William Tyler Jenkins – last of the Dodge Boys

It was with sadness that we learned Bill Jenkins had passed away on March 29th. First known as Jiggs, and later, of course, as Grumpy, Jenkins was by far best known for his efforts with Chevrolet.  Jenkins was an innovative thinker and aggressive competitor regardless of what he drove or worked on, and for those with a penchant for Mopar history, Jenkins may have been one of the worst competitors that the factory ever lost. Jenkins was the last of Pro Stock’s Mount Rushmore Four of the early 1970s – Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, Dyno Don Nicholson, and himself.

Tune the way-back machine to 1963. Jenkins Competition in the Philadelphia ‘Main Line’ suburb of Malvern, Pa., is a growing engine building and tuning concern, and Bill was already in quite well with Chevy brass due in part to a very visible program he was running with Dave Strickler. Strickler was from York, Pa, and had a series of cars that Jenkins tuned which came from the Ammon R Smith dealership in that city. Careful prep and good driving allowed the duo to set records and win events throughout the early 1960s, and they received the very first Z11 Impala package car (427/427-hp) the factory had constructed for the new year.

The activist White House Department of Justice, led by Robert Kennedy, began making noise about how they intended to investigate GM, and part of the fallout was a cancellation of all of the company’s formal racing programs in January of that year. The Z11 was built in enough quantity to be Super Stock legal, but at the same time, Dodge and Plymouth had released the second iteration of the Max Wedge, which would dominate sanctioned drag racing that year. We do not know who contacted who, but with the GM money well dry, Jenkins and Strickler got a deal and became ‘The Dodge Boys’ in 1964.

The factory was quick to recognize their talent, and the team got one of the special 2% FX cars, a couple of Max Wedges and two Hemis. How do I know? The first time I called Jenkins was in 1992 for a story I was writing for Roland Osborne at Chrysler Power. The conversation went like this…

Jenkins in the driver seat in jolly old England, getting the ’64 Hemi FX ready for another run.