6.1 Hemi for a ’33 Chrysler CT 8 Royal
By Scott Longman Photos by Paul Stenquist
1933 pretty much sucked. The first giant storm of what would become the Dust Bowl turned Oklahoma into the bottom of your Weber grill. The nation trudged through its fourth year of the most brutal depression and banking crisis in its history, and the then-new president responded with a massive and continuing “stimulus” package – which was then followed by seven more years of depression. And concurrently in Germany, a guy named von Hindenburg gave himself a lock on First Place in the “Bad Move of the Century Contest” by handing the German Chancellorship to a ferret with a cheesy mustache and a penchant for wiping out nice people.
With that as background, there were two good things about 1933. First, the country got rid of Prohibition. Second, Chrysler made the CT 8 Royal. We tried to do a piece about the epic party that followed point number one, but nobody’d who’d been there could remember it, so we were stuck writing about the car.
In ’33, this thing was th’ shizzle — Snoop Dogg would have sent a telegram to Walter P. himself to get one. Big-wigs, and serious medium-wigs, went swanning around in these things with some severe style. Notwithstanding the austerity of the time, the CT 8 Royal did everything big, which at the time meant everything dual: dual horns, dual windshields, dual taillights (no, they weren’t always standard), dual windshield wipers, and our personal favorite, dual spare tires, with one sunk into either front fender.
The early owners of this one had to have been at that post-Prohibition party, because no records remain. In fact, the car was provenance-free until about 1980, when a spectacularly talented and all-around great guy by the name of Ed Britz managed to lay hands on it. Ed did for the car what World War II did for the economy. It took him about as long as it took the Allies to fix von Hindenburg’s screwup, but by 1985, it was effectively a new car in every sense of the word, running a 360 with updated suspension, brakes and everything else. Then, for reasons that history does not record, or at least that we failed to ask, Ed sold it to its current owner, George Stump. Ol’ George ain’t the kind of guy to park things behind the barn. George doesn’t even know what a mothball is. Nope, he hopped right in and drove the car for 45,000 miles. If you count the gas stops, it took him 19 years.
So along about 2009, George remembered something that Ed had said to him when he bought the car: that it came with Ed’s personal, 20-year warranty. George went back to Ed and asked him if the warranty happened to include, say, a 19-year-later, stunning, frame-off restoration, even though nothing was wrong with the car. Being the hell of a guy that he is, and considering they’d been good friends for 30 years, Ed said “sure.” [Editorial note to all staff: get to know Ed].
They went at it on the scale of a WPA program, sort of like building the Hoover Dam, but with less concrete and more chrome. Quicker than you can say “the Reichstag is burning,” they tore it apart. Well, not really that quick – they started in June 2009, working six days a week, and finally got it more or less taken apart by November. Once it was in 35,000 pieces, they hit the frame and body like an East Texas sandstorm, blasting it down to bare Bessemer steel courtesy of Mike Artman. Then, if a part could be plated, powdercoated, painted or dipped in caramel, they did it. Mike spent two weeks matching the frame powdercoat color to the paint.
The body paint, by the way, carries the stunningly wrong name of “Claret Firemist.” Only GM could come up with that, and they did, for the ’82 Caddy. If you take that mixed metaphor to its logical conclusion, the only possible image is a Molotov Cocktail. Anyway, the boys went with a PPG basecoat/clearcoat deal over the all-steel body.
Since the car was built in the same year that the U.S. abandoned the gold standard, you could see how they’d want some shiny stuff on it. George and Ed went to Dayton Wire Wheel to get theirs. They also went there – go figure – for the wire wheels. The wheels are hypercustom sixteen inchers, set up to take the ’33 hubcaps. And they needed six of them, given the double spare. One particularly absent piece of brightwork was the chromed, brass medallion that you can see in the center of the front bumper. Apparently, there is only one guy in the Western Hemisphere, or at least in the Americas, who can do these things. His name is Mike Cima, and he is mostly too busy doing far more important stuff. But George and Ed took some lawnchairs and camped out in front of Mike’s house until Mike agreed to do the medallion. Medallion specialists report that it’s beautiful.
