Tricky. It's a loaded word that can mean a lot of things. Maybe somebody is cheating. Maybe somebody is doing something completely out of the ordinary. Indeed, when someone calls you tricky, it can be an insult or a compliment. For the guys who made the rules in drag racing, tricky often meant Excedrin headache number 1,320. You had to figure out a balance that would allow a level playing field for all of the above. Throw in hard-thinking racers, evolving parts development, fat manufacturer budgets with associated politicking or similar factors, and it became a cat-and-mouse game for everyone.
The development of Factory Experimental as we recounted in the Fall 2013 issue of Elapsed Times warranted a steady hand on the rules tiller. After all, drag racing was more exotic than NASCAR's Grand National circuit, where safety, 7 liters, and a set weight were the primary limitations before Smokey or Junior began "interpreting the rulebook." In straight-line sprinting, you could have various engine displacements and designs, widely disparate body styles—from compact to station wagon—and the reality of older technology being recycled with new developments. When the NHRA created its FX divisions for 1962, it selected three categories based on weight: A/FX—0 to 8.99 lb/ci; B/FX—9.00 to 12.99 lb/ci; and C/FX—13.00 or more lb/ci.
Bill Hoefer gets underway at the 1965 Winternationals, held on a single day that year due
These were the similar to formulas used in the Gas divisions, and the lower stock classes worked off of a weight-to-horsepower (advertised/but later factored) ratio. As a result, when class eliminations had ended, the FX entries would end up in Stock or Street Eliminator. Also in class racing, cars were indexed off of a set elapsed-time number, later modified to be the current national record.
The A-class cars were always the stars of the game at that 0.00 to 8.99 number—minimum weight rules kept the insanity within reason, not to mention the peril of top tech-man Jack Hart's thumbs-up/thumbs-down decisions. In A/FX, a lot of exotic factory pieces were available, and the resultant performances got the attention of anyone who ran or watched late-model stockers. For example, the Mickey Thompson/Hayden Proffitt Pontiac Tempest for 1962 used a 434ci (bored-out 421) displacement and weighed a mere 3,150 pounds (7.25 lb/ci), affording Proffitt a victory at both Pomona and Indy that year.
B-class was a little less radical; there were late-models, but a lot of second-year or superseded equipment in less radical iron also tried for that 9.00-pound ratio. However, moving to the C-category at 13.00 pounds per inch required some serious thinking. After all, now you were talking about a very small-displacement engine in a heavy body.
And unlike the Gas classes, this was not simply what the racers thought up; some of the F/X rules allowed the NHRA to keep tabs on what combinations were being offered. The factories had to file specific paperwork on them, listing the specific parts and their weights on the cars running in that class. In some cases, it was simply the standard engine combination that was offered in a different body design. For instance, in 1962, Californian Tom Sturm raced a Bel Air powered by the hot fuel-injected Corvette 283 engine.
The F/X rules also prohibited ballast, something that Ford discovered in a terse letter dated May 18, 1964, from Executive Director Jack Hart. The NHRA would not allow a heavy-duty bumper on the Falcon that Ford had just authorized Holman-Moody to build for Dick Brannan. The argument was in case the car was rear-ended on the track, that the "safety" replacement unit weighed a mere...175 pounds. Bumper? The NHRA snapped: Ballast!
Things came to a head in early 1963 when President Ed Cole pulled all of GM's development money from competition due to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's desire to investigate the corporate giant; that left a huge void which Ford and Chrysler began to fill. Ford had been playing lightly in A/FX more than anything else, and it would work on a 427 Fairlane with help from Rhode Island dealer Tasca Ford by mid-season. Meanwhile, Ford began opening up to the lower F/X categories, as well. There was a truck project in B/FX, but that saw little use. In 1964, after that same Fairlane package was released in large enough numbers to qualify it for Super Stock as the Thunderbolt, Ford began figuring out how to get the new Mustang into A/FX (under the Bob Ford sponsorship of Len Richter) and built the aforementioned Falcons (for Brannan and Phil Bonner).
