Back in the Day

After Hours in Detroit - 1969

Roger Johnson - May 17, 2014 09:03 AM

ImageCourtesy of Roger Johnson
ImageCourtesy of Roger Johnson

Image 1 of 2

      Paul Ziegler was a dear friend and a dedicated Mopar lover from my hometown in northeastern Ohio.  He was a carrot-top red-headed guy, small of stature but strong on intellect, having earned a PhD in history at the tender age of 22. In 1968, Paul bought a brand new 340 powered Barracuda coupe with a console-mounted TorqueFlite.  It came with power steering and brakes along with a 3.23 open rear end.  I was actually interested in the very same car and saw it setting on the dealership showroom first, but Paul didn’t hesitate and snatched it up.
      At the time, I was driving my 1965 Dodge Dart GT. It had the Hi-Po 273 engine with a four-barrel and 3.91 gears and a four-speed.  A unique single-pipe exhaust system came standard on these models that resulted in a spectacular tone.  Numerous municipalities around the country protested the decibel level, so Chrysler toned it down the very next year.
      My Dart was reasonably satisfying as a daily driver, but I knew it wasn’t really that fast. Nevertheless, I had to try it out against Paul’s 340 Barracuda. On a sunny afternoon, we headed out to one of our favorite stretches of blacktop called Glenwood Extension. This wide, arrow straight road was carved into a forest for a housing project that wasn’t built yet. The near virgin strip of asphalt was just begging for attention.
      Paul lined up on my left and I yelled out the count of three. I stayed with the Barracuda for about 20 feet but then the black coupe effortlessly started to pull away from me. I eventually backed off at 80 mph. Paul got out of it at the same time, but was doing 100 mph.
      After I moved to Detroit, I invited Paul up for the weekend for the express purpose of doing some street racing.  On a Saturday night at 11:30, we took his Barracuda to Telegraph Road, a divided six-lane main artery on the west side of town offering  stoplights about every one-third mile. Your wildest dreams are what we saw. Contenders were available at almost every red light.
      Two lanes over sat a red 396 Chevelle.  He saw us and we saw him. We left together at the green light and stayed that way up to triple digit speeds. That’s when I noticed a cop across the grassy divider on the northbound side who had pulled over someone in a nondescript four-door sedan.  I figured the driver had been charged with going too slow for the conditions that night.
      At 115 mph, Paul yelled over to me, “He’s not backing off, I’ll be damned if I will.” Right about that time, both pilots were forced to rethink their strategy due to the upcoming traffic looming large and fast.
      It would be 4 a.m. when we finally got back to my apartment, only a few blocks away from Telegraph Road.
      Sunday morning, before Paul had to leave for home, we had our rematch. This time, I was driving my recently acquired 1967 383 Barracuda. The fastback, Formula S car had a floor-shifted TorqueFlite, power disc brakes up front, quick ratio manual steering, and a 3.55 SureGrip.
I led Paul to a strip of frontage road that paralleled Telegraph Road.  This time, I lined up in the passing lane and he counted to three.  My extra cubes and better gearing gave me a two-car hole shot that Paul’s 340 couldn’t close on. We had come full circle.
      Sadly, and way too soon, my friend Paul succumbed to the stress of a heart transplant.  It was a procedure he always referred to as an engine swap. He was one of the coolest and most knowledgeable Mopar enthusiasts our hobby ever had.