When the Trans-Am grew up, this was the car to beat
WHEN THE #6 Camaro was rolled off the truck, the memory bank spun through millions of entries and came up with two images.
One was this very car, the 1969 Sunoco/Penske/Chevrolet Camaro, Mark Donohue up, at Riverside in late 1969, slewing under maximum braking as Donohue hooks into Turn 7 w~th Parnelli Jones and the factory Mustang in furious pursuit.
The other was a photo of two small sedans, Falcon and Valiant, droning down a rain-soaked straight at some obscure track in a now-forgotten race some time in the early Sixties.
How far we came, I thought to myself, and how far have we come since then?
The history of this car, hereinafter referred to as #6, is the easiest and most straightforward chapter in the saga. It was built during the winter of 1968-1969 in the Penske shops near Philadelphia. Mark Donohue won six of the 12 Trans-Am races and captured the manufacturer's title for Chevrolet for the second year in a row.
Meanwhile Team Penske and General Motors had a falling out and Penske signed to race (and win) for American Motors. Number 6 was sold to semi-privateer Roy Woods, who raced it until it wasn't competitive. He sold it to a club racer who thrashed it some and sold it to John Schultz, a privateer with enough resources to update the car and keep it competitive in local events. (He even held the class record at Riverside with #6.) Schultz raced the car for a few seasons, then it was bought by Fred Galloway, the present owner.
0l' #6 has thus been raced regularly since 1969. And it's been revised and modified as the class rules have been changed, that is, it's probably faster now than it was then.
What it hasn't been is restored. Galloway has painted the car in the original blue with yellow trim, the Sunoco colors, and he's replaced those decals and signs he could find. Galloway bought the car to drive. He says he can go faster if he doesn't have to worry about marring a concours finish.
How far we came begins with those odd sedans racing in the rain. When the first domestic compacts appeared in 1959 they were proclaimed and to some extent accepted as small cars with sporting pretensions. The SCCA established a class for the Corvair, Falcon, Valiant and Dart. One supposes the owners of these cars had fun but nothing much happened until Ford came out with the Mustang. Now there was a sporting sedan! Hot on the Mustang's heels came the Barracuda, Cougar, Javelin, Camaro, Challenger and Firebird. Proper V-8s with optional high performance engines and disc brakes, so SCCA established a professional series, called the Trans-Am.
Now then. This isn't the place for the full 2-volume history of SCCA racing and its quirky rules, but one of the points being approached here involves rules and philosophy: '
The Trans-Am grew out of production sports car racing. First, the cars had to be completely stock. Then they were allowed to have what was euphemistically known as options, meaning speed equipment the factory or importer was kind enough to pretend could be bought on the car as delivered. Next, in the interests of safety, entrants and builders could make certain modifications to engines and suspensions and chassis, put always within the basic framework, uh, make that parameter, of the production version.
The SCCA has always become deliriously compliant at the thought of factories and their Big Money getting into racing, so the rules on options and modifications were loose. At the high point of the original series, engine displacement was limited to 5 liters, or 305 cu in. in our terms of the day. Minimum weight was 2900 Ib, rims were restricted to 9 in., and you could use any tire you could somehow cram inside a fender that could be enlarged only from within. (That's why those, bulges at the top of ponycar fenders, by the way. The factories read the rule books, too.) The rest of the car had to be homologated; brakes, gear ratios and gearboxes, twin 4-barrel carburetors later changed to one only, and enlarged oil pans but no remote tanks.
The engines could be bored out to meet the displacement limit but they couldn't be de-stroked or sleeved down.
Comes now that most famous of all obscure codes, the Z28. Difficult though it is to remember now, the Z28 designation wasn't always magic. In the Chevrolet catalog it came after Z27 and before Z29, two codes whose meanings even I have forgotten.
Chevrolet got interested in the Trans-Am just about the time it arrived-belatedly-with the Camaro IIs 1967. The performance work had been done for Corvettes and Chevy list road racing and drags, respectively, and the hot small-black V-8 had grown from 265 to 283 to 327 cu in.
