As colour film ages, a phenomena known as curve crossover frequently occurs as fidelity of the three colour dyes age at different rates. This often results in an evocatively ethereal colour palette. Such is the case with these photos from the heyday of Stock Car drag racing in the U.S.
In the 1950s when 1/4-mile drag racing was gaining legitimacy, there was little interest in racing the family sedan. No official records were kept, nor was elapsed time recorded; the winner was the car with the highest trap speed.
As the sixties dawned, interest in production car racing started to build and the fastest stock category (based on a power-to-weight ratio formula) was dubbed Super Stock.
As fan enthusiasm increased, manufacturers took notice. National Hot Rod Association regulations required building only 100 units to qualify for a stock production class, and auto companies soon began releasing limited batches of increasingly powerful engines to remain competitive.
Notable entrants in 1958 included the 280 hp Chevrolet 348 (5.7-litre) Turbo-Thrust Tri-Power and 300 hp Ford 352 (5.8-litre) 4V Interceptor Special.
After introducing an optional 4-speed gearbox for the Corvette in 1957, Chevrolet began offering it in their standard line beginning with 1959 models. Meanwhile Dodge introduced a new 383 (6.3-litre) V8 rated at 345 hp.
By 1960, things were changing rapidly. In June of that year Motor Trend magazine published an in-depth Stock Car Drag Racing piece and auto manufacturers became increasingly involved. The most exciting development for stock car drivers and fans was the debut of the 1960 Ford Special High Performance 352 (5.8-litre) V8.
With free-flowing aluminium intake manifold and high 10.6:1 compression, the new powerplant produced 360 hp, exceeding the output of the contemporary Chevrolet 348 Special Super Turbo-Thrust, Chrysler 383 D-500 and Pontiac factory-spec 389 (6.4-litre) Tempest Tri-Power engines.
With optional 15” wheels and a 3.22 rear axle, a Galaxie Starliner so equipped could hit 150 mph on a long straightaway.
Meanwhile, stock car regulations allowed for the use of factory parts even if such pieces were only available from dealership parts departments. Pontiac was the master of this game, making available such pieces as Super Duty engine blocks with 4-bolt main bearing caps, forged crankshafts and forged high-compression pistons.
For 1961 the Starliner was available with Ford’s new 390 cu in (6.4-litre) V8. A few months after introduction, an aluminium intake with triple dual-throat carburettors became available over the parts counter, boosting horsepower to 401. In May, Ford began offering the 390 with their first-ever 4-speed transmission for North America, complete with floor-mounted shift lever.
To fight back, Pontiac began offering an over-the-counter 421 cu in (6.9-litre) engine, while Chevrolet responded with a new 409 cu in (6.7-litre) V8, but only in very limited numbers. Unlike the 390, which was available to any purchaser of a full-size Ford (except station wagons), only 142 Chevrolet 409s were installed; all in Impalas with 4-speed gearboxes. They were also sold over the counter, most of which found their way into lightweight Biscaynes.
1962 was the pinnacle year for genuine Super Stock drag racing. That year; and that year only, NHRA rules specified that all cars had to be equipped with factory-installed components; over-the-counter parts were banned. Outside of allowable modifications to induction and exhaust systems, clutches and whatnot, the cars running Super Stock on Sunday could be purchased at a local showroom on Monday. Unfortunately, that would never again be the case.
An immediate side effect of the new ruling was that to remain competitive, Chevrolet had to offer their 409 to the average Joe. Thus the 409 Turbo-Fire V8 became the first engine to break the 400 cubic inch (6.6-litre) barrier available from the “low price three” manufacturers. In 1962 the only other 400+ engines were the Chrysler 413, Pontiac 421 and Lincoln 430.
For 1962 there were two versions of the 409, the original, now uprated to 380 hp, and a new special high-output version with twin 4-throat carburettors rated at 409 hp. This dual-quad 409 was famously popularized by the Beach Boys in their summer hit, 409. Now that anyone could buy a 409, many did; during the ’62 model run Chevrolet sold over 15,000.
A few months after the start of the model year, Ford answered with a new 406 (6.7-litre) V8 with a single 4-throat carburettor or the triple dual-throat carburettor setup inherited from the high-output 390. In keeping with the rules, anyone could walk into a dealership and walk out with a Ford 406, paired only with 4-speed gearbox.
In compliance with the new regulations, Pontiac made their previously over-the-counter 421 V8 a factory production option for 1962. Unlike Chevrolet and Ford however, it was not listed in brochures and not widely publicized until the debut of 1963 models.
Chrysler released their first 400+ cubic inch drag racing engine to the public, the 413 (6.8-litre) Max Wedge. Marketed as the Plymouth Super Stock and the Dodge Ramcharger, the 413 was available only with a 3-speed manual transmission, or Chrysler’s 3-speed A727 TorqueFlite push-button automatic gearbox.
Rules became muddled for 1963, with many changes occurring mid-season. Meanwhile, manufactures continued to up the ante with the introduction of new 7.0-litre engines: 427s from Ford and Chevrolet, and the Chrysler 426 Max Wedge.
In 1964 Ford placed their new 427 V8 into 100 mid-size Fairlanes, creating the lightweight Thunderbolt, while Chrysler began offering a 4-speed gearbox behind their Max Wedge engines.
Nevertheless, by this time fans and top drivers were increasingly switching allegiance to FX classes that featured altered wheelbase cars with lightweight components and exotic engines (like Ford’s SOHC 427) that no longer bore much resemblance to anything one might find on the floor of a new car showroom.
The excitement of a top driver winning in a car you could pretty much duplicate by selecting the right options at your local dealership were gone, faded away like… aged photographs.
For more pictures and history, visit George Klass Remembers…