We've always thought the name Gas Ronda was one of the coolest racer names in history. Better than Dick Trickle, Lake Speed, John Force or Junior Johnson. Back in the mid-60's, Gas drove for the Ford factory drag racing team and traveled the country match racing and following the NHRA circuit. He was one of ten drivers selected to drive Ford's new A/FX Mustang and became quite famous with the car.

In 1965 Ford Motor Company commissioned Dearborn Steel Tubing in Dearborn, Michigan to build a prototype 1965 A/FX Mustang. Ford deemed the Thunderbolt program a success and looked to step up into the new Altered/Factory Experimental (A/FX) class.

Ford's idea was to shoehorn the massive 32-inch wide 427 "SOHC" engine into a lightweight 1965 Mustang fastback. The insertion of the big 427, where a tiny 24-inch wide 289 engine once resided, required more than a shoehorn. It necessitated complete removal of the shock towers, and a redesigned front suspension.

Photo Credit: Ford

The front suspension consisted of unique torsion leaf springs running from the lower control arm forward to a mounting point on the bottom of the radiator support. There simply wasn't room for a steering gearbox in the normal position inside the frame rail, so a right-hand drive Australian Falcon gearbox was attached to the outside of the frame rail.

In an effort to enhance traction with better weight transfer, the rear wheels were relocated forward three inches, reducing the factory 108 inch wheelbase to 105 inches. The forward portion of the wheel openings were modified to fit ten inch M&H slicks, effectively concealing the three inch relocation. The front wheel location was unchanged. A crossmember was attached ahead of the rear axle, providing a mounting point for the adjustable 31-inch Thunderbolt style traction bars.

Behind the 427 was a four speed toploader transmission, and 4.89 geared 9-inch rear axle. Weight reduction was achieved by the use of a fiberglass hood, fenders, front bumper, doors, and fixed plexiglass side windows. The finished Mustang tipped the scales at 3,230 pounds. Upon completion, DST shipped the Mustang prototype to Holman & Moody, Ford's official racing contractor in Charlotte, North Carolina. H&M disassembled the prototype, made some refinements, and proceeded to churn out approximately ten copies.

Various sources indicate that H&M built between eight and fifteen 1965 A/FX Mustangs, though the consensus seems to be ten. The 1965 A/FX Mustangs were piloted by the likes of Gas Ronda, Dick Brannen, Bill Lawton, Paul Norris, Bob Hamilton, Phil Bonner, Les Ritchey, Len Richter, Clester Andrews, Bill Ireland, and Al Joniec.

The 427 SOHC engine, also know as the "cammer," was an engineering masterpiece. Conceived as a response to Chrysler's 426 Hemi, the SOHC was intended to clean up NASCAR. However, NASCAR denied inclusion of Ford's SOHC in the stock car ranks. Since the SOHC was strictly an over the counter item, and was never installed in an assembly line produced model, NASCAR disallowed it.

With NASCAR's refusal to let Ford run the engine, the SOHC's ultimate home became the dragstrip. Based on the 427 wedge side-oiler cross-bolt short block, the SOHC had massive aluminum Hemi cylinder heads, overhead cams, a six-foot long timing chain, and weighed 680 lbs. In stock form with a single four barrel carb, it produced 616 horsepower, and 657 horsepower with two four barrel carbs. It was available over the counter for $2350.00. The cammer was used very successfully in drag racing, in A/FX, Funny Car, Top Fuel, and even in the early days of Pro-Stock.

Sadly, the cammer faded away in the early 1970's, replaced by the Boss 429 in Pro Stock, and the Chrysler Hemi in the nitro cars.

After suffering severe burns in a racing accident, Gas retired from drag racing. Today, at 82 years of age, Gas Ronda still lives in Southern California and has a modified S197 Mustang that he calls his daily driver and takes to select Mustang car shows. He even made an appearance at the recent John Force Racing's car show in Yorba Linda.

Gas is a true drag racing pioneer who helped put Ford in the winner's circle, driving Thunderbolts and Mustang A/FX cars in drag racing's heyday.

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