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The meaning of Mopar, Part 2

The Direct Connection

Jim Maxwell - January 05, 2012 10:00 AM

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This Direction Connection babe (wearing her “I get mine from a Direct Connection” T-shirt) promoted the parts in catalogs and advertisements in 1982. She’s surrounded by a Dodge truck front spoiler, W-2 A-block cylinder head, Dana 60 differential covers, electronic ignition distributor, super stock leaf spring and forged steel crankshaft.

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The letters M-O-P-A-R have definitely become commonplace worldwide, with people associating them with Chrysler products. In 1999, Mopar put together this board showing logos from the past and the years they represented.

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Mopar ran this advertisement in 1984 featuring automotive legend Carroll Shelby and one of the high-performance four-cylinder engines from Chrysler of the era. “Join the Direct Connection race team” for $15 annual dues and you’d be entitled to 10 issues of the DC Performance News, a free DC catalog plus 25 percent discount on wearables and collectibles.

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Mopar was promoting “Chrysler Motors Genuine Parts” during 1987, supporting Don Garlits and his Dodge-powered Swamp Rat 30 dragster. This vehicle broke the 270 mph barrier and also was the 1986 NHRA points champion in Top Fuel. The car was donated to the Smithsonian.

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This 1987 ad for Direct Connection was ahead of its time, promoting compact four-cylinder high-performance cars for the youth movement. “Join the DC gang” was a daring promotion at the time.

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Promoting their M1 Tunnel Ram intake manifold, this 1990 Mopar Performance national ad shows a 440ci big block with a dual Holleys atop their latest 2x4 inline aluminum intake manifold and a set of MP black wrinkle-finish valve covers. The M1 Tunnel Ram was said to deliver 20 additional horsepower.

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Political correctness had not yet dictated corporate concerns about featuring shapely females for the marketing and promotions in 1991. The cover of the November/December issue featured Janine Buck, “Miss Mopar 1992”. Also adorning the cover is the B-1 powered Dodge Daytona driven by Darrell Alderman, which had just won back-to back Winston titles in the NHRA Pro Stock class.

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Team Mopar was at the top of their game in Pro Stock racing after the end of the 1994 season. Power came from 498ci B-1 wedge power built by the Wayne County Speed Shop and the chassis work was done by Jerry Haas. There was a certain dark cloud over the circumstances surrounding the loss of their former performance advantage. Speculations revolved around the team being caught with an illegal substance (nitrous oxide) and it still remains a mystery today.

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“We haven’t changed a bit” proclaimed the 1995 Mopar ad that featured images of the 1950 Plymouth of Johnny Mantz (winner of the first Southern 500 NASCAR event) plus the Dodge Avenger Pro Stocker that was then current NHRA World Champion car driven by Darrell Alderman. The 1948-1953 MoPar logo was shown along with the then-current “Mopar Chrysler Corporation Parts” insignia.

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Brand-new refined engine blocks with superior quality (all-new tooling) were the primary focus of this 2007 advertisement of the race and street cast iron Hemi and Wedge Siamese bore blocks from Mopar.

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Mopar unveiled the Dodge Challenger Hemi-powered Super Stock Package car at the 2008 Mile-High NHRA event at to help celebrate the first time in 40 years the company had offered a factory drag race car. Judy Lilly (Miss Mighty Mopar from years gone by) was there and did a humongous burnout with one!

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Exploring a street-legal Drag Pak Challenger was a project that came to life in 2009 for Mopar. The Dodge Challenger 1320 began life as a Mopar Drag Pak Dodge Challenger. The current Drag Pak option is a lightweight, stripped-down, race-only, special-order version of the Dodge Challenger designed for competitive drag racing.

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“We Make More Than Just Parts. We Make Fans.” There is no question that this parts division has the most loyal followers of any car manufacturer on the planet. Mopar fanatics are extreme in their following of the brand, that is for certain!

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“Insurmountable Performance” is how Mopar.com.mx of Mexico describes this rendering of a modern day “Miss Mopar” showing the various logos of the past to present. There’s a number of Mexican Mopar enthusiast clubs and they appreciate the power and performance of Chrysler products as much as their neighbors to the north.

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At selected events and races throughout the year, the Mopar promotional team (and their 18-wheeler plus vehicular displays) are hard to miss. The name Direct Connection has been re-introduced in the marketing and merchandising of the Mopar brand.

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What better place for a couple of Mopar fanatics and their fully-restored 1971 Dodge Chargers to stage a backdrop for a photo than the national headquarters of Mopar? Loyalty runs deep for the highly respected Mopar trademark for lovers of high-performance Dodge and Plymouth owners across the globe.

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The Chrysler pentastar was incorporated into the design of the new-for-1972 Mopar logo (lasting until 1984) and it also marked the first time the Omega “M” was used in the word Mopar itself.

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In the mid-1970s, the “Mopar: Direct Connection” Special Parts program was born. That was an instant hit with the customers that wanted racing parts for their Mopar cars!

