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More Killers from Kenosha

23 May 2014
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

I really had no intention of continuing the AMC drag car thread this week, but apparently, y’all weren’t ready to let it go, at least based on the outpouring of photos and thoughts that rained into my email this past week.

Steve Reyes and Bob Snyder sent care packages of a slew of AMC racers on the strip, some of which I will share. Some do not have a large amount of information associated with them, but I’ll share what I have, beginning with another series by our pal Reyes.

 

Preston Honea’s rare altered-wheelbase AMC Marlin, provided by SoCal Dodge dealer Bill Kraft Rambler, was powered by a 426 Chrysler Hemi. Honea, of St. Louis, went on to race in Pro Stock in the early 1970s but with Chevys. He passed away in February 2012.

 

The super-wild AMX-1 of Jim Thomas and Gerry Walker, with the driver’s head protruding through the rear window.

 

Larry Derr’s Glass Rat ’70 Javelin takes flight at Lions Drag Strip. As could be inferred from its name, it, too, was Chevy-powered.

 

Clyde Morgan’s EXP Javelin launches at Lions. Check out starter Larry Sutton, resplendent in black hat, black tie, and tuxedo-like jacket!

 

Morgan gets ‘er sideways on the launch at Irwindale.

 

“Banzai Bill” Hayes and the original Grant Rambler on the trailer at Irwindale Raceway. Dennis Doubleday confirmed some information on the Grant Rebel, noting that Hayes drove it early in 1967 and that Hayden Proffitt took over later in the year. A new car was built for 1968, and the 1967 car was then run by Ron Roseberry as the King Rebel in 1968 and later run by Weidlein & Blandford as an A/FC in 1970. Proffitt drove the new Rebel in 1968, and Pat Johnson and driver Hank Clark teamed up on the car in 1969. Charlie Adams ran the car in 1970 and Kenny Dobson in 1971.

 

The King Rebel of Roseberry gets prepped in the pits at Sacramento Raceway in 1968.

 

Gary Crane and the Scrima-built Travelin’ Javelin at Orange County Int’l Raceway in 1969. According to Phil Elliott, he sold it to Larry Palmer, a painter by profession, who ran it with a new paint scheme.

Michigan’s Ron Ellis traded in his T-bucket body for an AMX shell but kept the same Logghe chassis framerails around his blown gas Chrysler engine. This is Dallas in 1970.

The blower guys weren’t the only ones having fun. Here’s Johnny O’Neil taking a wild ride at Lions in 1971 in his injected Javelin. 
   

From the lens of Bob Snyder

 

Virginia’s Butch Kernodle and driver Charles Lee ran the Super Javelin injected nitro flopper in 1970 and 1971, then sold it to Ron Richter and Tony Tillman. Power came from a 427 Chevy.

 

Hayden Proffitt’s version of the Grant Rebel SST, under tow.

 

Lou Azar’s Funny Gremlin had one of just a trio of bodies of the unique subcompact car made by Pat Murphey of Riviera Plastics. I heard from Bill Engle, who had one of the others and was planning to build an injected Gremlin Funny Car of his own in 1969 but couldn’t finish it due to financial reasons. When Azar crashed his own body, Engle, who lives in Oklahoma City, agreed to meet Azar at Tulsa that year to sell him his body.

 

Dick Bourgeois and Earl Wade were originally part of the Doug Thorley AMC effort with a tricolor Javelin (see below) in 1969 but went out on their own in 1970 with this all-red edition.

 


And some random images from the Dragster files.

 

The Javelin 2, the Bourgeois & Wade conventional follow-up to Thorley’s ill-fated rear-engine Javelin 1.

 

Here’s Hank Clark, one of the later owners of the Rebel, running Curt Wasson’s Superstitious Camaro.

 

Dickie Harrell may have been “Mr. Chevrolet,” but Dick Vendl was "Mr. AMX." The Illinois racer bought two new AMXes in 1968, one for the street and one to race. He took on the “Mr. AMX” moniker, which he says was officially endorsed by American Motors and led to a position with the company as a sales engineer selling the idea of AMC high performance to dealers. He has since raced in a bunch of other motorsports. You can see more photos here: http://www.superstockamx.com/page77.php.

 

I can’t find any information anywhere on this one, but this injected nitro Javelin, the Preferred Javelin, was run by Dick Hedrick.

