by Mike Mueller
(Excerpt from The Garlits Collection: Cars that Made Drag Racing History published in 2004)
Yes, Dick Landy’s 1964 Dodge sure does look "funny," what with its altered-wheelbase and sky-high stance. Whether or not it was drag racing’s first funny car, however, is a matter of opinion.
Super Stockers—make that super-duper-stockers—quickly became all the rage not long after General Motors, Ford and Chrysler got into the quarter-mile game on invitation by Wally Parks in 1959. Popularity soared right along with speeds as the Big Three players invested bigger and bigger bucks in outdoing each other both on the dragstrip and in the public’s eye. Americans, after all, love winners. And American car buyers at the time clearly loved seeing the types of cars they drove win at the drags. It was an ongoing illusion, sure. Even more so as a chasm quickly widened between the factory Super Stocks (fitted with hotter, wilder hardware) and their Clark Kent-like regular-production cousins. But it was an illusion that began enticing more and more race fans to ante up at ticket offices across the country as the Sixties rolled on, a reality that pleased Parks just fine.
Nicknamed “Dandy” by Hot Rod’s Eric Dahlquist in 1964, Landy looked more like he just stepped off a football field than a dragstrip. He was broad-shouldered and lantern-jawed, and his trademark cigar only enhanced his he-man image during his driving days. The ‘gar, however, has always been for show; Dick never has been a smoker and freely admits that lighting one up makes him dizzy. He has only ignited a few during his long career, and then only “for a joke.” As he told Hot Rod’s John Dianna in 1970, “I just chew on ‘em and throw ‘em away. I chew on about a box a week when I’m racing.”
Dick Landy never went anywhere without his victory cigars, a personal trademark that dated back to 1961. Landy never smoked them, he would "just chew on ‘em and throw ‘em away."
A Southern California hot rodder through and through, Dandy Dick kicked off his competition career in 1956 at age 19. His first ride? A 1956 Ford pickup truck. A friend had the truck. The local strip featured a class for pickups. So Landy went racing.
He switched over to cars in 1960 after his brother bought a new Ford equipped with a Police Interceptor 352 V8. Success at the wheel of that ‘60 Ford attracted some local sponsorship, then Landy teamed up with Andy Andrews of Van Nuys, California, at the time one of the West Coast’s biggest Ford performance dealers. It was Andrews who first stuck a “victory cigar” in Landy’s mouth in 1961. More wins brought more cigars, and soon Andrews was supplying Dick with that box a week. The tradition then carried on from there, even after Landy traded Fords for Plymouths in 1962.
By then he was getting direct factory support via Ronnie Householder, Chrysler’s competition projects guru. Two years later he jumped from Plymouth to Dodge, the nameplate he stuck with until he walked away from the track in 1981 to concentrate on his race shop, Dick Landy Industries, in Northridge, California.
In truth, his retirement had less to do with concentrating on business—another field in which he has always been outstanding—than it did with finally becoming fed up with drag racing’s constant rules changes. What went on with the factory-supported Super Stocks during the Sixties was nothing compared to the turbulence encountered in the Pro/Stock classes a decade later when handicapping hassles eventually forced Chrysler’s quarter-mile challengers right out of contention.
Unlike Garlits, Landy always did and still has a soft spot in his heart for doorslammers, if only because he was a champion for factory involvement all along. As he explained in a 1965 Drag Sport interview, “this direct factory sponsorship draws a lot of people on its own strength [to the track], people who [sic] otherwise wouldn’t come.” Along with that, he also recognized what type of racing machine then offered the best bang for the buck—from both the fans’ and the factories’ perspective. “Today most of the dragsters look alike,” continued that interview. “It’s very hard to tell who is who when they come to the starting line. If the spectators can’t identify with something on the car or with the people who own or drive the car, they are going to lose interest in it.”
Fans across the country always were well aware whenever Dandy Dick Landy inched up to the line. All also always knew in no uncertain terms that Landy drove a Dodge, a really quick Dodge.
In 1964 Landy’s factory-direct connections supplied him with one of the earliest lightweight Hemi Dodges built that year—its scheduled production date was May 27. This automatic-equipped, plain-Jane 330 sedan replaced the unconventionally upscale Stage III Polara hardtop that Dick had begun the 1964 season running in NHRA’s S/SA class. He continued competing in S/SA with the new Hemi up through Labor Day’s U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Apparently impressed there by the new-and-improved 2-percent Mopars, Landy then returned to the drawing board to do a little chassis tweaking of his own.
When Landy’s Dodge took to the track again that fall it looked even funnier than the factory-built 2-percenters. For one thing, it sat up higher thanks to a leaf-spring solid front axle installed in place of the stock torsion bar setup (rear suspension was “jacked up” to match). Because this beam axle came from a Dodge van, it was still considered a “stock” Chrysler part, at least by AHRA class rules. NHRA officials weren’t so willing to turn such a blind eye, but more on that soon enough.
Even more striking than the car’s altered height was its relocated wheels: the fronts were moved forward about six inches, the rears eight, all in the best interest of some serious weight transfer to the tail. Unlike a typical 2-percent Mopar, which easily went unnoticed when first released, Landy’s altered Dodge fooled no one, not with its fender openings nearly touching the tires at the leading edges. Crowd-pleasing wheelstands were also a piece of cake, though this practice didn’t make safety-conscious NHRA watchdogs happy at all.
They wasted little time banning the radical machine, leaving Landy to campaign it enthusiastically in AHRA match-racing and other exhibitions, venues that by 1965 were filling up rapidly with a wide array of really funny cars, all of which no longer fit within NHRA FX classifications. No way, no how did a factory car—experimental or not—run on fuel or use a Roots-type blower or Hilborn injectors as more and more match-racers started doing in 1965. Nor could a stocker break the 10-second barrier, at least nowhere this side of bizarro world.
But that’s just what some doorslammers managed in 1965 as the 9-second realm became the latest playground for the stock-bodied set. Leading the way were Chrysler’s all-new, totally radical altered-wheelbase racers, almost silly-looking machines with acid-dipped bodies, modified fiberglass fenders, and wheels relocated 10 inches forward up front, a whopping 15 in back. Eleven were built (six Dodges, five Plymouths) and all also featured hoods, doors, front bumpers and dashboards fashioned from weight-saving fiberglass. Weighing in at roughly 3,000 pounds, these cars were at first a cinch to run in the low 10s. Switching from gas to fuel and trading carburetors atop the Hemi for the Hilborn injection system, which Chrysler officials authorized for strip use in February 1965, salted away bursts into the 9s.
Landy, of course, was one of the top factory drivers to take delivery of a ‘65 altered Dodge, and he scored a sensational 9.52/143.54 that year. As was the case in 1964, NHRA party-poopers again refused to allow any of the new altered Mopars entry into their fraternity, leaving Landy to do his darnedest in AHRA competition. Fans who witnessed his wild wheelstands in 1965 match-race action still haven’t forgotten one of the dandiest shows ever staged in drag racing history.
Dick didn’t get his nickname for nothin’.
Dick Landy started drag racing at age 19 in 1956. In 1961 he attracted sponsorship from noted Ford dealer Andy Andrews, of Van Nuys, California. Andrews was the man who first stuck one of those trademark victory cigars into Landy’s mouth. In 1964 Landy became "Dandy Dick." (Courtesy Marc Gewertz, National Dragster)