I just got back from Speed Week, so I thought I’d take a break from talking about the changes we’ve made to the car and elaborate a little bit on how the Challenger II project got started back in 1968.
The catalyst, believe it or not, was a Mustang. Ford, then under the control of a newly appointed Bunkie Knudsen, was looking for a way to promote the new Mach I. Bunkie had worked together with Mickey while he was heading up Pontiac, and they started bouncing marketing ideas off of each other. Eventually, they came up with a campaign that would emphasize not only the performance of the Mach I, but Ford’s new 427 SOHC engine as well.
To promote the Mustangs, my dad and Danny Ongais took three of the new models up to Bonneville with the intention of breaking as many new and existing speed and endurance records as possible. It ended up being a tremendous success, and they were able to deliver more than 250 records to the Ford marketing department. Simultaneously, the new 427 was being promoted as the power plant in both Mickey’s Funny Cars and the new Challenger II.
In exchange for assisting in Ford’s Mustang and Funny Car efforts, M/T got significant support for his speed record project. Ford and Autolite (which was owned by Ford at the time) agreed to be the primary financial sponsors, but they also gave Mickey access to their skunk works Kar Kraft division, which helped to design the car. My dad’s liaison at Kar Kraft was Ed Hull, who was also involved with the creation of the GT40 Mark IV.
Once Ed’s team had finished the engineering, Mickey recruited a handful of California’s most talented hot rodders to complete the actual construction. He somehow managed to get names like Frank, Jobe, Epperly, and Buttera all on the same crew, and they were able to finish the car in an absolutely astonishing 6 months (I’ve been working on the restoration for two years). After that, it was off to Bonneville.
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the history of the car. See you next week.