As long as the boys were really re-doing everything that didn’t need it, they threw the 360 in the same dumpster with the free market and self-determination, replacing it with a whole New Deal. The block is a new, cast iron Mopar 6.1 Hemi unit, sporting a set of dual-plug Indy Cylinder Head tops, with an Indy intake matched on the top end to a classic, carbureted six-pack setup. Those carbs flow enough to make the Tennessee Valley Authority envious, about 1,350 cfm. All told, the motor has been dyno’d at 448 HP. That’s how much the original car would have made at the factory, but by the time it got to the showroom, it had been taxed down to 90 HP.
Fitting the 6.1 was an engineering feat in itself. It involved lots of heim joints and swearing and dropping things and welding and going out for a few cold ones, but they eventually got it. Same thing with the headers – ol’ Ed handwove them out of some ceramic-coated steel molecules he had lying around. Quicker than you can say “fireside chat,” all that exhaust blows through 2 and half inch pipes and Flowmaster 44s.
Behind the flywheel is a custom 2,000 stall converter. It hangs out with an A-518 tranny, with, as you would expect, an overdrive capacity. That all participates in a book club with a custom driveshaft, and when they aren’t all feeling miffed about being torqued around, they Facebook with an 8 ¾” unit running eminently sensible 3.23s.
When it comes to traction patches, Ed doesn’t believe in 25 percent unemployment, so he gave the car some suspension. Up front, it’s a custom-narrowed set of Corinthian-leather-covered torsion bars out of a Cordoba. Out back, unbelievably enough, there’s a reworked set of original leaf springs, supported by a set of Delco shocks. Since Ed didn’t know where the Cordoba owner might park next time, he also grabbed the power front discs while he was there.
Okay, so here’s the completely insane part of the story: George spends half the year in Florida. So even though George and Ed worked together from June to November, by mid-November, George went wheels-up to a better latitude. Now, seein’s how it’s George’s car, and seein’s how Ed had already spend half a year working six days a week for free, you might kinda think that Ed would hang it up until George showed up again in the spring. Nope. Just like Van Morrison, Ed just kept on keepin’ on. He solo finished the car from November to February. But if that’s not insane enough Ed then personally stuck the car in an enclosed trailer and brought it to Florida to present to George. Heck, Ed would have driven the car to Florida if he didn’t have to plow through snowdrifts.
Restore the CAR, hell! That story restores our faith in humanity! Why, it’s enough to make us want to run out and resurrect the Tenth Amendment, to invade Normandy, and to plant the entire Oklahoma panhandle with some really good ground cover.
That, and get to know Ed Britz.
Have we ever gone on a good rant about 3.23s? No? Well, why don’t you just cinch down that lap belt while we tell you like it is. 3.23s are sheer genius. Brilliant. The perfect gear. Ever try actually living with 4.11s or 3.91s, or even 3.55s? Your crankshaft ends up spinning like a turbo impeller, you go insane from the noise, your top end is like 48 mph, and you get the same mileage as the Exxon Valdez. Don’t tell us about some TKO II overdrive tranny and carbonfiber driveshafts and how your cousin’s buddy ran one for four minutes in San Luis Obispo before that karaoke chick got involved, okay? First of all, there’s like eleven people who can afford that stuff. Plus the paternity suit. But you get the idea. And don’t tell me “Gear Vendors.” Same problem. Yes, they are stunning, yes you can run a dumptruck on them but yes they cost more than the entire staffs’ monthly trailer rental and federal restitution payments put together. So what do real people with real lives and real probation officers do? We yank a full 8 ¾” setup out of a ’68 truck, reweld the spring perches, throw in some hypoid gear lube, hope it’s not frozen solid, and proceed to go collect a bunch of moving violations because it will both accelerate magnificently and still allow us to hit enough velocity to lift the windshield wipers off the glass (that starts about 115), just as the Excellence in Engineering guys intended. Perfect.