Paul Rossi’s Direct Connection Super Stock Challenger
3 weeks ago
Gallery Owners + Clubs
Mopar® NHRA drag racer Paul Rossi’s name is definitely synonymous with high-performance Chrysler products. In the early days, he raced a brand-new ’63 Max Wedge aluminum front end car, stepped up to a ’64 car with the all-new 426 Race HEMI® engine-powered car, the A-990 ’65 Race HEMI car, and some years later after piloting 707 passenger jets, campaigned one of the original Hurst-built Super Stock ’68 Barracuda HEMI cars. This guy had done it all.
He had great relationships with the higher ups, the decision makers, at the Chrysler factory. The engineers and legends that made up the Mopar racing staff: Dick Maxwell, Dave Koffel, Tom Hoover, Bob Tarozzi, all the heavy hitters. Rossi did the very first development work on “active” intake manifolds for the cross-ram race HEMI engine-powered vehicle. His car ran in the SS/AA class, and as such did things that changed the power band way back before such technology was adapted for production engines. From front to rear, his attention to detail is what made his racecars perform. Included in his operating procedure was extreme valvetrain component preparation and setting the chassis up for getting down the 1,320 feet of the drag strip in the most efficient manner. It ran 9.70s at the time, unheard of! And he felt there was a lot more potential left in the package.
At the end of the 1975 racing season, he was asked to continue to stay on board with the Mopar race team, but now the focus would not revolve around a HEMI engine, rather it would be a big block wedge. The reality was that the Direct Connection program, which had launched in 1974 (a new identification for the “P-prefix” Mopar Special Parts line), was at this time a situation with an abundance of “wedge” “B” and “RB” big block parts and pieces, unsold and collecting dust inside the Chrysler warehouse. HEMI engines were no longer available in production cars, but the wedge engines were still offered in a variety of Chrysler vehicles.
The need came to promote drag strip activities, like racing, with the results to be increased sales of the 383, 400 and 440 components. The overall market was huge, and there needed to be a marketing program put together to make it happen. Paul Rossi was the man that could do it. Direct Connection had the parts and pieces, the product line was there. Now was the time to get going.
However his thought process was, at that time, that those HEMI engines were awesome, so much so that he really didn’t want to switch to wedge power. He didn’t want to go backwards.
“What? A station wagon engine? They put 440s in motor homes!” he remembered thinking at the time. Well, he finally relented and said yes to the wedge engine program. They sweetened the pot, and next thing you know, famous California chassis wizard Ron Butler was sent a Challenger for Rossi to race. This was 1976, they actually sent a rare T/A 340 Six Pak car to be converted into a big block drag car.
Rossi would drive the official “Dodge” Direct Connection car, while Butch Leal had the official Plymouth Direct Connection car, a Plymouth Arrow, tube chassis, Pro Stock style.
Here’s how he described it: “There’s just something special about those Dodge Challengers! I needed traction, did big, functional burnouts. Quickly staged. Vulcanized the starting line patch. Launched hard, pulled the front wheels big time! It turned out to be an important trademark of the car! I ran as quick as 10.20s. I made that car really to be like a ‘blue collar HEMI’ of sorts, something that people could relate to. I sold the car to England, the UK, around 1980. Moved on to new Mopar programs.” Fast forward to 2021. “Desktop Musclecar” John Yost, from the Chicago area, calls Paul Rossi. He wanted to do up miniature Paul Rossi Direct Connection 1:18 diecast Challengers. “Yes. Let’s do it,” Paul replies. Wait! And right then and there, the decision was made to bring it all back, to build a #2 Direct Connection 440 Six Pak Challenger! This one pictured here!