There are certain events that happen when you grow up around drag racing that burn memories into your mind and influence your choices about the sport for the rest of your life. For Mike Rehl, that memory swirls around a classic Mopar that his father owned, and ultimately drove him from racing Chevrolets back to a Plymouth product.
Mike’s Nostalgia Super Stock 1963 Max Wedge Savoy is a street legal tribute to a car his father ran in the heyday of musclecars, and forever changed his drag racing future.
Mike grew up around the hotbed of drag racing in central Ohio at tracks like Hyde Park Drag Strip, Pacemakers Drag Strip, and the original Dragway 42, helping his father Charlie Rehl, a well-known and talented racer. Charlie was a feared competitor behind the wheel of his 409-powered Chevy, but when the 1962 Dodge 413 Max Wedge car came to town, things changed.
“I remember when we watched that Dodge make its first pass at the track and my dad turned to the crowd and said, ‘Boys, it’s all over,’ ” Mike says.
That Mopar made such an impression on Mike’s father that he ordered a 1963 Plymouth Savoy 426 Max Wedge car to take the place of his Chevy, and that made a huge impression on Mike. Soon, the Plymouth was at the family shop getting the entire driveline from the engine on back pulled out to get a full Super Stock blueprint treatment so that it could be a contender at the track. Little did Mike know he was about to embark on a huge racing adventure with his family that would shape his racing future.
That winter, Mike’s father loaded the family up into their 1963 Plymouth station wagon and flat-towed their new racecar on one amazing racing vacation to Florida, the kind of trip that legends are born on. “One of the reasons I have such fond memories of the car is the things I got to do with it alongside my father on this trip. I was so excited that I was allowed to start the car to move it during this great adventure,” Mike explains.
In the third race, my father took the win, but all hell broke out when the people on the starting line said my father jumped and had to rerun the race. Mike Rehl
The Savoy proved how tough it was at the first race in Jacksonville, as it easily beat all the local racers and allowed Mike’s father to claim a nice $600 prize, which was a lot of money in those days to win racing. That win set the stage for a huge race for Mike’s dad against racing legend Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick. The best two-out-of-three race series with Beswick had a bit of controversy, but it added some fun to the trip. “In the third race, my father took the win, but all hell broke out when the people on the starting line said my father jumped and had to rerun the race. After a heated discussion, they re-ran and Beswick won,” Mike says.
The final stop on the Florida tour was a series of match races in St. Petersburg where Mike’s dad again pulled out the win with his now legendary Savoy. The family headed back to Ohio with more money and parts than they left with, making the trip a successful one, and a life-changing experience for Mike.
After the trip to Florida, Mike’s dad would go on to campaign the Savoy in Ohio, winning championships at different tracks and taking on the biggest names in Super Stock racing, all while earning a lot of respect because he could run with the best of the factory teams. Soon the Savoy would be sold, as Mike and his dad didn’t have time for racing; they were helping the Rader family run the new state-of-the-art National Trail Raceway in their hometown of Hebron, Ohio. But the Savoy had left a mark in Mike’s mind that would come back with a vengeance in the future.
Over the years, Mike and his family stayed very active in the Ohio racing scene, helping to run National Trail Raceway; and he even got back behind the wheel. “I began racing Chevrolets because of the easy access to them since my father was the Sales Manager at Walters Chevrolet, which was two miles from the track. As a drag racer, I have been fortunate to have success in the sport that I love,” Mike explains.
Mike went on to win a class championship at the 1973 U.S. Nationals, finished in the top eight in Super Street for his home NHRA division, and collected four track titles at National Trail. Even with all of that success over the years, he still wanted a 1963 Plymouth Max Wedge car like his father owned and provided such great memories on the family racing trip. Mike had no idea that his journey to build a car like the one that influenced him so much would eventually be a reality.
One year, Mike decided to take a trip with a few of his racing friends to the Charlotte Auto Fair at Charlotte Motor Speedway to see what he could find for a project.
“One of my friends that was with us on the trip had a 1970 Roadrunner that was being restored by a friend, Larry Leaphart, in the Charlotte area. We went to Larry’s shop to look at the Roadrunner, and after looking around his shop and talking to him for a while, I could tell he was very knowledgeable on Mopars. So I thought this guy may be the person to ask if he knew where I could find a 1963 Savoy two-door post car. Lo and behold, he did,” Mike says.
