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SEMA Heritage—Bill Stroppe: Racing's Renaissance Man

By Drew Hardin

This portrait of Stroppe with one of his NASCAR Mercurys is an outtake from a photo shoot done for a March 1963 article in Motor Trend magazine.

Bill Stroppe’s involvement with racing runs so deep that it would probably be easier to list the types of racing he didn’t participate in than those he did. On-road, off-road, even in the water, the vehicles that Stroppe and his crew built were fast, competitive and usually groundbreaking in their design and execution.

This portrait of Stroppe with one of his NASCAR Mercurys is an outtake from a photo shoot done for a March 1963 article in Motor Trend magazine.

“We’ll be seeing some very fast, loaded-for-bear Mercurys on the stock car trail this season,” wrote Wayne Thoms. “The team will carry the banner of racing wizard and Mercury expert Bill Stroppe—just like old times.”

Stroppe had been working with Lincoln/Mercury since the early ’50s. He, with partner Clay Smith, built the hot-rod Lincolns that took the Mexican Carrera Panamericana road race by storm in 1952 and 1953. Stroppe’s efforts on behalf of the factory went underground somewhat when the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association banned OE participation in racing events in 1957. But by 1963, several manufacturers were getting back into racing—often using what Thoms referred to as an “indirect connection.” Ford, for example, “contracted with Bill Stroppe, who has prepared a team of cars, signed drivers, and will be solely responsible for Mercury’s destinies on the race courses.”

Stroppe had great material to work with. Mercury’s Marauder had a new fastback roofline that provided enough of an aerodynamic improvement to go hunting for 160 mph on the speedways. Underhood was a new engine, “427 cubic inches of high-performance V-8 that cranks out its rated 410 hp at 5,600 rpm,” Thoms wrote. Stroppe had run some of the early 427s on his dyno, and while he was mum about actual power numbers, “confident smiles around the shop indicate that the factory’s 410-hp rating is not only reasonable, it just might be conservative,” said Thoms.

The talent Stroppe assembled for that racing season included big names, such as Troy Ruttman, Rodger Ward and Louis Unser. Yet it was relative newcomer Darel Dieringer who earned 15 top-10 finishes on the NASCAR circuit that year and gave Mercury its only stock car victory at the season’s last race at Riverside.

Another racer on Stroppe’s roster was Parnelli Jones, who had a big year in 1963. He won the Indy 500 and also raced a Marauder up Pikes Peak a couple of months later to win the stock car class and set a class record during qualifying.

Jones and Stroppe would continue their racing adventures for years to come. It was Stroppe, in fact, who got Jones into off-road racing, and he was Parnelli’s co-driver in the Big Oly Bronco for back-to-back Baja 1000 wins in 1971 and 1972.