The Racing Industry Looks Back At The Career Of Jere “Total Tuned” Stahl

June 24, 2016

FEATURED PHOTO: Jere Stahl’s infamous four-door, ’56 Chevy wagon won G/Stock class at The Nationals in 1964, sporting Stahl’s “Total Tuned” headers. Stahl’s scienced header and exhaust system designs squeezed the last bit of horsepower out of the 265 CID small-block. G/S winning 13.91-99 mph was often bettered to mid 13’s by the unassumingly mild combination running in NE Division 1 Junior Stock competition.

Story by Jim Hill

The death of Jere Stahl (“Total Tuned Headers”) June 22 marks the passing of yet another major racing industry figure. Jere Stahl’s reputation came not only from a stellar racing career, but pioneering innovation in the field of race engine exhaust systems. Although he had sold Stahl Headers, the brand remains and will forever be Jere Stahl’s legacy.

Jere Stahl was born in Syracuse, NY, but Stahl’s drag racing career began after a hitch in the military found him running a service station in Michigan. While on a trip to Daytona Beach, in 1962, he went to the NASCAR Winter National drags, at Spruce Creek Airport. There he struck up a conversation with Don Gist, a racer of national repute from West Palm Beach. Gist was running his new ’62 Corvette. Jere convinced him that his design for headers would help the new 327 ‘Vette go quicker. Don Gist was impressed enough that he had a local West Palm Beach welder build the headers from Stahl’s sketches. Stahl’s design proved to be very good, and Gist’s Corvette was soon setting records and winning eliminator titles.

Later that same year Gist set the NHRA record at York, PA. He then beat Dave Strickler in the Bill Jenkins tuned ’62 409 Bel-Air for Street Eliminator. Stahl recommended to Gist that Jenkins rebuild Gist’s engine.

Stahl’s headers and the result didn’t go unnoticed by Strickler and Jenkins. Dave Strickler convinced Stahl to design and build a set of headers for his new “Old Reliable” ’63 Z-11 lightweight Impala. The 427 “W-Series”, 409-based engine in Strickler’s new Chevy Impala was soon sporting pipes designed and built by Stahl. That was the beginning of a lifetime relationship between Stahl and Jenkins. Later that year Strickler & Jenkins became the first 11-second Z-11. Both Strickler and Jenkins told other racers of the value of Stahl’s exhaust systems. Soon Stahl had a lengthy and growing list of orders for his headers.

In 1963 Jere moved from Michigan to York, PA, to get his header business rolling. York was where Stahl remained for the duration. Stahl’s early customer list included Don Nicholson, Eddie Schartman, Sox & Martin, Malcom Durham and of course, Strickler and Jenkins.

After his ’56 wagon Stahl ran a ’57 Two-Ten sedan with a Power-Pak 283 for G/Stock. It too was a tough contender in class and Stock Eliminator. The logo with cartooned Jere Stahl “playing” the headerpipes became an icon for his header business.

Stahl and Jenkins shared shop space initially at “Jiggs” Jenkins’ shop in Berwyn, PA. It was there that Stahl built a ’55 Chevy for Junior Stock. The highly competitive world of Junior Stock taught Jere how to squeeze the last available horsepower from a small-block Chevy. Stahl’s success and clever car preparation with the Junior Stock Chevys earned him notice from Chrysler’s  much acclaimed drag race engineering group.

Stahl moved into Stock Eliminator with a ’66 Plymouth sedan powered by a 426 street Hemi and a four speed. It was a refrigerator white, nondescript car that schemed for just one purpose, to dominate NHRA’s highly competitive and closely watched A/Stock class. Stahl also partnered in the car with another young racer named Bill Stiles.

The white 426 Plymouth Hemi A/Stocker remains the car Jere Stahl is most often associated with. With it, he and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins staged epic battles for A/S class supremacy. Stahl’s 426 Hemi car was “The Giant”, and Jenkins’ ’66 Chevy II (327-350 hp) was “The Giant Killer”. Their greatest battles were conducted over a season at NHRA major events, with the entire drag racing world witnessing the outcome.

Stahl’s famed A/Stock ’66 Plymouth with 426 Hemi power ran on rules-mandated 7″ wide tires. As seen here, starting line tire smoke was common, requiring Jere’s deft touch of throttle and clutch to control the huge torque and horsepower.