Dave Koffel puts it to the wood as he hit the record for the second time in as many weeken
In those early days, Dodge also went into B/FX with a 426 wedge pickup and floated a couple of station wagons around during the '63 season, as well. Of course, at this point, the Ramchargers were working on their A/FX wheelbase changes, which evolved in 1964 to the point where the earliest "funny car" designs showed up. Former corporate lawyer Al Eckstrand was given a Hemi Plymouth in early summer that was changed fairly significantly and classed in A/FX; he admitted to this writer he personally hated racing it for fear of damaging his legal reputation if the NHRA decided it was "more legal" one way or another.
But C/FX was another story, and really, the class received little attention after the 1963 GM pullout, until 1965 when Chrysler boycotted NASCAR and pushed all-in with drag racing. Ford, for its part, actually had stabilized a multi-prong plan for that year, as well. In late 1963, Ford employee Bill Clawson got a two-year-old Falcon that Holman and Moody had created to go road racing with, and it had minor success with the four-barrel 260ci factory powerplant in C/FX, but the effort had generated little notoriety. By 1965, Ford had that hot little Weber-carbureted 289 Cobra mill that Carroll Shelby had dreamed up for the same cornering needs, a perfect combination for C/FX since stack-type injectors were not permitted.
In separate letters dated January 5, 1965, Ford's John Cowley informed Jack Hart of the B/FX and C/FX combos for the coming season. The B car(s) would be based on the Fairlane and could be equipped with either the 427 high-riser wedge with dual-fours or the new SOHC engine with Webers. The primary driver of this combo for the factory was California's Darrell Droke. A lightweight Galaxie with the same engine options went to Jerry Harvey of Indiana. The new Ford C/FX combination would use the Galaxie/289 Cobra combo. The base was the 1965 Galaxie 500 hardtop that had a vented fiberglass hood with a Thunderbolt-like teardrop bulge (3,550 pounds base weight minus 23 for the hood); to that was added a heavy-duty rearend (85) with reinforced suspension (11), trunk-mounted battery (35), four-speed (6), 15-inch wheels with spare (the spare weighed 19), and the eight-barrel Cobra engine. A scatter shield added another 45 pounds and the rollbar (yes, one) pushed 43 more pounds into the car, for a true weight of 3,781 pounds. Ford included a statement that teams would remove fuel to get closer to the minimum weight.
Ford’s small-block counterpart to the Chrysler 273 was a Cobra-like 289 equipped with four
Ford then went with proven winners for this combo, brothers Bill and Jon Hoefer of La Habra, California. The Hoefer family had been racing 409 Chevys before converting John's 1956 street Chevrolet to run in the D/Modified Production class in 1964. With Bill driving, the duo had won the Street Eliminator World Championship that year by a mere five points when they held off a charging Joe Lunati and his A/Modified Sports roadster in late-season going. Modified Production was new for 1964, and the weight break in D/MP and C/FX was the same, 13.00 lb/ci. Previously, the Hoefers had run a 265ci combination in a sedan that weighed 3,450. With a 289, the big Galaxie had to weigh 3,757 pounds to get right at the edge of the minimum—Cowley was correct that it was close to that number when the large gas tank was emptier.
"Ford approached us," Jon Hoefer recalled. "It happened all of a sudden. Right after we'd won the championship, we had this new car to race. Ford got us an engine from Shelby, a Cobra, but we had to put the car all together and do the stuff to change it to C/FX. We had a lot of support for the year, but the Chevy had run so well, it never broke, so there was a difference with the new car. We had some problems with the clutch and had to get another engine pretty early after we did a cam change Ford told us would work and the engine blew. Still, there were not a lot of C/FX cars, and we never had to run against another C-car that year, so we often walked over into the eliminator. At the start, the car ran 13.40s, which was about the same performance as the Chevy had done."