Aha! said somebody in the engineering department, we'll take the 3.00-in. stroke of the old 283, the 4.00-in. bore of the 327 and we'll come up with 302 cu in. With the high performance heads and camshafts, etc, from the hot Corvette V-8, we can have the perfect sedan racer.
This engine came with, and at first only with, 4.10: I final drive, close-ratio 4-speed gearbox, full disc brakes and stiff suspension. At first the tubing exhaust headers and cold-air intake to replace the heater/defroster system were packed in the trunk, on grounds the law required road equipment to be supplied for cars sold as road-legal cars. The headers later were deleted and the cold-air system revised to work around, so to speak, the places where the heater/defroster was until the new owner removed them. Rules are the mother of innovation.
The Z28 option was first kept hidden, then discovered by the in crowd, then grudgingly publicized, then pitched to the performance market with even a little spoiler and stripes so everybody would know you had the hot one, and finally became simply another marketing term for the performance Camaro.
The Z28 wasn't even a starting point for #6. The Penske crew began with what's known as a body in white; the metal panels that form the platform for the unit body/frame of the Camaro. None of this stripping for the pros, they got the body parts minus all else through Penske's dealership.
Your seasoned reporter has been through this before. At the close of the I 969 season Penske allowed the staff of Car Life, R&Ts domestic branch office, to swarm over #6 during an overhaul. Roger was the soul of hospitality. Because a team of his caliber couldn't afford even the, hint of cheating, he was sure we'd find nothing illegal. Next, the ~
team didn't mind letting anybody see everything they'd done that year because they had more improvements planned for the next year and, finally, Penske guessed that even if a rival read every word and scrutinized every photo, he wouldn't get the same results because he wouldn't go to all the trouble Penske's guys took.
The acuracy of that last bit will be confirmed by anyone who's ever looked at the average race car. The second part was proved when Penske and Donohue went on to win later TransAm series for American Motors' Javelin.
Nor could we find anything even slightly irregular. If anything, #6 was impressive because it was so stock. . . with creative thinking added. Brakes were Corvette, optional and homologated: The upper-and-Iower A-arm front suspension had been improved with homologated items like longer spindles to improve, er, decrease, camber gain when the car leaned on turns. The live rear axle was carefully located by springs that acted more like trailing arms, and by a Panhard rod to fix the axle longitudinally. There was a selection of springs and front
anti-roll bars to tune the suspension to each Circuit. The optional quick steering (17: I, option RPO N44, he said with a quick look at those old notes) began the season with power assist but the equipment gave trouble and was removed when the car was analyzed in 1969. Steering effort was naturally incredible and-shades of Peter Helck - in those days drivers were men and Trans-Am races lasted three hours.
My own favorite secret involved the roll cage. Camaros were of unit construction, with body panels heavy enough to act as the frame as well. For road use. Even on the road under sporting conditions they could flex. Racing requires a rollbar/cage. So. Team Penske designed a complete roll cage. It ran from the rear suspension pick-ups to where the front subframe/suspension bolted to the firewall. With OM's computer doing the calculations, they protected the driver and maximized torsional stiffness, that is, they built a birdcage frame inside the unit body, gave the structure enough strength for the suspension to work against the proper resistance and who could complain about a beefy roll cage? Safety, right?
Engines introduce a hint of dichotomy. As seen in 1969 the 302 Chevy V -8, built by Traco, had two 4-barrel carbs and was, to repeat, surprisingly stock. The cams, heads and valves were reworked and the crank and rods replaced with racing equivalents but there weren't any secrets nor obvious weaknesses. Well, only the fact that the rules said you had to' use the bottom of the engine to carry oil-not the stock pan. All the teams went to desperate lengths to devise big pans with I-way valves and all sorts of shapes to keep oil at the pump pick-up during the Ig forces of braking and cornering and accelerating.