Drag strip promoters began booking the pair for two-out-of-three match races. Even though these were “lowly stockers”, their ET’s and speeds and the level of competition piqued the interest of the drag racing world. These matches were closely followed and widely promoted, creating flashy headlines in the weekly drag newspapers (National Dragster, Drag News, Drag Times and Drag World) and magazines such as Alexandria, Virginia based Super Stock Magazine.

Track promoters and the drag race press fabricated a heated rivalry between the two. In truth, both Stahl and Jenkins were pleased to enjoy the spotlight along with the added cash stipend. The competition only provided greater opportunities for learning about their respective cars and engines. Stahl and Jenkins were both cerebral figures of the “mad scientist” variety, predestined to a lifetime struggle in discovering the secrets of making horsepower.

During the A/Stock days it was Stahl’s high-horsepower Hemi that usually tipped the win/loss count, even though crowd sentiment usually fell to Jenkins’ underdog Chevy. Making the stew even more savory, both ran on 7″ wide “cheater slick” tires (per NHRA Stock rules). These were molded in a particularly soft compound with two small grooves. Their 7″ traction width was ridiculously inadequate when challenged by the torque and horsepower made by Stahl’s Hemi.

In their matches, or in A/S class eliminations, Jenkins’ lighter car would get an immediate jump on Stahl. Stahl would manually slip the clutch and delicately feather the throttle to keep the big-torque Hemi from helplessly spinning. The pay-off would come a quarter mile away, in fourth-gear, as the big-inch Hemi-wolf pursued the fleeing small-block hare. On tracks with seriously good bite Stahl was hard to beat. On slippery surfaces Jenkins’ little Nova had an edge.

A/Stock class trophy usually came down to Stahl and Bill Jenkins’ 327/350 hp Chevy II. Class battles and booked-in match race showdowns between the two created the legend of Jere “Total Tuned” Stahl and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins and “Grumpy’s Toy”.

Stahl was well-known for his career as a racer, but it was his “Total-Tuned” Headers that became a mainstay for serious east coast drag racers. Jere Stahl had begun his manufacturing career by designing and fabricating uniquely engineered exhaust headers for Jr. Stocks, and then progressed upwards. His headers were of excellent quality, with equal length primaries and a collector OD and length that matched the engine combination. Stahl Headers were used on many Stock, S/S, Modified Elim and Comp Elim cars and were worth as much as a tenth of a second over off the shelf headers. He also did a lot with adjustable length primary pipes, to tune the primary length to the engine speed, CID, vehicle weight and track surface. You could lengthen the primaries, to increase torque, or shorten them, to kill torque and increase upper rpm hp.

Stahl also dabbled in circle track exhaust systems and several notable eastern Open Wheel Modifieds sported Total Tuned Stahl pipes for both small-block and big-block Chevy runners. Stahl gained more non-drag racing credibility when his exhaust systems became favored by the all-conquering Mark Donahue driven, Roger Penske Camaro Z-28 Trans-Am cars of the mid 1960’s.

Stahl boldly proclaimed to have “the finest small-block Camaro header in the entire world!”, and supported his claim with this ad featuring  Roger Penske’s Mark Donohue-driven Trans-Am 302, Z-28. 

Jere’s next Hemi project was a ’67 SS/B, aluminum front end Plymouth sport coupe. Again Stahl’s touch in preparing, tuning and driven earned him several S/S Eliminator wins. In 1968 he got one of the Hurst Performance built, 426 Race Hemi Barracudas, running it successfully in SS/B. In 1970 Pro-Stock hit the big-time as an Eliminator added to all major events and regional points races. The Hemi Barracudas and Darts were very competitive as early Pro-Stocks, and Stahl ran his car in the new category until his new purpose-built, 426 Hemi Dodge Demon Pro-Stock car was ready to race. Naturally Stahl had more “inside the ropes” assistance from his friends in Chrysler’s race group.

Stahl’s Pro-Stock Demon was featured in a magazine feature spread. The car featured many of the tricks Stahl had learned building and racing Junior Stocks.

Stahl also did his own cam designs, and had them ground for his own cars and some for customers. He also became a self-taught computer devotee, writing computer programs for cam lobe profile designs and an interesting program for dynamometer test results evaluation.

Stahl was regarded by many as overly opinionated, sometimes abrasive and frequently stubborn. He was also extremely intelligent and excitingly creative when it came to racing and in everything racing related. His contributions to drag racing and to the industry were numerous.

How sad it is that now both Jere Stahl and Bill Jenkins, and their multi-volume achievements in racing have passed on. Rest In Peace, Jere “Total Tuned” Stahl and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins.