For a Friend
For Chip Brown, the car serves as a nice reminder of a friend and mentor; it’s a car that reminds him of all he’s achieved in auto racing and who helped him get there. For everyone else—those who’ve seen it in action or heard it start up at the strip—its effect is a little less subtle.
“They’re sort of awed, you know,” says Brown, 66, owner of Chip’s Auto Center in Pennsville, N.J., which he opened in 1971, “because you don’t see too many 4,400-pound cars going 150 miles an hour or pulling down low-9s (on a quarter-mile track).”
The stainless steel 1964 Chrysler 300K still has its regular black paint, its glass windows, even its backseat. It still looks the part of its high-performance luxury line, of which only 3,100 were made. That is, except for the BDS blower sticking up from the hood and the power chute propped on the back.
“I always loved the lines on that car, and I always wanted to keep it the same,” Brown says. “The drag racer in me just wanted a little more horsepower.”
Brown put in an alcohol-blown Chevy big-block 540ci motor, which helps the Chrysler make more than 1,500 horsepower. And Brown uses every bit of that at the racetrack, where he runs the car just about every other weekend.
The car’s best run is 8.86 seconds at 153 mph.
“It handles fantastically and just goes straight as an arrow,” he says. “Stopping it is a whole ’nother issue, though. That’s why we have the power chutes in the back.”
When Brown first purchased the car, turning it into a dragster wasn’t the plan.
The car belonged to Bill Clark, Brown’s partner in a top-fuel dragster team in the 1970s, a team that—with Brown as crew chief—won the 1976 NHRA Division I Northeast Division crown on a car called “Nirvana.” Clark bought the Chrysler at the 1963 New York Auto Show and kept the car in stock condition as his personal vehicle until he passed away in 1997.
Brown bought the car from Clark’s estate for $400.
“I thought it was a nice remembrance of a man that was instrumental to my success in the world of drag racing,” he says. “Everyone that knew Bill—they always loved him. He was just a hell of a man. To carry on some small part of his life through that car is really what I wanted to do.”
Brown initially restored it into a pro street car, but after driving it a bit more, he decided he wanted more power.
That’s when he upgraded to the 540ci crate motor with its 8-71 Teflon-stripped blower that gives the car 18 lbs. of boost.
His buddy, Harry Messick, helped fix up the framework. Messick put in a new Fat Man front end, Brown says, with rack-and-pinion steering. And they eventually had to have a funny car rear housing made for it, as the weight and power of the car kept causing the original rear-end housing to bend.
They left the interior virtually alone, aside from swapping in racing seats once the car started clearing 150 mph.
Brown estimates he’s spent somewhere around $125,000 on the car, and although he may slow down his racing schedule at some point, he doesn’t ever envision that Chrysler as anything other than what it is now: a big, bad, fast dragster—and a way to pay homage to a late friend.
“That’s the way it is, and that’s the way I like her,” he says.