Hoefer’s early season effort included a number of wins in Carlsbad, California, including
The late Bill Hoefer was a racer's racer. He knew how to play the finish line, and the season in D/MP had taught him well about the benefits of treating the class index with respect. Three days after Crowley's letter to the NHRA, on January 8, Hoefer posted a win at the season opener in Carlsbad, California, clocking a 13.48 at 104 in the final—you would not hurt your index if you went flat-out in the final round. With literally no one else running in C/FX, he kept the soft 13.92 index that had been set by Suburban Motors the previous season at the 1964 Muncie, Indiana, points race, and then managed to reset it to the same 13.92 clocking. The Hoefers' black beauty was back in Carlsbad in late February, winning Stock over Droke's Fairlane, clocking a 13.25 best with a new engine from Earl Wade, and beating Dave Beebe who was driving a blown fuel-altered with a 4.15-second handicap in a special Overall Eliminator race. In April, they returned a third time to get record points, and they equaled the current 13.92 record, which would hold for the next three months. And racing for Ford was different than the Chevy deal had been; Jon left at midseason due to life's other responsibilities, so Bill was on his own.
"My dad knew Les Ritchey, and also a guy named Mike Smith who had a Mustang. They took that car to Bonneville in 1964, and that might have been how the factory deal sort of happened," remembers Willie Hoefer, Bill's son who is also a winning sportsman racer. "Les had his shop next to this bar, and all the drunks would [come] out, and his dog would chew them up. It was an exciting thing to see as a 9-year-old kid.
"I remember it was a big deal. A truck would back up to the house, and whatever parts we needed were on it. And my dad had to call every Sunday night to somebody at Ford and tell them what had happened that weekend—if he won, who he beat, and if not, why—and they also would tell him where to [race]. He ran a lot of out-of-town [races] at their request."
This hand-lettered inspiration hung in the Koffel’s shop in Massillon, Ohio, but the heads
Bill's wife, Sylvia, had also experienced this unfolding, and her perspective was a little more open-eyed than young Willie's had been. "J.W. Burch & Son was the dealership we got the car from. When we first got the car, we went to Pomona, and on the first run down the track, that new Shelby engine blew, big time. So we had to go get another engine. Earl Wade built it, and Jack Bear, who had done our Chevy engines, helped.
"I didn't get to travel much with Bill. I stayed home to work and take care of the kids. But I liked to drive. When we first started racing, I had a single four-barrel three-speed 409, and Bill had the twin four-barrel, four-speed 409, and we raced all over since there were a lot of tracks back then. It was at places like Long Beach with no starting lights, just flags. There were only a couple of women drivers. I was one, Shirley Shahan was one. It was pretty exciting to get up there, and people would look in the car and say, ‘Oh! It's a girl!' That was a fun time, and we won a lot."
In National event action in 1965, the rain-shortened 1965 Winternationals found Bill posting an unopposed class win and going to the final round in Street Eliminator. A subsequent trip to the inaugural NHRA Springnationals race in Bristol, Tennessee, that June resulted in another class crown and a national event crown in Junior Stock for Bill, as B/FX and C/FX changed divisions after Pomona. It is likely that this win over a stellar field, including finalist Doug Patterson in an F/SA '65 Barracuda, also got the attention of Chrysler racing boss Dick Maxwell.
Chrysler's Racing Division was pretty busy in 1965. With the Hemi outlawed in NASCAR, Chrysler had been fully devoted to its new A990 Super Stock cars and wheelbase-modified hardtops that are now considered the earliest Funny Cars. At Pomona, Chrysler made a game attempt with four A/FX-legal cars, but all those also got the full conversion soon afterward, sending them into the B/Altered class and leaving the A/FX category as basically a Ford-against-Mercury battle at NHRA races. The factory also helped a number of independents outside of the sponsored fold with the same radical conversion parts and support, particularly as the NASCAR drag-racing series grew that season.
Bill Hoefer likely gave C/FX its biggest boost to date, when he took the Jr. Stock title a
Meanwhile, Fred Cutler, the son of a member of Chrysler management, had a de-stroked 383ci Hemi in a 1965 Coronet (that he called the Road Runner) in B/FX that year. Cutler found Droke and Harvey to be feared competitors in the class but managed to hold his own. Soon after Hoefer won Bristol, Maxwell contacted an Ohio metallurgist and factory-helped racer named Dave Koffel about a Pentastar-brand C/FX entry.
