I really dislike it when magazine writers try to make a mountain out of a molehill. I say, tell it to me straight and save the sensationalism for The National Enquirer. But when I spotted a key Max Wedge identification detail on the ravaged 1962 Dodge Dart shown here, I almost got caught up in the hoopla. The optimistic and realistic sides of my mind waged a massive battle from opposing sides of the keyboard. Note the string of question marks at the end of the story headline. That's my way of having it both ways. It all happened during a recent tour of Larry Pontnack's Mo-Par City restoration yard in Oregon, Illinois (800/426-HEMI).
Walking along with Larry and a group of buddies, I was snooping for Junkyard Crawl material for you, dear Car Craft reader. I'd lingered behind with this faded-purple Dart, while the others moved on. Something about it spoke to me. But once I spotted the detail (more in a moment), I immediately went into cry-wolf mode and ran to the group shouting, "It's a Max Wedge! It's a Max Wedge!" A seasoned bunch—Larry raced a 1965 A990 Coronet, 1967 WO23 Coronet, and 1968 LO23 Hemi Dart when they were new cars—the purple Dart's potential Max Wedge status was a surprise to them.
Notice I use the word "potential." The problem is that there wasn't enough left of this gutted hulk to verify my assumption. To do that, we'd need to see the original window sticker, IBM card, and fender tag, all of which were absent. But the detail—again, more in a moment—was enough to whet their appetites and, at the hands of an unscrupulous writer, declare that a Max Wedge car had been found in a boneyard. Again, I'm not that guy (at least not this week). Let's take a look at what all the excitement is about.
According to Chrysler Product Planning Engineer Tom Hoover in Dave Rockwell's book We Were The Ramchargers (SAE International, 724-776-4970, http://store.sae.org), the initial Max Wedge heads were disappointing: "…the big inlet port didn't provide much over a lightly ported 413 production car head. I was really flabbergasted when that happened. I was hoping for about 30 horsepower more." This fact led to the Hemi program of 1964.
The first public appearance of the 413 Max Wedge took place on April 9, 1962, at Detroit Dragway, nearly a month before the formal introduction. The event was a match race between the Ramchargers white Dart sedan and 1962 Winternationals Champ, "Dyno" Don Nicholson's 409 Chevy. The Ramchargers took two of the five races, a balking three-speed stick shift costing the remainder. This car was built on December 19, 1961, and is not one of the 210 Hamtramck-built cars sold to the public.
Up front, crucial Max Wedge identification clues were obliterated by the home-brewed frame and straight-axle setup. On the passenger side, factory Max Wedges used a specific inner fender apron with extra holes punched (not drilled) to accept plastic wiring harness retention clips. On the driver side, the screwed-down fender tag would bear a stamped engine code: 500 (11:1 compression/410 hp) or 509 (13.5:1 compression/415 hp). With the elimination of these panels, Max Wedge verification becomes much more difficult. On the bright side, remnants of “elephant ear” big-block motor mounts and rusted big-block headers fuel excitement. But were they connected to the car’s original big-valve, big-port 413 cross-ram mill or a swapped-in 440?
OK, here it is, the lone detail that could define this mangled Dart as one of the approximately 210 A864 Max Wedge Dodges built in 1962. This crusty length of ancient 3⁄16 brake line exhibits the gentle 180-degree bend specified by Jim Thornton’s team of race car development engineers for installation on all ’62–’64 Max Wedge B-bodies. The stock brake line routing used on all non–Max Wedge vehicles sends the tube straight down, right into the rearmost tube of the Max Wedge’s upswept, high-flow, cast-iron exhaust manifold. Your author has studied hundreds of vintage and current photographs of original and restored Max Wedge cars, and this weathered relic is spot on, including the adapter fittings. If it was fresh and new, I’d write it off as a wannabe replacement. But the patina tells me it’s likely been on this car since 1962. If that’s the case, we’re probably looking at a Max Wedge car. The good news is that Larry Pontnack doesn’t crush any of the 700-plus cars in his yard. Regardless of its pedigree, this Dart is in safe state of suspended animation.
Inside, the stock gauges, the steering column, and the floorpan have been eliminated. The replacement of the original floor with aluminum sheet is particularly unfortunate, since it held a special clue. Factory-issued Max Wedge dual-exhaust systems incorporated muffler bypass cut-outs and huge 3-inch diameter head pipes. To prevent the cables from rattling against the plumbing, extra brackets were welded to the underside of the floorpan. But now they’re gone. The small brake pedal and hogged-out tranny tunnel suggest the car started life, and was raced, with a manual transmission. Most Max Wedges came with the also-new-for-’62 push-button 727 automatic. But for real serious racers, the Borg-Warner-sourced T85 three-speed stick on the floor was offered. The optimist in me wants to believe this is a three-speed Max Wedge car. The realist says there isn’t enough evidence to prove it.