QOTD: Weirdly One-Year-Only Parts

This is a Stromberg Model W carburetor—says so right there on the side. More specifically, it’s a Bendix Stromberg WA3-219 carburetor. “W” for the design family of the carburetor, “A” for 1-barrel, “3” means made for Chrysler, and 219 is the subtype. Very fine, and…so what? Well, here’s the thing: This kind of carburetor was only ever used on 1963 Plymouth-Dodge cars; only the big ones, not Darts and Valiants, with the 225 Slant-6 and automatic transmission. Not just this subtype 219, and not just no other Chrysler products. No, I mean this whole kind of carburetor, the Stromberg Model W, was not installed on any other model, make, or year of vehicle.

That’s anomalous. Holley 1920s were used not just on Slant-6s but also on American Motors cars and Fords and such. Carter BBDs were used on Mopars and Jeeps and AMCs and others. Numerous other Holley and Carter models; Rochester Quadrajets; SUs and those other (English Zenith) Strombergs…most kinds of carburetor found a job under more than one kind of hood. Two sizes of the American Bendix Stromberg WW two-barrel were used on Mopar V8s for quite a whack of years, as well as various GM vehicles and probably others. But not this Stromberg W: just one kind of car, with just one kind of engine and just one kind of transmission, for just one model year. Only!

Designing; engineering; tooling; producing; testing; calibrating, and validating a whole new carburetor was a lot of work for Bendix, and therefore surely cost very serious money; the realities of how car parts are conceived and born make that a fact even without knowing the dollar amount. Adding the carburetor and its every replaceable component and its ancillaries (repair kits, etc) to the Chrysler parts system cost yet more major money. Usually these costs are amortised and brought down to a low figure per carburetor—or whatever other kind of part—by keeping it in production as long as feasible; making incremental, inexpensive changes to keep the part compatible with the rest of the car as it evolves.

But not this time, nope. How come?

It wasn’t any kind of engineering blunder better scrapped than fixed; in every way, the Stromberg W was and is at least as good as (I would vote “better than”) the Carter BBSs and Holley 1920s factory-plopped on Slant-6s over a whole bunch of years, including those same 1963 225/automatic Plymouths and Dodges. The carb is simple and well-designed and -built: nice quality castings, no gaskets below fuel level, a compound venturi for good driveability, etc. There was one TSB for a quick 3-minute tweak to the choke spring so it wouldn’t stick, but that scarcely counts ’cause there was an identical bulletin for the 1920. And sometime during MY63 the 219 became 219A by dint of a small hole drilled through the carburetor barrel’s outer wall right above the lower edge of the closed throttle plate—just like on Carters and Holleys—to stave off flooding after shutting off a hot engine. It was a running change in production, not a field modification to existing carburetors. You can see the anti-flood hole just above the foot of this 219A:

It wasn’t some peculiarity of the ’63 cars in general, either; no special one-year throttle or kickdown linkage or air cleaner or manifold or anything else. It wasn’t vehicle equipment with needs only meetable by the Stromberg carb, either; whether your new ’63 Slant-6 Dodge or Plymouth came with a BBS, a W, or a 1920 was down to what came to hand on the assembly line when any given car was being built. All three are directly interchangeable.

No, it really looked as though Chrysler had simply added Bendix as a third supplier for Slant-6 carburetors in ’63, as they’d done with Holley in ’62. Parts price lists from the day don’t show a significant difference to the Carter or Holley carbs there, either. If there was some kind of strike or other event preventing Carter and Holley meeting the demand, I’ve never found any mention or evidence of it. Chrysler even used the Stromberg carb in non-carburetor-specific training literature, which I think they wouldn’t’ve if this carb had been a quickie stopgap with an intentional dead-end future.

The Stromberg WW two-barrels still came on Chrysler’s V8s for several more years, so it doesn’t seem Chrysler had a falling-out with Bendix, but the WA one-barrel was gone permanently for ’64; Carter BBSs and Holley 1920s resumed being the only two factory-installed carburetors. Finding out why would likely require recollection by someone who was there, so this particular question will likely remain forever unanswered.

Update: I asked Jon Hardgrove, whose Carburetor Shop is where the world’s best carburetor rebuild kits come from. He’s got a giant amount of Stromberg engineering information, and if anybody would know, he’d be the man. It’s a mystery to him as well, though he did describe six prototype variants of the Model W that got as far as being assigned Chrysler 7-digit part numbers in the 2463xxx range. That would put them in the block of part numbers assigned to new parts brought in with the ’64 cars. The prototypes included probable ’64-model carbs for the big cars and for Darts and Valiants with 170 and 225 engines, as well as service replacement carbs for ’60-’62 cars. Bendix sent six of each variant to Chrysler, and that was the end of the story. Because I’m an inveterate geek, I’ve bought copies of the blueprints for the prototypes and the production “W” from Mr. Hardgrove.

Adding to the weirdness: Bendix’s Australian Stromberg Technico carburetor operation sold a 1-barrel carburetor to Chrysler Australia for their ’67-’69 Slant-6 Valiants. It was designated the BXUV-3, but bore no resemblance to the Bendix Stromberg carb by that same designation decades earlier in the US. The late-’60s Australian BXUV had some visible similarity to the American ’63 WA3, but there are too many basic differences to call it a revived or recycled design. That’s kind of a strange reinvention of the wheel; Bendix (USA) routinely sent designs to Bendix (Australia) for production down there, but this is a clean-sheet design. Unlike the American “W”, the Australian BXUV was produced in versions for non-Chrysler cars, as well. Here’s that BXUV carby (as they abbreviate it down under):

Eight years on from the “W”, Chrysler bought Rochester 2GV ‘Dualjet’ 2-barrel carburetors from GM and put them on some 318-only, automatic-only cars in 1971 (only). Here again, your car got a Rochester or a Carter depending on luck of the draw. This wasn’t as extreme as the case of the ’63 Stwomboig W; the 2GV was a carburetor already in production, made suitable with just minor reconfiguration to comport with Chrysler’s hookups and air cleaners. Here again, they worked fine, but were only used for that one year. See for yourself—here’s that GM carburetor with Chrysler-type choke, throttle, and air cleaner mounting:

I just happen to know about this case-and-a-half, but I guess there are probably many similar mysteries of expensively-realised, perfectly good parts used only briefly for no apparent reason. Consider the tree shaken; whatchya got?