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1971 Dodge Demon - The Super Demon

The Proposed Dodge 440ci A-Body Could Have Been a Killer in SS/CA

By Al Kirschenbaum, Photography by The Brunt Bros.

In the late '60s and very early '70s, endless waves of high-performance car-and-motor combinations cascaded off Detroit assembly lines and were engineered to outrun and hopefully outsell its rival's muscle-car offerings.

For gearheads, it always comes down to which car is quicker.

So for legitimate side-by-side comparisons, honest clockings, and some straight answers, hard-core muscle car fans (who were regarded by most upright citizens as social outlaws to begin with) looked to the mainstream sport of organized drag racing. Now, winning a side-by-side acceleration contest might appear to be a straightforward matter of beating the car in the next lane from a standing start over a measured distance to a finish line. But establishing fair competition between Motown's vast varieties of makes, models, and motors called for complex rule structures to accommodate all eligible entries. The tasks of developing and enforcing such standards fell to organized drag racing's sanctioning bodies, including the AHRA, IHRA, NHRA, UDRA, and NASCAR. Arguably, the most effective of these groups, the National Hot Rod Association, did a credible job of providing a somewhat level playing field for Detroit iron. And nowhere during that era was the brand-versus-brand action fiercer than it was in the NHRA's factory-supported Super Stock categories.

NHRA Super Stockers were (and for the most part still are) cammed-up Stockers running bigger slicks and intakes. They're classified for nationwide competition according to a pounds-per-advertised (but association-factored)-horsepower formula and by transmission type. Starting in 1967 and right up to present day, all SS class winners at national events face each other in a Super Stock Eliminator finale for full-on inter-factory bragging rights.

In this hotly contested factory-versus-factory scenario, the obvious end-game edge goes to the automaker badging the most class-winning entries in the Eliminator. Recognizing this, manufacturers were sometimes known to assemble limited-production and off-line runs of unique car and motor combos. Among the most memorable of the muscle car models factory- formulated exclusively for the drags were Ford's Fairlane Thunderbolts and Cobra Jet Mustangs, AMC's SS/AMX and SC/Rambler, and Chevy's COPO Camaros.

Chrysler Corp. was particularly effective at this build-to-suit, niche-filling drill. In fact, there were times the factory might have even given the impression that the thinking was: "If an advantageous body-and-powertrain combination doesn't come down one of our assembly lines, we'll find some way to get it built." Fielding notable short-run models like the '65 A990s, the '67 Belvedere/Coronet package cars, and '68 Barracuda and Dart Hemicars, the old Corporation made a science of stuffing Super Stock entry lists with tons of Eliminator potential. The company's race group approached these acceleration confrontations every bit as seriously as it did its NASCAR, Trans-Am, and Pro Stock campaigns. And after savvy group strategists detected a lack of national-event entries in the NHRA's Super Stock/C Automatic (SS/CA) class back in late 1970, Chrysler responded with this big-block Dodge Demon scheme.

As radical as this strategy might appear now, it did have precedents. Just a few model-years earlier, a 440-powered A-body Dart package was pioneered by Grand Spaulding Auto Sales, a Chicago-area Dodge store (run by Norm Kraus, now proprietor of Mr. Norm's Garage). The dealership converted a handful of 383 GTS Darts to into 440s for 1968, prompting significant factory interest in the big-motor/little-car combo. Not only was there sales-potential in the big picture, but Chrysler's Performance Product Planning department (aka, the race group), was aware of a soft spot in the NHRA Super Stock/J Automatic class that the big-block Dart slotted right into. As a result, Dodge Division contracted Hurst-Campbell to assemble a run of 48 auto-trans 440 four-barrel A-body Darts for 1968. Most of those new-car conversions were sold by Grand Spaulding Dodge as GSS models. Others were peddled through Dodge's network of 3,500 dealers nationwide, and some were sold to racers for customer pick-up directly from Hurst.

