Who Will Sign Their Autograph?

John Wehrly at Carlisle’s Ramcharger table autographs a Mo’fan’s magazine. Who will be signing 50 years from now?

Back in 1959, a group of engineers from Chrysler Corp. put together a bizarre-looking ’49 Plymouth coupe that they dubbed “The High and the Mighty.” Fitted with a sky-high intake setup (the first ram induction), the group, soon to bear the name The Ramchargers, proceeded to kick butt on the dragstrip with the Plymouth and subsequently a number of Max Wedge and Hemi-powered Dodges. The Ramchargers were innovators in go-fast performance technology and, over the years, and along with personalities such as Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin and Dick Landy have become larger than life. The last thing the Ramchargers would have thought back in the ‘60s was that 50+ years down the road they’d be sitting behind a table signing autographs for Mo’fans.

Then the thought hit me, 50 years from now, who would the editor of Mopar Action look back on as the heroes of today? Who would be the ones—if any–signing the autographs in 2065?

The answer begged the question of what made Chrysler engineers, such as the Ramchargers, and drivers, such as Sox and the Pettys heroes in the first place? In the 1950s, Chrysler products basically were old man’s cars. Sure, the Chrysler 300 was a hot car, but even those were bought by old men—”banker’s hot rods.” Kids still didn’t want any part of Mopars, and the few who did were always ridiculed by everybody else on the street. Frankly, a fuelie/stick ’57 Chevy would beat a ’57 Fury—true or not, that’s what everybody thought, and that’s what counted.

 When the Ramchargers came along and started cleaning everyone’s clocks—by a lot–at the dragstrip, Chrysler products suddenly got respect. It got better when Lee Petty, and later Richard Petty, started making names for themselves—and Chrysler–in NASCAR. The result was that Chrysler went from (the perceived) back of the performance pack to the front.

By 1963, Chrysler designers produced cars with youth appeal, and coupled with Max Wedges under the hood, steamrollered the Chrysler performance revolution.

Chrysler engineers of the ‘60s don’t have anything up on Chrysler engineers of today. But with current demands of meeting the ever-increasing challenges of mandated emissions, fuel economy and safety, that ain’t gonna happen with a bunch of guys working out of a garage. It’s now a team effort relying on sophisticated technology. Still, the engineers have pulled it off as evidenced by the new supercharged Hemi Hellcat. This may well be the last gasp for big V8 passcar performance, as restrictions such as a 54.5 MPG CAFE start to take hold. We’ll bet a bunch of Hellcats will end up leading soft lives in Mopar collections.

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