined to be a car guy. He got his degree in aeronautic design, but went to work with the famous Raymond Loewy before being signed on at GM in 1948, where he literally invented “fins” by designing the little fins on the ’48 Cadillac, then he went to work for Ford in 1952 with Elwood Engel, and John’s likely biggest claim-to-fame is designing the ’55 Thunder-bird. He left Ford in 1955 with Exner and came to Chrysler, where he remained in the design studio until he retired in 1976. Among his many Mopar achievements are the fastback Barracudas, the late sixties Fury series Plymouths, he was on the team that helped develop the E-body Barracuda, and he was heavily involved with the design of the wild Imperials from 1957 to 1964. Notably, he was also instrumental in the design of the Duster. His designs for a rework of the Barracuda for 1972 were clearly the main influence for the Cordobas. After retiring in ’76, John formed his own consulting company, which he still runs today in South Carolina.

Roland Osborne

We wanted to include a couple of guys who were near and dear to us in this year’s Hall of Fame, because without their ground-laying work, the Mopar muscle car hobby wouldn’t be what it is today. Roland will always be remembered as the man behind Chrysler Power Magazine, but he was a lot more than that. Roland graduated Michigan State University, and he put together the first national meet of the National Hemi Owner’s Association way back in 1975! He helped found the Mopar Muscle Club in the late 1970s, and in 1983, he started printing the first Mopar-only magazine, Chrysler Power. He was influential in most major early Mopar shows, he was one of the first to really promote reproduction parts for old Mopars, and all the while, he maintained a presence at the events, drag racing his famed blue-and-silver Dart. When his wife, Jan, was lost tragically in 1998, Roland suspended publishing Chrysler Power, reevaluated life, and he published Christian Motorsports Illustrated Magazine and once again became active with the hobby. He remained so to the end, before his untimely passing in 2017 at the age of only sixty-eight as the result of a brain tumor. Roland was a friend to everyone, and the entire hobby, and had it not been for his early efforts, the Mopar hobby as we know it today wouldn’t be where it is.

Robert Oskiera

Robert’s the other pioneer of the Mopar magazine world we wanted to include this year, along with Roland. While Robert was far more brassy than Roland, there can be no denying that, without his influence, the hobby would not have developed as quickly as it did, nor taken the direction it did. Robert began printing MoPerformance Magazine in 1983, within months of Chrysler Power’s first issue, and Robert’s style was to use flashy covers with flashy girls to attract the readers, and it worked! He was front-and-center at getting most of the major events in the Northeast off the ground, and when Chrysler began demanding royalties and changed Direct Connection’s name to Mopar Performance, that forced several rapid-fire name changes for his magazine, from Mo-Performance, to Performance for the Chrysler Car Enthusiast before he finally called it quits. The lesson learned; you can’t fight Chrysler Corporation in court and expect to win if you’re an independent magazine publisher! We’ll never know what he could have accomplished, as Robert’s life was cut tragically short in 2013 when he passed suddenly at the age of only fifty-seven. MCG wouldn’t be the magazine it is, or have been able to accomplish the things we have through the decades, without the lesson learned from Roland Osborne and Robert Oskiera in our early years.

Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has the unique distinction of having been at the helm of all three of America’s “Big Three” automakers; he served as executive vice president of Ford, then vice chairman of Chrysler Corporation, then vice chairman of GM before retiring in 2010. Lutz’s achievements in the auto industry across-the-board are monumental, but his years at Chrysler, from 1986 to 1998 saw the complete remaking of the company. Lutz’s title may have been deceiving, for in truth, he ran everything, from styling to parts to worldwide distribution to publicity to racing, he literally did it all. The former Marine Corps fighter pilot is almost single-handedly responsible for the Viper, the Plymouth Prowler, the LH series cars, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, to name just a few. Had it not been for Lutz, the new generation of Hemi engines wouldn’t exist. He got Dodge back into NASCAR racing, he oversaw the remaking of Mopar Performance, reinstated the “Miss Mopar Performance” girls, a reboot of the Miss Direct Connection marketing theme. He was the proverbial bull in the china shop, the kid in the candy store – Lutz loved cars and everything to do with them and he turned a company that was just building K-Cars and minivans into a powerhouse of new ideas, bold retro concepts, and set everything in motion to create Chrysler as it’s existed ever since. Shortly after Daimler bought Chrysler, Bob Lutz left for GM when it was obvious they had radically different plans, and there, he likewise rebuilt GM from the ground-up. Every Chrysler devotee owes Bob Lutz an awful lot. The reproduction parts industry as we know it today wouldn’t exist had it not been for Lutz’s involvement and encouragement, let alone the New Gen Hemi and the amazing cars built by his orders. Sadly, we’ll never know what could’ve been if he’d remained, as the Daimler-Chrysler merger brought everything to a screeching halt. Still, no one can argue that Lutz wasn’t perhaps the most innovative and forward-thinking leader Chrysler has had since Walter Chrysler himself.