A veteran racer, Koffel had gotten a dealer-backed A990 Race Hemi Plymouth at the start of the year, but during those early months, had also begun building another match-bash 1965 Plymouth altered from a flipped A990 Hemi sedan, going so far as to welding a hardtop roof on it to save weight. The factory had gotten him all the special parts for this project, and the engine from the legal S/S car was now being used in that beast, so Koffel had a ready-to-go A990 drag package body without an engine. Noted for his Gasser wars background, particularly the small-block powered but super-heavy Packard run as The Flintstone Flyer, Maxwell also figured Koffel could competently build the thing.
The Hoefers traveled as far east as Bristol, Tennessee, for the inaugural Springnationals
The 273ci Mopar engine had arrived on the scene in the middle of the 1964 model run and was the opening shot in an engine family Chrysler called the LA (or Late A) and would eventually include the 340/360ci blocks to separate it from the heavy-wall cast A-series motors of the past. But even by 1965, a four-barrel version proved to be pretty stout in the sporty new Barracuda and Dart models. Race development by several people, notably the Golden Commandos team of Plymouth engineers, found ways to make power with it, and though small in displacement, the engine responded well to modification. Maxwell began to see that it might be a way to get that C/FX record a little closer to "reasonable."
"It was nothing really radical," Dave, the owner of Koffel's Place in Huron, Ohio, admits today. "When we first started out with it, nobody was sure how it'd work; it looked good on paper. We began with a Racer Brown cam and an Edelbrock intake with two inline Carter carbs on it, so it was pretty mild, and even like that, we set the record right out. Ultimately, we put Webers on it, using a hand-fabricated intake manifold built by a friend of mine named Joe Tribus, who was really good. We also put a Racer Brown roller cam into it, then Harvey built us a nice Crane roller setup that really worked well, and Jere Stahl built some real headers for it. It had the factory standard forged-steel crank and steel rods at first, but with our engine speed, we blacked a few crank journals and finally put aluminum rods in it.
Hoefer Headache was the title an NHRA staffer gave this image of Koffel’s first appearance
"The heads were 273 heads with 392 Hemi valves, which had been homologated with the NHRA. The valves were way bigger than what the cylinder bore was, so we built a fixture and put these great big 'wart eyes' on the cylinder wall tops. We also milled the surfaces to get the compression back up. The funny thing was the rules allowed you to put these big valves in the heads, but you were not allowed to port them. So you had this basic five-angle valve job, and then you had to get away with whatever you could do on the dogleg angle in the port."
Koffel completed the car in time for the 1965 NHRA Gold Cup points event at Muncie, Indiana, in early July, the third record event in Division 3. After a couple of passes, the mark fell from 13.92 to 13.45/103 and then to 13.36 at the Division 1 points race at York, Pennsylvania, soon afterward under the team name Koffel-Engelhard-Mortimer. The Hoefers got it back in August by a small margin, 13.32, in the high desert at Palmdale. But at the Big Go over Labor Day, Koffel went unopposed for the C/FX class win, and nobody knows to this day if Ford told Hoefer not to attend the biggest race of the year for fear of fully showing its hand.
Dave's wife, Susie Koffel, humorously recounted her experiences as the den mother for the racers at Indy that summer in a story that ran in Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazine. "We built that car to go after the record, and Dick Maxwell was there, and we got it at Muncie," she recalled. "We even put a big sign on the wall as we worked on the car that said 'Get Hoefer!' But we never did have a chance to race him that year."
Few photos of the engines in either car exist. The engine in Koffel’s car got slowly more
Dave concurs: "I never raced him heads-up; I think that would have been fun. We ran unopposed at the Nationals. Amazingly, because of how NHRA tried to make things fair with the FX cars, the lower FX cars ran in Jr. Stock. So we got the class win at Indy, and then we raced on Monday; I got down to three cars, including myself, Bill Ersham from Toledo, and a guy named John Callendar. Well, I broke out against Ersham, and Callendar won the whole thing, which included a trip to Hawaii. I'll always remember that."
