While attending the 2013 Carlisle All Chrysler Nationals as part of the Dart Road Trip, I had the good fortune of seeing some special displays at the show. Since I am a long-time Mopar fanatic, the Max Wedge Reunion was at the top of my “must-see” list for the weekend, and I made a dash for it first thing on Friday! It was truly a collection to marvel at, with a selection of street and race examples on hand and plenty of opportunity to talk with the cars’ owners, which I gladly did! I was privileged to spend some time with Sherman and his son Gene, who own this beautiful 1962 Max Wedge Dart.
Max Wedge–equipped cars are a rare breed to begin with, and if you take the time to digest the production figures and begin comparing options to cars built, you start to see the rarest of the rare start to surface. Case in point: Sherman and Gene Devening’s 1962 Dart 330, which is one of five 413 Max Wedge cars born with the king-of-the-hill 13.5:1 compression, 420-horsepower engine, mated to an automatic transmission. Take a moment to let that sink in. One of five. Even better, this was an early-production car, making it truly one of the original Max Wedge cars and, in my opinion, one of the original muscle cars.
And that, my friends, isn’t even the mind-blowing part of the tale.
All great car stories have that one recurring theme, that one little point of reference and repetition, or that big twist that casts over the history of the ride in question. Many times it’s that the car was passed around a circle of friends, that it always managed to find a way back to the original owner, or some other odd circumstance. I’ll bring you a step closer and tell you that this car has less than 5,000 original miles, and then go a step further to inform you that this fact isn’t even the most mind-blowing part of the story. Yes, it’s better than a 4,858-mile, super-rare piece of muscle car history.
Speaking of history, it’s there that we discover one of the coolest car stories I’ve heard … and I’ve heard a lot of them in my time. Flashback to the spring of 1962 when the car’s first owner, a friend and fellow high school graduate of Mr. Devening’s, drove the car off of the assembly line and put it on the track. A year later, the car was in the hands of another local friend, who named the Dart The Jersey Jumper (for his hometown of Jerseyville, Ill., and as a reference to the way the car launched from the starting line). In the fall of 1964, the current owner, Sherman Devening, and his friend Sherman Orris purchased the car from a local dealer for the princely sum of $1,000 (after nearly six months of haggling with the dealer), each laying down $500. This covers the first step of that mind-blowing story I had mentioned earlier. Keep this mind, as it will be a continuing theme as I relay the tale.
The two Shermans ran the car, and in 1968, while Orris was stationed in Vietnam, the pair sold the car to Ron Dyer, who was looking for a race car for, you guessed it, $1,000, complete but with the engine out of the car. The car was raced throughout the following years, and during that time, Sherman Devening began to miss the Dart. On a trip to Texas with his wife in 1986, a chance phone call from their hotel room led Sherman back to the Dart, minus the engine and transmission, where he purchased the car (as I said earlier, this is mind-blowing) for $1,000. Consider the odds of finding the original car and having it change hands three times (twice to the same owner!) for $1,000 each time. Granted, it took a lot more to bring the Dart back, but with some dedication, Sherman was able to round up the parts to restore the car and make the decision to put it back on the strip once more.
The name Better Than Nothin’ spawned from the two Shermans’ thankfulness to have something to run, and today, the car wears a tribute to its roots on the rear valance, proclaiming it to be the Original Jersey Jumper.
Today, the car runs about 15 heads-up races per year, with a best of 10.88 in the 1/4 mile and 11s consistently. Sherman and his son Gene run the car all-out, just as things were meant to be! The car not only has managed to defy the odds by returning to Sherman but also has become something of a time capsule. If you look at the dashboard, you’ll find a veritable Who’s-Who of drag racing history signed across the passenger side. My inner, car-obsessed kid was shaking with excitement as I read the signatures that morning.
There you have it: one of the cars that started it all, and a tale of it changing hands not once, not twice, but three times over its life, finding its way back home and continuing to inspire a whole new generation of Dodge fans. It’s always incredible to hear of stories like this, and to have spent time with the man who lived it, well, that is truly priceless. I’d like to express my sincerest gratitude to Sherman and Gene for their time, consideration, and great conversation. This truly was not only a highlight of my trip to Carlisle as part of the Dart Road Trip but also a memory that will be forever etched in my mind.
Naturally, this brings me to ponder just how many similar stories are out there. Do you have a tale of the one that got away and somehow found its way back? Or perhaps you’re saving your current Dodge for the next generation to enjoy and if so, what is it?