(Editor’s Note: Author Jim Maxwell provides a detailed explanation of the performance brand. We pick up the story in mid-1970s. If you missed part one, it is available in its entirety at www.amosauto.com)

When the “SP6” July 1, 1975 Mopar Direct Connection Special Parts Catalog was printed, it featured Butch Leal’s “California Flash” Duster in full color on the cover. That car ran in B/Modified Production, with a best elapsed time of 9.60 at 142 mph, using many of the parts listed inside the pages of the catalog.

The following year, Leal put together a two-car “Direct Connection” team, a Dodge Challenger Super Stocker, driven by Paul Rossi, plus a wild B/Gas Plymouth Arrow that set the NHRA class record at 8.88/162 mph, running as quick as 7.92 /171 mph as a match race Pro Stocker. Direct Connection was getting lots of play in the drag magazines plus selling loads of parts through Chrysler/Plymouth and Dodge dealerships, including legendary outlets like Mr. Norm’s in Chicago.

The SP7 DC catalog (1976) reflected the industry’s changes with the times. It now included customizing parts for Dodge vans, but still had all the trick stuff listed for serious drag race applications. Some of the best-selling parts were more inexpensive things such as crankshaft windage trays, trunk-mount battery kits, electronic ignition conversion kits and chrome valve covers. You didn’t have to be a professional racer to find things in the DC catalog.

Mopar engineers kept churning out new and innovative products for Chrysler racers, including the 59-degree “W-2” race heads for “A-engines” all the while even offering hop-up parts for the older big block engines. As the times changed, so did the parts in the catalog. When the early 1980s came, they offered Direct Connection parts for the line of Chrysler four-cylinder engines (and Carroll Shelby joined in and became a spokesman for the “The new Chrysler Corporation”).

Chrysler Corporation was having difficult times just staying afloat (they borrowed money from the U.S. government in 1979) and the vehicles they were selling (K-cars and mini-vans) were hardly anything performance lovers cared about. Somehow, the Direct Connection program kept going. “We worked hard to make the program profitable,” Brian Schram said, adding that he didn’t think they ever did make a profit with it.

A program like Direct Connection was hard to gauge as far as financial success, but there was no question it developed a great deal of promotional exposure for the company and did keep loyal “Mopar guys” in tune with their automotive passions. A lot of them bought Chrysler products as “regular” vehicles when it came time for a new family car, or a new truck to haul their race car. Eventually Chrysler did drop Direct Connection and replaced it with “Mopar Performance”. It was done to better align it with the Mopar trademark that had become so popular. No matter what it was called, there always was a means for Chrysler performance fans to buy parts for Dodges and Plymouths, plus Jeeps in more recent years.

Schram retired from Chrysler in the late 1980s. At that point, Joe Hilger kept the performance parts business alive. Darrell Alderman and the Wayne County Speed Shop put the Mopar brand into the limelight in the early 1990s, winning three NHRA Pro Stock championships, but with some controversy. There are still some unanswered questions regarding an alleged shop break-in where multiple engines were vandalized, making them unfit and irreparable for competition. The team never did get back up and running.

Drag racing was a great way to promote the Mopar brand. Marketing people at the division recognized changing trends when they signed up the late Shaun Carlson to run the Mopar colors with his radical Dodge Neon FWD sports compact entry. Later, they became involved with the sport of drifting. Carlson was chosen to represent Mopar in that arena with current-model Chargers and Vipers (highly modified) as vehicles to run on the tracks. Mopar has been well known to hard-core traditional V-8 types and now a new, younger generation knew about it through Shaun Carlson and his Nuformz operation.

The Mopar brand is alive and well today (OE replacement parts plus accessories). There is a Mopar Performance catalog that is filled with specialty parts for Chrysler vehicles of multiple eras, with some of the very same parts first listed in the 1970s still being sold today. Crate engines from Mopar have become a big part of the scene. Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep stores can “Moparize” their vehicles to help increase interest and sales overall.

At the Chicago Auto Show, Mopar-infused Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram truck vehicles were presented at special displays featuring more than 100 Mopar accessories and performance parts.

“More than 30 percent of the people who are in the market for a new vehicle are influenced by the breadth and availability of aftermarket accessories,” says Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC. “With our company’s launch of 16 new vehicles, Mopar is coming to the party with a truckload of accessories that will fit a variety of lifestyles.”

For pure performance, Mopar was heavily participating in projects like the Mopar ’11 Charger. The Charger is the second Mopar-badged vehicle introduced by Chrysler and Mopar. The first was the Mopar Challenger introduced in 2010. The head guy at Dodge, Ralph Gilles, said about the hot Mopar Challenger: “We’ve all called these cars ‘Mopars’ for years. It’s an affectionate term. It was time to celebrate the relationship with a special edition vehicle.”

And when asked about the Mopar loyalty and great interest in the brand by enthusiasts, Gorlier said, “If I’ve learned one thing since joining Mopar, it’s that the spirit and passion of Mopar Nation is contagious. With our proud 73-year history, the Mopar brand resonates with those who we call Mopar-heads! At last count, there are more than 340 Mopar clubs around the country. I’m sure all of our fans and enthusiasts would be happy to know that the people who work here at Mopar share their passion. The enthusiasm is seamless.”

With news of new and exciting projects coming out of the factory with ties to the Mopar brand, this strongly indicates that the future continues to look bright for Mopar fanatics for years to come.

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