Having earned a mechanical engineering degree from Detroit Engineering Institute in 1964, Tom Tignanelli went to work as a technician and test driver in the Road Test Garage at Chrysler Engineering in Highland Park, Michigan. His dream job, though, was at Chrysler’s offsite Woodward Garage, headed by Roger Lindamood.
“My boss at the Road Test garage used to let me sneak over to the Woodward Garage so I could possibly get hired there,” Tom recalls. “In the Woodward Garage, which was the Clark Pontiac dealership at one time, there were cars being built for circle track, drag racing, and road racing.”
At first there wasn’t a position open for him, but things changed “when Roger decided to go drag racing fulltime,” Tom says. “I was hired to work as Race Group Engineer in the Woodward Garage. That job opened me up to working with the great minds of the product planners at Chrysler, like Dick Maxwell, Robert Cahill, and Dave Koffel. In addition, I had the privilege of being taught by and working with the Chrysler engineering staff that included legends like Tom Hoover, Dan Mancini, Warren Tiahart, Tom Coddington, and Allen Adams, who worked and ran the Woodward Garage. I couldn’t help but be a good student since I was being taught by the best talent in the industry. It was a great time in my life. I worked on a number of Chrysler race cars, including those owned by Jack Werst, John Tedder, and one car for Ron Mancini.”
Chrysler built 102 1965 A990 Plymouth Belvederes featuring lightweight body panels and the 426 Hemi engine with a magnesium intake manifold. Chrysler Engineering received two of those cars. Tom says, “The UFO car was a real A990 Chrysler engineering test car with the lightweight panels, 426 Hemi engine, and reverse-pattern manual valvebody TorqueFlite transmission. As part of the R&D, I recall having the Chrysler engine room build the motor with an Isky cam and some other go-fast items. Eventually, my father, Robert Tignanelli, bought the car from Chrysler. It was offered to us because I was their youngest test driver and my family was heavily involved in drag racing. I didn’t get an official racer contract with Chrysler, but since I was an employee for Chrysler Race Group, I ended up getting free race parts.”
Tom raced his newly acquired A990 in NHRA Super Stock during the 1965 race season. Hooked on drag racing, he began planning for the 1966 race season. NHRA had announced that it was introducing a new category called Experimental Stock (XS) that would be divided into six classes running from Super/XS to E/XS. Tom decided to build his 1965 Plymouth to compete in C/XS. Experimental Stock would come to be known as Funny Cars, largely because of the wild creations that came from the brilliant minds of racers like Tignanelli.
Tom tells the story of the birth of the UFO: “We rolled the car into Shadowoods Auto Center in Roseville, Michigan—my dad’s business—at the end of the 1965 race season in order to build it for Experimental Stock. It never left the shop until it was ready to race in the spring of 1966. My dad, brothers, Alex Richards, and I did the chassis modifications, drivetrain preparation, and paint work. We had a great relationship with the guys at Logghe Chassis shop, so they built the front straight-axle suspension. We moved the front axle forward 10 inches and the rear forward 15. The factory lightweight fenders and hood were replaced with lighter fiberglass parts from the Golden Commandos. We also replaced all the factory glass with orange Plexiglas.”
Further modifications included replacing the steel trunk floor with aluminum, installing a rare aluminum dashboard, and mounting a 3 1/2-gallon Moon spun aluminum fuel tank in the front grille. Tom built the Hemi motor with an Isky 550 Le Gerra cam, Chrysler race pistons, and the stock A990 magnesium cross-ram intake manifold with twin Holley 3116 carburetors. The aluminum cylinder heads were race-prepped by Bartley Kenyon, featuring a five-angle valve job. The Hemi was located farther back and higher in the altered-wheelbase shell. Modifications brought the total weight of the UFO from 3,400 pounds to 3,000.
The UFO emerged from Robert Tignanelli’s shop as if it had been abducted by aliens. It was unbelievably faster. During the 1966 season, Dieter Nubel would create the UFO’s signature nose piece that would enhance performance. Tom was NHRA Division 3 Points Champion in XS, and earned a C/XS National Championship in his follow-up 1967 season. Additionally, numerous class wins and eliminator victories would pile up to establish the UFO as an extremely successful race car for Tom and the entire Tignanelli family.