The Maloney Motors C/FX car would retrieve the record in late September at National Trail Raceway. Then, in early October, Sylvia Hoefer got behind the wheel of the Ford at Half Moon Bay for the final weekend of points meets of 1965. While Bill cautioned her not to hit the record too hard, she legged the big Galaxie down the 1320 to what would be the best numbers of the season, a 13.17 that stood until the records were all reset to minimum with the 1966 rules package changes.
"What I remember was that in 1964, my dad had gotten points in Modified Production for resetting his own record over and over," said Willie Hoefer, "and I think that next year you could not reset your own record; somebody else had to do it, so my dad put my mom in the car and told her to double clutch it to not hammer the record. They said she missed a gear, but really it was how she was told to drive it. She was actually pretty good with that stick."
While the disposition of the Hoefer car is unknown, Koffel’s was sold at the end of 1965,
The season was winding down, and so was the interest by the factories in FX and, perhaps even more, by Bill Hoefer.
"We had a pretty good deal, very generous, but he had to do a lot of traveling," Sylvia said. "You know, toward the end of the season, Bill was really tired of being told where to race. We headed to someplace, maybe Bakersfield, and he was so fed up with it that he put a big 'for sale' sign in the window of the car. It finally got to him, being told what to do." Indeed, by the end of the year, Ford was done as the Hoefers' supporters, as well. Bill didn't miss a beat, starting 1966 with another dealership-sponsored stocker.
"After that, he got a Chrysler A/S Hemi Coronet in 1966, the same year Bill Jenkins had his Chevy II," Willie said. "Ted Spehar put that car together for him and called him and told him he would need to get a trailer to come get it. Up to that time, we had flat-towed everywhere, so he got one. Unfortunately, he only ran it for a year, and that car was stolen, and then we moved to Eastern Oregon and had a cattle ranch, so that was the end of his racing. I raced for about a decade, 1973–1984, and won the Mile-High Nationals in 1984 in Super Stock. I have no idea where the C/FX car went, maybe back to Ford."
Here’s the NHRA record award from the Maloney Motors Plymouth, following the final shot at
As for the Koffel "273 Hemi" package car, Dave found out where it went several years ago. "We retired the car in late 1965, and the reason I know that is because we put the Edelbrock intake back on it, and I sold the car locally as a turnkey race car to a man for his son. Well, the son ended up being drafted into the Army soon afterward and never came back. The man had the car for some time, and he sold it. I tried to track it down for a while and found out it had been restored as a stock A990, but I think it would have been worth more as the only 1965 C/FX car than one of 100 Hemis!"
For Dave, the era of Factory Experimental paved the way to bigger things, including helping with the W2 race head development during Bob Glidden's lone-year Mopar run (1979) and up through today, with Koffel's Place modern role in big-inch Chrysler street and bracket performance.
"To have a factory deal was a really big thing, doing research-type stuff, and to this day, I'm really more interested in going fast rather than winning. So 1965 sort of got that started for me as an outside contractor, and I later worked for another 12 or 13 years directly for them. I met a lot of people inside of Chrysler during that time, many who became lifelong friends. I really enjoyed it."
On the Record...
Sylvia Hoefer blistered the C/FX index with a 13.17 at the sea-level air of Half Moon Bay in early October 1965, the last weekend of the year to set a record.
||C/FX Suburban Motor Sales
||Hoefer Brothers 1965 Ford
||Dave Koffel 1965 Plymouth
||Dave Koffel 1965 Plymouth*
||Hoefer Brothers 1965 Ford
||Labor Day Weekend; Dave Koffel wins C/FX class on a bye run at Indy
||Half Moon Bay, CA
*Listed as Koffel-Engelhardt-Mortimer
(C/FX record results, summer 1965, National Dragster cover dates)