Penske ran two cars and used six engines. One pair, fresh that weekend, went in the cars. The second pair was in reserve in the parts truck and the third pair was back at Traco. The first pair was used for practice, qualifying and the race, then was yanked out and shipped back to the builder. The second pair went in for the next race, the fresh pair arrived and was stowed as insurance and so forth. These Traco V-8s had an anticipated working life of four or five hours, with reserve strength built in, and they were rated at 440 bhp at 7200 rpm. ' _
Back to the present. As mentioned, there have been some changes to #6 over the years. Most visible is the remote tank for the dry-sump oil system. Passenger space is severely encroached upon by the 5-gal. tank. Surge problems were cured instantly when this change was allowed and the quadrupled amount of oil keeps temperatures down, prolongs bearing life, etc.
Elsewhere, the wheels have 10-in. rims instead of 9-in.,there's one 750-cfm carburetor instead of two and the intake
manifold is an aftermarket item with ram air cooling, I guess you'd say, in the form of a tunnel down the center. This engine is rated at 535 bhp at 8000 rpm. One may have doubts about this. Modest doubts, but still the backyard set and the hidden racers in Detroit began working on the Chevy V-8 in 1955 and one would think that by 1969 they knew pretty much how to get maximum useful 4-hour power with carbs and pump gas. You can only push compression ratios and valve timing and port shaping so far. '
Number 6's cockpit is normal good-ol-sedan; form-fitting seat with spider-web harness, pedals and gearshift sited within easy reach, small padded steering wheel and only those gauges and switches you really need.
Direct is the word that comes to mind about the controls. They are obviously connected to something and when you move any of them, things happen but the effort is naturally higher for a 3000-lb car with 500 bhp than for a Formula Ford.
The engine starts without temperament and never slows to what could be called an idle. Instead it's a rum pity-rump staccato bark that's music to the educated, okay nostalgic, ear.
There is no sensation of speed and power, not to the extent the car's record and performance would lead one- to expect.
Road racing sedans are like this, though. There are turns, taken in 2nd or 3rd, and at the exit you mash the long thin pedal and gain speed, shift and gain speed until Ws time to brake.
A note of self-concern. Track testing isn't like really racing. First, there's the nightmare in which the hapless journalist is
upside down, dangling from the harness. Out of somewhere Chris Economaki materializes. He thrusts a microphone through the window and asks, "What's it like to be the man who trashed Mark Donohue's old car?"
More pertinent, we racing journalists are journalists. With few exceptions - Paul Frere is the only one who comes to immediate mind - the guys who report racing have just enough talent to be club racers. Thus, better to look as if we could go faster than to prove we can't.
Technique here is to approach the limits from the soft side. Get the "braking done early, select the proper gear in advance, steer through the turns and apply not as much power as the tires will take.
Driven in this manner #6 is lots of fun. Picking up the pace brings more muscular exertion in braking and the chassis feels like what the stock car guys call loose; there's a perceptible lag between input and response, so the car works only when you steer in advance. Pick up the pace and #6 displays its balance. That first impression, the sense of having more power than the car could use, was wrong. As speed approaches that of real racing, the slack is taken up. When the driver knows what the car wants to do, then the car will do what the driver wants.
Ain't no Grand Prix car, true. No nipping and darting and changing direction faster than the eye can follow. It's a racing sedan. Further, 15 years on the track have taken their toll on a chassis and suspension that were a compromise to begin with.
Not that I care. The old Camaro drives the way it looked back then and we did come a long way from those compacts droning along in the rain.
When Ford, Follmer and Jones set out to win, nothing could stop them
NOSTALGIA IS BETTER than ever. Fourteen years ago Ford's Boss 302 Mustang won the 1970 Trans-Am championship. One of the team cars, George Follmer's # 16, appeared in these pages as the subject of a track test. The Mustang proved to be the optimum example of the era in which production cars could be built into real racing cars.
Here's # 16 again. fast as ever. . . and better than new, a tribute not only to the production-based racer but also to the enthusiasm generated by those cars.
And to the ways in which enthusiasm works.
But that's the human element, the story behind the story.
