In the last few years I have gotten numerous requests for information regarding THE Woodward Garage. Where is it, what did it look like, was this guy there, was that guy there, how about this car, that car? Many wanted to cruise by and pay homage. The rumors are plentiful, the truths may be disappointing, but I’ll try to set the record as straight as I can. As I have stated before – there ain’t many of us left. I guess for Chrysler diehards it is sort of a Mecca. In reality it was just a grubby old deserted Pontiac dealership. But oh, the treasures it did yield. Especially for yours truly. The truth be told I cannot write about the WG without relinquishing a flood of tears.
I covered the beginnings briefly in my memoir ‘The Lives I’ve Lived’. As follows:
‘The first week at Chrysler was an orientation class. They put up a big display board with all the departments where jobs were available. It was a rotation program working three-to-four months in one job before rotating to the next. You took five rotations in the two-year program.
‘Learning the Ropes
The orientation guy pointed to a flag at the bottom of the chart and said, "That's the Special Vehicles Group. Don't any of you ask me about this group because this is the race group and you guys can't go there.”
Damn! That's what I wanted to do. I'm usually not a forward-type person, but I looked in the company phone book and found the department head of Special Vehicles, H.P. Bruns, the chief engineer. There were four-to-five people in that group: Tom Hoover (Drag Racing), Larry Rathgab (NASCAR), Jim Thornton and Pete Hutchinson, as well as Dick Maxwell in Product Planning)
I called H.P. and it turned out I had more race car experience than any one of the other guys there with regard to building, tuning and chassis set-up. At this time, my soul was into suspension design. I pitched all the angles to H.P. to get into the department, but no luck. Then, an inspiration! I told him it wouldn't cost him a dime to hire me because the Chrysler Institute paid my salary.
A pause, then, "Deal!"’
I was off and running, as they say, like a kid in a candy shop, like a dog with a bone, like a duck takes to water. You get the picture. Our office, or desks, were located at the Highland Park Engineering facilities. The WG was located off-campus, about four blocks west of engineering, at the corner of Woodward Avenue and E. Buena Vista Street. It was my Soul Home. A warm place that welcomes and nurtures. Yes, as rumors have stated, originally it was a Pontiac dealership. The showroom was located at 13111 Woodward Ave. It was a small showroom, maybe room for four or five cars and offices. During my tenure the ‘showroom’ was occupied by a hair solon or barbershop, take your pick. Just a few steps down E. Buena Vista was the service facilities for the dealership. Just inside the first overhead door there was an office which was occupied by the infamous, and my close friend, Dan “the Nose” Mancini.
Side note. At this time Chrysler engineering was a union shop. Engineers were not allowed to make drawing’s, sketches yes, but not drawings, nor could they pick up a screw driver. The good old days! I believe that this was part of the reasoning for the off-campus location of the WG. All the mechanics at the garage, including Dan, were union blokes, but their love of the racing game allowed them to turn their heads when us suites showed up. As a result, when it came time to build the Hemi A-Body test mule I was up to my elbows in grease and grim. Loved it!
Another perk was covered parking during the winter. The shop itself was quite large, more then needed for the actual work. Therefore, in the winter we were able to park inside the shop and avoid the bitter rain, snow and sleet, wind and cold. Man, I hated that crap. However, I was the new guy and still had my non-Chrysler car, a 1961 Chevrolet Impala. For whatever reason I was allowed to park inside the garage, but received a ration of verbiage, especially from T. M. Hoover. Invariably he would accost me with “when are you going to get a real car and scrap that Chey junk”. My answer would always be “when you guys pay me some real money”. Rumor had it we were working for the love of the sport, close but not quite.
The space normally used in the shop for ‘work’ was about five bays on each side, and an alignment rack alongside the office at the front. There where two large overhead doors at each end of the shop. Our “indoor parking section” was at the far end next to the second door. Besides Dan Mancini we had four other mechanics. Dan Knapp, worlds grumpiest mechanic, and builder, crew chief, et. al. for the Ramchargers dragster. First class fabricator. Then we had Ted and Fred. Ted MacAdow and Fred Schrant. Both NASCAR devotees. They worked primarily for Larry Rathgeb. Next came Larry Knowlton, wrench buddy in the build-up of the Hemi A-Body test mule. Occasionally Roger Lindamood (Color Me Gone) would camp out with us whenever there was any tricky 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission surgery to be performed. Especially during the A-Body bonsai start development program. He was normally found over at engineering in the transmission lab. That pretty much covers the motley crew of Woodward Garage.
If you read my memoir (and read it you must) – BTW did you detect the mystery of the English language? Is it read or read, present or past? Where was I, oh, in my memoir you will find that somehow, for some reason, I was rewarded with the honor of not only designing and building the Hemi A-Body test mule but I was designated as the test driver. To this day I do not know how or why. I guess T. M. Hoover had confidence in me and I can never thank him enough. Our first test was in California, at the now demised (Miller/Coors) Irwindale Dragstrip, and then back to Detroit Drag way and Milan Michigan. I even got to drive the slantback to the drag strip. Not your average Engineering trainee.
But I digress. Let’s return to the faith of the Woodward Garage. And, before you get too excited I must tell you that it is no longer there. Laid waste by the ravages of “gentrification”. On that sacred land they have erected a Pro Care Pharmacy. The store itself is on the corner where the showroom stood. The garage area is now a parking lot, yes, a miserable parking lot. And no one has said it better then Joni Mitchell “….. they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.!!
End of story!!