Two years later, Dodge was again pursuing what it had perceived as a clear lane into the Eliminator. Its preliminary plan for 1971 called for the A-body/B-engine combo (a non-factory, post-'69 pairing) to swarm the "open" SS/CA class and take easy wins. The quickest cars could then advance into Sunday/Monday runoffs, and, potentially, into factory win ads. With Super Demon, the product planners projected a 30 percent improvement in a Chrysler product's chances of winning Super Stock Eliminator at national events. And even if a Super Demon or two couldn't battle their way into the final rounds, they could at least block competing brands' entries from challenging late. Unfortunately, the tantalizing proposal never made it beyond the forms it was typed on, much less into competition.

Those 40-year-old inter-departmental memos were uncovered by former Mopar Performance (MP) staffer David Hakim. The paperwork outlines the concept, explaining how it "permits us [Chrysler Corp.] to strengthen the performance/race winning image of our believable and saleable wedge engines which must be sold against ‘semi-hemi' Chevrolet and Ford engines." The memo also specified a build-run of 50 "off-road drag racing specials" to satisfy the sanctioning bodies' minimum production requirements.

Tom Hoover, Chrysler's drag-program manager, generated the inter-company correspondence calling for the off-line conversion of '71 Dodge 340 Demon auto-trans business coupes into drag cars—all powered by a '70s-style Max Wedge V8. Hoover's formula for fire centered on a production '71 440-cid Six Barrel short-block straight from the Trenton Engine Plant. It was to be topped by '64 Maximum Performance wedge cylinder heads and a dual-quad cross-ram intake manifold—OE parts that had been out of production for a number of model years. Hoover reasoned that retooling the by-then-already-rare Stage III Max Wedge cylinder heads and manifolds would satisfy the hordes of Mopar Stock and Super Stock class racers clamoring for replacement hardware, while sales of the castings through Chrysler's Direct Connection parts arm would help offset its manufacturing costs.

Dated October 6, 1970, the rest of Hoover's Dodge-only proposal called for installation of a '71 440 Six Barrel G-Series TorqueFlite automatic transmission, upsized universal joints (from 7260 to 7290), an A-body/B-engine radiator, a stamped-steel hood panel with a functional steel air scoop or scoops, a modified left-side motor-mount bracket, and "West Coast" flame arrestors atop Carter 3705S four-throat carbs. Interior décor included an instrumented Rallye dash and lightweight Dodge van buckets by Bostrum, mounted on Swiss-cheesed aluminum brackets. The usual weight-saving deletions included radio, heater, back seat, and some insulation and sound deadener. The fact that the Demon's wheelbase is 3 inches shorter than the old 440 Dart's 111 inches was mentioned only in meetings.

Then, inexplicably, the floor collapsed, and the entire project went down the drain. As noted in inter-department correspondence from T. Hoover dated January 18, 1971: "1971 Dodge Demon Package For SS/CA: We are no longer considering a special drag racing package for the 1971 model Dodge Demon as discussed in the meeting of October 26, 1970, and described in my letter of November 3, 1970." Period. Dassit! End of fantasy.

Perhaps the Maximum Performance A-body plan got plugged by the same obstructions that dammed the flow of the entire first generation of Detroit muscle machines. Or maybe it simply dried up due to overly oppressive bean counters. We may never understand. What we do know, however, is that new Max Wedge cylinder heads and intakes are flowing from Chrysler again, and the Super Demon project itself—though decades off-course and somewhat scaled down—has been totally refloated. Thanks to the interest and efforts of Mr. Norm's Garage (Rockford, IL), we have this look at the first of a small fleet of Super Demon tribute race cars to roll out of its conversion works. Mr. Norm's Max Wedge Super Demon packs all the spirit of the original factory concept into real metal. It's a unique muscle car combination that never really left the factory—and a seasoned plan that only took four decades to "dart" from paper to pavement.

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By Al Kirschenbaum
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