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Looking back at Chrysler’s Performance Clinics

In 1967 America, change was afoot. Fed up with Dodge’s being entrenched in the public eye as “the clergy man’s car” or “Father Dominic’s Dodge,” and in need of an aggressive new image for its division, Chrysler’s traditional marketing strategy was rolled up and smoked. Already high on horsepower thanks mainly to the success of the Plymouth line, the automaker’s first new tactic was to stir up its inter-division rivalries by plucking a plain-Jane car out of the Dodge lineup, offering a 330 HP, 383 V-8 as a standard engine, adding performance suspension and a few appearance items, and voilà: the Super Bee was launched as Dodge’s answer to Plymouth’s Roadrunner.

Having assigned both units their own new big block-heavy marketing campaigns ­­––the “Scat Pack” for Dodge and “The Rapid Transit System” for Plymouth–– Chrysler then unleashed an inferno of drug-trippy ads that turned out to be big attention grabbers. Irritating to look at or not, performance buyers saw past the patronizing hippie graphics to the seductive ad-copy that dangled a delicious Mopar apple in the garden of speedin’. Reasserting the Mopar name at the drags via overkill and an appeal to the counterculture, it was reasoned, would help deliver us from Father Dominic and Sister Mary Elephant.

As luck would have it, Ford had royally bungled negotiations with the well-respected Sox & Martin racing team; the pair ended up signing with Chrysler instead. A crafty marketing gimmick was born of the marriage shortly thereafter, and drag racing was made accessible to the masses like never before as user-friendly “Mopar Labs” targeted young customers, daily commuters, and both performance buyers and the performance-curious.

The program called for two teams of cars to campaign across America, one under the Plymouth banner in the hands of Sox & Martin, and the other as part of the Dodge division, led by the celebrated Dick Landy. In addition to weekly bouts of drag racing, the teams stopped at local Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge dealerships along the way and shared their legendary experiences with drag enthusiasts and competitors. Between them, the two teams covered a lot of territory. More than 50,000 prospective buyers showed up for free instructions, tips, stories and, of course, cool stickers. (Thirty-plus years later, it was a marketing concept so genius that Apple itself must have taken a bite: though not transportable, the launch of their Mac-only stores followed a similar approach.)

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