Ontario, California, October 1975. Once again we find Paul Rossi leaning on the fender of his almighty Hemi, reflecting on a job well done. He had just defeated all but one of the nation’s top NHRA Super Stock drivers, yet at the same time realizing he could dethrone him by simply sharing a seemingly trivial bit of technical information. Paul Rossi - racer, innovator, businessman, gentleman. But not a rat. And so it goes. He looks at the shredded roof of his Barracuda, the result of a broken A-pillar, snapped in the final round by the newfound torque of the Hemi, a by-product of his own intake manifold engineering. Featuring a vacuum operated center plenum, it would become a feature on most imported production cars of the 21stcentury, and make Rossi a rich man – if he had patented it. (Screwed by the man, Part IV and V.)
One benefit, however, of the day’s occurrences was that NHRA would not only allow, but require roll bars and cages to be a welded, integral part of the chassis in all race cars for 1976. At the time, all safety bars in NHRA Sportsman (non-Professional) cars had to be removable. “Rossi for president – champion of safety.”
A second, and more important, benefit of Rossi’s performance was that it was witnessed by Tom Hoover – the demigod of the Chrysler Race Group. He was amazed at Rossi’s intake, primarily because his people hadn’t thought of it. “We need to work closer together” Hoover proclaimed. “I’ll have Koffel call you.” To an aspiring Sportsman racer, a call from Dave Koffel could either be the best day of your career or the worst. You see, as a successful racer in his own right, Koffel was the man who doled out “the deals,” and was also the man who could send you packing. As you recall, Rossi had deals in the past – sponsorship and cars from Detroit’s Westborn Chrysler Plymouth, a full ride for a year from Mercury, and for 1975, the parts deal from Chrysler, which included engines, parts, technical support and the ability to test with the factory teams. Now he was about to be offered THE DEAL, a full time factory ride with lawyers, guns and money.
There was a catch however, the 426 Hemi was off limits and Rossi would be required to engineer, develop and race a Raised Block wedge, something that no one had really done before. Sure, Chrysler developed the 413 and 426 cubic inch RB maximum performance packages, which concentrated primarily on the intake and exhaust, with moderate cylinder head development, but the inner workings of the big block had never been fully explored. In NHRA Super Stock and Stock Eliminator, the 440 was considered to be at a disadvantage, as the horsepower to weight factors made it very difficult to run at or below the index.
In these categories of racing, NHRA calculates what a combination should run and establishes an index, or minimum, elapsed time for that particular combo, based on past performances. Indexes are then assigned a letter designation (A through Z) and classed by manual or automatic transmissions. For example if a combination is rated at 425 factory horsepower and weighs 3400 pounds it would receive an “E” designation (SS/E or SS/EAutomatic) and run on an assigned index of 10.95 seconds in the quarter mile. Qualifying is determined by running the furthest below your index, which is typically one half to a full second quicker in order to be competitive. You don’t want to run too quick for fear the index may be lowered by the sanctioning body and your combination will no longer be competitive. The top 64 cars (usually) get to race in eliminations while the others go home. During eliminations the cars are matched up, or laddered, by their qualifying times. If you happen to be matched with a car in your same class you would race heads up “out the back door” with no fear of “breaking out.” Any other pairing would use your assigned indexes as your dial-in with no break out allowed, bracket racing style. Let’s stop right here before your head explodes.
So, while Rossi contemplates THE DEAL, he runs the scenario past his friend and fellow class racer John Lingenfelter who tells him “I wouldn’t take that deal. The index is too hard.” Apparently, that was the common consensus and Rossi continued to reiterate “I’m Hemis only.” The hard sell turned to serious begging and eventually Rossi wisely relented. What exactly did he accept? A fully paid budget to run the Direct Connection Clinic Program, a brand new race car, unlimited 440 engines and parts, a new Dodge duallie and trailer, and the assignment to turn Chrysler’s measly B/RB Tune Up Tips Bulletin #2 into a full blown racing manual. Since the only factory offering was this simple bulletin, Rossi was tasked to develop a recipe for a 440 racing package, then document every step in an easy to understand “cookbook” to share it with the world. He would be doing for Super Stock what the Mopar Missle team did for Pro Stock. Have you ever built a big block Mopar? Everything you’ve been told to do to it is based on Paul Rossi’s discoveries. A partnership with teammate Butch Leal and his Hemi B/Gas Plymouth Arrow only sweetened the deal.
OK, so we’re going to build a big block Mopar, but where do we start? There’s no substitute for cubic inches, so let’s go with the biggest one, the 440 cubic inch wedge head V8. Then let’s pick the one with the highest factory horsepower rating, the 1970 440 Six Pack. Now we’ll put it in the lightest body, but since this will be a Super Stock eliminator car, it has to be a combination that was available from the dealer, so that eliminates the Dart and Duster. Next up would be the E-body line and since the shipping weight of a ‘Cuda was 3395 pounds versus 3402 pounds for a Challenger R/T, we’re going to build a 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda with a 440 Six Barrel and an automatic, since Rossi was intimately familiar with the 727 transmission.
It’s now Christmas 1975 and Rossi is delighted to find an all original Plum Crazy AAR Cuda on his doorstep with a note from Dave Koffel to turn it into a winner. Since this was a factory six barrel car, the case would be made to NHRA for them to allow the fiberglass fresh air hood and rear spoiler. Sure, whatever. Torch in hand, Rossi begins thinking “Butch and I will be going to clinics at both Chrysler Plymouth and Dodge dealers around the country. Butch’s Plymouth Arrow is already built. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a Plymouth AND a Dodge?” Oh, well, let’s get started cutting. Apparently Koffel got the memo, because be soon calls with the order to “stop work!” Soon enough a beautiful, original Challenger T/A arrives, sans motor and trans. It seems Koffel had the car sitting in a corner of his shop, as he recently used it as a donor for a T/A engine he needed for a circle track (Kit Car?) project.
