Remember last week when we showed you a handful of iconic drag cars — including those of “TV” Tommy Ivo, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, and Bill “Maverick” Golden — that are slated to hit the auction block this weekend at the Mecum Kissimmee collector car auction? They were some mighty fine and no doubt valuable cars, but the one you see before you just might trump them all when the dust settles in Florida. That’s because this is, arguably, the finest living example of one of the most incredible and sought-after automobiles that Detroit has ever fashioned.
Back in the latter half of 1967, following some redesigns to the A-body platform, the team at Chrysler hatched a plan to install its highly successful and feared HEMI race engine into the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda models for purpose-built race duty. The HEMI had already torn up the track in 1964 and ’65 with world championships in Stock and Super Stock in larger B-body cars, and placing them into the more compact A-body models was a weight-to-horsepower dream The A-body was about 10-15 percent smaller and lighter). Plans were drawn up, parts were prototyped, and Chrysler was well on its way to delivering an unbeatable knockout punch to its cross-town competitors. The finished product was so heavily modified that Chrysler had to explicitly state that it was not intended for highway use. Hurst Industries created a specific facility in Ferndale, Michigan, to construct the cars under contract for Chrysler.
The Dart, carrying the code LO23, began with 383-designed big-block vehicles and were delivered to their new owners in primer and with the stock camshaft and oil pan, ready to be replaced with race parts. As Dodge Garage notes, the cars came with mild Street HEMI camshafts with stock .484/.475-inch lift and was most likely intentionally done to force racers to “blueprint” their HEMI engines for ultimate power.
Options were limited solely to transmission choice—either with an A833 four-speed with a Dana 4.88 differential, or a worked A727 automatic backed by a 4.86 8.75-inch differential. As the Mecum ad puts it, each of the 80 cars built were “a poison-tipped spear aimed at the heart of its competitors.”
Just 80 LO23’s were built, along with 70 Barracuda’s (carrying the code BO29).
The cars fit right into the NHRA’s SS/B and SS/BA categories out of the gate, and they absolutely ruled both. In 1970, they were reclassified into SS/A, and today, are the only muscle car package with an NHRA class dedicated solely to them, known as SS/AH (A-Hemi). Nearly all of the 150 cars were heavily modified over time to meet the ever-changing rules of the categories, and they were raced hard and raced often. Except for this one.
In 1977, this car was found at a car dealership in Pennsylvania by late Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover, who had played a key role in the initial HEMI engine development. Hoover tipped off Detroit’s Lou Mancini about the car, which at the time registered just 19.5 miles on the odometer. It had an amateur paint job, but was virtually unmolested otherwise. Mancini bought it with the intent to resell it, but ended up hanging onto it for a few years. During his time of ownership, he did install a Dana rearend and applied the Lemon Twist paint, and he replaced one door after needing a quick replacement on one of the Mancini Racing team cars. Then, in 1982 it was sold to a Canadian buyer. It returned to the states some years later and was stowed away as a collectors item, unraced and unaltered. Mecum’s listing notes it has been “driven only on occasional, unauthorized street jaunts since ’77,” but to this day it still shows only 3,799 miles.
In addition to the factory racing parts—the cross-ram intake with twin 770-Holley carburetors, Hooker headers, lightweight body panels, thin Corning window glass with strap mechanisms, Hurst floor-mount shifter, and more, the car features a set of period-correct Cragar SS wheels, a Stahl tach, Hurst Line-Loc, fuel pressure and auxiliary gauges, and other minor changes in keeping with its circa-1968 appearance.
Mecum estimates a hammer price of upwards of $350,000 for this incredible piece of automotive history that has amazingly survived for more than half a century in almost showroom-new shape. This will no doubt be one to watch to when it rolls across the blocks on Saturday.