When Tom moved up to a Charger Funny Car in 1968, he sold the UFO as a roller to Bruce Elmer, who later sold it to Paul Janda from Canada in 1971, where it was placed in climate-controlled storage until 2014. Clark and Collene Rand purchased the car in 2014 and sent it to Adam Engelhart and the crew over at AAA Restorations in Rushford, Minnesota. The car received an impeccable restoration back to as-raced status and now serves as a rolling testament to the golden era of mid-1960s NHRA drag racing.
Reflecting on the unique opportunity he had as both a Chrysler Race Group engineer and a successful drag racer, Tom says, “I always tell this to people: There was nothing any better. I got paid to drive a car, I got overtime, and I had free run of Chrysler proving grounds. They sent me to every drag race a week early in order to be a part of testing factory cars. I had a gorgeous truck, a D700 four-door, with three or four engines in the back of the truck to assist factory racers. I serviced their transmissions, supplied spare parts. I was the keeper of the keys. I had it made!”
Tom misses every car he ever raced. Not one given to spectator status, he is currently working on building a Wedge-powered altered-wheelbase 1965 Plymouth Belvedere I post car for nostalgia drag racing. He still works seven days a week on Hemi engines, race car builds, and vintage parts upkeep, proving himself to be an unrelenting fanatic obsessed with the sport that shaped his passion for Chrysler race cars.
At a Glance
1965 A990 Belvedere I
Owned by: Clark and Collene Rand, Fair Grove, MO
Restored by: AAA Restorations, Rushford, MN
Engine: 426ci Hemi V-8
Transmission: 727 TorqueFlite reverse-pattern manual valvebody
Rearend: 8 3/4 Mopar with 4.88 gears and spool
Interior: A100 seats, original UFO rollcage by Shadowoods Auto Center
Wheels: 15×4 American Racing 12-spoke front, 15×10 American Racing rear
Tires: 7.75-15 Goodyear nylon cord 4-ply front, 10.50-15 Goodyear Blue Streak rear
Special parts: Custom nose cone, Sun tachometer and gauges
Tom Tignanelli’s job as a Chrysler Race Group engineer provided the opportunity for his father to buy this 1965 Plymouth A990 Belvedere I from Chrysler Engineering. Adam Engelhart and the team at AAA Restorations in Rushford, Minnesota, performed the incredibly accurate restoration after its current owners, Clark and Collene Rand, bought it in 2014.
Chrysler built 101 Dodge Coronets and 101 Plymouth Belvedere I post cars with the A990 package. The cars featured lightweight steel fenders, a hood with scoop, a radiator support, and grille brackets. The package also included lightweight Corning glass. In building the UFO, the Tignanelli crew replaced the fenders and hood with fiberglass units from the Golden Commandos. The wheelbase alteration was done at Shadowoods Auto Center, the Tignanelli family business.
The 426 Hemi was restored and rebuilt by AAA Restorations to factory specifications. The engine features a 12.5:1 compression ratio, a 0.590-lift Comp Cams solid-lifter camshaft, Hooker headers, and a correct 1965 dual-point distributor.
The Holley 3116 770-cfm carburetors are mounted on the factory magnesium cross-ram intake manifold that was used on all the 1965 A990 cars.
The original rollcage is still in place, yielding 1965 vintage protection for the driver during those 130-mph jaunts.
The Moon spun aluminum 3 1/2-gallon fuel tank is rated at 10 psi maximum fuel pressure. The tank is topped off with a traditional Moon three-bar gas cap.
The weight of the huge Mopar Super Stock battery was placed over the right rear corner for optimal traction assistance. Bob’s Drag Chutes supplies the laundry for shutdown security. Since the UFO has no front brakes, the chute was a necessity.
A UFO Is Born
Photos courtesy of Tom Tignanelli
Though the date is uncertain, here is the UFO testing at Motor City Dragway in Detroit.
A young Tom Tignanelli demonstrates the lightweight fiberglass replacement hood that was partly responsible for removing 400 pounds from the car when it was converted to C/XS status.
The front straight axle was supplied by Logghe Chassis, sans front brakes, when built for Experimental Stock racing. Those 12-spoke American Racing wheels are still on the car.
Tignanelli’s work as race support for various Chrysler contract drivers netted him the benefit of free parts for his Chrysler race cars.
The post UFO Sighting: The 1967 NHRA C/XS Championship-Winning 1965 Plymouth A990 Belvedere I is Reborn appeared first on Hot Rod Network.
This content was originally published here.