As someone who was already an avid drag racer, hammering a tri-power—equipped 1960 Pontiac, Dennis knew exactly what that Hemi car could be on the strip: all conquering. Like in many life situations there were complications though.
"My wife and I had just gotten back from our honeymoon," Dennis said with a laugh. "I read this story and really wanted to get my hands one of those cars so I was telling her that since we were married we did not need a big Pontiac and we should get something a little smaller. That was kind of my angle on the car." The other problem was that local dealers were dry when it came to the new, hot, Hemi machines. "My brother-in-law worked for the electric company at the time and he traveled all over the state," Dennis explained. "He came to me one day and told me that there was a car dealer in Wilmington, Massachusetts with twelve Hemi cars on the lot. It did not take us long to get up there to see what they had.
The dealer Dennis talks about was Fred F. Cain Chrysler/Plymouth. This was one of the premier performance dealerships in the New England area and they actively promoted their dealership with stockers, super stockers, an awesome altered-wheelbase Barracuda, and ultimately nitro Funny Cars. Obviously Chrysler wanted a performance dealer to peddle the cars, so Cain got a big shipment of Hemi runners to get the ball rolling, and boy did they. "We went out for the test drive and the salesman, who also was their Funny Car driver, really aired this thing out with my brother and I in it," said Dennis. "We were ripping along and at one point we were probably going 100 mph! We got back into the lot and the oil light was flickering, there was a chunk missing out of one of the tires, and the thing was barely running, so I told the guy I wanted a car, just not that one!" The black automatic car he bought that day is the very car you see here, and what a life it has lead!
After taking delivery of the car, Dennis hit the streets with it. "Yeah, we did a bunch of the stuff you shouldn't do with the car, but that's how things were back then," Dennis said. When we mentioned that the car must have been untouchable when it was brand new, he could not agree fast enough. "It absolutely was untouchable on the street, even bone stock the thing ran very strong."
It was the 1967 season when Dennis started taking the car to a quartet of New England drag strips. Over the next four years the car would see regular competition at the now defunct Connecticut Dragway; the now defunct New England Dragway South in Norwood, Massachusetts; and two strips still operating in the region, Maine's Oxford Plains Dragway and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. Classifying new cars, especially those with new engine combos, was interesting business at that time. In 1967, Dennis and his Belvedere were grouped in the B/Modified production class. Things would change for 1968, as the Top Stock class was introduced at New England Dragway and that became his happy home in the rule book.
"The top stock rules were cool because we were allowed to make some changes to the engine," Dennis said. "We changed the camshaft, added headers, that kind of stuff. I worked with Reid's Automotive from the start with this car." Reid's is still a thriving Massachusetts engine builder and undoubtedly some of that early reputation came from the hard charging Hemi they helped tune up with a balance and blueprint job along with the camshaft and other tweaks. "This was the first Hemi that Jim Reid worked on and for all the years I raced it, I followed the instructions to shift it at 7,200 rpm and I never broke a thing the entire time I raced that car," Dennis said with astonishment in his voice.
The car was no joke, regularly fending off every Chevelle, every Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Ford that tried to stop it. Dennis captured the New England Dragway top stock championship in 1968 and still has the jacket to prove it, along with the 1969 jacket as well. He repeated, but the second time came with some welcome help. "Before the 1969 season, I went to Randolph Chrysler/Plymouth seeking some sponsorship help. The owner of the dealership heard what I had to say and then offered me the sponsorship with a catch. I had to take a job there," Dennis said. It turned out to be the greatest sponsor deal in history. Dennis got $2,000 a year to cover his expenses, and he got a jobfor 39 years! He served as the manager of the service department of the dealership for many of those near four decades.
1970 would bring the car's crowning achievement on the drag strip. Dennis drove the car to a top stock win at the 1970 AHRA Grand American event at New England Dragway. The largest drag racing event in the region, it drew cars from up and down the east coast. "I made two weeks pay in one day at that event," Dennis exclaimed. He also got a photo with Linda Vaughn and memories to last a lifetime. The best elapsed time for the 3,600-lb car was an 11.10 at 126 mph. That's stout even by today's standards!
Dennis and his wife Jean bought a house in 1971 (They had previously been in an apartment and his car lived in Jean's uncle's garage down the street!) which was a great move for their family, but it not only truncated his 1971 season, it also stopped his drag racing life dead in its tracks. "I knew things were coming to a close as far as racing went," Dennis said. "The car sat all through 1972, and then in 1973 I sold it. It really devastated me to get rid of it. I was nervous with the gas crunch and all that. The thing would be worthless shortly, and it made sense at the time to move it along. I never went to the track, never really talked about it, and stayed away from everything. The pain was too much to bear."
