25 August 2015

Five fantastic factory-built drag racers

The Big Three have often looked to racing as both a laboratory and a marketing tool — “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” was the mantra. For a brief moment in the early 1960s, the focus was on the NHRA, and quarter-mile times were all that mattered, that was until Ford got interested in Le Mans and GM officially banned factory-backed racing efforts. Here are four of our favorites from the golden age of factory drag cars, plus one from just a few years ago:

  1. 1963 Chevrolet Impala Z-11: The Z-11 went the most logical route for straight-line performance, combining horsepower with reduced weight — hood and fenders were aluminum and the car packed a 427-cubic-inch V-8 that was a stroked version of the famed 409. It was intentionally underrated at just 430 hp, the same dubious figure that GM quoted for the L88 Corvette four years later. Over 500 hp was more likely. Fifty Impala Z-11s were built at the GM Flint plant.
  2. 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt: Ford followed Chevy’s lead with a lightweight big-block car that was also a weapon’s-grade quarter-mile assault device. Ford went with less expensive fiberglass body panels instead of aluminum and used a version of the 427 V-8 that saw duty in NASCAR (and later the 7-liter version of the Cobra sports car). Only 100 were built, and all carried a disclaimer plate in the glovebox regarding the not-up-to-standard fit and finish of the fiberglass panels and plexi-glass windows.
  3. 1963 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty: The Catalina Super Duty took weight reduction to new heights with the famous drilled “Swiss Cheese” frame that was ordered on 15 cars. Power came from a special dual-quad version of Pontiac’s 421-cubic-inch V-8 that was also likely underrated at 405 hp. The engine option cost nearly as much as the car itself. The usual assortment of aluminum and plexi-glass were also specified to further lighten the car.
  4. 1965 Dodge Coronet A990: The A990 used what may have been the most sophisticated of the 1960s factory drag car engines, the famed 426 Hemi. Just 101 were built and most were fitted with flat-as-a-pancake bucket seats that came from, of all things, a Dodge van.
  5. 2011 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak: Harking back to the golden age of the early 1960s factory drag racers, Dodge released a Viper-powered 8.4-liter V-10 Challenger for racing only in NHRA Stock and Super Stock Classes. About 500 pounds were trimmed from the stock Challenger by eliminating the usual power accessories, A/C and backseat. They’re already starting to show up at collector car auctions.

17 Reader Comments

  • 1
    OatMeal2 Montrose MI August 26, 2015 at 14:34
    If one of the five is the 2011 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak you have to include 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015 Chevrolet COPO Camaro's...Chevy builds 69 each year & they cannot be registered, titled, licensed, or driven on public roads or highways... The COPO Camaro is designed to NHRA racing specifications, including a solid axle and a full chrome-moly roll cage. Inside, most of the standard sound-deadening and power accessories have been deleted in order to optimize weight for NHRA racing.
  • 2
    MOPARTRUCKER NORTH CAROLINA August 26, 2015 at 14:37
    You left out the original factory drag cars. the mopar max wedges they after all, started the whole thing.
  • 3
    Rick Simpson Cobourg, Ontario August 26, 2015 at 14:57
    Ding Dong You have it wrong!!!!!!!!! How in the world can you leave out the 68 Hemi Cudas and Darts????????????????????? These are the greatest factory race cars ever built and still maintain over all others. The SS A class was created to handle these monsters. This is a major oversight on the writer's part and brings into serious question of his automotive knowledge.
  • 4
    Steve Dawson San Diego August 26, 2015 at 15:31
    How about the 1969 SS AMX
  • 5
    Randy skiamc Caledonia, mn August 26, 2015 at 15:48
    What happened to the big 4? the SS AMX, SC Rambler, The Machine?
  • 6
    Thomas Madere La place,LA August 26, 2015 at 16:00
    The 427 engine in the 1963 Impala Z 11 drag car was not a stroked version of the older 409. It was a completely new design known as the MK II (Mystery engine) and reappeared as the MK IV big block in 1965 in a 396 cu/in version nicknamed the rat motor. I was there when the Z 11 first appeared and raced a 1963 Ford 427 Galaxie against them. Thanks, Tom Madere
  • 7
    Ray Jacksonville Florida August 26, 2015 at 16:17
    They said Five Fantastic Factory Drag Cars. Not the ONLY five. Not wrong, just not exhaustively comprehensive.
  • 8
    todd evans kansas August 26, 2015 at 16:30
    Ford finished it!
  • 9
    BOB GAJEWSKI TENNESSEE August 26, 2015 at 17:16
  • 10
    Steve Lorenz Indiana August 26, 2015 at 17:29
    Give the author a break,we could add lots of our favorite cars to this list, but the list clearly states here is our favorites and a new one. He didn't say it was a complete list of all factory drag cars that were made.
  • 11
    carl Griffin Palmerton Pa. August 26, 2015 at 18:09
    I think the key thing here is factory- built drag racers. If I remember correctly, some of these cars ran A/FX, B/FX- (factory experimental). If they were to include cars that were available to the general public, I'm sure the 69 ZL-1 Camaro, and the 66 L-72 Biscayne would also be on the list. Look at the aluminum hood and fenders, fiberglass panels and plexi-glass windows, swiss cheese frame, and some of the A/FX Hemis even had altered wheel bases. These were true factory-built drag cars.
  • 12
    Jim Burmeister South Carolina August 26, 2015 at 23:40
    Come on, what about a 1968 Olds 442?
  • 13
    Jon Lundberg Oro Valley, AZ August 27, 2015 at 00:04
    Hold it! Before the 62 Darts and Savoys forever changed the game it was "bubbletop" Chevy's, Fords and Pontiacs. But that 5.5:1 low gear for Torqueflites and a 300-pound weight advantage meant the Mopars had a distinct advantage. Mid-60's Thunderbolts evened the game somewhat but then came the Stage II Hemi and that was that. After the A/FX's morphed into Funny Cars, Super Stock - for just awhile became quite a salad of makes - and then came Pro Stock. Watched that entire evolution occur during 8 magic years as the track announcer at Detroit Dragway from 1962-1970. Where each and every Saturday night saw that war escalate. It was a magic time.
  • 14
    Dave Harris Northbrook, Il August 31, 2015 at 19:32
    In addition to the Challenger Drag Packs & Copo Camaros, how about including the Mustang Cobra Jets? These cars are the new era for the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. Chevy, Dodge & Ford still battling it out!
  • 15
    J Coffey Elliston, Virginia December 24, 2015 at 13:44
    The 1963 Z-11 Impala was in fact powered by a punched version of the 409--to 427 cid--the other 427 version was the mk mystery engine developed by Chevy for NASCAR compitition in 63 and later available to the public in 65 as the turbo-jet 396. somebody needs to study up!
  • 16
    Chris Nizer Baltimore, Md December 3, 2016 at 13:33
    The article was about 4 of Hagerty's favorite factory drag cars...plus one from just a few years ago. It wasn't a list of all of them or which was fastest. Just 4 that were considered their favorites plus the one new car. No they didn't include the SS AMX nor did they include the Stage 2 Buick 455's...my personal favorite. Just something cool about a Buick factory drag car. Delivered with the Stage 2 racing parts in the trunk!
  • 17
    Fred Fisher Troy, MI June 7, 2017 at 09:49
    Were any of the mentioned production cars produced for drag racing available from the dealer and could be registered as street cars?

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