Dick Landy’s 1965 Dodge Hemi Coronet AFX Dragster. Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.
The 12 B-bodies rolled out by Chrysler in late 1964 for Factory Experimental drag racing didn’t look quite right, especially in profile. Out back, a massive overhang was created by moving the rear wheels forward 15 inches, while up front, the tires – moved 10 inches in the same direction – nearly scraped the bumper. “Funny Cars,” the fans called them, and soon a new racing class was born. In January, the altered-wheelbase 1965 Hemi-powered Dodge Coronet originally shipped to Dick Landy and believed to be the first of the modified “funny cars” raced heads to auction, part of Mecum’s sale in Kissimmee, Florida.
For the program, Chrysler supplied six Dodge Coronets and six Plymouth Furys, each (except for a single Plymouth “test mule”) issued to a Mopar-sponsored racer. Bodies in white were shipped from Chrysler’s Los Angeles assembly plant to a third-party contractor for “chemical milling,” an alternative description of the acid-dipping process that shaved 200 pounds of weight (but occasionally made strength and rigidity an issue).
Next, the lightened bodies were sent to Amblewagon in Troy, Michigan, for wheelbase alteration, before being fitted with Plexiglas windows, lightened door hinges, and fiberglass components that included doors, deck lid, hood, front bumper, and dashboard. Once assembled, the cars weighed in at just 2,800 pounds, or 400 pounds below the NHRA’s minimum for the A/FX class. Even this was (more or less) by design: teams would have to add ballast to make weight, but were allowed to position it for maximum traction at launch.
Originally, the AFX Dragsters carried carburetors atop their 426 Hemis, but fuel injection was added in early 1965.
As part of the package, Chrysler shipped its sponsored drivers receiving “AFX Dragster” cars a spare Hemi engine and transmission, either a four-speed manual or beefed-up TorqueFlite automatic. Most made subtle changes to the cars to gain whatever minute advantage they could; Landy, for example, added a suspension brace of his own design.
It didn’t take the NHRA long to ban these altered wheelbase “Funny Cars,” though the more lenient AHRA permitted the cars to run in the Super Stock class. Match race competition was the most lucrative, and fans soon grew to love the showy, wheel-standing runs put on by the altered-wheelbase cars, prompting Landy to etch “This Side Up” on the bottom of his Hemi Coronet. Chrysler, on the other hand, was less amused by wheelies, proclaiming that these lightened cars were not built to endure such punishment. Racing is all about winning, and when teams realized that the nose-high runs were costing victories, wheelie bars and changes to setup shifted focus from show to go.
Landy is believed to be the first to race his altered-wheelbase Mopar, and, if so, it would make this example the first “Funny Car.” In the spring of 1965, Chrysler supplied fuel injection to its AFX Dragster teams, and the Landy Dodge today carries the same livery and setup it did in May 1965, shortly before Landy embarked on a national tour.
Wheelie bars later replaced the minimalist rollers pictured here.
Verifying the authenticity of a car like this can be challenging, but, in the case of the Landy Dodge, it has passed through a relatively small number of owners, who seemingly understood the factory race car’s place in history. In the 1990s, it was Dick Landy himself who reviewed the car and verified its authenticity, citing the alterations made for his suspension brace, the “This Side Up” etching, and a cracked driver-side taillamp–a detail that few aside from Landy would have knowledge of–as proof that this was indeed the car issued by Chrysler. The Hemi Coronet also comes complete with a copy of the original MSO, signed by Landy, a binder of Chrysler internal paperwork on the car, and a Chrysler Registry Report proclaiming it “the best Altered-AFX example of its kind.”
The Dick Landy Dodge is one of the offerings from the Nick Smith Factory Lightweights Collection, a group that also includes a pair of Gas Ronda’s Mustangs, a 1964 Ford Thunderbolt raced by Bob Martin, a 1963 Chevrolet Impala Z11, and a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 Lightweight raced by Jack Shick.
The upcoming Kissimmee, Florida, sale takes place from January 5-14, 2018, at the Osceola Heritage Park. For additional details, visit Mecum.com.