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A technician checks out a 1965 Hemi on a "run up" prior to installation in cars.

Ramchargers Stories - from Mike Buckel Part 20: Engineering at Chrysler - the secret ingredient

By Mike Buckel and Society Staff – reprint with permission only

Let’s take a break from the Ramchargers racing in the Funny Car wars of 1966 and review engineering at Chrysler.  Engineers at Chrysler had much more influence over production cars than at the other automobile manufacturers.  This had a lot of very positive things and a few different features often called quirky.  Certainly these things persuaded some Ford and GM owners to not switch to Chrysler cars. 

One of the most notably different things was left-handed lug nuts on the left side wheels.  The durability test at the proving grounds was very severe, causing right-handed nuts to loosen on competitive cars and Chryslers with prototype right-handed nuts.  How many lug wrenches were bent like pretzels by guys trying to change a left side tire?  The push button Torqflite control, while great once one got used to it, certainly required some getting used to.  Chrysler also stuck to tapered axle shafts for far too long, which was a real pain when changing the rear gear.

Some of the other features were clearly superior to that of the competition due to good design and extensive testing.  Most notable of the great features was the driveline, except for speed shifting the three-speed manual transmissions.  The 8-¾ rear axle was introduced in 1957 and was/is essentially bullet-proof.  The Ramchargers used this gear, without failure; all the way from the High and Mighty through the 195 mph Funny Car and we also used it in the Dragster.  It is still popular in today’s muscle cars as a lightweight easy to service axle. 

Torqflite was another success story.  Introduced in 1956 and only slightly modified with the introduction of the aluminum case in ’62.  We ran Torqflites from mid-’62 through the end of ’67 in the blown fuel Funny Car.  Toward the end we did have a reinforced kick down carrier.  The kick down band and high gear clutches were tired after 6 runs.

Why was the Torqflite so good?  Primarily because the Transmission Lab did rigorous testing of a fundamentally superior design.  They had at least a dozen test fixtures that had a large flywheel behind an electric dynomometer.  Every engine/transmission combination was durability tested on these fixtures. Entirely automatic, the engine would accelerate at WOT through the gears spinning up the flywheel just like in a car.  When high gear was attained the throttle would close and the dyno switched on to decelerate everything back to engine idle.  Then acceleration began again. These fixtures ran on a 24/7 basis for I don’t know how many cycles.  One would get jolly when walking up to this room as it sounded like continuous drag racing. 

The Lab also had a high performance room, with bulletproof walls and windows and a remote control console.  The flywheel had about the same inertia as a loaded Imperial and the dyno was rated at 600 hp.  Here, they durability-tested transmissions with Max Wedges and later Hemis. 

Another routine test, conducted in the alley between lab buildings, was called “rock cycle.”  The throttle was held about half way down while the transmission was shifted between drive and reverse.  The result was like a monster burnout as tire smoke filled the ally and stunk up the entire engineering complex.  The observer in the car often got seasick.  The test ran for a predetermined number of cycles, about an hour, or until a tire blew out.

In 1966 I was still working in the Engine Lab on race engine performance and was challenged by how to test fuel engines.  Back then engine testing on a dynomometer required continuous WOT operation at each speed for several minutes.   A power run required almost 15 minutes: not suitable for fuel engines.  So I took over the high performance transmission room.  The engine was mounted front and rear on soft mounts so the engine would easily rock from side to side.  Rocking was restrained by a load cell that, when calibrated, would read out engine output torque.  This signal along with engine speed were sent to an X-Y plotter at the operator’s console.  Calibration was attained by operation of a gasoline-fueled engine at steady speeds against the dyno. 

Then the fun began.  An 8.5:1 compression ratio fuel injected engine was assembled, mounted in the test room and plumbed with 90 percent Nitro from 5-gallon cans inside the room.  As the engine accelerated the X-Y plotter printed out a torque curve with the test requiring about 5 seconds from 3000 to 7500 rpm.  After some technical issues were resolved the all-time automotive power record was set: 1375 hp. 

This engine would go 162 mph in our ’66 Funny Car and the same package with 11.5:1 compression ratio would go 172 mph.  This 10 mph increase represented a minimum of 1000 more horsepower so the 11.5:1 race engine was putting out about 2500 hp.  A rotating load cell became available that could be installed between the dynomometer and drive shaft.  One was procured and installed for evaluation. 

On the first run, the load cell failed, the drive shaft got loose and made a few laps around the room.  That is when we found out that the windows were installed backward with the plate glass on the inside and the bulletproof glass on the outside, making quite a mess in the room.  Management pulled the plug on me so testing in this room was terminated along with our plans to test blown fuel engines.  We had to wait 30 years for Super Flow dynomometers allowing dynamic engine testing.

Next time we will get back to racing with the Ramchargers.

Torqflite push button controls on a 1959 Dodge

Chrysler 8 3/4 rear end engineering drawing

Chrysler 727 Torqflite Transmission

The Rock Cycle

Hemi on the dyno from the Chrysler Museum

Mike dyno testesting -- before he blew up the room

Chrysler always had engineering developing the best in high performance parts and equipment. This photo from the 1950's shows the A311 Hemi project being evaluated on the engineering dyno.