“Built by Ray Barton Racing Engines, this engine is a motor-head’s wet dream”
Having a strong dollar may be hell for exporters, but those of us with an addiction to American muscle and drag racing have been making plenty of hay while the sun shines. In the last couple of years there has been an explosion of quality race cars pouring into the country, as most people do the sums and realise there’s no way you could build anything of the same quality for the money.
One of the more pleasing imports has been this visual stunner, a ’68 Barracuda owned and raced by Wayne and Sue Grimmer. Wayne Grimmer is a familiar name in these pages, especially if you’re talking Chrysler muscle and fast ” make that very fast ” street cars, but his history goes way back. In the mid-’80s Wayne and long-time buddy Clay Tocher held the record for AA/Altered in a legal, supercharged small block Chevrolet-powered Fiat Topolino at 7.68 seconds and 178.21mph (286.79kph). Lately he’s better known for his previously featured 604ci (9898cc) Hemi-powered, street legal, nine-second 1973 Plymouth Barracuda.
However, everyone has that dream car they’ve been hanging out for, and for Wayne it’s this ’68 Barracuda, “ It’s the one I’ve been waiting to go racing with,” he says. “I imported it from Virginia on the East Coast of the US. Sue gave me the green light to buy I as long as it did wheel stands.” Having seen the car in action, I guess she must be happy, then. It had been built and campaigned by Jack M French III for only a couple of years, and Wayne purchased the car “complete but minus the engine.” I had sent the 604 in my ’73 back to Barton for a freshen-up.
When I bought this car I gave them a ring and told them it was going to go into this, and they changed a few things.” Long a favourite of Hemi super stock drag racers, the ’68 Barracuda was not only an eye-pleasing package, but one of Chrysler’s lighter offerings with the Hemi option from the
“Since all engines are nothing more than air pumps, breathing is the key to power and breathing is what Hemis are all about”
factory. However, Jack didn’t build the car for Super Stock racing, he ran it in the absolutely insane arena of 10.5-inch tyre racing. Running a 9373cc (572ci) Hemi, “Jack only put around 30 runs on the Barracuda before putting it up for sale to build a turboed Hemi Pro Mod. It was no longer advertised when I rang him, but we talked for a while, got on really well and he agreed to sell it to me. He wants first option to buy it back, though.”
As it hadn’t been built to super Stock regulations, Jack had performed several weight-saving tricks not permitted in class-legal racing. First up the side windows were replaced with scratch-resistant lightweight polycarbonate, and the incredibly straight black paint and Barracuda graphics belie the fact that this slick fish is not all steel. It features fibreglass doors, front fenders and hood complete with an aerodynamic Harwood hood scoop.
The deck lid is also fibreglasss, and mounts an adjustable rear spoiler needed to keep those fat Goodyears planted on the top end on those low eight-second passes. Of course, a small amount of floor pan surgery was needed to accommodate the huge wrinkle wall rubber; from the B-pillar back, Chrysler sheet metal has been replaced with new tinwork and tubs, all weighing far less than it left the factory with.
No Butter Churns Here
It was only 10 years ago that supercharged doorslammers running low eights were impressing drag fans, and here we have a back halved car on carburettors, that’s how incredible this thing is. Of course, 604ci is a lot of motor in anyone’s language, let alone 604ci of Hemi. Built by Ray Barton Racing Engines (RBRE), this engine is a motor-head’s wet dream. Starting with a Keith Black aluminium block with water passages (“we saved 45kg but sacrifice some ring seal”), this dragster-quality piece is stuffed with a 4.625-inch stroke LA Enterprises kryptonite billet crankshaft. It’s a heavy piece of metal, so it’s gun drilled to lighten it and the counterweights are knife edged to reduce the drag as it cuts through oil finding its way back to the sump.
On the front snout, to smooth out nasty harmonics, there’s an ATI three ring super damper. RBRE supplied the billet Hemi race rods; they’re over 7-inches long and swing big JE pistons. There’s lots of squeeze here, almost 13.5:1 compression, and for reliability tool steel wrist pins are a must.
The pistons are gas ported, which means there’s a bunch of tiny holes drilled from the top of the piston to down behind the top ring, and this uses the compression to force the top ring out to promote better sealing. There’s also a Moroso vacuum pump to reduce pressure in the crank case, another race engine trick to promote better ring seal and help keep oil out of the combustion chambers. Lubrication is handled by an RBRE Hemi 898 billet oil pump, with a custom aluminium oil pan and side tank. The pickup swings to follow the oil, and before the car is ever fired the oil is pre-heated with a Peterson oil heating element. There are lots of tricks in these engines, huh?
Big Lungs, Big Appetite
Since all engines are nothing more than air pumps, breathing is the key to power, and breathing is what Hemis are all about. The 426 Hemi was introduced way back in 1964, and racers know that no matter how good it is, everything can be improved, including Hemi heads. These Stage V Engineering Millennium heads have raised ports and an RBRE competition porting job. Huge 2.44-inch titanium intake valves let the good stuff in, 1.92-inch exhaust valves show the bad stuff out, and they’re activated by RBRE roller rockers that are controlled by double taper push rods and Pacaloy triple valve springs.
