Cars We Remember: The original Candymatic Ramchargers
Q: Good day, Greg, and thanks for all your interesting columns about old cars and old-time racing. My question is about one of my favorite race teams from back in the 1960s, namely the Dodge Ramchargers. Was this a factory team or did it start out as a hobby with guys who loved to race Dodge and Plymouth cars? I look forward to your answer and we enjoy your articles very much. Jerry L., Peoria, Illinois.
A: Jerry, I’ll do as my friend Phil Burgess did (the editor of National Dragster) when discussing this outstanding team. Thus, we’ll let author David G. Rockwell, who wrote the book “We We’re The Ramchargers,” explain quickly how it all began. His book is a must-read and is available at Amazon.com and other book websites.
Said Rockwell, “Who the Ramchargers were is most easily understood if two things are kept in mind. First, they were always a free-standing group; financially and operationally from Chrysler. Members’ activities were always after hours and off the clock from Chrysler. However, several members’ day jobs at Chrysler did eventually involve developing its race program. Second, there were four phases through which the group evolved during its life: Phase 1) spanned 1958 and 1959, when a confederation of individuals working on their cars banded together to form an NHRA-sanctioned Hot Rod Club, the Ramchargers. Phase 2) spanned 1959 through 1961, with the group evolving from a confederation of individuals with separate interests to a group with a common interest. This federation built the first team car in the form of a ‘49 Plymouth C/Altered; High and Mighty, followed in 1961 by the team’s first Super Stock Dodge. Phase 3) spanned 1962 through 1967, where the team incorporated itself, raced Super Stocks, developed the Funny Car, and introduced the 426 Hemi to Top Fuel. After 1967, in Phase 4) a number of members retired to their day jobs at Chrysler, while four members opened Ramchargers Racing Engines, building engines. They opened five Detroit-area speed shops while competing in Top Fuel and Funny Car through the mid-1970s.”
Thus, the “original Ramchargers” consisted of a group of Chrysler engineers and employees who loved drag racing, and started like a car club more so than any official corporate involvement. I personally saw the Ramchargers race many times starting in 1963, and their cars had a distinct sound as the headers were of an unusual long tube design that made the V-8s sound different.
Visually, each of the Ramchargers cars from 1963 on featured a specific “Candymatic” paint scheme made up of seven candy-apple red stripes on the top and trunk deck of the pure white Dodges. No other paint scheme comes to mind as better or more appealing during that great time of drag racing factory super stocks. Dave Strickler’s “Old Reliable” Chevy and Arnie Beswick’s “The Farmer” Pontiacs also did well with fan identity, as did “Color Me Gone” (Roger Lindamood), “Lawman” (Al Eckstrand), “Melrose Missile” (Tom Grove) and “Tasca Ford” (Bill Lawton). Still, The Ramchargers were No. 1 with fan identity, and Chrysler took advantage of that fact.
By 1967, Chrysler was sponsoring high-performance clinics at Dodge and Plymouth dealers with the likes of pro drivers Dick Landy and Ronnie Sox meeting enthusiasts and answering questions. I know well, as I attended a Dick Landy Dodge Performance Clinic in Vineland, New Jersey, at Glauser Dodge as a proud owner of a 1967 Plymouth GTX 440. Also notable is original member Dick Maxwell, who started the “Direct Connection Parts” program at all dealerships making it easy to order performance parts to make your car go quicker. Today, the program is called MOPAR Performance.
The initial Ramchargers drivers were Herman Moser (spelled incorrectly in the attached ad) and Jim Thornton, where in 1963 at the U.S. Nationals they defeated all comers. Then, when the 426 Hemi became available in 1964, the Ramchargers led the way right into the Funny Car years, where speeds of over 200-mph in the quarter mile were common. Tom Hoover, an original Ramchargers club and team member, receives credit for bringing the Hemi back to production in its 426-inch form.
The Ramchargers racing group stayed intact campaigning dragsters and funny cars through 1972, when the group disbanded, closing the book on perhaps the most famous drag racing team ever.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions on collector cars or old-time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.