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The Reher-Morrison Era

The Rat That Roared

By Rick Voegelin, Photography by Rick Voegelin

As the pace of development accelerated in Pro Stock, newer parts and technology eventually eclipsed the championship-winning Plate Motor. Chevy's dedicated Bow Tie racing cylinder head castings made the heavily modified solid heads obsolete. By 1984, Reher-Morrison's record-setting engine had been relegated to tire-testing duty. Eventually, the partners sold it to Allen, who needed an engine to power the 1981 Camaro he'd purchased from RMS Racing. Making his Pro Stock debut at the 1985 NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, just days after Shepherd's death, Allen qualified the former Reher-Morrison Camaro Sixth with the Plate Motor providing the horsepower.

"I never raced again with that engine," Allen said. "When Buddy, Dave, and I got together, I sold the car to Carlton Phillips, sold my transporter to Dick Moroso, and sold the Plate Motor to Steve Green to run in a dragster. All of that money went toward buying Lee's share of the race team."

Competition Eliminator racer Steve Green picked up the trail of the celebrated Plate Motor: "I owned an industrial lubricants company in Louisiana called Lubri-Chem. The economy went bad in the oil field, and I had to stop racing. Then, in late 1985, Mike Kilpatrick told my friend, Phil Cumberland, who had worked with Reher-Morrison and Shepherd, he was putting together an A/Dragster to run in Comp Eliminator. Phil was working for Kilpatrick at the time, and he asked if I could drive the car. We had a good relationship with Reher and Morrison, and they agreed to sell us the engine that had won the World Championship. We thought this would be a good engine to sort out the car until we could get a new engine with their latest technology.

"That engine held the Pro Stock National Record at 7.77/177 mph. The A/Dragster was 650 pounds lighter than the Camaro and good bit more aerodynamic…so we thought it should run pretty good," Green explained. "We put the dragster together with a Liberty clutchless four-speed transmission, which was a step ahead of everybody at the time. Our dragster was the first car to run in the 6s, unblown on gasoline. When I called Buddy and David, they thought I was kidding.

"Later I got a phone call from Kilpatrick," Green remembered. "He said the economy had really put a bite in his businesses, and we would have to park the car. He sold the chassis to someone in California and sold the engine to Paul Candies."

Candies and long-time partner Leonard Hughes were the namesakes of the fearsome Candies and Hughes Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters. A hardcore nitro racer, Candies had little need for a 500ci Pro Stock engine.

"I took that motor and three others from Kilpatrick in repayment of a loan," Candies noted. "Roy Hill knew that I had the motors and bought them from me to use in his drag racing school cars." From there, the trail leads to Hill's school in North Carolina. An accomplished Pro Stock and Pro Mod racer in his day, Hill didn't realize what he had until a routine teardown revealed the Plate Motor's secrets.

"When I started my drag racing school in 1989, Paul Candies said he had some Reher-Morrison engines that I could use," Hill said. "One was a 605ci big-block, another was a customer 500ci engine, and the third, well, I couldn't use it in the school cars because it had these special heads!

"When I found out it had solid heads, we decided to put it back together just like it was," Hill said. "The engine had so much history. How can you put a value on something that there's only one of?"

The motor sat in a corner of Hill's shop for years, until a chance encounter reunited it with the RMS Camaro that it had powered 30 years earlier. NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick had added the 1981 Reher-Morrison Camaro to his museum collection. The car was intact, but the original Pro Stock powertrain was missing.

"Rick Hendrick has been a kind and generous friend for many years," Hill said. "When he found that Reher-Morrison car, he called to tell me the news. I told Rick that I had a motor that was one of the last engines that Lee Shepherd ran. Well, you tell people something like that and sometimes they just don't think nothin' about it.

"A while later, Rick was having a birthday celebration, and all of his employees and his NASCAR drivers were there. I told him I had a present for him; I uncovered the engine and we rolled it out on the stage. But it still didn't hit home—nobody really knew what that engine was but Roy Hill.

"Months later, Rick calls me in the middle of the night and says, ‘Did you realize what you gave me?'" Hill laughed. "I said, ‘I sure do.' Well, he'd sent that motor out to Reher-Morrison, and David told him that it was the engine that had been missing for 25 years."

Hendrick remembers the chain of events, vividly. "One day, Roy Hill mentioned, ‘Hey, I've got a Reher-Morrison motor you can have if you want it.' It looked like some old big-block that someone had in the back of a pickup truck with gold Moroso valve covers, all bent up. I almost just put it in the corner because I couldn't believe it was one of theirs.

"I sent it to David, and he was really excited when he called me. You're not going to believe what this is!' he said. Well, sometimes things just happen.

"What are the odds of that happening?" Hendrick asked. "It's almost like a fairy tale. You're chasing a car, you find one of the real cars. Then, a guy just happens to ride up and give you a motor that won all of those races and championships. It's amazing."

Amazing, indeed—as unlikely as the tale of the Texas teenagers who became the dominant Pro Stock racers of the 1980s.

Acknowledgements: The author gratefully acknowledges the generous assistance of David Reher, Bruce Allen, Delmer McAfee, Buddy McAfee, Glenn Wright, Caprock Motorplex, Rick Hendrick, Roy Hill, Paul Candies, Steve Green, and Dave Densmore in the preparation of this article.

By Rick Voegelin
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