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The 1960s Horsepower Wars - The Dearborn Diet
How the cars of Ford and Mercury shed performance-robbing pounds during the horsepower war of the 1960s
After developing its first dedicated performance engine in the form of the 360hp, 352ci engine in 1960, which was enlarged to 390ci and packing 401 hp in 1961, Ford's theory of how winning races on Sunday related directly to sales in dealer showrooms on Monday really began to register in Dearborn. By 1962, Ford had decided to once again get seriously involved in motorsports competition by actively supporting USAC and NASCAR stock car teams, and through the formation of the Drag Council, which consisted of a group of successful Ford drag racers who fielded Ford Galaxies powered by the company's newest performance engine-the 405hp 406.
While the members of the Drag Council saw their fair share of success on the dragstrips during the 1962 season, it soon became apparent that at 4,000 pounds, the fullsize Ford Galaxie was at a significant weight disadvantage when competing against midsize 413 Plymouths and Dodges, as well as GM vehicles fitted with aluminum body panels. In an effort to gain parity, the forces of Dearborn developed a lightweight version of the Galaxie with which to equip the members of the Drag Council. Unfortunately, the program didn't get off the ground until midyear, and just a few lightweight Galaxies were built from the last 10 cars to leave the assembly line at Ford's Wayne, Michigan, plant with an eleventh car being assembled later.
With very little preparation time, the members of the Drag Council arrived at the NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis where, due to their low production numbers (less than the NHRA-required 100 units), the lightweight Galaxies of Les Ritchey, Tasca Ford, Jerry Alderman, Phil Bonner, Jim Price, and Stark-Hickey Ford found themselves in the A/Factory Experimental class. There they faced factory-built Pontiac Tempests powered by 434ci engines and weighing less than 3,200 pounds. Les Ritchey had the quickest Ford entry at the Nationals by virtue of his 12.73 e.t. at 110.97 mph, but the Fords were totally outclassed on that occasion.
The lightweights of Dick Brannan and Ed Martin Ford were run in the B/FX class. Brannan's-by virtue of its 380ci engine (352 cylinder block with a 406 crank), and Martin's-through added ballast weight along with steel fenders and hood. During time trials, Martin's car proved to be so uncompetitive that the ballast was removed, and lightweight parts replaced to compete in A/FX. A second Martin team entry was an all-steel Galaxie, which ran in SS/S alongside Gas Ronda's lightweight that had been fitted with steel parts. A post race report indicated that Ronda left the starting line first against all competitors, but the car seemed to lack power down track and he lost in eliminations.
The one bright spot for Ford at the 1962 Nationals came from Brannan, who qualified for the Top Stock Eliminator runoff with his all-steel Galaxie. Brannan battled his way through a 40-car field to make it all the way to the final four before bowing out of competition. While Ford's first foray into the ranks of factory-supported drag racing had failed to provide a victory, it laid the groundwork for better things to come.
Ford's plans for 1963 began with a limited number of specially-equipped Galaxies being provided to Drag Council members. But thanks to the foresight and considerable influence that Rhode Island Ford dealer Robert F. Tasca Sr. had with Ford, it was decided there would be an actual production run of lightweight Galaxies for 1963 in order to make the cars available to independent racers through Ford dealers. Ford, however, wanted to base the lightweight cars on the new Galaxie Sports Roof body style, which was scheduled as a half-year model, which meant that the assembly plants slated to build the lightweights (Los Angeles and Norfolk) wouldn't be geared up for production until March 1963.