We got a late start on Wednesday, after waiting for the word on Don's condition. This was our longest drive day, approximately 400 miles to Scottsdale, Arizona. With not much on the schedule except to enjoy the scenery, R&C staffers got to do Ride & Drive and Engineering evaluations.
Every car in this year's event was roadworthy and comfortable. We had anticipated that Rex and Deby's Gasser-style '55-with its go-straight suspension, tube axle, and Mickey Thompson slicks-would have a little trouble in the wet and windy mountain roads, but the car never fell behind. Another surprise about the '55 was its pure '60s styling, from the metalflake red paint and fenderwell headers to the JC Whitney headrests. This car was originally built in 1966 as some kid's high school project. Rex remembers seeing it around before it went into storage for several decades. It took a little coaxing to get the owner to sell it and only a moderate amount of work to the body, suspension, interior, and drivetrain to refresh it to its mid-'60s appearance. One more surprise: the '55 turned out be the most fuel-efficient car in the pack, which we chalk up to the Richmond six-speed gearbox.
The other Shoebox Chevy in the bunch, Norm Cowdrey's small-block-powered '56, was hands-down the best entrant in the Ride & Drive category-no surprise at all. Once a rusted hulk, the Nomad now rides like a late-model luxury car with a splash of sports car. It ought to. Norm has been building and racing sports cars his whole life and applied his experience to the Nomad. It rides on a chassis built by Paul Newman at Car Creations and modified with '96 Corvette idependent suspension at both ends. On the inside, it's first-class seating with leather-bound Lexus seats and every amenity.
Fred Douglas' big '48 Olds was our favorite in the Engineering category (as well as People's Choice winner at the Goodguys show). Fred, who performed much of the buildup in his basement shop with help from Larry Love and others, says he wanted to keep the car smooth and simple, without skimping on comfort or power in any area. He ordered the 502 Ram Jet the day he heard about production. Fred also designed the interior, built by Richardson Custom Interiors. Roger Ward shot the black basecoat and clear.
Our Acceleration testing took place Thursday at Speedworld Motorplex in Wittman, Arizona. We expected the big '55 to trounce the rest of the field, and with consistent e.t.'s in the mid-12s, it was a full second quicker than the second-quickest car, the '41 Chevy. Tim's Chevy made straight and consistent passes, with a best time of 13.68 thanks in part to an owner-built tube frame with Speedway NASCAR front antisway bars. The coupe was an eight-year project for Tim. He said it was a rough non-running car when he first trailered it home, but his daughter Britney, 7 years old back then, repeated her dad's words, "It's not much, but it has potential."
After everybody made several passes, we set up the radar gun for the 60-0-mph Braking competition. Much of our performance testing was handled by Andrew Schear, from our sister publication, Super Chevy. Larry Metz took the first pass, getting a little sideways when he hit the binders. At 2,700 pounds, Metz' flathead-powered Deuce is the lightest car in the bunch and is equipped with front Wilwood discs and rear 10-inch Bendix drums, stopping the cabrio at 138 feet. The next-lightest car, Norm Cowdrey's Nomad, has 1,000 pounds on the '32 but is equipped with 13-inch rotors in front and 12s in the rear; the wagon came to an effortless stop in only 129 feet.
The '55, with a rearend full of broken spider gear teeth, was unable to participate in brake testing (Rex didn't anticipate anything higher than fifth place in this category anyway). With the Gasser on our trailer, we headed back into Phoenix to Industrial Chassis, where the car stayed until the next morning when the munched rearend gears could be replaced.