Peyton Cramer, an employee at the Ford Motor Company in the early 1960s, under the supervision of Ray Geddes in special vehicle operations. Geddes told him to go to Los Angeles to help Carroll Shelby to run his operations. Cramer turned Shelby Performance into a profitable business and continued to work there for two years as the general manager. In 1966, Ford took control of the Shelby performance to address build quality and reliability issues. With that, he left the Shelby Performance and approached Ford about getting a dealership. Ford declined his proposal and said that he had no experience in retail or marketing.
Considering this as a personal insult, he approached one of his friends, Dick Guldstrand, a famous race car driver at the time. Dick Guldstrand had friends in high places at the Chevrolet. Using these connections, Gulstrand arranged a meeting between the higher-ups at Chevrolet and Cramer.
They gave their approval to give him a dealership. Peyton who was looking forward for some financial backing was acquainted with Paul Dombroski through his wife. Dombroski at the time owned a Mercedes-Benz and a Jeep dealership. Cramer and Dombroski teamed up and acquired the dealership and renamed it to Dana Chevrolet after the side street next to the facility. Soon they decided on how to run things properly. Dombroski would handle the dealership at 8730
Long Beach Boulevard while Cramer would be in charge of racing activities down the street at 9735, on the same street.
The racing center was called Dana High-Performance Center, and it was by its own rights, a full-service dealership in the service of customers interested in Corvettes and Camaro variants. It had its own showroom, parts, and service departments, and all the regular things a normal dealership had.
He approached the mechanics who used to be working at Shelby Performance until Ford took everything under the control of its Dearborn facility. He offered them jobs at his newly found place. Due to this, he was able to get the place up and running in a matter of weeks. They tore the floor out of the shop to be replaced with another one to make it perfectly level as this was the same thing that they did at the Shelby Performance‘s hangers.
To run the Dana High-Performance Center, Cramer approached Dick Gulstrand, who found himself at loose ends when his former employer, Mr.Penske decided to let him go after a life-threatening crash. According to Gulstrand, Mr.Penske was angry about crashing his car and wasn’t going to pay him until he found that he was going to pull out. Gulstrand was also good friends with Zora Arkus Duntov and Ed Cole and invited them to join the band of misfits.
They acted as the middlemen in between General Motors and customers to provide whatever performance parts they needed. They also did all the engineering as well.
Cramer with the experience he gathered while working at Shelby Performance, knew that swapping an engine was a practical idea. So, he suggested that something like that might be possible in the future.
When the Performance Center was open, Cramer and Gulstrand came with a plan to promote a Corvette race car. Sunray Oil, a company from Oklahoma was the primary sponsor and the 1967 Corvette coupe was fitted with an L88 427 cubic-inch V8 engine and race-tuned at the Performance Center.
This Corvette participated in the 1967 Le Mans 24-hour endurance racing event. It ran well until the 13th hour when a wrist pin failed. Chevrolet had insisted that the internal parts of the engine were untouched, and it was actually a factory part that had been identified as in need of a replacement before the race that let go.
Dana Chevrolet also sponsored a 1967 Can-Am entry driven by Bob Bondurant and Peter Revson. Bondurant used to be a part of the McLaren team until he was replaced by Lothar Motschenbacher following a severe crash.
Soon the word spread like wildfire that the Dana High-Performance Center could supply buyers with race-tuned fast as hell street machines.
When Chevrolet unleashed the Camaro in 1967, it wasn’t offered with a big block engine until the end of the model year. Don McCain, who used to work at Shelby Performance until Ford took everything under its wings, also followed Cramer from Shelby. Don McCain was a drag racer, a mechanic, and also a sales manager. He came up with the idea to fit a 427 Corvette engine in a Camaro, the first moment he saw a one. He asked from the factory about the price of the engine and got to know that an engine costs $900. So, he ordered a one and swapped the stock engine with the 427 cubic-inch V8 corvette engine. Soon they were selling the Dana Camaro cars for $3995.
The mid-size Camaro fared well with the new 427 V8 engine. The power to weight ratio was acceptable for a high-end car.
By the spring of 1968, Cramer had a falling out with Dombroski, his business partner. Meanwhile, Chevrolet decided to stop participating in racing events. Due to these reasons, Cramer sold his share to Dombroski. He sold his racing equipment, cars, spare parts, performance parts, and many tools to Carroll Shelby. Some of the employees who used to work at the Dana Chevrolet went back to Shelby Performance.
Dombroski tried to run the dealership all by himself, but it quickly fell apart and eventually was sold to Cormier Chevrolet. When he left the facilities, he threw away all the records including the product information on all the high-performance vehicles and invoices. Due to this reason, it is very hard to authenticate a genuine Dana performance car.
Eighteen months doesn’t seem like a long period of time, yet it was long enough to leave a strong mark on the American high-performance muscle car world.