Obit: Brian Schram, Mopar's "Mr. Direct Connection"Brian Schramm, Mopar, Direct Connection
July 3 2012 03:00 PM
Mopar News, SCOTT ROSS
Sad news from the world of Mopar performance: Brian Schram, the "inside" man at Chrysler who made sure racers got the parts they needed...and started the Mopar "Direct Connection:" parts program back in the mid-'70s...has passed away.
Here's the text of an e-mail we received from Larry Henry (via Marc Rozman):
I'm sorry to inform you that I had a call this AM from Neil Schram (Brian's son) that Brian passed away on June 29th. He died in his sleep, he was 86 years old. If you want additional info you should google his obit.
This is indeed very sad news. Brian was one of the best and will always be remembered for his contribution to Dodge, Direct Connection, Mopar, Motorsports, racers, and the Chrysler Family. Most of all he will be remembered for who he was . . . A man of his word and who always knew what was right for the customers, racers, and everyone around him. He will be missed by all who knew him.
(The following biographical--and Mopar historical--feature by Daniel Strohl on Brian Schram appeared in the February, 2011 issue of
Hemmings Muscle Machines.)
For Direct Connection's founder, providing performance parts was no dead-end job
Some people slog through their daily grind, working their way up the ladder doing what they've been told to do, but not what they want to do, to make a living. They get the occasional promotion and raise, they live on minor and infrequent encouragements, and in their later years, they quietly retire to a warmer climate.
Brian Schram didn't want that. Or, at least, he didn't want to be working maintenance at the Dodge Main factory in Hamtramck, Michigan, for the rest of his life. The Detroit native and World War II Navy veteran started working there in 1949 at the age of 23 and, at the time, he didn't care much about cars.
"To me, cars were just something to drive," he said. "I never raced them, I never worked on them."
So it didn't matter where he went in Dodge Main as long as it wasn't maintenance. Fortunately, he found a job with an experimental
engineering group that specialized in assembling the next year's models. Brian had no engineering experience, but that made no difference, for what the group needed was somebody to chase parts for them--parts that may not necessarily have yet existed in the system.
"They wanted me to expedite ordering the parts to get them to the people that needed them, to get the cars into production on time," Brian
Then, in about 1955, Frank Wylie and Gale Porter--then two of the main supporters for race car drivers who ran under the Dodge banner
--approached Brian and asked him to spend some time ordering and shipping race parts for factory-supported drivers.
"It was just a sideline to my main job at the beginning," Brian said. "They came to me because I knew the mechanics of the system--I had all the purchasing numbers to order these parts and could get them out the door."
Though he was conscripted to provide parts to factory-supported racers such as the Ramchargers, Brian said he soon started fielding calls from amateur drag racers who raced Chrysler products, complaining that they were getting their teeth kicked in by the factory-supported racers; they wanted to know how they could get the same parts from Chrysler to make them competitive again.
Selling parts outside the company was something Brian hadn't yet done, so he approached Chrysler's accounting department. There, he found an accountant who showed him how to sell the parts to amateur racers at cost, reasoning that any money lost on the parts could be written off as an advertising expense, something that supported selling new cars.
By the early 1960s, Brian found himself spending more time sending out racing parts than tracking down parts for the engineering group, so he went to work full-time on providing parts to racers, either through Bob Cahill, who managed Chrysler's drag racing program, or through Ronnie Householder, who managed the company's circle track program. Brian took charge of a little warehouse of racing parts set up in the Lynch Road factory's product planning garage.
"We operated as the Chrysler Performance Parts Group back then, but we also had a slogan, something like 'Call these guys to get your direct connection to the company,' " Brian said.
Thus, in about 1970, the Direct Connection name started to appear in advertisements for Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars, and Brian began
selling performance parts through catalogs and through Chrysler dealerships. Under the Direct Connection banner, Chrysler would
eventually offer performance manuals and trackside performance clinics.
"We were essentially a speed shop," Brian said. "And GM and Ford both started similar programs, so we began competing against them."
It actually wasn't until 1975 that Brian's program officially became known as Direct Connection. Even then, he said, he wasn't sure how Direct Connection would be handled from year to year.
"We had some support from Chrysler, but we always had to fight the guys who wanted to see a profit out of it," Brian said. "We worked hard to make the program profitable, though I don't think we ever did make a profit with it."
Brian made sure Direct Connection kept up with the times by switching the program's focus to turbocharged four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive performance in the 1980s with Carroll Shelby's involvement with Chrysler.
However, the days of the Direct Connection magic were numbered: On the day that Brian retired from Chrysler in 1987, the company officially dropped the Direct Connection name, and replaced it with Mopar Performance.
Today, Brian still lives in the Detroit area. Mopar Performance remains Chrysler's performance arm, and in recent years, the company has
reintroduced the Direct Connection name--both for nostalgia's sake and to tie its muscle car-era products to its current crop of tire-shredders.
(Brian Schram passed away on June 29.)
(This article originally appeared in the February, 2011 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.)