The Direct Connection

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In the mid-1970s, the “Mopar: Direct Connection” Special Parts program was born. That was an instant hit with the customers that wanted racing parts for their Mopar cars!

(Editor’s Note: Author Jim Maxwell provides a detailed explanation of the performance brand. We pick up the story in mid-1970s. If you missed part one, it is available in its entirety at www.amosauto.com)

When the “SP6” July 1, 1975 Mopar Direct Connection Special Parts Catalog was printed, it featured Butch Leal’s “California Flash” Duster in full color on the cover. That car ran in B/Modified Production, with a best elapsed time of 9.60 at 142 mph, using many of the parts listed inside the pages of the catalog.

The following year, Leal put together a two-car “Direct Connection” team, a Dodge Challenger Super Stocker, driven by Paul Rossi, plus a wild B/Gas Plymouth Arrow that set the NHRA class record at 8.88/162 mph, running as quick as 7.92 /171 mph as a match race Pro Stocker. Direct Connection was getting lots of play in the drag magazines plus selling loads of parts through Chrysler/Plymouth and Dodge dealerships, including legendary outlets like Mr. Norm’s in Chicago.

The SP7 DC catalog (1976) reflected the industry’s changes with the times. It now included customizing parts for Dodge vans, but still had all the trick stuff listed for serious drag race applications. Some of the best-selling parts were more inexpensive things such as crankshaft windage trays, trunk-mount battery kits, electronic ignition conversion kits and chrome valve covers. You didn’t have to be a professional racer to find things in the DC catalog.

Mopar engineers kept churning out new and innovative products for Chrysler racers, including the 59-degree “W-2” race heads for “A-engines” all the while even offering hop-up parts for the older big block engines. As the times changed, so did the parts in the catalog. When the early 1980s came, they offered Direct Connection parts for the line of Chrysler four-cylinder engines (and Carroll Shelby joined in and became a spokesman for the “The new Chrysler Corporation”).

Chrysler Corporation was having difficult times just staying afloat (they borrowed money from the U.S. government in 1979) and the vehicles they were selling (K-cars and mini-vans) were hardly anything performance lovers cared about. Somehow, the Direct Connection program kept going. “We worked hard to make the program profitable,” Brian Schram said, adding that he didn’t think they ever did make a profit with it.

A program like Direct Connection was hard to gauge as far as financial success, but there was no question it developed a great deal of promotional exposure for the company and did keep loyal “Mopar guys” in tune with their automotive passions. A lot of them bought Chrysler products as “regular” vehicles when it came time for a new family car, or a new truck to haul their race car. Eventually Chrysler did drop Direct Connection and replaced it with “Mopar Performance”. It was done to better align it with the Mopar trademark that had become so popular. No matter what it was called, there always was a means for Chrysler performance fans to buy parts for Dodges and Plymouths, plus Jeeps in more recent years.

Schram retired from Chrysler in the late 1980s. At that point, Joe Hilger kept the performance parts business alive. Darrell Alderman and the Wayne County Speed Shop put the Mopar brand into the limelight in the early 1990s, winning three NHRA Pro Stock championships, but with some controversy. There are still some unanswered questions regarding an alleged shop break-in where multiple engines were vandalized, making them unfit and irreparable for competition. The team never did get back up and running.

Drag racing was a great way to promote the Mopar brand. Marketing people at the division recognized changing trends when they signed up the late Shaun Carlson to run the Mopar colors with his radical Dodge Neon FWD sports compact entry. Later, they became involved with the sport of drifting. Carlson was chosen to represent Mopar in that arena with current-model Chargers and Vipers (highly modified) as vehicles to run on the tracks. Mopar has been well known to hard-core traditional V-8 types and now a new, younger generation knew about it through Shaun Carlson and his Nuformz operation.

The Mopar brand is alive and well today (OE replacement parts plus accessories). There is a Mopar Performance catalog that is filled with specialty parts for Chrysler vehicles of multiple eras, with some of the very same parts first listed in the 1970s still being sold today. Crate engines from Mopar have become a big part of the scene. Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep stores can “Moparize” their vehicles to help increase interest and sales overall.

At the Chicago Auto Show, Mopar-infused Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram truck vehicles were presented at special displays featuring more than 100 Mopar accessories and performance parts.

“More than 30 percent of the people who are in the market for a new vehicle are influenced by the breadth and availability of aftermarket accessories,” says Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC. “With our company’s launch of 16 new vehicles, Mopar is coming to the party with a truckload of accessories that will fit a variety of lifestyles.”

For pure performance, Mopar was heavily participating in projects like the Mopar ’11 Charger. The Charger is the second Mopar-badged vehicle introduced by Chrysler and Mopar. The first was the Mopar Challenger introduced in 2010. The head guy at Dodge, Ralph Gilles, said about the hot Mopar Challenger: “We’ve all called these cars ‘Mopars’ for years. It’s an affectionate term. It was time to celebrate the relationship with a special edition vehicle.”

And when asked about the Mopar loyalty and great interest in the brand by enthusiasts, Gorlier said, “If I’ve learned one thing since joining Mopar, it’s that the spirit and passion of Mopar Nation is contagious. With our proud 73-year history, the Mopar brand resonates with those who we call Mopar-heads! At last count, there are more than 340 Mopar clubs around the country. I’m sure all of our fans and enthusiasts would be happy to know that the people who work here at Mopar share their passion. The enthusiasm is seamless.”

With news of new and exciting projects coming out of the factory with ties to the Mopar brand, this strongly indicates that the future continues to look bright for Mopar fanatics for years to come.