Carroll Shelby is literally a man who needs no introduction in the automotive world. Very few people can claim to have been so instrumental in the realm of production performance cars as Carroll was, and while he’s far better-known for his close ties with Ford, his involvement with Chrysler is legendary as well. Carroll began racing in the fifties and was severely injured several times, but it was ironically a heart condition which forced his driving retirement in 1960, which put him on the path to actually building cars. Contrary to the popular movie, Carroll became friends with Lee Iacocca at Ford in the early sixties when he launched his Shelby Cobra roadsters and used Ford engines. It was Iacocca who called upon their old friendship to bring Carroll into the Chrysler camp in 1982, and by 1983, the Shelby 2.2 Chargers and Omnis were showing up in showrooms. He was also named as the Performance Consultant for the Dodge Viper Group, and his work on the Viper was instrumental in making the car what it became. To this day, some of the most desirable Vipers existent are the 19 Carroll Shelby R/T 10 CS editions built between 1995 and 1997. Dodges bearing She-lby’s name remained in the Chrysler lineup all the way until 2000, when he finally parted ways with the company. Had Carroll not been around Chrysler in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s highly doubtful there would’ve been any performance oriented Mopars during that time, and also doubtless the Viper wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.
Marty Robbins is best known to most of the world as a famous country/western music star, singer, and song-writer. Robbins began singing and playing guitar during WWII and his unique style soon earned him widespread acclaim. By 1957 he had his first gold record, and by the time he was said and done, he’d had seventeen #1 charting country songs, sold millions of records, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and received a Grammy Hall of Fame award. He’s being inducted into the MHOF because of his unwavering passion for NASCAR racing and his love of Dodges and Plymouths. Marty began racing on big and small ovals in 1966, using Plymouths initially, then switching over to Dodges, almost all of which were built by Cotton Owens. His magenta-and-bright yellow cars became synonymous with him, and usually wore the #42. While he never won a race, Marty had six top ten finishes in his career and finished fifth at the Motor State 360 in Michigan in 1974; not bad for a guy who did this self-sponsored for a hobby! Three of Marty’s Mopars still exist and have been restored; his ’64 Belvedere, his ’69 Charger Daytona, and most famously, his ’78 Magnum, which spent many years at the Talladega Museum. Regrettably, Marty passed away young, at the age of only 57 following heart bypass surgery in Nashville – less than a month after running his last NASCAR race in 1982.
The names of these two men aren’t household words in the Mopar community, but they should be. William Drinkard became manager of Chrysler’s Engine Development Department in 1943, and in 1948, knowing that Cadillac and Oldsmobile were both introducing overhead valve V-8s the following year, Drinkard convinced company president K.T. Keller that Chrysler needed an all-new V-8 of their own, and Drinkard was convinced that engine needed to have hemispherical heads. The project was handed to Chrysler engineer Mel Carpentier, and in less than two years, he and his team had developed the 331” Hemi engine – the first Chrysler Hemi. The engine went into production in 1950 for 1951 model cars and was an overnight sensation and interestingly, both the Cadillac OHV eight and the Hemi both displaced 331”. Of course, the Hemi won out, and that engine was modified to become smaller Dodge and DeSoto Hemis, and eventually grew into the 392 Hemi by 1957. While we are quick to recall the efforts of Tom Hoover to create the 426 Hemi, unfortunately, we’ve largely forgotten the men who gave us the first compact Hemi engine to begin with.
Few people have had such an impact on performance-oriented Chrysler products than Bob Rodger did. In 1953, he was only thirty-seven-years-old and was named Chief Engineer of Chrysler Division. He had worked on the team to develop the 331” Hemi under Mel Carpentier, but seeing the influx of European sports cars in the U.S., Rodger sold the head office on the idea of allowing him to tweak the engine to reach 300 horsepower, and build a genuine American performance car – the 1955 Chrysler 300. With a limited budget, he put the pieces together to make the initial 300 a reality, and, with its success, he remained active with the development and production of all performance Chrysler products after that. As Chrysler’s Special Car Manager, it was Bob Roger who convinced the execs to put the new 426 Hemi into street cars starting in 1966. He was also heavily influential in the steps leading to the NASCAR “aero wars” of the 1968-1970 era. Unfortunately, Bob passed away in 1971 of leukemia, still working for Chrysler and still churning out brilliant ideas. If you have a Mopar muscle car, Bob Rodger is the man who got the whole ball rolling.
