Built, Not Bought. Episode 2
Bill and Gary Fenrich build a Chrysler 300 and a tribute to early NASCAR Racing by Mercury Marine; here’s the story as told by Gary.
My father was hired by Carl Kiekhaefer, founder of Mercury Marine back in 1954 as an Engineering Technician at Plant 6 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Just home from the army he was fortunate to find work down the street from where he lived and was hired when he walked in the door. He quickly became involved in the car racing program working on Chryslers and Lincolns used for AAA racing and the Carrera Panamericana. It was in 1955 when things really became busy following Mr. Kiekhaefer’s decision to enter the NASCAR circuit racing with his Chryslers 300s. The cars were equipped with 331 Hemi engines producing 300 H.P. and automatic transmissions. My dad built and tested the engines used in the racing program.
In addition to NASCAR, Mr. Kiekhaefer also continued to race in the “Northern” AAA series and won the 1955 championship with Frank “Rebel” Mundy driving. That same year Mr. Kiekhaefer won the NASCAR championship with Tim Flock and again with Buck Baker in 1956. My dad recalls those three years as being very busy, sometimes working around the clock to keep up with the racing demands. He told many stories with others who wanted to know what it was like at that time. He would laugh and talk about the pressure from “The Old Man” and how they got things done.
Like the time they removed the seats in a twin engine Beach Craft airplane to take a freshly dynoed engine to a race down in the Carolinas. The pilot was a WWII bomber pilot and was fearless. My dad recalls flying out of Fond du Lac with the tops of the trees just grazing the bottom of the airplane as it labored to gain altitude. He also recalled the time that parts were taken off of a spectator’s car in the infield at Darlington. It was a Ford that was running Holley carburetors that had been recently used on the Chryslers. No extra parts existed for the team and the only way to start and finish the race was to borrow them from the Ford. It would have worked perfectly but my dad and another team member were caught by the owner just as they were shutting the hood of the car! Right – they did not have permission, and there were details to be worked out later.
In the Spring of 1998, my dad and I traveled to New Jersey to look at a barn find 1955 Chrysler 300, Serial number 3N551111 (1111 out of 1725 produced). It was a hard sell for my dad; he was no longer interested in lying on the floor and working on a project. After taking a good look at the car and finding it was completely rust free and running I had to convince my dad to purchase with me and I would do all the dirty work once the car was back home. we were standing on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia when he finally said “yes.”
Once the car was trailered back to Wisconsin the build started. The first thing we did was pull the motor and transmission, both to be rebu
ilt. From that point forward it was an incredible effort which included long-time friends of my dad at Mercury offering services from engine mechanicals to body work all wanting to lend a hand.
The entire project took over five years to complete.