1965 Plymouth AFX Haulin Hemi II
The 1965 Plymouth AFX ran on the drag racing circuit due to a Hemi engine ban from NASCAR during the 1965 season. The 1965 Plymouth AFX was created to maximize the potential of the 426 Hemi engine in straight line acceleration competitions. The Plymouth engineers found that if they could alter the weight distribution to create more traction for the powerful 426 Hemi engine, it would result in quicker elapsed times. By the rules, there was no rule as to where the wheelbase needed to be located. So the Plymouth and Dodge engineers moved or altered the wheelbase forward under the body for two reasons: 1. to move the weight of the Hemi engine closer to the rear axle and 2. to put more weight over the rear tires.
Initially, the weight transfer did reduce quarter mile times significantly, but when the power was increased, the front tires had a difficult time staying one the ground due to the fact that the Hemi engine had been pushed back away from the front axle, thus lightening the very front of the car. This new appearance looked strange or “funny” and many people would soon say “That’s a funny looking car” which led to the nickname “Funny Car.”
The AFX class was the Factory Experimental in the A, the largest engine displacement class.
Here is a story courtesy of Mecum Auctions for your review.
It was late 1964 and deep in the core of Chrysler Engineering, Jim Thornton was modifying a chassis in the Structures Lab. The just-completed drag-racing season had witnessed many things—the reintroduction of the Hemi engine, victory in FX and SS at NHRA’s Nationals, and record-setting performances. Thornton was now tasked with developing the 1965 race packages. The original A864 Hemi engine of 1964 was superseded by an updated 426 Hemi, the A990, which featured aluminum heads and a magnesium cross-ram intake among other changes to save weight. Thornton, however, was designing something even more radical that could take on Ford’s SOHC-powered Mustangs and Comets. The result has become commonly referred to as ‘altered-wheelbase’ (AWB) cars in the collecting hobby, but the track announcers and Ford deriders back then quickly found a name that proved far more popular: ‘funny car.’
Offered here is one of the handful of these factory specials (a total of a dozen were done), the Plymouth once campaigned by Lee Smith. Smith was an Illinois racer who had a sponsor association with Learner’s Sales & Service, one of the largest Imperial sellers in America. That and his success in 1964 had gotten him one of just six Plymouths created by Chrysler for the AWB program, and one of only two existent today. Those survivors are this car and the Golden Commandos example; gone forever are the similar hardtops of Sox & Martin, Butch Leal, the Melrose Missile and the prototype built by Thornton, while a trio of Dodge AWBs survive as well. Ownership of one of these cars is incredibly exclusive.
The ‘funny car’ name came about when Thornton and the other engineers in Chrysler’s Race Group led by Tom Hoover decided to move the wheelbase as far forward as possible. The front wheels were brought up 10 inches and the rear axle moved forward by 15 inches; the result was wheelstands and more records, and, to Chrysler’s extreme pleasure, widely circulated publicity in the nation’s car-enthusiast press even after NHRA refused to let them run. The bodies for the program were acid-dipped in California and shipped to a conversion company near Detroit for build-up into program cars. Smith was given the responsibility of representing Plymouth in the Midwest with his, though he did travel with factory assistance to some larger events like Phoenix, Arizona, and Bristol, Tennessee. He later posted a runner-up in B/XS class at the 1966 US Nationals with it. After its match-racing days concluded, it was owned and partly rebuilt by pioneer race-car historian Toli Polewick of Iowa, and ended up with noted AWB collector Mike Guffey; both men are intimately familiar with the factory altered-wheelbase race cars. Prior to becoming part of the Jackie and Gary Runyon collection, it was owned by Greg Mosley after being wonderfully restored to its mid-1965 appearance by Jim Welch with Lee Smith’s involvement.
Today, it is considered the most documented of all the surviving cars, Dodge or Plymouth, and will be sold with factory paperwork sent from Chrysler to Smith, assorted post-restoration documents and books, and signatures from Smith and other former owners on the actual vehicle. The Hemi engine is spec’d to A990 trim, with short-stack Hilborn fuel injection as used post-May 1965 since this car was equipped with a 4-speed transmission. Rare factory parts include the acid-dipped body, the Lexan windshield, Plexiglas side windows and back window, original stainless-steel K-frame engine support, and fiberglass components like the front fenders, doors, hood, hood scoop, bumpers, deck lid and dashboard. Inside this car are a Hurst shifter and tan metallic-color interior parts, though these are minimalist based on the car’s intended use.
The term ‘funny car’ soon came to mean supercharged lift-off body dragsters in disguise, but its origins were the first cars like this. Though independent racers converted older Super Stock models into altered-wheelbase trim, Lee Smith and his factory-supported peers were the face of Chrysler racing in 1965, especially with the NASCAR series being factory-boycotted. Finally, we would be remiss to not state that this will be one of the only times one of these cars has ever been offered publicly; it has a verified ownership trail and is restored to its proper mid-1965 glory days. The Haulin’ Hemi II belongs with a serious caretaker who fully understands both its importance in American automotive history as well as being one of the rarest factory Hemi Plymouths in existence today.
Photos courtesy of Mecum Auctions also.