First, the mechanical details. At the peak of the first Trans Am series there were seven competing makes: Barracuda, Camaro, Challenger, Cougar, Firebird, Javelin and Mustang. But the series itself was really a 2-badge battle, the Z28 Camaro vs the Boss 302 Mustang.
Chevrolet's involvement was subtle, indirect, concealed and resourceful. The top men in the division were careful not to know too much and the guys who got things done were careful not to tell them.
Ford's racing effort was more direct. Make that total. Ford wanted to win. They hired the best builders, Bud Moore in the Trans-Am's case, and the best drivers like Follmer and Parnelli Jones.
Ford won handily in 1970, the last year in which all the factories took part. The Boss 302 turned the quickest laps and had the best finishing record, this against pros like Roger Penske, Jim Hall and Dan Gurney.
The day after the season's last race, Follmer's # 16 was subjected to our clocks. The figures were predictably impressive: 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, standing quarter mile in 12.9 sec with a trap speed of 110 mph, 80-0 braking in 180 ft. (Follmer was disappointed with that one, Ford's tests showed 80-0 in 140 ft.) The 302-cu-in. V-8 produced 460 bhp and the car cornered at 1.1 g. Our test concluded that the Mustang was the best TransAm car that could be built, a judgment with which Chevrolet, American Motors and Chrysler could only concur.
The car was old, so # 16 was sold to Warren Tope, an up-andcoming privateer. He took delivery in time for the SCCA's 1970 runoffs but crashed in practice.
Painted (for the first of many times) red and black, # 16 took Tope to 12th overall in the 1971 Trans-Am and to 1st in the
national A Sedan championship. In 1972 Tope won two Trans Am races with the car and was 3rd for the season. He entered # 16 in one race in 1973, the IMSA Camel GT round at Pocono, but didn't finish.
Even winners get out of date. And the rules for the professional series don't allow cars to be too old.
Reviewing a bit here. the rules allowed construction of a full roll cage inside the bodyshell and the installation of engine and suspension etc, to that structure. So Tope removed all the running gear from # 16. a 1970 Mustang, remember. and used it in a new car with a 1971 body.
He sold the 1970 shell to his crew chief, Bill Clawson, who gutted his own 1968 Mustang and put that powertrain and related parts into the 1970 shell. Clawson raced his car in A Sedan through 1973 and 1974, winning three races but no titles.
(All this is normal in racing, by the way. It's detailed here to set the stage for a challenging restoration.) ,
Clawson's share of # 16, the body/chassis, was sold to a Canadian who had plans for restoration and racing. , .
Meanwhile, Richard Rodeck, of San Rafael, California, had bought a 1967 Shelby Mustang and joined the Shelby Club. He competed in autocrosses and when the club rented race tracks for timed events, he got interested in that too.
Rodeck likes cars in general and Fords in particular, especially road racers. The Shelby folks have their own pipeline, so Rodeck was swapping parts with a man who mentioned he owned one of the old Bud Moore Mustangs from the Trans-Am.
Oh! said Rodeck. following with the classic bit about if you ever want to sell. . .
That was in 1976. Continuing the traditional way these things work out, late in 1980 the Canadian realized he wasn't getting anywhere with the project. Rodeck bought the car, by now an engineless rolling chassis. and all the parts that had come with it, and hauled the lot home.
His work had just begun. No bad faith here. The previous owner hadn't run the car and didn't know that most of the stuff in the boxes didn't fit, or was wrong or worn out.
Also classically, Rodeck discovered he was more ambitious then he knew. His plan had been to simply install an engine, paint the car and race it. But when he saw the identification plate certifying that this was in fact the Mustang built by Kar Kraft (Ford's racing subsidiary) for delivery to Bud Moore (the Trans-Am team manager/chief mechanic) and driven by Follmer, he determined to restore it to its exact condition as raced in 1970. ' .
