by Mike Mueller
Over the years Don Garlits and his gang have tried just about every way there is to go fast down the quarter-mile. Souped-up hot rods, gassers, top fuelers, funny cars, even rocket-powered rails—you name it and Big Daddy and his boys have run it, always to the hilt. But let’s not forget the opposite sex. Don’s wife Pat also is no stranger to serious speed, although even she admits “it was a long, long time ago” when she last drove a drag car with a purpose.
It was 1962 and the machine in question was a brand-new, shiny red Super Stock Dodge, yet another form of fast transport tested out by the Garlits clan. No, Mrs. Garlits was hardly a little old lady then. Nor was she even remotely from Pasadena. Two years before West Coast crooners Jan and Dean began warning Southern California stoplight challengers “that there’s nobody meaner than” a certain suburban L.A. granny driving a Max Wedge Mopar, this attractive young mother of two was tearing things up way back east in her own flashy 413 Dart.
Instead of street-racing down Colorado Boulevard, Pat Garlits strutted her stuff at Tampa’s Golden Triangle dragstrip, where she was a real terror in the ladies-only “powder puff” races. Don would drive their race-ready stocker out to Golden Triangle and Pat would take it from there. A 420-horsepower screamer equipped with Chrysler’s super-tough, driver-friendly Torqueflite automatic transmission, Don and Pat’s “family sedan” was the perfect ride for a novice weekend warrior, and that’s not meant to implicate any sexism whatsoever. Even Mrs. Garlits admits she was more of a lady and less of a racer during her short powder puff career. Along with that, she’s also not shy at all about giving her Dart the lion’s share of the credit.
“I usually won, but it had nothing to do with my driving abilities,” said Pat with a laugh 40 years later. “My Dodge was simply always the fastest car out there. It always had the strongest engine; Don wouldn’t have it any other way. I just stepped on the gas and held on. The car was really fast.”
Today, the grandmother of five still finds it thrilling to travel really fast one quarter-mile at a time. “The ride is just over with way too soon,” she said in 2002 in reference to a 157-mph pass she had made a few years before as a passenger in a specially outfitted dragster. As for her driving days, they too ended just about as quickly as they started, with no regrets. “I won a couple trophies,” she explained. “But after awhile I decided Don was the racer in the family.” Pat hung up her helmet after 1963.
Don Garlits also took an occasional turn behind the 413 Dodge’s wheel in ‘62, the year he became “Big Daddy.” But it was Fred Smith, Jim Edwards, and Jim Kaylor who actually campaigned the red-hot Dart in Super Stock competition, while Don, Connie Swingle, and Ed Garlits concentrated on the slingshots. Smith put up the best e.t. in the ‘62 Dart: 12.10 seconds at 116.00 mph. Kaylor then came back the following year in a new ‘63 Max Wedge and lowered the team’s S/S standard to 12.00/120. When Pat Garlits says “really fast,” she really means it.
Twelve-flat in the quarter-mile still means fast today in most people’s dictionaries—certainly so from the perspective of any mere mortal not named Garlits. But in 1962, a 12-second blast from a so-called “stock” sedan represented truly sensational speed never seen before from Detroit iron. Clearly Chrysler engineers then were playing a new game with a new set of rules—and by doing so they helped change the way the sport of drag racing itself was played.
Though certainly no stranger to this fight, Chrysler initially trailed its rivals in the factory Super Stock race as 1962 began. But not for long. Newly appointed corporation head Lynn Townsend—like Knudsen, a real car-guy—had put part-time racer, full-time engineer Tom Hoover in charge of Chrysler’s competition performance program in October 1961. And Hoover wasted little time coming up with a highly competitive response to the 409 Chevy, Super Duty Catalina and lightweight 406 Galaxie.
His Max Wedge 413 first appeared in May 1962. Actually, “Max Wedge” was a street slang reference: “Max” coming from the “Maximum Performance” designation used in factory brochures, “Wedge” referring to the engine’s wedge-shaped combustion chambers. Officially Dodge’s version wore the “Ramcharger 413” label, while Plymouth’s was tabbed “Super Stock 413.”
Built under precise conditions by Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Division, the Ramcharger 413 was a perfect match for the new downsized Dodge, which weighed a couple hundred pounds less than those full-sized chariots from Chevy, Ford and Pontiac. No aluminum bumpers or fenders were required to help a Max Wedge Dodge roar out in front at the strip, which it quickly did with ease. Although the Ramcharger 413 was offered in every ‘62 Dodge model except station wagons, most Max Wedge motors found their way that year into stripped-down Dart sedans—low-priced packages devoid of weight-adding creature comforts and dress-up baubles.
According to ads, the Max Wedge Dart featured “about the best power-weight ratio ever offered on a production car—now up to one horse for every 8.4 pounds.” Armed with either 410 or 420 horses depending on compression levels, the Max Wedge V8 was suitably strong, and in more ways than one. About the only carryover from the standard 413 was the block, and that was reportedly inspected for main bearing ruggedness.
After running the red 413 Dart in 1962, the Garlits team was sent another new Super Stock Dodge in 1963, this one featuring the enlarged 426 Max Wedge V8. Similar success followed that year before Don moved on and left the stock-class competition behind.
Within a few years the Super Stock circuit found itself falling by the wayside as the much faster Funny Cars started stealing all the thunder. Then that ever-growing need for more speed led NHRA officials in 1970 to create Pro/Stock racing, which effectively steered the good ol’ stock-class drags back towards the grass roots. Pro/Stocks wasted little time gaining momentum and remain strong in the brand-awareness business today. But as far as true “doorslammers” are concerned, many old-timers will agree that there will never again be anything like those heady days in the Sixties, a time when Detroit speed merchants were more than willing to help almost anyone get ready to race.
Take from Mike Mueller's The Garlits Collection: Cars that Made Drag Racing History (published 2004)