Birth Of A Legend: When Mopar Went Experimental

As I mentioned during my event coverage from this month’s Eagle Field Drags, the 8th mile runway races were the perfect place to relive the history of drag racing. And among the entries there were race cars representing many different eras of the sport.

One of my favorites was this 1965 Plymouth Belvedere, built as a tribute to the wild experimental drag cars of the mid-1960s.


As automakers became more invested in drag racing competition during the ’60s, they started to do some pretty crazy things to gain an edge. In order to improve the traction on the less-than-great tires of the time, Chrysler decided it would start modifying the wheelbase of its factory race cars.


Both the front and rear axles were pushed forward, putting more of the car’s weight over the rear tires and greatly improving the launch. And thus the legend of the altered wheelbase was born. This particular car was recently built by Rich Roberts as a tribute to this golden era of drag racing.


The car is loaded with period aesthetics, from the narrow Rocket wheels up front and wide steelies in the back, to the hand painted lettering and graphics.


And like the altered wheelbase cars of the ’60s, Rich’s Plymouth is powered by an injected 426 Hemi with velocity stacks towering over the top, and fender-well headers dominating the engine bay.


For as wild as their exteriors and engine bays looked, the interiors of these machines were surprisingly factory-like. In Rich’s car you’ll still find the stock instruments and steering wheel, while a Hurst-shifted 4-speed handles the gear changes.


Because of their unusual look, race fans soon began calling the altered wheelbase machines ‘funny cars’. The name stuck, all the way through to the fiberglass-bodied dragsters that still exist today.


While I dig the old school funnies as much as anyone, I’m not sure if anything gets better than these heavily modified but still production-based race cars of the drag racing’s golden era.

Thumbs up to Rich for keeping the spirit alive.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: japanifornia



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Good read Mike, thanks for sharing. We restored a 426 Hemi Cuda a few years back that took the opposite approach and was absolutely dominant in European hill climbs and circuit racing.


Turbology build pics?


@guest The owner is relatively private about his projects, but I can at least show you the car when we took it down to Walter Reed medical center for a surprise visit.
There is an awesome 30-minute documentary about this car and the restoration, but the owner hasn't made it public quite yet. I will certainly share when he does!


This is something I was completely unaware of and its super interesting to see where the name Funny Car originate from. Thanks!


Was this around the same time wheelie bars were invented?


While looking at the first picture I was thinking, "Hm, there's something funny about this car but I'm not quite sure...". Well what do you know, it's a funny car!


ssvirk Perfect! Haha


@dadn The more you know!


Turbology That is awesome! Thanks for sharing.


Speedhunters _DanCellillo that's is rude


Actually, the name Funny Car is from when Altered cars started becoming "floppers" (flip-up shells over a dragster chassis) instead of the older "doorslammers" (cars with actual doors). An early example of this would be the '65 fibreglass Mercury Comets. People commented on how the fibreglass replicas weren't completely accurate, and how they looked funny - hence the name, Funny Cars. Of course they didn't look exactly like their steel counterparts - the first ones were 'massaged' to make them a bit more aerodynamic. This massaging escalated more and more, and todays Funny Cars are just an aerodynamic shell with a Dodge, Chevy, etc. Emblem painted on them. The drivetrains are basically front engined Top Fuel Dragster ones.


Mike Garrett my pleasure of course, thanks again for the great read. Cheers!


best era of drag Racing. the flip top funny cars we know were started by Mercury in 66. Chassis were built by Logghe and bodies were Comets. The mopars were first to alter and ran A/FX, but the money was in match racing, so many guys ran "legal" class cars, and then also ran match races..The predecessor to modern day grudge racing. 

Chrysler also put out a memo stating that factory drivers were no longer allowed to neutral drop automatic cars because they were destroying transmissions, and that they didnt want them doing huge wheelies as well...


66 was the first year for the flip tops and while I agree with some of what you stated, it was the mopars got got the term "funny car" first. Jack Chrisman was the first guy to basically run a dragster set up in a door car, his 64/65 Comet (same car, just rebodied) was blown and direct fact he was forced into fuel classes due to it.(the Ford and mercury funny cars ran C6 transmissions) My father has spent most of his life studying and researching Mercury and Ford drag racing of the 60s.


So is this actually a front-mid engine layout?


Yup. The definition of front-mid-engined is that the engine is behind the front axle, but in front of the driver. Given the engine setback, and the amount the front axle has been moved forward, this engine is likely behind the front axle. Won't handle well through corners - but it'll accelerate like hell, especially given the older tire technology.


Looks strange when you see it from one side, at the first look it seems that the pilot is almost sitting on the rear axle hahaha. In case of a wheelie the rear end will scrape the tarmac


My Uncle Joseph just got a new yellow Infiniti QX60 Hybrid just by some part-time working online with a macbook.


Aweious Hemi horsepower there, the good old days.


good car for the race and I'm sure very fast


the car was very good 
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