With a plan of attack finalized, the body is shipped off to Pro Stock chassis builder Ron Butler for a nip and tuck. While the finished Challenger body would appear stock to the casual observer, it was anything but. Obviously the first course of action would be to integrate a full roll cage and frame ties into the existing uni-body structure, which was essentially all that the rule book allowed. In reality the car was lightened significantly with the weight relocated upwards and rearwards for a drastically changed center of gravity. Massive lead plates were added to the rear package (speaker) shelf and the rear frame rails were filled with lead bars, but supported internally by small “feet” so that if you tapped on the frame it would sound hollow. Of course, the fender wells were enlarged and the wheelbase slightly altered, along with staggering the front spindles to allow more “roll out” on the starting line. The big secret was that the entire body was cut off of the chassis and lowered one inch to improve aerodynamics and lower the center of gravity. By the way, have you ever paid attention to the current crop of SS/AH Hemi Darts and Barracudas? Have you ever wondered why you can’t get your own race car to sit that low? Think about that for a while…
It was realized early on that the proven Mopar Super Stock springs and pinion snubber alone would not be enough to work on the heavy E-bodies. After following Chrysler’s exacting specifications gleaned from the Missle program, Butler’s Gary Hansen had the Challenger’s chassis and roll cage now teamed together to allow maximum hookage with 14x32 inch Pro Stock tires, all at a cost that would stagger any professional racer. Now it was time to focus on the power plant.
The 440 is basically a “low rev” engine, maxing out at 6800 rpm. Rossi chose what he called a “short stack 440” which consisted of a 400 cubic inch block with 440 internals, allowing for a shorter, two-ring Venolia flat top piston, resulting in an 11.1 compression ratio. With a .060” over bore, everything was balanced, blue printed and polished to within an inch of its life. While some racers utilized external lightening by shaving the sides of the block, Rossi took weight out of the car, not the engine. A two piece Weiand high rise six barrel intake was used with extensive internal modifications. You can read about them in Direct Connection’s Racing Carburetor and Manifold Bulletin #34. As you recall from our last installment, any modified or production manifold is legal in Super Stock. BUTLER DESIGNED, ROSSI TRADEMARK DROPPED OIL PANS, GAS WELDED ALUMINUM, WONT CRACK
The big obstacle was harnessing the 490 foot pounds of torque delivered to the rear wheels, courtesy of 1355 cfm delivered all at once. END CARBS STAYED CLOSED MOST OF THE WAY THROUGH FIRST GEAR / ACCELERATOR PUMP REALLY ONLY USED FOR STARTING. TUFF TO START WITHOUT IT. MANUALLY PUMP BEFORE START. Not reving the engine all the way during the launch worked, but left horsepower on the table. Through trial and error, Rossi eliminated the accelerator pump, and utilized NO stainless steel butterflies on the secondary carbs, which remained closed at launch and were opened by vacuum. With an 8-1/2” torque convertor and 5.38 gears the Challenger would soon be ready for the track. VIOLENT LAUNCH. FUEL BLEW OUT OF VENT STACKS.
In March of 1976 it was off to Bradenton, Florida for a Chrysler sponsored test session. Rossi was delivering his SS/AA Barracuda to new owner Norm Carson with plans to race it for him at the upcoming NHRA Gatornationals. First he would be doing further Hemi manifold testing with Chrysler engineer Bob Tarozzi. Also in attendance was an Ohio Pro Stock racer by the name of Rick Metts who would meet his unfortunate demise. As Rossi, Don Carlton and others watched in horror, Metts’ Dart Sport catapulted off the track at the finish line, sheared off a phone pole and exploded in a ball of fire. Afterwards Rossi was on the phone to NHRA Tech Director Bill Dismuke, demanding to be allowed to run a fuel cell in Super Stock. In the wake of the recent tragedy, the green light was given.
By mid-summer, Rossi had his combination dialed in and had settled into one of two classes, SS/FA at a weight of 3390 pounds which was typically reserved for heavier Max Wedge cars, or SS/GA at a weight of 3510 pounds which was dominated by Cobra Jet Mustangs. In early August it was off to Sanair Super Speedway in Montreal, Canada for the Challenger’s first national event, Le Molson Grandnational. By 1976 the catch phrase “Dodge – Depend on It” was becoming more and more like that of another future relative – “Fix It Again Tony.” En route to le event, Rossi managed to successfully trash a brand new 440 duallie, as the air conditioning clutch failed, took out the oil pressure sending unit, toasted the main bearings and killed a cylinder. Well, at least he made it to the track, only to be told that fuel cells were illegal in Super Stock and that he couldn’t race. Apparently, Dismuke failed to translate his directive into French. Dejected, Rossi ended up cutting off one of the truck’s connecting rods and drove home on seven cylinders – Chrysler’s first successful use of cylinder deactivation. If only he had patented it – screwed by the man Parts VI and VII.
As we learned in Part One of our series, Rossi campaigned what is arguably the world’s most famous Mopar Super Stocker for the next four years, setting records and winning countless points meets. He, along with Bob Tarozzi, grew that measly Bulletin #2into a 200 page cookbook that is still revered by many. By 1980 a funny thing happened on his way to the U.S. Nationals – he had single handedly eliminated the Ford Cobra Jets from Super Stock completion and driven the Max Wedge wagons and Polaras either into the faster classes or relegated them to bracket duty. He realized he was the only SS/FA car left in attendance at the world’s largest drag race. What’s a racer to do? I’ll tell you what he did. He marched into Dave Koffel’s office, threw his keys on the desk and said “I’m done.” Or was he?
Photos from the Paul Rossi collection
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