In the winter of 1963-64, one year before someone coined the term “funny car” (describing the factory fleet of altered-wheelbase ’65 Plymouths and Dodges), a new breed of doorslammer was born in the Carlsbad, Calif., Dragmaster Company of Jim Nelson and Dode Martin. No one had previously combined a new-model vehicle from a Detroit production line with a supercharged, fuel-injected engine right out of a Top Gas Dragster.
Neither could anyone have guessed that three Dodge 330 sedans built by a couple of hot rodders would create such a stir over the first half of 1964, let alone have such a lasting impact on drag racing. There wasn’t even an exhibition class for such a hybrid, prompting Dodge came up with its own: “S/FX,” for Supercharged Factory Experimental. Engine-builder Nelson, now 79, confirmed that the National Hot Rod Association was less than enthusiastic about making room for the Chargers, despite unprecedented financial backing from Dodge and its nationwide dealer network.
“NHRA was worried about the handling,” Jim recalled. “So, we made a deal with Wally [Parks]: We would not lighten the cars excessively; we even left the back seat in, underneath a tonneau cover. The cars would all burn pump gas. The drivers would race only each other, in exhibitions; not in open competition or match races against anyone else.”
Dragmaster started with three stock sedans. Separately, the factory shipped the lightweight front ends created for its '64 Super Stock Dodges. No chassis or suspension modifications were made, other than the additions of 50/50 Cure Ride rear shocks and Dragmaster’s Spring Master traction bars, which created a solid connection between the rear leaf-spring eye and the factory subframe, explained Nelson. He and Martin also assembled and installed a trio of identical, 480-cubic-inch stroker wedges that basically duplicated their 1962 Winternationals-winning Top Gasser. Dragmaster Company billed about $7,000 per car, according to Nelson’s 44-year-old recollection.
Next, the Mopars traveled north to the Los Angeles area. Dean Jeffries, already a top customizer, formed rolled-aluminum pans for both ends, radiused the rear wheel openings and sprayed identical, candy-red-white-and-blue paint jobs. (Only slight variations in lettering distinguished the cars.) Jim Deist solved the challenge of how to hang a huge dragster parachute on the back of a stocker by recessing the chute pack into the trunk, encased within an aluminum box.
Ironically, not even massive fan reaction and an unheard-of budget reported to be between $200,000 and $300,000 (equivalent to multimillions, today!) could prevent this popular exhibition team from descending into chaos and self-destruction midway through the summer of ’64. What happened during those 40-odd race dates is a story in itself — which will be told next month, in Part Two.
Pictures above: Nothing like this had ever been seen at a drag strip prior to early 1964, when the factory-backed Dodge Chargers debuted. As if the sight of new-model Dodge 330 sedans with blowers wasn't shocking enough, this traveling show brought in its own lighting system and elevated platform, plus a trio of 318-powered Polara hardtops for team members to drive. Barely visible in the background is the bottom of a custom-built tractor-trailer rig that carried both race cars and this elaborate pit display. [Wayne Thoms photos courtesy of HotRodNostalgia.com]