Tex Colbert should likely be remembered as perhaps the most important figure in Chrysler’s postwar years, and always would’ve been if he hadn’t been forced to resign as Chairman of Chrysler in 1961 due to spurious charges of inside deals, and of course, the disastrous sales of the downright odd new Chrysler products. However, Colbert had paved the way for greatness and innovation during his tenure. He started off running the B-29 engine plant during WWII, and by 1951, he was President of Chrysler Corporation. Always pushing the company with an eye toward technology and engineering, Colbert spearheaded the development of Chrysler’s PowerFlite and TorqueFlite transmissions, he brought Virgil Exner in-house to develop the famed “Forward Look” cars, he greenlighted each division of Chrysler’s performance car programs in the late fifties, and seeing the need to market a car worldwide, he laid the groundwork for the Dodge Lancer and Plymouth Valiant, devoting entire teams of engineers into those cars in 1957. He likewise gave Willem Weertman the resources and team he needed to create the Slant Six engine. Tex Colbert is the man who made Chrysler great throughout the fifties and laid the groundwork for what was to come in the sixties, but, regrettably, thanks to a couple of rough years for the company financially and a rather nasty board of directors, he was forced out at the age of fifty-six but allowed to continue as a place holder in charge of Chrysler Canada until he reached his pension age of sixty-five. Tex passed away in 1990.
Ed McCulloch is synonymous with Mopar fanatics as the longtime pilot of the highly successful Revellution funny cars of the seventies, but Ed’s done a whole lot more than that in his storied career. After a bad start in 1964, in 1965 he teamed up with Ernie Hall to drive a Hemi-powered dragster named “Northwind” and instantly put himself at the forefront of Fuel dragster racing. In 1969, he teamed up with the famed Art Whipple (of Whipple Supercharger fame), and switched to a Camaro funny car for one year, then they built an all-new Duster funny for 1970. The Whipple & McCulloch Duster was literally the fastest funny in the nation, laying down a national record of 7.19, but was unfortunately lost in a trailer fire. They then built a ‘Cuda funny car to replace it and Whipple & McCulloch continued winning races with the ‘Cuda throughout 1970 and 1971. 1972 was the big year when Revell Model Company became Ed’s chief sponsor and the Revellution Dodge Demon funny was born. The Demon eventually became a Charger, and in its various forms, there were probably more model kits of that car sold than any other drag racing model, ever! Ed ran the Revellution funnys through 1977, then switched to a Plymouth Arrow in 1978 and 1979, then the Super Shops’ Arrow funny for 1980; which would be the last Mopar funny car he drove. He then drove various other funny cars and Top Fuelers, and served as crew chief for Don Prudhomme, Connie Kalitta, and Ron Capps among others. Ed won twenty-two national events in his career, eighteen in funny cars, and four in Fuel dragsters.
Lee Petty certainly needs no introduction to the automotive world. Lee was the patriarch and founding father, literally, of the Petty family racing empire. He began stock car racing in 1948 with a Buick he borrowed from a neighbor, and consequently wrecked in that event! That led to a spectacular career, however, with one of his first bigtime successful cars being his ’50 Plymouth business coupe, which was soon followed by a Chrysler New Yorker, each wearing his signature #42. Lee would go on to win forty races on dirt tracks in NASCAR’s Strictly Stock Class, which incidentally, to this day is more wins on a dirt track than any other driver in history. Lee raced a variety of Dodges, Chryslers, and Plymouths throughout the fifties, which perhaps his most notable being his unusual red-and-white ’56 Dodge (since most of his cars were “Petty Blue” even then). Lee also drove Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles on occasion, but he kept coming back to Chrysler products and no doubt this had a major influence on King Richard, as they raced Plymouths together side-by-side in 1960 and 1961. In ’61, Lee was involved in a horrifying crash at Daytona which nearly killed him, and ended his career with three national championships under his belt. He remained active with the family’s racing program until he passed away in 2000.
Chrysler has had few more fiercely brand-loyal racers than the late Bill Flynn. The New Haven, Connecticut native began racing in 1962, and by 1965, he’d earned enough national attention to garner himself one of the factory-built A/FX altered wheelbase Dodges – the only two door sedan “factory” A/FX car built, in fact. That radical Dodge gave way to an early ’66 Barracuda funny car that became a nationally known match racer. For ’67, Bill switched to a Hemi-powered Coronet hardtop that was campaigned in Super Stock/B, then in 1968, he snagged one of the famed ’68 Hemi Super Stock Hurst Darts. For 1969, he went big league with a 1969 flopper Charger funny car, then, with the factory putting a lot of emphasis on the new Pro Stock class, he switched to a Pro Stock Hemi Challenger, which he campaigned through the end of the 1972 season. Bill was colorful to say the least, and all of his cars bore the “Yankee Peddler” name. When his cars began to get restored and started turning up at Mopar shows in the 1990s, thankfully, Bill was pleased to make several appearances with them and reunite with all his fans. Regrettably, we lost Bill Flynn to cancer in 1998, but he certainly left behind a remarkable legacy.