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1965 A990 Coronet
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     According to the website, Willem Weertman, manager of engine design at Chrysler, said 210 A990 units were built between November 1964 and mid-January 1965. The same web article refers to producing 100 A990’s with Dodge badges and another 100 with Plymouth badges. Hap mused that “maybe three or four were used by Chrysler engineers as test vehicles.”

     No matter what the actual production numbers, Hap’s car is a rare one. Other than the roll cage and lettering, the car is “pretty much the way it rolled off the assembly line . . . virtually ready to race.” Galen Govier, Chrysler guru has researched and authenticated this car.

Not a simple task, because like many other car stories, the history of this car is a bit more complicated.

     W051 race Hemi A990 cars were sold with bill of sale only. Buyers did not get an ownership, making it impossible to plate these cars . . . eliminating any paper trail from motor vehicle registrations. Jim Almeter bought the car new from Funk and Hawley Dodge in Batavia New York and raced the car, that he named Thunder II  from ’65 to ’67. In ’67, the car was purchased by Jerry Vaneck of Toronto, it was re-painted red and raced as the ¼ Mile Hustler from ’67 to ’70.

     This car, known as Thunder II in the U.S., and 1/4 Mile Hustler in Canada had fans on both sides of the border. Hap said that to ‘many U.S. drag racing fans Thunder II was just gone,” swallowed in time. It seems that fans on both sides of the border thought the car was unique. Most Canadian fans were not aware that before the appearance of the ¼ Mile Hustler, the car had another fascinating previous life.

     Fans on the U.S. side ‘lost’ the car. A friend (who was in the U.S. navy) bought a hemi-powered, ’68 Road Runner. When his friend was going back in the Navy, he called Hap and asked if he “wanted to buy that Road Runner?” Hap bought the 4-speed car for $3,200.  Running C Modified Production, Hap recalls running the car 11 flat at 126 mph. To make the class, the car was ‘really heavy . . . around 4,000 pounds . . . breakage was a problem.”  *Note:  the A990 was shipped from the factory around 3,120 pounds . . . more than 800 pounds lighter.

     One day at Cayuga, “don’t we line up against this car right here, put into C Modified Production – illegally.” Hap said the A990 shouldn’t have had that much weight in it. “We beat them handily.”

     “A couple of years later,” Hap said, “I decided to look for something lighter, like a Barracuda.” A friend took him he knew where there was a factory lightweight Coronet for sale.  That car was the ¼ Mile Hustler. After buying the shell, he ran the running gear from the Road Runner in the A990. Hap ran the car “for a couple of years, in Super Stock . . . then, I kind of got out of racing.”

     The car sat for a number of years and Hap says, it was ‘tired.’ Then, in 1994, Hap began what was to become a 13-year long project he painstakingly brought this piece of drag racing history back to life. Over a 13-year period, Hap himself put 4,200 hours into restoring the car.  There is so much trick stuff on this car that it is hard to know where to start. Everything ahead of the firewall is lightweight, pinching the bumper between my thumb and forefinger and twisting slightly, there is a visible flex in the bumper.

     The doors, hood, and front fenders and radiator saddle are 18 gauge metal, while the bumper and bumper brackets are .039 gauge. Door hinges are aluminum.  Jason Albano of Wild Rides advised Hap that the car should be restored. “That’s how it all started,” Hap said. “It’s Jason's fault.” Albano spent many hours fabricating door skins, repairing the original lightweight front fenders, and on the hood scoop. He also fabricated rear dog legs. Hap estimates that Jason put somewhere between 400 and 500 hours of sheet metal work into the car. Each of the front fenders took somewhere around 45 hours to rebuild with another 80 hours of metal work in the hood scoop. The sheetmetal from the doors forward was hand fabricated and/or restored by Jason.

     Thunder II got new floors and new stock wheel tubs. Hap’s initial intent was to ‘clean it up’ and do some bracket racing. When work started, interest in these cars started to build.   It’s kind of amazing what engineers left out of the A990 to cut weight. In addition to the usual radio and/or heater delete, are back seat delete, one windshield wiper delete, and backup light delete. With the exception of the windshield and small no draft windows the glass is Corning AS2 chemically treated safety glass (lightweight).

     In reference to the creation of lightweight materials, Chrysler euphemistically referred to the manufacturing process as ‘chemical milling’ (you probably know the process as acid dipping).

     The A990 Coronet has a one-inch shorter wheelbase than street versions.

Chrysler engineers achieved this with the use of Plymouth rear spring hanger which moved the Dodge’s rear axle one inch forward, and created better weight transfer. The forward movement of the rear axle was somewhat camouflaged by relocating rear axle snubbers. Also the relocated snubbers, while they appeared to be the same material as those on street vehicles, weigh roughly five pounds each. A heavy duty battery and tray were located in the trunk of the A990.

     Thunder II’s W051 race Hemi engine is now a 572 cubic inch, Tim Banning unit with 756 ft pounds of torque, 700 h.p. aluminum stage III heads, 4.5” stroke and 4.5” bore, Eagle rods, magnesium cross-ram intake that carries two 780 cfm Holley carburetors. Check out the detail, wiring and workmanship on the firewall; the fit and finish work is absolutely superb. With a 12.5 compression ratio, Hap’s ride has MSD ignition, a competition flat tappet cam with 2 ½ inch TTI headers dumping into 3 ½ inch collectors. Rated by Chrysler at 425 hp, the engine has aluminum heads and water pump housing and alternator bracket.

     The overall goal: high horsepower, light weight front end components while getting as much weight as possible over the rear axle. The column shift pattern is reversed  R-N-1-2-D, meaning the driver starts in 1 and moves the shifter down into 2 and eventually into drive. The downward shift pattern virtually eliminated the possibility of accidentally shifting the S.M.R. prepared 727 transmission with a 5,000 stall converter, through the neutral gate into reverse. By the way, 1965 was the first year that Chrysler moved away from pushbutton shifters.

     At the rear, a Dana 60 with Moser spool and axles that carry 4:56 Richman gears drive 29.00/10-15 Hoosiers mounted on 15x8” Dodge truck rims.  Other than the roll cage and signage, this car is virtually as it rolled off the assembly line. The original price for the car in 1965, according to Galen Govier, $4,698.00. Hap, who worked as a body man until his retirement, is having the time of his life drag racing the Coronet. Without the encouragement of Al Murphy, Hap says he would not show the car  . . . he built it to go racing. So far, Hap has a few “easy passes” that yielded an E.T. of 10.70 at 125 mph. On the windy Cayuga track on Mother’s Day, Hap turned a 10.80 at 125 mph. He also attended the 40th All Hemi Anniversary Reunion in 2008 at Quaker City Raceway in Ohio. Other cars that attended the event were legendary cars from the drag racing world including Sox and Martin and Dick Landry cars, the Mopar Missile, Yankee Peddler, Red Light Bandit and Golden Commando.

     If you can imagine, at one point, ALL the roughly 150 Hemi cars at the event were fired up simultaneously . . . now that’s thunder.


All of Hap’s attention to detail won six awards at 2009 Performance World Class Champion, Best Competition Car, Best Detailed Competition Car, Best Drag Racing Car, Rookie of the Year and Top 10 Canadian. At London’s Auto Expo, Hap brought home Top Five Award.  Pretty good for a car that was built for speed and abuse 44 years ago. 

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