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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.