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View Full Version : Rest In Peace… Jim "Thunder" Thornton AKA: "Mr. Ramcharger"…



ob1jeeper
06-07-2014, 10:15 AM
For those of you old enough to remember, the Ramchargers were a Drag Racing juggernaut during the '60's.

While many thought they were a "factory team", in fact, they consisted of a group of young Chrysler engineers, with a passion for drag racing, and making things "go fast", who banded together forming a club that built, and campaigned the racing vehicles, outside of their day jobs as engineers in various departments @ Chrysler.

Their first dragster was based on a 49 Plymouth business coupe with some radical (for the time), "Zoomie" exhaust stacks. These style exhausts are common today on many of the professional class drag cars, but in the day when they first showed up at the track, the club members were ridiculed mightily, at least initially. It was not long before the "High & Mighty", was setting records and winning a high percentage of it's races, and many of the racers were trying to emulate those exhausts.

The club president was an engineer by the name of Jim "Thunder" Thornton. It was under his guidance that many innovations, both safety and speed related, along with a host of drag racing records were set. Jim was one of the first drivers to go over 200 mph in a dragster.

Due to their successes, the Dodge marketing department was approached and found to be willing to back the club with entry fees, and some production parts, and the rest was up to these die-hard drag-racing engineers to raise whatever funds necessary to make it all work.

In the late 60's an early '70's, it became bad business (Primarily due to the Insurance industry's pressure, against "Muscle Cars"), and having done the club thing for close to a dozen years, many of the the Ramchargers club members had used up their "kitchen passes" and some were on the verge of burn-out, thus the club disbanded, ending a successful run in professional motorsports that has rarely been matched. Some club members to this day remain active in various forms of racing, while others went on to other pursuits.

Jim left Chrysler, and moved on to Rupp Mfg., where he took the position of director/chief engineer of their snow-mobile racing program.

Now comes the Jeep related tie-in to this back-story…
Jim followed his stint @ Rupp, by taking a position @ American Motors/Jeep in 1972, as the chief engineer/director of Jeep Research & Development. His engineering acumen, and dedication to his staff, helped bring about the many innovations and changes in the modernization of Jeep products, including the CJ7 and the Jeep Cherokee (XJ).

Jim left American motors in the 80's and with a fellow former Jeep engineer, started an engineering consulting business, serving clients the world over, in design, & development of a variety of systems and vehicles.

I was fortunate enough to have met Jim during the 70's, and he became both my friend and a life long mentor to me, both professionally and personally.

Jim passed away earlier this week, from a long bout with cancer, and Friday he was laid to rest.

A more focussed, accomplished, and capable engineer, and more importantly a finer person, both professionally and personally, I've never met.

RIP friend…

sjkimmel99
06-07-2014, 01:41 PM
RIP Jim.

Interesting series on the team. This article illustrates the kinds of challenges involved in getting racers to run in the days when they looked at the color of plug to figure out the mixture. Almost all on their own. That's passion.

http://www.allpar.com/racing/ramchargers/18-big-loads-nitro.html

http://www.allpar.com/racing/ramchargers/ramchargers-2-61-super-stock.html

Old School
58084

Locked & Loaded
06-07-2014, 06:47 PM
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fatbob309
06-09-2014, 08:33 AM
What a life to live!

Geeepin
06-09-2014, 03:01 PM
Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.
Its a nice post you placed of something to remember him by and share about some of his life and life's work.