A Hogan sheet metal tunnel ram is a heli-arced masterpiece of engineering. This one was ported and finished by RBRE, and mounts two 1150 Holley Dominator carburettors. Each one of these babies has the ability to flow 1300 cubic metres per minute, and the fuel delivery has to be able to match that, hence the Magnafuel ProStar 500 fuel pump and four-port regulator, fed by dash 10 fuel lines to the regulator and dash 6 from the regulator to the carburettors.
Something was needed to light the fire. Being an auto sparky, Wayne knew what to do when wiring up the ignition. Firing duties are handled by MSD. There’s the digital seven-control box, an HVC-2 coil, a billet distributor and a crank trigger for accurate timing. Fat Moroso leads send the voltage to Accel spark plugs and to ensure there’s always enough current to operate the electrics.
Western Auto Electrical (that’s Wayne), fitted one of its lightweight race alternators. Terry Bowden is famous for his chassis work, but the man builds a mean set of headers as well. This tricky little bundle of snakes is of stepped design, and uses merge collectors; to ensure long life and good looks they were Pro Coated. Each primary pipe is home to a little sensor that measures exhaust temperatures, all part of the Racepac V300 Data Acquisition System. There are also sensors mounted on the clutch and aluminium Mark Williams drive shaft, plus a full range of engine management sensors as well, all a bit high tech for a Neanderthal like me, but child’s play to a wire guy like Wayne.
Drop That Clutch, Pull, Pull, Pull and Pull
Hanging off the back of the engine is a trick titanium clutch can. Inside that there’s a Ram six-stand billet twin disc clutch assembly, which is trusted to pass the engine’s brutal torque back to a Liberty clutchless five-speed manual. What? You tell me it’s got a Ram clutch and a clutchless gearbox?
Well, the clutch is used on the launch, but you yank on the lever without it to change up a gear thanks to the saw tooth design; the higher gear kicks the lower gear out due to its faster speed. Forget about down shifting, it ain’t gonna happen. Wayne sends Jack information on how the car ran, and Jack sends back info on how to tune the clutch. “It’s right on the money, too,” says Wayne.
The Mark Williams (MW) alloy driveshaft sends the power back to a MW-built Dana 60, and like everything else on this car, it features all the tricks.
These rear ends are indestructible but heavy, so there’s a lot of effort put into making the rotating assembly as light as possible. The 40-spline axles are gun drilled, the spool is scalloped and liberally drilled, and unnecessary weight is removed from everywhere possible. The rear brakes are also out of the MW catalogue, and four piston callipers put the hard word on vented discs.
As part of the braking package there’s a pair of Stroud parachutes, “I guess some of those backwoods east coast tracks are a little short,” Wayne says with a laugh. Wilwood four pots do the duty on the front end. While we’re up the pointy end of the car, the original k-shaped cross member has been replaced with a Magnum Force chromoly k-frame. There’s a pair of Strange Engineering double adjustable front shocks performing damping duties, and to aid Wayne in keeping the Barracuda between the lines there is a Flaming River rack and pinion for steering the skinny front Alumistars down the track. Generally the front wheels are off the ground for the first 100 metres of bitumen, thanks to the copious traction provided by the previously mentioned 16×33-inch Goodyear slicks and a well sussed-out four-link rear suspension.
The Barracuda uses a wishbone link to prevent sideways movement, and another pair of those Strange Engineering double adjustable shocks to keep things smooth at this end as well. To prevent nosebleeds on launch there’s a pair of little wheels welded to some chromoly tube wheelie bars out the back.
Here For a Good Time
Inside the car there are few creature comforts, but then the Kirky racing seats aren’t sat in for a long time. Apart from the MW quick release steering wheel, a shifter and three pedals, there is the Racepak Ultra Dash Extreme, and I guess that’s enough to look at when you’re running 8.30s.
Snaking its way through the interior is the 12-point moly cage that ties the rear sub frame to the rest of the car. There’s a funny car cage inside that to provide even more protection should the unthinkable happen. The chassis is certified to seven seconds by the NHRA, which must add a large degree of confidence behind the wheel, a place Wayne is planning to become much more familiar with. “We spent the first half of the season setting the car up and getting used to it. Now that we are used to it, we’re doing okay; we won the last two meetings at Champion. We know there’s a bit more in it; ultimately, we will run another season here and then I’d like to race it at Winternationals in Oz, but first up I’ve gotta get my street car ’73 Barracuda back together. Barton is building a slightly milder 572 up for it, and the Father’s Day drags aren’t that far away”.
One way or another, we will be seeing a lot of Grimmer-style Hemis on the drag strip this year.
It’s a Hemi
People who know drag racing know the biggest and best drag race in the world is the US Nationals. Held in Indianapolis every August, it is one event every Top Fuel, Fuel Funnycar and Pro Stock team in the entire US will try to attend. Not because it’s the quickest track or has the best traction, not because it has the best air or the nicest facilities, just because it’s Indy, the drag race with the most history and character in the whole world.