Fast forward to the early 1990s. Dennis is working at the dealership and while standing at the counter a guy walks in and unhappily stuns him. "I'm standing there and this guy flips the Chrysler Certicard from the car with my name on it down on the counter," Dennis said. "I could not believe it. The guy proceeded to tell me that the car had been apart for like 20 years and he was putting it back together. He was asking if I had old parts and memorabilia. I had that stuff, but didn't want to part with it. I kind of shooed the guy along and away he went."
Fast forward to 15 years ago, Dennis is living in a new house with a neighbor who is into muscle cars and hot rods. They strike up a friendship and one day this gentleman hands Dennis a card with the name John Cantarella on it. Reluctantly, Dennis called him and before long he was once again standing face to face with his old car. There was one problem: John wanted no part in selling it. "It was kind of bizarre because when I saw the car again I was with my brother-in-law who took that test drive with me back in 1966," Dennis remembered. Despite persistence, John was not interested in selling the car and Dennis backed off eventually.
Years later, with his emotional wounds all but healed, Dennis started scoping out the local cruise scene and by chance one night he drove over to a local cruise night, one he had never visited. Who did he run into? John Cantarella, with the Hemi car, who was also visiting the cruise night for the first time. If that ain't fate, we don't know what is.
Six weeks later, with the full support of his wife Jean and a whole lot more cash that it cost new, the 1966 Belvedere II that had captured and then broken Dennis's heart was back in his home garage. A Hemi-powered boomerang that was decades in the making. "For the first month I had it I don't think I started it or even sat in the car," Dennis said. "I think I was afraid of it or something!"
Over the years some things have changed. A Dana 60 sits under the rear. Someone along the way put some mini-tubs in the car, which is where all that fat tire is hiding under the rear quarters. But the majority of it is still the same car that Dennis owned. All of the trim, the interior, the dash, and most importantly the same engine (with the original block!) powers the car. The intake manifold was swapped by a previous owner for a 1964 A990 car's cross ram, which most people notice quickly but it doesn't bother Dennis at all, nor should it.
Oh, and that "fear" Dennis had of the car once he got it back? That's gone. This thing lives at cruise nights and car shows all season, getting the wheels driven off of it multiple times a week. The machine is legend among drag racing circles in New England, and weekly Dennis meets people who remember seeing the car tearing up various strips across the region. Not every tale of a guy and an old race car has a happy ending. This one does.FAST FACTS
1966 Plymouth Belvedere II
Dennis Geniuch; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Type: 426ci Chrysler Hemi (original engine to the car)
Bore x stroke: 4.25(bore) x 3.75 (stroke), 426 ci
Block: factory steel block, blueprinted by Reid's Automotive
Rotating assembly: stock components balanced by Reid's Automotive, Whitman, MA
Cylinder heads: stock iron cylinder heads
Camshaft: .590-inch lift Racer Brown camshaft
Valvetrain: stock valvetrain
Induction: two Holley 770cfm carbs on aluminum 1964 A990
crossram intake manifold
Fuel system: factory Chrysler pump
Exhaust: Hooker headers, Flowmaster mufflers, exhaust cutouts
Ignition: stock-appearing MSD distributor, factory-style coil
Oiling system: stock wet-sump oiling system with Milodon oil pan
Cooling: factory stock Hemi cooling system, aluminum Mopar water pump
Output: engine has never been dyno tested
Engine built by: Reid's Automotive in Whitman, Massachusetts
Best e.t.: 11.10 at 126 mph
Transmission: stock 1966 vintage Chrysler Torquefite automatic with TCI
3,500-stall torque converter
Driveshaft: Aluminum by Denny's Driveshaft
Rearend: 4.10 geared, Sure-Grip equipped, Dana 60 rear axle
Front suspension: stock front suspension with factory torsion bars and sway bar in place,
Koni drag shocks
Rear suspension: Chrysler Super Stock leaf springs with Koni shocks
Steering: stock factory steering system
Brakes: 11-inch B-Body front disc brakes and rear drums
Chassis: stock and unaltered, as-delivered from factory
Color: black lacquer
Painter: Performance Restoration; Berkley, Massachusetts
Interior: stock interior with the addition of Sun tachometer,
Wheels: 15-inch diameter American Torque Thrust wheels front and rear
Tires: Coker 6-70R15 front runners (front), Hoosier 29x12.50R15LT (rear)
Special thanks: Dennis thanks his wife Jean, Reid's Racing Engines, and Performance
Restoration for their work on the car and support over the years. The car
has 10,555 original miles on it (and counting!)