Cars

Plymouth ready to race

Larry Wolfe  worked his way through a succession of vehicles, including street rods, a full-custom '64 Riviera, several bikes and a string of mid-'50s Ford pickups, before arriving at what may just be his dream ride: his Hemi-powered 1964 Plymouth Super Stock car. Amazingly, the car has yet to see the drag strip -- although that may change this year.
Larry Wolfe worked his way through a succession of vehicles, including street rods, a full-custom '64 Riviera, several bikes and a string of mid-'50s Ford pickups, before arriving at what may just be his dream ride: his Hemi-powered 1964 Plymouth Super Stock car. Amazingly, the car has yet to see the drag strip -- although that may change this year. The Wichita Eagle

Larry Wolfe has explored many facets of the collector car world over the years. He's owned a '32 Ford roadster, a full-custom '64 Buick Riviera and a mild custom '56 Buick done by the Titus brothers and several classic mid-'50s Ford F-100 pickups.

But there was something about the old Super Stock wars played out on drag strips around the country in the mid-'60s that kept beckoning to him. "There were oodles and gobs of these guys back then buying factory pro-stockers and running them at the strip," he said.

"I figured I could find one already built out there... and this white car comes along on eBay and it's got a Hemi in it and it's tubbed... and I love them big, tubbed cars. And these 2-door post cars are so hard to find," he said.

He bought the 1964 Plymouth Belvedere and waited excitedly while it was shipped here from Culpeper, Va. But disappointment awaited him.

"It wasn't near what I hoped for. When we rolled it off the semi, I was sick," Wolfe said. The car had serious rust issues and when he went to drive it to his buddy, Galen Frick's shop, a valve lifter shattered in the engine with shards of it wiping out the oil pump and starving the engine of lubrication.

So "Plan A" — buying an already built, drivable Plymouth factory Super Stock car — was already shelved. The car, which began life as a Slant 6, 3-speed stick family car, was totally disassembled.

"We just completely scattered it," said Wolfe, adding that it took three years to find all the parts, do the repairs and reassemble the Plymouth.

"I could have bought a 572 crate motor, but I was trying to keep it as nostalgic, period-correct as I could," Wolfe said. So he enlisted Duane Saum of Saum Engineering to rebuild the Hemi block and heads. The engine was bored and stroked, its displacement increased to 485 cubic inches.

"I told him, 'I don't care how fast it goes, but at an intersection I want it to sound good,' " Wolfe said, laughing. Saum figured roughly 600 horsepower generated on pump gas through a single Dominator 1050 carburetor, breathing through TTI headers and Kevin Kaiser-built 3-inch exhaust should not only sound pretty good, but go pretty good, too.

The 727 TorqueFlite automatic was rebuilt by Tim Parks of Chance Transmissions, with a beefier torque converter and a reverse pattern manual shift valve body installed.

The already-narrowed Dana 60 rear end was refitted with more street-friendly 4:11 gears and the car has rolled on a succession of wide racing wheels and tires; currently American Racing 5-spoke mags and radial Hoosiers do the job.

The unibodied Plymouth was shipped all the way to Dale Henderson's body shop in St. Francis, Kan., for much-needed sheet metal work. "He called and told me we needed to take 6 inches off the bottoms of the doors," Wolfe recalled.

Wolfe invested $1,500 in a handbuilt aluminum factory-style racing hood scoop made from an original MoPar pattern. When the car was straight and smooth, it was repainted in an off-white factory Plymouth color and sent back for reassembly at Frick's shop.

Plymouth Super Stock race cars had special single headlight grilles, so Wolfe had a pair of dual headlight street grilles cut up and reassembled to present the right face on the car. He stayed with a bench seat, instead of the minimalist race buckets, for comfort's sake. Rick Fisher upholstery in Augusta installed the correct factory door panels and did the seat in red vinyl to match; red carpet also was cut to fit around the wheel tubs and the vintage roll bar mounted in the back seat area. Frick created an under-dash panel to house auxiliary gauges and switches.

"It took me two years to find an NOS steering wheel," Wolfe said. "It had not even been painted," Wolfe said. He even found the correct radio, clock and defroster delete plates during his two to three years of Internet bargain hunting.

"I was actually a little disappointed when I ran out of stuff to find," he said, chuckling.

Amazingly, the big Plymouth has never been down the drag strip. "We go to local car shows mostly. I have more fun going to or coming from them. My wife (Mary) always knows I'm going to do something on the way," Wolfe said, grinning.

"The old guys are all over this thing because they remember them, too. The young guys, the only thing that trips their trigger is when they see the big tires," he added.

Wolfe may rectify the lack of drag strip time this year, planning to add a set of slicks and some 12-spoke lightweight front wheels for a first pass.

"It's not the most practical car in the world... no heat, no air, no power steering... but the car has held together good, no issues," he said. And it clearly pegs his fun-o-meter.

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