Jim Thornton, a key member of the legendary Ramchargers racing team of the 1960s, died June 2 of cancer. He was 77.
Thornton attended the University of Missouri and graduated from the school of engineering in 1960 summa cum laude with a degree in mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, he joined Chrysler and the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, a work/study program leading to a master’s degree in automotive engineering. Within days, Thornton became acquainted with the Ramchargers, a loose confederation of engineers that was drag racing a record-holding Hemi-powered C/Altered '49 Plymouth. That car became obsolete in 1961 due to a rules change, and Thornton led the effort to secure sponsorship for a Super Stock car. Dodge came through with a car and engine. At the Nationals in Indianapolis, that car defeated every car in the sport worth beating and launched Chrysler's serious participation in Super Stock drag racing.
Thornton led the Ramchargers efforts racing Dodges until 1967. Between 1961 and 1967, the Ramchargers was one of the most innovative and formidable teams in drag racing. Thornton was instrumental in designing a different class of race car, in which the wheelbase was shortened, resulting in a strange appearance. This was the birth of the Funny Car. Thornton’s success on the racetrack, both as a leader and a driver, led to a promotion at work with Chrysler, elevating him to race vehicle design manager in the race group.
Thornton went on to work for Rupp Industries as the chief engineer of the Snowmobile Racing group and then to Jeep Corp. as chief engineer of vehicle development and ultimately became director of vehicle engineering. After retiring from Jeep in 1986, he, with Richard and Kenneth Kamm, formed Applied Technologies Inc. in Toledo, Ohio, specializing in automotive and aerospace product design and analysis. The company grew from the three principals to more than 90 designers and engineers doing work for Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and many tier-one companies. Thornton’s knowledge of accounting principles and computer systems was instrumental in setting up the new business. The business was sold in 2004.
Thornton is survived by his brother, John; his children John, Jama, and Renee; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Visitation will be Thursday, June 5, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Walker Funeral Home, 5155 Sylvania Ave., in Toledo, where services will be held Friday at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at Resurrection Cemetery. Contributions in Thornton’s memory may be made to Hospice of Northwest Ohio, 30000 E. River Road, Perrysburg, OH 43551.