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1972 Dodge Demon AA/FC

Ramchargers Finest Thing

By , Photography by Tom Fedrigo

The history of the Ramchargers AA/FC is arguably the history of injector stacks, contemporary ideas about weight distribution, the A/FX class, Funny Cars, the 426 Hemi, and an unknowable string of inventive ideas that leached into racing in the 1960s and early 1970s. Tom Hoover, a young and curious engineer working for Chrysler was ground zero. Through his efforts and education, he was allowed access to the Chrysler Institute, where he learned about Walter P. Chrysler's foundation of good engineering. He also met other young engineers with the belief that Chrysler should be winning drag races, or more correctly, street races on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

While exploring Chrysler's Engine Room, Hoover witnessed the accidental invention of the ram tube and something larger than any one man was jolted into motion.

Hoover and his contemporaries formed the Ram Chargers (the name was later compressed to Ramchargers by Hot Rod magazine) in order to utilize ram tube technology, tuned headers, and weight distribution to defeat the dominant Chevrolets at the dragstrip. In 1959, the Ramchargers campaigned the Ram Rod, a 1949 Plymouth business coupe with a 354-inch Hemi from Chrysler salvage, at the NHRA Nationals. The car had bristling stacks and a tangle of headers that lent a crawling form crammed with function. The name was later changed to The High and Mighty, after a popular movie by the same name.

Experiments with the Plymouth led to a string of innovations that are considered standard for modern drag racing. As the team grew and expanded into other forms of racing, they experimented with nitro and even hydrazine to get more pop from their Hemis. Combine the altered-wheelbase theory with a nitro-huffing Hemi, and the Funny Car was off its chain. A string of exceedingly dangerous and violent machines erupted from this union with gas-mask clones at the wheel. Beautiful atrocities like the torque-reaction-cancelation 1967 Candymatic Dart could wheelie through the lights with everything off the ground but the trunk lid as it shrieked over the finish line. The Ramchargers Top Fuel rail and the Miss Chrysler Crew Unlimited Hydroplane washed the country in red and white stripes, orange fumes, and adrenaline. The world-record e.t.s were dropping like a countdown to something big, like a Hemi Challenger and the first ever 6-second run at the U.S. Funny Car Nationals at New York National Speedway. The Ramchargers Challengers dominated in 1970–71 with 6.80-second timeslips, at least two-tenths faster than the rest of the field. At the end of 1971, driver Leroy Goldstein retired and started a family, ending the Challenger's dominance. In a fast decade, the Ramchargers had changed the face of drag racing with records and innovations in almost every class. From 1972–73, they raced what would be the final Ramchargers Funny Car, a 1972 Dodge Demon. Clare Sanders retired, and a new driver named Dick Rosberg crashed the car in Michigan in 1973. The car disappeared for the next 36 years.

In 2010, the car was identified and recovered by John Denski. It had been purchased in the early 1970s by a racer named Stan Rosen, who painted and campaigned it under the name Ego Trip. The car and parts were shuffled as it was raced until the entire lot loosely assembled again as the Ramchargers F/C and ended up on eBay. John was looking but lost the bid to a sniper who was interested in the car as a publicity piece. John watched closely and picked the car up when the business deal fell through. As a racer, John campaigned it as an Altered with a supercharged Keith Black 496-inch Hemi on alcohol, before shopping the car to Mopar collector Steve Atwell, and then finally passing it along to Jim Matuszak for preservation.

Current owner Jim Matuszak bought the car from Atwell and began the restoration. The chassis was sent to Funny Car builder Al Bergler for assembly, and the body was sent to Jason Enos of Caro, Michigan. "John Denski found the Ego Trip name under the paint, then the original Ramchargers stripes, and even Tom McEwen's Mongoose written on the front spoiler," Jim says. After determining the car's authenticity, Jim contacted Clare Sanders, Ed Shaider, and Dorne Rigby to locate as many original parts as possible.

Clare picks up the story: "I was driving the Chi-town Hustler in 1970 for Farkonas, Coil & Minick, as the car was getting famous, and they had a lot of bookings," Clare says. "Arnie Behling was driving for the Ramchargers, when it was an evil-handling thing, and shut if off a couple of times, so [Phil] Goulet got rid of him."

Phil called Clare and asked if he wanted to drive the 1972 Dodge Demon Ramchargers car. "That wild handling didn't make sense to me, so Dorne and I jacked the car up to measure chassis pre-load. We noticed that the torsion bar was off, two splines off," Clare says. "After that, the car went down the track predictably even in a drift with the tires spinning."

The Demon went to Indy with Clare driving but dropped a cylinder and lost the race. "That was the one NHRA national event," Clare says. "There were few national sponsors, little TV coverage, and the NHRA events didn't pay appearance money. When you wanted ink [in the magazines], you ran in the NHRA." The IHRA and AHRA did pay, so in 1972, the Ramchargers raced Mickey Thompson in the IHRA Summer Nationals, beating him and breaking the 230-mph speed record in Funny Car by using a taller gear. The Demon also broke the track record at Detroit Dragway that year with a 6-second run.

When Clare was contacted about the restoration, he had plenty of information about the original car. "I made the equidistant port nozzle lines," Clare says. "Phil Goulet was persnickety about details. He wanted everything the same, and he noticed that the fuel lines were different lengths and thought it would impede flow. The driver didn't have much to do back then, so I had the free time to make the lines out of stainless steel." Clare also serviced the clutch and rearend on the original car and made the unique gas pedal and shifter to suit his driving style. The parts were later found in a crate and restored by Al Bergler.

During the winter of 1973, pressures from Congress forced the automakers out of racing. During the crunch, Clare moved to California to work for Snap-on Tools, ending his professional driving career.

Ed Schaider was competing in Super Stock in 1967–69 with a Plymouth two-door lightweight 426-inch Max Wedge in the NHRA SS/DA class and later a 2 percent Dodge Coronet 330 with a 426 Hemi, which ran in NHRA SS/BA.

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