By the time Ed Miller paired with Kip Guenther to purchase “Akron Arlen” Vanke’s four-speed 1965 Plymouth Belvedere A990, it was already a tired race car with a full season under its slicks. Despite this, Miller and Guenther knocked off a series of tough competitors (including Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins) to claim the then-largest payout in drag racing history — the $10,000 that accompanied the debut Super Stock Eliminator Championship in 1967. On Friday, May 17, the Miller and Guenther Belvedere A990 crosses the block in Indiana, part of Mecum’s Indianapolis sale.
In 1965, drag racers in the know could order up a Super Stock-ready contender from their local Dodge or Plymouth dealership. Unlike the very-limited-production altered wheelbase A/FX cars (of which just 12 were built), Plymouth built 160 A990 Belvederes, while Dodge produced 200 A990 Coronets. At first glance, they appeared to be production examples, but those with keen eyes (or a tape measure) would spot a slight, 1-inch reduction in wheelbase.
Under the skin, however, the A990 cars were radically different than their showroom brethren. To circumvent rules prohibiting fiberglass or aluminum body panels in Showroom Stock classes, the Mopars carried steel bodies that were “chemically milled” to reduce thickness and hence, weight. While production Belvederes used bodies stamped from steel 0.038 inches thick, the A990 cars carried bodies that were (more or less) 0.018 inches thick, and featured bumpers mounted on aluminum brackets and doors hung on aluminum hinges.
Inside, the rear seat was jettisoned, as were the heater, radio, carpets, trim panels, armrests and even garment hooks. Corning contributed lightweight side glass, and even the front seats were chosen for weight reduction. Pulled from the A100 van, the chairs were mounted on aluminum frames, further Swiss-cheesed to save a few more ounces.
Under the hood, power came from a 426-cu.in. Hemi V-8, fed by a pair of Carter four-barrel carburetors atop a cross-ram intake. A high-lift and duration camshaft was used, and revised pistons bumped compression to 12.5:1. Though Plymouth claimed this “Super Commando Hemi” was good for 425 horsepower and 480 lb.-ft. of torque, the NHRA understood that output was actually closer to 500 horsepower in as-delivered form. Finally, A990 buyers could specify a choice of transmissions, with either a Hurst-shifted A833 four-speed manual or a specially modified TorqueFlite automatic sending twist to the rear wheels via a Dana 60 rear end with 4.56:1 gears.
Miller was a mason by trade, and after a stint in the Army, returned to drag racing with a 1963 Plymouth Max Wedge. In early 1966, he partnered with Guenther out of financial necessity, raising the cash needed to buy Vanke’s year-old A990 Belvedere. As Mopar Magazine relates, their success at the local level opened doors in Chrysler’s corporate halls, giving the team access to parts with the understanding that the team would remain in Super Stock, and not gravitate to the Modified classes.
Manufacturers liked the Super Stock class — new for the 1967 season — as it gave them an arena to highlight the latest models and performance parts. Competitors liked the class since rules allowed for more frequent engine changes and were less restrictive about performance parts and rear tire size. To add even more incentive to run in Super Stock during the inaugural season, shifter guru George Hurst fronted a $10,000 prize for the first Super Stock World Champion.
Before earning a trip to the 1967 World Finals, held at Southwest Raceway in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Miller and Guenther set three NHRA Super Stock speed records that season, beating Jenkins for the Division 1 title on cumulative points. By the time Tulsa rolled around, the Miller and Guenther Belvedere could have been accurately described as “tired.” A replacement engine, built up from spare parts, was dropped into the car ahead of qualifying, but on a test run Miller lost oil pressure, prompting a hasty rebuild in the pits. After besting fellow Mopar driver Don Grotheer and Jenkins (again) in races leading to the finals, Miller lined up against the Camaro of Dick Arons for the title.
Arons had the advantage of a handicap start, but Miller ultimately reeled him in, posting an E.T. of 11.19 to take the win. Miller and Guenther had beaten the odds in getting to the finals, and the victory helped Miller earn a role as a factory-sponsored driver who’d take an AHRA championship in 1969 and the NHRA Division 1 Pro Stock title in 1970. From 1968-’71, he’d host performance clinics at East Coast dealerships, and later went on to open a speed shop in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Miller later sold the Belvedere to purchase a ’68 Barracuda, and in 1997 the Plymouth was purchased by noted drag racing collectors Don and Mary Lee Fezell. Under their ownership, the car was restored to its 1967 Tulsa livery, and a fresh, period-correct 426-Hemi installed. Included with the car are ownership records and receipts, a copy of the original title with Vanke’s name, photos of the restoration, in-period and present-day literature on the car, and a 1:18-scale model.
Mecum has not set a pre-auction estimate on this car, which crossed the block once before at Kissimmee in 2017, part of the Don Fezell collection. There, Mecum predicted a selling price of $250,000-$350,000, but the Plymouth failed to meet the reserve and was not sold.
For additional information on the 2019 Indianapolis auction, visit Mecum.com.