By Jim Henry, Owner with Al Heisley
Jim Henry’s BIG IRON, Plymouth, was actually bought over 30 years ago when the owner called him because he’d heard that Jim was interested in mid-60s “B” bodies. The car sat behind a house with grass growing up all around it. The owner told him the car had been raced from 1965 to 1968 when he was drafted into the military. Because the engine was blown, the owner parked the car in the back yard and it wasn’t moved for many years. The B&M modified Torqueflite trans and J converter were still with the car as were the headers and an antique Sun tach. The car also wore a pair of 1965 A990 chemical milled front fenders on it. I later learned that the A990 fenders were not factory stock. They were actually off a 1965 Ruby Red SS Hemi car that was sold in the St. Louis area that year. That car was soon altered and got a new fiberglass frontend. The A990 fenders were then purchased and installed on the car. There was only one Ruby Red Hemi car sold that year in the St. Louis area so whoever has that car today, your fenders are in Jim’s basement.
The men agreed upon a price and Jim took it home. Although he was happy with his purchase he didn’t need the car at the moment as he was racing his 1964 Dodge Altered Wheelbase (A/WB) car, the “Bad News” Dodge at MOPAR and nostalgia events in the Midwest, so Jim took it to his farm and stored it behind an old barn where it sat for over 30 years.
Many years passed until Jim started restoring “BIG IRON” 4 years ago. Having never really looked at the car, Jim was surprised to find little oddities common on “match bash” cars of the mid-60s in the Midwest.
For example, the rear wheel openings were cut and slightly altered. It was the homemade version of that modification that was accomplished using a five-pound hammer. When Jim started working on the car, he put the rear fender well sheet metal back in place as his intention was to put it back to the way it had been with its nice SS appearance. But he soon decided that he had to put it back to the way it had been. He neatly removed the metal and returned the axil location as well. These cars were called 2% cars, or “cheater cars”. Outlaw Super Stock “match bash” racers.
Match racing had just begun in the spring of 1965 and they were drawing such larger crowds than the track owners had ever seen before so they told their tech guys to “leave these cars alone”. That they’re good for business. And so it began, the cheater cars were called “Match Bash” cars. Soon the rules went out the window. Within weeks, the hoods, bumpers, glass, interiors and then the carburetors as disappeared. These match bash cars were drawing crowds large enough that the track owners would often have a separate event on a week night with a field of 8 to twelve of these exciting new cars.
These car owners didn’t hesitate to cut up a brand new Ford, Chevy or MOPAR and for good reason. If they happened to win a weekend super stock race, they would win $75. If they ran a match race, the car owners received $100 to $200 to pull in the crowd and usually $300 or more to win. One could actually go out and buy a new SS car, totally strip it, modify it and pay for the car within a season; something unheard of until then. Match base cars like this are the forerunner of the funny car. Unless a race fan is 70 years old, they probably don’t know anything about them.
Having worked on some of the original A/WB cars in the 60s and then building three of his own “just for the fun of it,” Jim thought it’d be nice to keep the match race car in its original form. Safety-related items on the car have been updated because while “old and original is cool, staying alive is better!”
Front and rear leaf springs, shocks and brakes are all new. The original roll bar was very well done and a full cage has been added to it. The entire interior is all bare sheet metal that Jim cleaned and left like it was. “It’s sad to see people take these time capsules and fill them up with pathetic bead rolled aluminum or over done upholstery,” Jim says. “BIG IRON” is ’65 post car that has had the post removed, somewhat common when glass was being removed. The front end is a 1964 Savoy grill and fenders; mixing the parts from one year to another was common practice. Jim decided the A990 fenders were far too valuable to put on a car loaded with nitro.
“BIG IRON” runs 10.5 tires, appropriate for cars being raced at the time. It needs much larger tires to handle the power but that the precise problem they dealt with in 1966 so that’s the they’ll stay. The Hemi is a stock bore with a 489” stroker. Jim chose that size because 489” was the largest stroker kit available in 1966. Compression is 11.1. The cam is ground to 1965 Hemi race specs, the ignition is an original style Vertex magneto and the oil pump is a stock 440 MOPAR. The engine is very basic and simple. The fuel, well, an announcer at a race last year accused me, over the PA system, of running 70% nitro at a match race. Funny guy! Jim wonders why the announcer thought he’d cut the nitro down to 70%. The transmission is a Power glide. Jim has always run Torqueflites because he’s a Chrysler guy. But after seeing some of his friends explode more than one, he changed his mind.