The car in question just happened to be sitting behind Leaphart’s shop in the weeds; it was rough, but all of the car was there, including the hard-to-find chrome parts. “I couldn’t believe the car I had been thinking about all these years was sitting right there. It was a plain-jane car with a slant-six, automatic transmission, baby caps, and no power options, but it was complete, so I went back inside and asked Larry what he wanted for the car. He thought he had the car sold, but didn’t know if the guy was going to take it because he may have lost his job. I was sick thinking maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” Mike explains.
Feeling defeated, Mike and his friends left Leaphart’s shop to head to dinner, but the car was still on his mind. One of Mike’s friends called Leaphart to see if he knew if the person who purchased the car was still interested in buying it, even with the loss of his job. After dinner, Mike and his friends went back to Leaphart’s shop where he cut right to the chase to see if the car was available. “When we arrived at Larry’s, I did not hesitate to ask if he had made the call to see if the other guy still wanted the car. When he replied, ‘The car is yours,’ I was ecstatic, to say the least. We discussed the price, and I wrote him a check on the spot and made arrangements for the car to be picked up,” Mike says.
I built this car to be a tribute to my father’s car, but also to be a racecar. Mike Rehl
Mike now had the car he desired for so long and needed to figure out what direction to take the project. “I loved the Nostalgia Super Stock cars because they remind me of the old Super Stock days when you foot brake raced with no electronics. And the popularity of these cars are growing. My plan was to build a car for Nostalgia Super Stock and make it a showpiece, but I wanted to also replicate my father’s 1963 Max Wedge car,” Mike explains of his goals.
Life got a bit busy for Mike after he got the car home, so it took over 13 years for the Savoy to be completed. Much of that time was spent running his successful auto sales business and racing his Super Street Monte Carlo, but the work on the Savoy had to be perfect to meet the vision he had in mind. The finished product is a Nostalgia Super Stock car that has won Best in Show awards, can be driven on the street, and will lay down 10-second passes on motor without straining itself.
Under the hood of Mike’s Savoy is a 540 cubic-inch Wedge motor that was built by Beach Performance, and uses a World Products block as its foundation. Inside the big Mopar motor is a rotating assembly that has a Callies steel crank as its backbone, Eagle H-Beam rods, and Diamond Racing pistons to round out the combination. A set of secret aluminum heads work with the Mopar cross-ram intake and dual 750 cfm Edelbrock carburetors to bring air into the engine. The spark for the Mopar mill is provided by an MSD ignition system that features an MSD distributor, coil, plug wires, and ignition box.
All of that big-block Mopar power is turned into pavement shredding force by a 727 Torqueflight transmission built by Cope Racing Transmissions, and is matched to a 4500 rpm stall converter from Quick Draw Converters. One of the neat features of Mike’s Savoy is the fact he shifts the car with the stock Push Button setup on the dash just like it came from the factory!
The chassis of the Savoy was crafted by PK Race-N-Rods, which included the mini-tub job, rearend, and rollbar that keeps Mike safe. Putting the power to the ground is a Ford 9-inch that uses Strange Engineering axles, 4.10 gears, and a Strange spool. A ladder bar-style suspension is matched with a set of Strange coilover shocks to keep the car planted to the track. Up front, the factory control arms remain in place along with another set of Strange adjustable shocks.
The body of the Savoy was in very good shape to start with, so Mike didn’t need to have much done to make it show-ready. The body panels along with other miscellaneous parts recieved an acid dip treatment to make sure everything was up to specification. The car then got a Max Wedge-style hood and received its many coats of white paint from Wayne Campbell after the bodywork was complete. The final product is a stunning car that looks ultra-fast just sitting still.
Now that his Savoy is complete, Mike plans on doing more with it than just parking it at car shows. This Mopar will see some serious racing action. “I built this car to be a tribute to my father’s car, but also to be a racecar. The plan is to race it here locally at different Nostalgia Super Stock events, in the NMCA’s Nostalgia Super Stock class, and at any other event where there are classic Mopars. I’m just so happy with how the car turned out and can’t wait to race it,” Mike says.
Mike Rehl spent years winning drag races behind the wheel of General Motors products, but he never forgot his father’s classic Mopar that inspired him when he was young. That inspiration drove him to keep racing and looking for an opportunity to build a car like the one that meant so much to his family. Mike’s Savoy is an example of how powerful family and memories can be in drag racing and why people are so passionate about the sport.