Geoff Stunkard
November 1, 2008
Photos By: Archival Files, Courtesy Elton "Al" Eckstrand

Accomplishment is a goal all men strive for in hopes of finding success and influence. For the past five decades, Elton "Al" Eckstrand served as an ambassador in many fields. In the Mustang community, he was best known for his Lawman "Super Boss" Boss 429 and the director of the Vietnam-era U.S. Performance Team driving program. But Eckstrand, who died at 79 after a short illness last spring, had done much more. In some ways, it could even be inferred that his efforts echoed through the decades to bring us the current generation Mustang.

Never married, Al (he used Elton only for his professional legal work) served the worldwide art community through his preservation efforts, worked at the upper echelons of the corporate world, taught safety to a generation of servicemen, and became well remembered internationally for a successful racing career.

Eckstrand with the Super Boss Mustang in his driveway in Naples in late 2002. Though never campaigned in the U.S. as a race car, it was certainly the most notorious Ford he ever drove.

Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, Eckstrand's original career began after pursuing both a masters degree in social psychology with Alpha Kappa Delta honors and a doctorate degree in law at Wayne State University. Soon afterward, in 1955, he began a law career at Chrysler, personally hired by President E. C. Quinn to work in the company's Organization arm. During this time, his nickname, Al, came about through the personal development of drag racing projects with Chrysler VP of Sales Byron Nichols. An amateur racer (both track and street, he would sheepishly admit), Eckstrand soon began winning organized drag events with modified production cars. He was assisted by direct funding from Nichols and engineering help from Chrysler.

The purchase of Roots Motors by Chrysler in the early '60s took Elton to Europe for the first time. Meanwhile, as drag racer Al "The Lawman" Eckstrand, he became well known in North American racing circles for his efforts with the factory-backed Ramchargers, Golden Commandos, and his own Lawman racing team, as well as being honored as one of the Great Men of Sports along with legends such as boxer Rocky Marciano and Olympiad Jesse Owens in 1964. Al's biggest victory during those years came at the 1963 Winternationals, when he won the Stock Eliminator crown in the Ramchargers Dodge. That summer, he also posted runner-up honors in his own Lawman entry at Indianapolis.

Wounded U.S. soldiers got out of their hospital beds in Yokosuka, Japan, to see the United States Racing Team's '70 Mach 1. The 428 Cobra Jet engine must have been an impressive sight to servicemen who had been overseas for a couple of years.

After leaving Chrysler to pursue his own legal business in 1963, Eckstrand continued doing fiduciary and estate planning for top executives at Detroit's automotive corporations, including Ford. He retired from racing in late 1965 following his legendary final-round victory over Dick Landy at the 1965 Super Stock Nationals. He subsequently returned to Europe on a more permanent basis in 1966, bringing with him the first production 426 Hemi-powered Dodge Charger, which was presented to him for a new plan of action.

Because servicemen returning from duty were a growing segment of America's 50,000-plus auto fatalities each year, Eckstrand's Hemi Charger and others were used for driving safety demonstrations for American servicemen in Europe. As the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated during the late '60s, Eckstrand proposed to the United States government to bring his safety exhibitions to outgoing Vietnam personnel. Chrysler was not interested in funding the program at that level, so Eckstrand met with Ford president Bunkie Knudson and arranged for the first Ford-based program, which began in 1970.