Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dodging Trouble...

In order to fill the coffers with plenty of material for the nostalgia blog, I am always looking at older printed material. Well, I was looking at a Motor Trend magazine from 1988, and came across this story from the editor. It's a fun story, and car people and racing fans will get it right away. Call it a brush against fame, if you will.

In our younger days, we were known to occasionally test a vehicle on the public highway. Not during the rush hour, mind you, but late at night as not to disturb anyone's sleep, especially not to attract the undue attention of the El Segundo Police Department. El Segundo, you see, had an excellent test facility. They preferred to call it Imperial Highway; we call it "the road," and it runs parallel to runway 24L at LAX, not 100 yards from the screaming jets we assumed were there to mask the sound of open exhaust, spinning tires, and the throaty growl of two giant 4-bbl Holley carburetors held wide open by a 17-year-old foot.
It was a midnight blue, lightweight '63 Dodge with a 426 Wedge; it wasn't a Hemi, but it was plenty quick--a much faster car than any of us kids were capable of driving effectively. The front tires were skinny, mounted on 4-in.-wide chrome rims; we jacked up the front end by tweaking the front torsion bars. The angle of the wheels looked funny, but we didn't know what camber was, much less understand its relationship to handling. All we knew was we wanted the front end jacked up and the rear wheels fitted with Inglewood slicks--the tires with the little checkered flags embossed into the rubber where the tread should have been. They probably didn't provide much more real traction than stock tires of the day, but the look was right. One thing about driving on the street on slicks: Don't try a steep driveway on a foggy day or before the dew has been burned away by the sun.
Early one morning while running a test of this vehicle, we noticed a small, blue sports car pull along side. It had open exhaust and sounded quite healthy. Our assessment was that it was an Austin-Healey fitted with a Chevy V-8, a popular conversion in 1963. They were reasonably fast, but our Dodge was capable of 112 mph in a quarter mile--this home-built Healey with two guys in it didn't have a chance.
In the interest of science, we performed an acceleration test that night. We lined up facing west into the wind and prepared for our little experiment. we noticed the little blue sports car revved quickly (a light flywheel, perhaps?) and it really didn't have that distinctive small-block Chevy sound. "You know, that thing doesn't look like an Austin-Healey," said Neil. "The fenders are real wide, and those tires look like slick road-racing tires."
That little blue car smoked us off the line and kept the lead as we punched the shifter buttons through the gears. The 4:56:1 final-drive ration and pushrod V-8 limitations stopped us at 112 mph, but the little blue sports car just kept accelerating away from us. "What was that little car?" We rationalized that it must have been a prototype or something and let the defeat slip from our minds.
Nearly two decades later, a former Shelby employee told me a story about the late Ken Miles. "One night, we were working late on the new Cobra, and Ken asked me if I wanted to take a spin in the prototype. I jumped in, and we headed down Imperial, when we came upon some kids in a blue Dodge and decided to have some fun with'em."
I never said a thing.

Article by Mike Anson, in the Oct 1988 edition of Motor Trend, from which this illustration is also taken.


Bob G. said...

Without sounding like sort of HOARDER, I wish I'd kept MORE of my car magazines from those days.
Dad always got Popular Mechanics, and I used to rea he cartoons inside...give naything to read the articles these

Great find.

Have a fantastic weekend.

Stay safe out there.

The Observer said...

Bob G:
I loved the punchline--a Shelby prototype! The illustration is fun too.

I try not to "own" these old mags but find them in thrift stores and the library--borrow them long enough to snap my pics and put them back in the stream.

The nostalgia blog's been a blast--please to stop by when you can.

(Terrible url--should have done better...)

The Observer