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The Reher-Morrison Era

The Rat That Roared

By Rick Voegelin, Photography by Rick Voegelin

1982 Reher-Morrison Camaro: Five-Time Champion

The third-generation RMRE Camaro was a radical departure from its second-generation predecessors. Chassis developments and advances in Pro Stock engine technology complemented the new body design.

What didn't change was Reher-Morrison's dominance. Their 1982 Camaro won five championships in three years. In 1983, Lee Shepherd became the first driver to win both the IHRA and NHRA Pro Stock championships, a feat he repeated the following season. Bruce Allen added a third IHRA championship to the team's résumé in 1985 and finished third in the NHRA title race, despite a late start after Shepherd's accident in March.

The dawn of Pro Stock's big-block era opened a new world for RMS to conquer. The International Hot Rod Association, eager to upstage its archrival NHRA, placed no limits on engine displacement. It was "run what ya brung"—and Reher-Morrison brought their biggest guns to the IHRA shootout. They pursued parallel NHRA and IHRA engine programs, assembling 500ci engines for NHRA events and behemoth 615- and 638ci big-blocks for IHRA competition. Although the Mountain Motors were less efficient than their 500ci cousins, they had the brute force of a locomotive, and their irresistible power propelled the RMS Camaro to 7.40-second elapsed times.

"That was a great car," Reher declared. "We made a lot of changes in the chassis. Ness used heavier main rails and put more tubing in the back because we had learned that strength was critical there to deal with the four-link loads. He added another tube in the front because we felt the front end was flexing.

"In 1984, we qualified No. 1 at every IHRA race. We'd just go out there and make a run. We had seven or eight hundredths on the competition. We ran a 638ci big-block, and that was our best-ever IHRA combination." Chevrolet was paying more attention to the upstart Pro Stock racers from Texas and increasing its technical support for the team. The 1982 RMRE Camaro was the first Pro Stock to be tested in the GM wind tunnel in Warren, Michigan.

"That was a great experience," Reher remembered. "It was something we had never done, like going to your first race. Don Ness was working on the spoiler, working on the front end, and working on the wheelwell openings. If you give Ness some duct tape and a piece of aluminum, he can make just about anything.

"The GM engineers were surprised at how good our Camaro was in the wind tunnel," Reher recalled. "It had a Cd (coefficient of drag) that was below 0.30. They couldn't believe how much better it was than a NASCAR car, and they were really impressed."

"Those Don Ness Camaros were awesome cars," Allen agreed. "Most IHRA Pro Stock racers couldn't get their cars light enough and still carry ballast because those big motors were heavy. We had 150 to 200 pounds of lead in that Camaro that we could move, and in IHRA trim, we used to run it all in the back."

Encouraged by Chevrolet to race a new IROC-Z Camaro in 1986, Reher-Morrison sold its five-time champion Camaro to Harold Whitmore in nearby Dallas. Whitmore subsequently updated the car with IROC-Z body panels and had a Funny Car–style rollcage installed to meet new safety standards. Under Whitmore's ownership, the car was raced sporadically by a number of drivers, highlighted by a semifinal round finish by chassis builder Jerry Haas in Englishtown, New Jersey.

"Harold owned the 1981 Camaro until 1988, and that's when Delmer McAfee contacted Buddy about finding the car," Reher said. "Whitmore sold the car to Delmer. We still had an original 500ci engine sitting under a shelf, and Kim Smith removed the Funny Car rollcage. Bruce put it back to the way it was when we had raced it."

Today, the Reher-Morrison Camaro is the centerpiece of McAfee's impressive private collection of race cars, pace cars, and muscle cars in Odessa, Texas. It's housed in a subterranean vault alongside McAfee's most prized automobiles.

"The car had been updated with IROC skirting, a Funny Car cage, and it only had one seat in it when we got it," McAfee said. "We found out Whitmore still had all of the original parts stored in a warehouse—the right wheels and tires, the back bumper, the original seats, everything that they'd taken off the car. We took it to the Reher-Morrison shop, and they put it back together just the way it was when they raced it."

What was McAfee's motivation to restore this milestone Camaro?

"Those guys were our heroes," Delmer declared. "If you were a drag racer in Texas in the 1980s, you looked up to Reher-Morrison and Shepherd. I knew that I was never going to race the car, but something in me wants to preserve the history of drag racing. That's why I got the car, to save a piece of history."

1983: Driver Lee Shepherd
Won NHRA and IHRA Pro Stock championships
Won 4 of 12 NHRA national events
Runner-up in five NHRA national events
Won 3 of 7 IHRA events
Runner-up in three IHRA events
No. 1 qualifier at three NHRA events
No. 1 qualifier at two IHRA events

1984: Driver Lee Shepherd
Won NHRA and IHRA Pro Stock championships
Won 4 of 11 NHRA national events
Runner-up in three NHRA national events
Won 6 of 8 IHRA events
Runner-up in one IHRA event
No. 1 qualifier at one NHRA event
No. 1 qualifier at eight IHRA events

1985: Driver Bruce Allen
Won IHRA Pro Stock championship
Won 3 of 11 NHRA national events
Runner-up in three NHRA national events
Won 4 of 10 IHRA events Runner-up in three IHRA national events
No. 1 qualifier at two NHRA events
No. 1 qualifier at four IHRA events
Third in NHRA championship

By Rick Voegelin
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