There is, however, a race at Indy held in the qualifying days leading up to the Big Go, and it’s a race the TV fans know nothing about, yet it’s one of the most riveting spectacles in all drag racing. It’s the A Automatic Super Stock Shootout, a challenge to find the quickest and fastest automatic transmission muscle car in the US under NHRA’s tough Super Stock rules.
Traditionally only lightweight 6980cc (426ci) Hemi-powered 68 Darts and Barracudas fit into the class, and ETs vary a couple of tenths from the high eights to the very low nines, times which are little short of incredible given the tough restrictions the cars race under. All that becomes irrelevant once you witness a race though, because the cars are so closely matched races are generally won and lost on the start line. So each pairing usually consists of a pair of hard-punishing burnouts pre-staging, a few revs of the engine and then a battle of wills to see who loses nerve first, and who goes in first to stage. Seventeen seconds is a long time to sit and wait out your opponent on the line, but that’s about the class average, some have lasted more than a minute. Can you imagine the tension?
Once both cars have staged and the tree comes down both cars will leap into towering wheel stands, and breakage aside it will be door-handle to door-handle all the way down the track. This tough playground is where Ray Barton Racing Engines made its reputation.
Hemi. Named after the engine’s hemispherical combustion chambers and always spelt with a capital H, this little four-letter word is one that many drag racers and hot rodders utter in complete reverence. Hemis are engines with a ‘bad’ reputation. Back in the early days of organised Kiwi drag racing these engines were few and far between. As side-valve Fords, boat anchor Y-blocks and 283s yanked from Impalas and fitted with Corvette rocker covers were replaced with bigger displacement belly-button motors, Hemis were a rarity; almost mythical beasts. They were generally only found in displacements between 5424 and 6424cc (331 and 392 cubic inches), the later model 426-style engine being even rarer than moa’s teeth. If a Hemi was used, these behemoths were nearly always found between the frame rails of an open-wheeled dragster or altered, never in a full-bodied beauty like this. We’ve come a long way baby, ain’t evolution grand.
1968 Plymouth Barracuda Fastback
Engine: Keith Black aluminium wet block, LA Enterprises 4.625 billet gun crankshaft, RBRE Billet Hemi race rods 7.100 long, J&E 13.4.1 compression ratio, pistons Stage V, Engineering Millennium raised port heads, full competition porting job by RBRE, Custom 61mm titanium inlet, 49mm exhaust valves, Pacaloy triple valve springs, RBRE Hemi roller rocker system, 7/16 to 3/8 double taper pushrods, Hogan sheet metal tunnel ram ported by RBRE, two 1150 Holley Dominators, MagnaFuel ProStar 500 fuel pump and filter, MagnaFuel four-port regulator, MSD Digital 7 control box, billet distributor and crank trigger, 8.8 Moroso HT leads, Terry’s Chassis Shoppe headers, 2-¼ stepped-2 3/8, 4.5-inch collectors, RBRE billet oil pump, custom alloy oil pan with swinging pick up and Peterson pre-heating element, Moroso oil catch can, Moroso engine vacuum pump, ATI Super damper, Western Auto Electrical race alternator, Racepak V300 data logger.
Driveline: Liberty five-speed clutchless, Trick titanium clutch can, Ram twin disc clutch and flywheel, Mark Williams Dana 60 diff, 40-spline axles and spool, 4.56 pro gears.
Suspension: Four-link rear suspension, Strange Engineering double adjustable coil-overs.
Brakes: Mark Williams discs and callipers front, Wilwood discs and callipers rear, twin Wilwood master cylinders with balance bar.
Wheels/tyres: Weld Alumastar 2.0, 15×3.5 with Goodyear Frontrunners 15×4.5, 15×15 beadlock with Goodyear slicks 15x16x33.
Exterior: Fibreglass doors, fenders, hood and deck lid. Paint by Eddie Hollon (USA).
Interior: Kirkey racing seats, Racepac Ultra dash extreme.
Performance: 8.30 at 164mph (263.9kph), 831kW (1115hp)
Occupation: Auto sparky and owner of Western Auto Electrical
Previously owned cars: ’73 Barracuda, 572 RBRE Hemi, 727 trans, ’71 Barracuda, 493 RBRE wedge with six-speed Richmond manual, ’71 ’Cuda 340 four-speed, ’68 Camaro, L89 396 four-speed.
Dream car: ’68 Hemi Barracuda. Wait a minute, I’ve got this one now.
Length of ownership: 15 months
Build time: Eight months to get race ready
Wayne thanks: Jack M French III for building and selling an awesome car, and for his ongoing support and clutch tuning advice, www.whipassracing.com, Terry Bowden of Terry’s Chassis Shoppe, Logan Rooke of Logan Signs, Peter Trengrove of Cyclo Polishers, and Eric Livingstone of West Auckland Engine Reconditioners. And his crew: Sue Grimmer, Marc Grimmer, Ryan Grimmer, Robyn Ward and Clay Tocher.