At age 70, Jim Henry feels fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time. 1964 to 1968. And to be around and to have worked on the match bash and altered wheelbase cars. Detar Automotive in Wichata, KS produced the fastest match race cars in the Midwest at the time and that was his hangout of choice during those years. “I picked up all the knowledge I could on both Chrysler Wedges and Hemi’s. At the time I raced a 426 aluminum front 4-speed SS Plymouth and worked on all the other cars I could just to learn little tidbits of information and it paid off. Knowledge, especially low-buck knowledge was at a premium because I was only making $90.00 a week as a Pepsi truck driver!”
The Car: 1965 Plymouth
Driver: Brent Henry, son
Wheelbase: Rear axle moved forward 2 ½”. These were called 2% cars, Front axle moved forward 4”
Rear End: Gears are 3.50 or 3.70 depending on track
Front Axle: Tube type w/’48 Ford spindles
Transmission: 2-speed automation
Engine: 426 Hemi stocked to 489”, ported heads, camshaft reground to 1965 specs, compression 11.1, Hilborn injection
Fuel: 85% nitro, 4-gallon fuel tank
Interior: Updated moly cage, aluminum seat
Gauge: One oil pressure gauge only
Q: Jim, if the factories only produced these cars in small numbers, where did all of the march race cars come from?
A: Some racers bought them new from the dealer while others, the large majority of owners, bought these cars as salvage yard totals. At the time, a totaled car with a stripped front end could be bought for $300 to $500, any brand.
Q: What about the engines? The factories didn’t produce that many extra SS style engines?
A: A great number of the cars, including some of the best known cars, ran Chrysler 392s on fuel. A lot of Chevy ll’s, Ford’s, and one very famous GTO, ran the 392s. Why? The engine was very powerful and if you matched it with a cheap 6-71 blower off a diesel truck, anyone could easily find parts almost anywhere. At the time, it was the Top Fuel engine of choice.
Q: Having been in the A/FX mix since day 1, how do you feel about the current field of A/FXrs racing today.
A: HA HA! That’s kind of a sore subject with me. Look, here’s the deal. The very term, A/FX is the most abused 3-letters on the planet. I’ve seen it on everything short of a school bus! The Big 3 each made a small handful of cheater-style cars from 1961 to 1965. Those were generally designated A/FX (factory experimental). All the others built by racers coast-to-coast, were known as match race cars. Period. They had no official classification and were looked upon by one sanctioning body with great disdain. But to answer your question about the A/FX cars of today, well, I’m sorry, but for the most part they are a very poor representation of what the real ‘60s match racer would look or perform like. Even the paint jobs today are show paint jobs when the real cars were generally painted by the owner of the car. The interiors were bare sheet metal and not bead rolled aluminum. There were no chromed out engine bays. Today’s cars are overdone. The exceptions to that rule were a few West Coast cars. Gas Ronda in particular, had a Mustang that was incredible.
Q: Jim, is your BIG IRON Plymouth a perfect example of a period correct A/FX match race car?
A: Perfect? Heavens no! Ha Ha, but it’s close. Personally I don’t know of another as well done and restored. It runs on leaf springs all around, 10.5 tires, it runs on nitro and it has tall gears just like they did 60 years ago. Even though I sound critical of these new age cars you see around, they have a place today. I’m just happy to see another generation of car guys enjoying them.
Q: Jim, in closing, do you have a group of “real deal” match race cars that you run with?
A: Ni I don’t. I tried to get a group together but after dozens of phone calls all around the country all I could come up with was about a dozen four-linked, 14” tire, gas or alcohol burners; basically just super comp guys. Right here in Wichata there is a great Chevy ll altered wheelbase car call “Fire Injun”. We have match raced that car and on the East Coast there is the “Bad News” Dodge who we will meet up with again at the Meltdown Drags in Bryon, IL this July.