 

Jim Hill, whose encyclopedic knowledge of drag racing came in part through his long tenure with Crane Cams, remembers well AMC’s dedicated effort to challenge the Big Three in the performance market, which led to the creation of the 52-car run of the famed Super Stock-edition AMXes (most sanctioning bodies, including NHRA, insisted on a minimum factory production run of 50 cars, known as homologation).

Here is his remembrance, and some more Reyes photos:

Just like GM, Ford, and Chrysler, AMC's marketing team felt that they too could create showroom sales by using drag racing competition as a lure to the "youth market" coveted by all.

I well remember the efforts of the very dedicated and driven AMC racing staff as they toiled at creating seriously competitive AMC vehicles and parts for NHRA and AHRA competition. In those days I was Harvey Crane's "ad guy" and saw firsthand the effort put forth by AMC to create a dragstrip winner.

Eugene “Pete” Peterson got No. 39 when he was operating Peterson Motor Co. in Kearney, Neb., and turned it into the fabled Pete's Patriot machine, which was driven by Lou Downing, whose son, Rob, is one of the top wrenches on the KB Racing Pro Stock team. There's a pretty swell three-part story on the car, which recently was restored, here.
The Frog, No. 15 of 52 Super Stock AMXes, was sold to Bundy Motors in Lakewood, Colo., and owned by John Bandimere (of Bandimere Speedway fame) and driven by "Friendly Frank" Peterson. (Read more here)
Kansas City AMC/Brian Rodekopf, AMX No. 50. Brian’s father, Bill, and Bob Smith helped pioneer the work on those early AMC engines.

An AMC development team of engineers and technicians spent several weeks at Crane Cams' sunny Hallandale, Fla., facilities during the winter of 1967-68. While there they spent considerable time dyno testing and then proving their efforts at Miami-Hollywood Dragway. Crane Cams was not only a "warm weather welcome test venue," but also a primary vendor for camshafts, valvetrain parts, and even professionally ported cylinder heads used in the fledgling AMC S/S racing program.

Their "test mule" was a nondescript, plain-white, AMC sedan, not the very sporty AMX coupes in which the race variety of the 390-cid V-8 was ultimately installed. It did have a professionally built roll cage and heavy-duty rear axle. The car was also equipped with a Borg-Warner T-10, four-speed manual trans connected to a Lakewood safety bellhousing.

The program created and proved the capabilities of the AMC race parts, which were intended to be NHRA and AHRA rules-legal for Super Stock racing. That meant each item had to carry an AMC factory part number and be available through the AMC dealership network for anyone to purchase.

As part of the program, Crane Cams provided 8620 steel-billet roller camshafts, roller lifters, valve springs, spring retainers, pushrods, roller-tip, needle bearing fulcrum, extruded aluminum rocker arms, and completely ported, AMC cylinder heads with big valves and legal components installed, ready for bolt on. Each of these components carried an official AMC part number and could be ordered through the AMC dealer network. Several different roller cam profiles were available, each with its own part number.

The components and tuning was eventually incorporated into the 390 AMX S/S racing program. These vehicles were purpose-built by Hurst Performance Corp., in their Royal Oak, Mich., short-run vehicle assembly-line facilities. AMC used the same Hurst facility that created those still remarkable 426 Hemi Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracudas.

These race-bred AMXes carried 390-cid V-8 engines with all the AMC cataloged go-fast goodies. Included was a cross-ram, aluminum intake manifold and a pair of Holley four-barrel carburetors, tube steel headers, a heavy-duty rear axle, fiberglass front-end parts, and other select items engineered for the purpose of dominating the NHRA SS/C class.

To obtain one of those Hurst-built vehicles required prior success in serious drag racing, and of course you had to "know someone" to get your order included for the limited production run.

The AMX cars were reasonably successful in NHRA S/S and the new AHRA GT class. As expected, they encountered stiff competition from the many 426 Hemi and wedge-powered Dodge and Plymouth entries populating the S/S ranks. Still, much of what AMC's race folks learned through that initial program led them to greater success in early Pro Stock racing, most notably the Wally Booth-Dick Arons and Dick Maskin-Dave Kanners Hornets.

That winter season where AMC's race bunch occupied Crane Cams back shop and kept the Heenan-Froude dyno buzzing was indeed fun. It also served as an inside look at what even a minor player such as AMC could do when provided with reasonable funding and personnel targeting a specific drag racing goal.

You can read more about the AMX Super Stock program and see a ton of cool photos here (follow the History links on the left side of the page). There’s a list on this page of the original owners of the 52.