Back in the Day
Roger Johnson - February 25, 2014 08:00 AM
Highland Park Chrysler headquarters where Roger Johnson had a mail routeBob Steele allpar.com
(Editor’s Note: Roger Johnson will be providing a Mopar-centric retrospective each month. The next installment will be seen on March 24)
On the last day of May in 1969, I moved from Youngstown, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan, and went to work for Chrysler Corporation in their mailroom while attending Wayne State University. I was in my early-20s and already a hardened car nut and shameless street racer. I grew up where that sort of unruliness was more popular than almost any other activity. This steel mill town was also a GM stronghold with a huge assembly plant nearby, yet there was a heavy dose of hot Fords and Mopars prowling those streets too. Street racing flourished.
To me, Youngstown always seemed like a small version of Detroit. A move directly to the epicenter of muscle cars would allow me to hang out with the folks who were having all the fun at the factory level. The decision allowed me to observe and participate in the spring, summer and winter of the greatest moments in muscle car history.
I worked at Chrysler’s world headquarters in Highland Park (the city within the city) through February of 1970. Even CEO Lynn Townsend had his office there. My “lowly” mailroom connection included total access to almost any place within this sprawling complex.
Even in 1969, security was reasonably tight. Everyone’s ID was checked going in, and all bags were searched. No cameras were permitted. Once inside, you could go almost anywhere without a single eyebrow raised in your direction. As a young, enthusiastic and, okay, insignificant Chrysler employee, I still felt like a corporate spy. I had no intention of selling information, but wanted to know everything that was happening. So, I never hesitated to look behind closed doors, open unsealed envelopes or loiter in the office doorways of big shots.
My assigned route had me walking through countless departments from design to engineering and places in between. Some of the department managers whose mail I delivered recognized my child-like enthusiasm for the entire corporate scene and would routinely alert me to special events going on, or of those being planned. All I had to do was show up and walk in. No questions asked.
One of those incidents had me shaking hands with Chrysler’s three top executives and wishing them good luck at a major press conference in front of all the cameras. Another one allowed me to ambush Mister 4-Speed himself, Ronnie Sox, in an impromptu street race on Telegraph Road.
Brand new muscle cars were everywhere you looked back then. In 1969, Chrysler’s Dodge and Plymouth divisions were well established players in the muscle car market with high hopes, bountiful enthusiasm and horsepower to burn. And there was no place else on earth I wanted to be.