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Dick Landy's 64 Dodge

4/13/2020
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Is this the first funny car?

If you think about it, mainstream drag racing has looked the same for the last 50 years or so. Sure, the technology and performance has changed dramatically, but the cars themselves pretty much look the same now as they did in 1972. Top fuelers are rear-engined with big wings, funny cars are floppers, and stockers are at least marginally stock in appearance. But that wasn’t always the case. In the 60’s, it was all about experimentation and outside the box thinking as racers (and even the Big Three automakers) were trying to figure out what would get them across the line first. This led to some wild combinations and stands packed full of spectators there to see the insanity firsthand.

As Detroit continued to up the ante in the horsepower war, racers and the automakers themselves were left scrambling to hook all the power up. Hang a colossal big block over the front axle, drop the hammer on big power and archaic slicks, and you get a lot of tire smoke and not much forward motion. The easy solution would be to set the engine back, but the rules for the stocker classes required a stock firewall. What else can be done? The legendary Dick Landy had a clever solution, and the result is what you see here.

This vintage photo of Landy at the helm with his trademark cigar is not only cool, but it shows just how well this car was restored. It looks now like it did then, just as it should.

The physics are simple. Moving the front and rear wheels forward under the car shifts the weight bias rearward. Putting more weight over the slicks equals more traction, and the rest is pretty easy to understand. When this car hit the track the weight relocation was very successful, and it became the first stocker to make a 130 mph pass at San Fernando in November of ’64. But it looked a little “funny.” And so it became a “funny car.”

Before it was funny, this car was already pretty important. A potent dragstrip weapon right from the factory, it was one of the fleet of factory backed super stockers featuring an aluminum hood, front fenders, front bumper, and radiator shroud. And we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. 1964 was the first year of the legendary 426 Hemi. With Landy at the wheel, this car became the first factory 426 Hemi car to win a sanctioned drag race, taking the MP/A class at Riverside on June 12, 1964.

Behold the Race Hemi. This one's been correctly restored with the cross-ram, 770 Holleys, K-code heads, and Doug's headers.

Later in the season, the funny business started. The rear axle shifted forward 8 inches on relocated spring hangers, with the fenders reshaped to match. Some of the other altered wheelbase Mopars built in ’64 used longer torsion bars and other modified components to move the front wheels forward, but Landy’s approach was different. Instead, he went to the parts catalog and came up with a straight axle and leaf spring assembly from an A-100 van. This not only moved the wheels forward 6 inches, but also shed 30 pounds of weight from the frontend. In a feature on the “Match Race Stockers” from the February ’65 issue of Hot Rod Magazine, the claim is made that this modification was legal for A/FX competition because the assembly came from a passenger car. They even list the part number.

It's all business inside as the factory equipped these cars with only what absolutely needed to be there. The "left handed typewriter" actuates the Torqueflite transmission.

As the arms race continued into ’65, this car was retired and Landy took the helm of one of the really wild ’65 factory A/FX cars. These “loophole machines” caused a re-write of the rulebook that took the crazy altered wheelbase cars out of the stocker classes and onto the match race circuit. In ’66, the flip-top Mercurys set the course toward the modern funny car, and the altered wheelbase cars faded into obscurity.

But fortunately for us, this wacky era of rulebook manipulation, racing heroes, and factory one-upmanship lives on in the Museum of American Speed. Drag racing has a long history full of crazy stories, and this car is a bookmark in one particularly great chapter.

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