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The Saga of the Polaris Racing 1971 Mustang
Two buddies, with Gapp and Roush’s help, campaigned this 1971 Mustang in the early days of NHRA Pro Stock
The Kawneer Corporation was a metal fabrication shop that specialized in commercial aluminum window and doorframes, and the company had held over 400 patents by its founder Francis Plym. Based in Niles Michigan, once a year it would hold a company picnic for its employees. Francis enjoyed meeting his employee’s families and he even brought his own family to share in the festivities. In 1951, Francis’s so Andy, age six at the time, was introduceed to another six year-old, Wayne VanGilder. For many years the two hung out together, including after Andy came back from Vietnam.
One day in 1969, Andy and Wayne went to US131 Dragway in Martin, Michigan to watch some drag racing, and while sitting there they saw a 1969 Boss 302 run down the strip. He told Wayne, “We need a racing team.” The guys caught the racing virus. Andy’s family was fairly well to do, so off to the Ford dealer they went and purchased a brand new Boss 302 Mustang. Within a matter of time they were out running the car and struck up a friendship with Wayne Gapp and Jack Roush. Even though the Boss 302 was a good car, Gapp and Roush mentioned that they could build him even a better one, so a 1970 428 automatic Mustang coupe Super Stocker was put together to run with the big boys. Andy looked at the factory teams and said, “I want to do it like them but only better!” Not to be outdone, Andy also contracted Car Corporation to build a hauler to his design specs. It was a beautiful rig that matched the car perfectly!
Now that Andy had a car and a hauler, he needed a team. Since he could afford the best, he recruited Larry Mihalek, Ford’s Drag Club Coordinator and Technical Information Director for the Dealer Hotline. Larry knew the ins and outs of the Ford Motor Company so he was a natural choice at making the team successful. The rest of the team including his buddy Wayne VanGilder and crew member Bill Reeves. With the team now established, in 1970 Andy gave the crew and car a name, and Polaris Racing Inc. was born. Throughout his life his father always had a yacht that was named Polaris, and that’s how the racing team received it name.
On the car’s first outing, at US131, the team showed up late—elimination rounds had already started meaning they missed entering the race. But when the team rolled into the track, a crowd gathered around the hauler and marveled at the patriotic red, white and blue theme. Andy and Larry asked the track owner if they could match race the day’s winner, so for the car’s first-ever run, the new Mustang was lined up against a 396 Chevrolet. As the lights went down and the green light lit, the 428 coupe just sat at the starting line. When the Chevy was about three car lengths out, Larry hammered it and by half-track not only caught the Chevy but passed it with three to four car lengths at the finish line. The crowd went nuts and gathered around the car asking all kinds of questions.
In 1971, a Pro Stock car was added to the team, as was Jerry Baker as the co-captain and driver. With the expertise of Larry and his connections with the Ford Drag Team, they selected a new 1971 Fastback Mustang. There was a little grief involved with the choice, as most racers at the time were running the smaller and lighter Mavericks, but Larry had been told by someone in engineering that the Mustang did better in the wind tunnel. A plain-Jane, Grabber Blue, six-cylinder, three-speed, fastback was purchased at Joe Haden Ford in Niles, MI and with the help of Bill Reeves who worked at the dealership, Andy was able to dissemble the car in the back. Afterward, they hauled the car to California for acid-dipping. A couple months before this, Ford announced that they would be pulling out of factory-sponsored racing. Someone caught a glimpse of the shell and snapped a photo for Car Craft magazine that asked “Did Ford really pull out of racing?”
After the car made it back to Michigan, it was taken to the Logghe Brothers shop for chassis, tin, and brake work. The Logghe brothers were legendary at the time, building a majority of funny car chassis and other racing vehicles, so it was natural choice for Andy. During this time, a Gapp & Roush raised-port Boss 429 engine was built. Backing it up was a B&M C6 transmission, but operated by clutch (known at the time as a “clutch hydro.” Out back they selected a Dana 60 rear with a 4:88 gear instead of the Ford nine-inch. They finished the car off with not only a red white and blue paint scheme but a wild, matching interior. Hey, it was the’70s!
The car débuted at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indy and received the Best Appearing Crew award for the hauler, trailer, and both cars painted in the America theme. The car ran well but struggled to qualify, while Gapp & Roush’s Maverick was the fasted Ford qualifying at a 9.80’s at140 mph. Due to the extra mass of the Mustang, the best pass was 10.02, which was off the mark of the rest of the field. Throughout the season, the team worked on making the car faster but mechanical issues plagued the pony.
In 1973, the team was starting to get into the black and an outlaw Boss 429 Pinto was in the planning stage. Andy called the team into the office and had to break the bad news. His parents were pulling the plug, and that forced the team to dissolve. Everyone went their separate ways and Andy went back to his second love of playing with boats, never to return to racing again.
The Pro stock car was given to Paul Bedoian of the Pro Stock Engineering Company in California to help pay for some of the debts that the team incurred. The details are sketchy, but at some point the car made it back to the Midwest and the familiar red, white and blue paint scheme was removed. The original hood and deck lid were pulled off during the repaint and hung in the owner’s garage. A fresh coat of red paint made the car glisten again, along with a newer version of the Pro Stock hood scoop. The 429/C6 were swapped out for a 351 Cleveland and manual transmission. Reports said the car hung the tires so hard with the new motor that it almost dragged the rear bumper, so a longer set of wheelie bars were installed to help control the old gal. At some point, a 460 was installed before the car was sold to Chris Bjerkness in 1989. For the next 23 years he stored the car until he decided that he wanted something different, and it was placed up for sale at the Mecum auction in St. Charles, Illinois.
Mike’s Classic Cars LLC in Elkhorn, Nebraska purchased the car with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. The car was completely blown apart and carefully stripped of paint. The original acid-dipped body survived quite well, needing only minor repairs. Steve Rhoades of Councils Bluff, IA handled the paint and restored the famous red, white and blue paint scheme. While the paint work was being done, a Holman-Moody 429 block along with the original Gapp & Roush raised port heads and matching tunnel ram were being set up for the car. An original transmission was located through Andy’s estate. In late 2013, the car was unveiled at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) in Chicago. Unfortunately, Andy Plym never got to see his old car shine again, as he passed away in 2011. Once again the crowd drew around the old Pro Stock Mustang and people began to ask about the Polaris racing team.