Hercules would have called in sick. Rodeck isn't a wealthy man. At the time the project began in earnest he owned a body shop, so he had the skills if not the money to do the job. For other reasons he sold his shop, taking on only enough work to pay for food and rent. During the final few months of the project he didn't do anything except work on the car.
Restoring a racing car is especially difficult. No racing car is the same from week to week, nor does the crew care which engine/gearing suspension was used in which chassis back in the distant past, which in racing means two or three races ago.
But the professional racers and the guys at the shops and factories do understand how one can feel about a car.
The restoration was partly crusade. Rodeck wrote letters and placed phone calls. He visited Ford and Bud Moore's shop. He swapped parts and bought pictures and traced pieces. And he got help. Moore gave him the run of the place and Ken Myler, a Moore employee who was on the original team, dug up lists and parts and patterns. Ford's Lee Dykstra and
Mitch Marchi provided blueprints for the trailing arm-rear suspension used early in the 1970 season. Monroe found the specifications for the rear shocks and rebuilt them to racing quality.
Rodeck also had great good luck. The # 16 decals came from beneath layers of dust in Moore's parts room. A retired driver came up with the Moore Engineering stickers. Some of the used parts Rodeck bought included the elaborate anti-surge oil pan never sold to the public. "
Some of the project simply took money. To get authentic running gear, Rodeck bought Tope's second car and returned the usable equipment to its first home. The worn stuff was used for patterns. Rodeck made what he could and hired out the rest.
No effort was spared. While the nooks and crannies were being worked on, the car was bolted into a giant stand, like an engine stand but much bigger. The complete car was like a chicken at a barbeque, and rotated. Much easier than climbing under the car.
Detail work beggars description. One example is the decals. Some were still in stock, others were lucky finds. The ones that didn't exist, Rodeck had made to perfect color and scale with the help of a bumpersticker company.
Number 16 arrived with the 1970 tech inspection stickers still on the roll cage. They couldn't be duplicated but dame fortune had dried the glue. They were painstakingly removed, the roll cage was painted and the stickers returned to their original positions.
The entire project was done with such care. Time spent was three years. Rodeck doesn't remember the exact date, some time in June 1981, that the car was dragged into his shop. He's sure of the first time it ran, though. June 14. 1984. We all know that date. It was the first club meet of the season and I worked 48 hours straight to get it ready."
The we, by the way, refers to friends and club members who pitched in during the rebuild. Along with the names dropped earlier, Rodeck tips his helmet to Hall Fabrication, Tony Oddo Engines, Rob Palacio and Tom Battin.
The alert reader may have noticed the omission of financial discussion. It's by request. Rodeck doesn't even want to think about it, much less make the cost public. Suffice it that the job took all he had.
By coincidence, the reporter who drove # 16 after its 1970
race was available, okay delighted, to drive the restored car.
Direct comparison isn't possible, Sears Point being as rough and hilly as poor old Ontario was flat and smooth.
But the impressions are the same.
This is a bull of a car, possessed of stupendous power and strength and with a will of its own. It bellows out of the turns, hurls itselfdown the straights and then must be wrestled into the next corner. Steering is quick, positive and heavy. The brakes are also heavy and don't work well until warmed up, which demands its own kind of confidence.
The engine is easy to use, having no temperament. The chassis doesn't exactly have moods, but the car is set up for mild understeer under power. This works fine on the edge of adhesion and coming out of the turns, but means the driver is limited to doing what the car does best. Rodeck is only a few seconds off 1970 race-winning times on tracks where # 16 raced then and which the Shelby Club uses now, but he thinks getting sideways is fun. And he's already restored one front corner of the car a second time, the result of over exuberance on the track.
Number 16 has also appeared in shows, winning best of class twice. The first was a club meet, so the win was no surprise. But the second was for all makes and years and the Mustang took the prize over several more exotic and expensive cars.
Perhaps concours judges reflect the feelings of the fans. Few of us would be so foolish as to deny that current racing cars are better at racing than the production-based cars were.
But nobody who saw the factory Mustangs in action ever forgot them.
Mark Donahue won '69 Trans Am