My first Corvette and the GS

On return from SEA, having been deprived of Real Cars for almost two years, I had two automotive thoughts: street wheels and a race car. The first was solved with a new 1970 Buick GS-455 Stage 1. Two reasons: first, on paper it looked real good. The 455 was a short-stroke design from the late '60s, developed awesome power, and no serious motorheads even thought about Buicks - were Doctors and old man's cars. However 1970 was different. In the first place gone was most of the chrome and there was a real dashboard with full instruments (tach was on the right but I soon disconvered that the tach and speedometer could be swapped putting the tach in the center where it belonged 8*).

Second, it was orderable close to the way I wanted it: Hurst/Muncie four speed, tilt wheel, a/c (was still a Floridian), 3.42 positraction, power everything (have always liked power windows), heavy duty everything, sport steering wheel, rear sway bar from the factory, 15x7 wheels, and other than the functional hood scoops, very quite appearance.

Of course that was not enough - too much chrome still in front. As a newly enrolled GMI student (what better place for a car freak ?) I was making contacts around GM and soon an unchromed front bumper appeared which I had endurad like the '70 GTO nose. Might be coincidence but GMI was in Flint, Buick was in Flint, and the next year the Buick GSX had a nose just like mine.


This left the problem of the Real Racer. Now with Delco-Remy in Anderson, Indiana as a GMI student a Corvette was the obvious choice and there were pleanty. U$1000.00 later I had a '63 Split Window coupe. Just to be cruel I'll mention that it was an original FI car that had these humongous drum brakes with these little fans in them.

The pictures shown were taken in March, 1971 as I got ready for my first SCCA drivers school at IRP. The second shows my preferred driving position: almost lying down and with my arms nearly full out. Later that was to save my life.

The first race had both my most enbarassing moment and my greatest. Was side by side with a Porsche 906 on the front row of the big bore grid. Somehow I missed the drop of the flag and the Porsche out drug the Vette to turn one. Then I passed him in turn one. Complete role reversal.

But the climax came at the checkered flag. Unbeknowest to me the rubber seal at the back of the intake manifold had come loose and every lap I was losing a quart of oil. Ten laps and a nine quart pan made for an interesting finish. Crossed the line in 1st, took my foot off and suddenly in best Colin Chapman manner,there was all the smoke in the world. Still have one camshaft lobe and a twisted rod from the incident.

Had been spending some time in the GM archives and found some notes on the '63 Grand Sport program and some later stuff. Seems that " everybody knew " the Rochester FI was no good for racing since it would only flow 520 cfm while a legal Holly could flow 600+ and a good Quadrajet could do 700 if you could keep the bowl full.

Now from '57 through '61 the Rochester FI was a pure annular system which had a terrible reputation for crankiness and a peak horsepower rating that had only been found in advertiser's eyes. Further, it had been out of production for five years so no hot dogs were getting them from the factory.

Now in '70 they were still being serviced and there were parts still in the warehouses - know because I cleaned out some of the parts at student discount prices and receive a number of puzzled looks.

Seems that in 1962 the annular throat was revised to accomodate a conventional choke and this was continued for the '63-'65 large plenium model. A *big* choke. One that could be bored out if you were real careful and which if bored out could raise the peak flow from 520 cfm to something slightly over 900. And if you put enough air into a small block, it will wind to the moooon.

Only problem was that the signal to the mixture control was lower than needed but some fiddling plus a few sets of nozzles that had beenrejected at the Detroit Diesel plant that made them for "too high flow" made up for that. The other problem with a FI - a cranking signal valve that jammed was corrected with a TCS emissions device and a switch on the dash - was alongside the two Delcotronic TI ignition modules - think I was the first to do that but was a nice cool place and if one failed I could switch over easily.

Really got to be funny in regional races. Would blow off a local A/Prod 427 vette with my B/Prod small block. Would get protested. Tech inspectors would watch me unbolt the FI and set it aside (rules did not provide any specs) and we would dive into the legal spec engine. People would comment that it had way too much cam but they were free...

And then there was the famous flopper hood. Rules at the time required that hoods be locked down but Vette's had a serious heat problem. Since the hood was hinged at the front I recalled seeing a cure on the beach in the form of two beer cans to prop the hood open a bit.

Of course beer cans were right out but hood pins in the place of locks were legal so I installed them. Except the pins did not stop at the hood, they extended three inches above it. Looong pins.

Next race. Rolled through tech inspection with the hood open. OK. Motor around in practice a bit to warm up before I really Stand On It. Long straight. Top of third and aerodynamics does its thing. Hood pops up three inches. Hot air just comes boiling out. So does meatball flag.

Point out that hood is firmly attached as rules require. Do not say where it needs to be attached just that could not be propped up (wasn't). - was able to keep it for three races until it was banned as an auxiliary spoiler 8*).

End of the Vette came in 1973 at Grattan Raceway in western Michigan. Really a fun track with this downhill section with a right angle turn at the bottom and a hump in the middle of the slope. Conventional wisdom said to stand on it to the hump, idle across and hit the brakes as soon as weight came back for the turn. Discovered that if you *really* stood on it to the hump and gave a twitch as the front wheels loaded on the hump, a Vette could just rotate gently while trying to fly and be pointed straight down the next chute at the same time the weight came back on the wheels.

Now that was why I liked Grattan - some people complained a bit - Porsche can't pass eighteen feet of Vette sideways on a twenty foot pavement but was all in fun. However the end came in another place entirely - in turn one.

Now youhave to picture the turn. Track is in a real hilly area and they were pushed for space inside the track. As a result they parked the ambulance on the outside of turn one and built an earth embankment to protect it. Was supposed to deflect a car except the spring rains had eroded the embankment into something a lot like a ski jump.

Last practise. Really pushing it to find out if turn one might just be a fourth instead of a third gear turn. 3.55 gears. 27 inch tires, 6500 rpm in third normally and I was trying fourth. You figure it out.

To make an eternity short the gearbox chose that moment to cease. Now you design a really fast Vette you put in a *lot* of push and generate a tail-out attitude with massive infusions of horsepower. This is necessary to mitigate the high-gee small steering angle tendancy of an IRS vette to make like a turbo Porsche in a turn (had the first computer program running at GM on the 360 to examine over-one-gee loading characteristics - have forgotten JCL twice now). In English, when in neutral the vette she do not turn much when exceeding the double nickle by a whole bunch.

Am told the sight was impressive. Vette hits the embankement and lives up to its reputation as a poor airplane. Was about 15 feet up and still ascending when it disappears in the dust cloud.

Clear the ambulance. Clear the fence around the property. Almost clear the county road on the other side (hood does) but T-bone the ditch.

Instant reaction, cut power (does not matter, rear mounted battery has come loose, gone through firewall, hit block, and bounced back into passenger compartment). Front clip is a mass of bitty pieces of fiberglass. Front frame rail has folded back to firewall driving steering wheel back almost eighteen inches (look at picture again). If I sat in a normal position would now be thoroughly ex. but lying down straight armed posture has saved though fit is now tight. Hit harness release. Hit door (which opens thanks to 2.25" .120 wall roll cage - was really a suspension enhancement device - vettes flex and I belive in weight transfer) and promptly fall three feet into the ice cold ditch vette is straddling.

That was when the rescue crew knew was not badly hurt - could hear my comments clear back at the track.


Only known shot of Vette in motion.