There is a natural state of progression that accompanies the horsepower hobby. Once an acquaintance becomes an enthusiast, he or she finds a suitable first Pontiac to fix up and modify. The first eventually makes way for the second, which is usually either quicker or in much better shape. Then the racing urge creeps in and a new direction is taken, with the lowest possible elapsed time being the goal. Some people will go through a couple of Pontiacs in varying states of streetability, and experiment with huge cubic inches, big shots of nitrous, or blowers. Now, before insults relating to a certain British sleuth start flying, let me get to the point: To say this path to single-digit ETs has been beaten would be an understatement. Don't get us wrong, it's the traditional way to make big power and little timeslips, and we respect that. But it's rare when someone makes a departure from the norm that is so astounding it opens up another level of possibility for this great pastime. These people deserve recognition, and in this case, we shine the spotlight on Stan Sheldon and Marty Palbykin.
This somewhat twisted story begins innocently enough. Sheldon swore allegiance to Pontiac while in his early 20s by buying a 1962 Grand Prix. 1990 saw the purchase of a '65 GTO hardtop and he built a 400 to give it some go. A few years later, a '64 Chevy Super Sport was bought and sold to pony up the dough for a '65 GTO convertible that he still owns. All well and good, right?
But in 1995, Sheldon's focus changed. He decided to jump headfirst into drag racing, and the '65 hardtop was sold so he could get started. The next item of business was deciding on the type of Pontiac to race. "Once the decision was made to start racing, I had a specific idea about the kind of Pontiac I wanted," explained the 58-year-old Sheldon, a resident of Caledonia, Mich. "I wanted an older, full-sized model that emphasized style. I based much of my decision to go with a '61 Catalina on the influence of a friend who had owned four or five '61s. That year doesn't look big and bulky like some of the other Catalinas do."
Said friend dug up a candidate from an Arizona weekly auto sales magazine, and once photos were sent proving a near-absence of rust, Stan was hooked. After dropping $2,500 on the fixer-upper, Sheldon spent the next two years getting the Poncho ready for the drag strip. Aesthetically, the body was treated to two layers of DuPont primer, followed by two more coats of black paint, which were wet-sanded and another two of clearcoat wet-sanded with 2000-grit. An Art Morrison rectangular steel chassis with a chrome-moly roll cage was built, and it received a strut front suspension and a Ford 9-inch rear with Moser axles and 4:10 gears. A Turbo-400 was purchased to handle the motor, a 540-horse 455. And all was well in Raceville for one season.
"That engine went 10.6 at 123 mph, and it really did run great," explains Stan. "It just didn't run fast enough. After the first season, I tore it down and bumped up the compression, but we had problems with it after that. On the dyno, it immediately took out the cam bearings and the cam followed. It did make 750 horsepower, but I never did get it running well. My good friend Marty Palbykin was running a turbo engine in Scott Schrader's '71 GTO racecar and I went down to see how it performed. On a 10-inch tire, he ran 9.07--then I wanted one."
"I can't see why he wouldn't," states Marty, a flight instructor for Tucson's Flight Safety International. "That was my street and strip car with a stock chassis. I've been 6.95 at 195 mph in a true Pontiac-powered door-slammer with a similar engine on more boost. I always wanted to do something a little different engine-wise, and I heard how Pontiac blocks were weak. So I started experimenting, and I found that turbochargers worked very well. The 400 is a fast burn engine, and it doesn't need much timing, just lots of boost and fuel. Turbos don't really hit the motor like a blower or nitrous would, and once I created a special ring to fit in place of the head gaskets, it became an affordable and reliable performer. People can't believe that I took a Pontiac block and made so much power with it, I just tried to take this old engine and throw some new technology at it. And it worked."
Stan's quest for the ultimate strip terror culminated in the twin-turbo monster you see here. Marty had fabricated and built the entire setup on his own Pontiac, so he provided a must-have list for Sheldon. Once all of the necessary parts were purchased, Palbykin started building. Based on a '67 Pontiac 400 and reinforced with splayed billet caps, current displacement now sits at 406 cubic inches after a .030-over bore. A 4340 crankshaft provides a strong foundation for the turbo motor's rotating assembly, which starts with aluminum GRP rods giving the bump and shove to JE pistons. Static compression is 10:1, which is just dandy for the Hastings rings--until they're called upon to somehow contain 23 lbs. of non-intercooled boost created by the twin Garrett turbochargers. All of that air is funneled in through bone stock (yes, you heard it right) 87cc Edelbrock heads with 2.11/1.66 valves through orders from an UltraDyne roller cam with .600/.600 lift, 255 /250 duration at .050 and a 114 lobe separation angle delivered via roller lifters, Smith Brothers pushrods and Lunati roller rockers. Vascojet valve springs feature a 230-pound seat pressure and 725 pounds over the nose. The Pennzoil 25-50 racing oil collects in a Milodon pan that Stan modified to hold 14 quarts, and flows through a Palbykin-modified Milodon oil pump.
Once through the Edelbrock Victor intake and head ports and into the combustion chambers, the fuel meets with spark enhanced by Holley's Annihilator distributor, MSD plug wires, and NGK plugs. Spent gases are restricted to two inches through the custom headers and Tial wastegates and expand to 3.5 while exiting the downpipe.
Since any turbophile knows that carbs and hairdryers are usually a bad idea (Sorry, 301 fans!), Stan listened to Marty's advice and bought a Speed-Pro fuel injection system. The fuel tables for the monstrous 160 lb./hr. injectors can be altered with a simple keystroke, with either Marty or his wife pulling tuning duties. Marty chose the bank to bank configuration with the broad band O2 over the sequential type not only for cost but also because he feels that the distribution is so good with this system that the sequential is not really necessary.
"I love the flexibility of the fuel injection," Stan exclaims. "There is no comparison with a carbureted engine. That first motor had an 1150 Dominator, and we were messing with it all summer long. Now all we do is read the plugs, look at the fuel curve on the laptop, type in a different number, and we're done."
The above combination is enough to push this Poncho's power past 1200 on alcohol, and Stan turned to Marty again for advice on a bulletproof transmission. He recommended J.W. Performance Transmissions for a Turbo-400/transbrake combo to back up that nasty motor. Complete with a Coan 5000-stall torque converter, Mr. Gasket's trans cooler, and a JW UltraBell bellhousing, Stan betters his chances of getting to that quarter-mile destination quickly, reliably and safely.
"I'm real happy with this transmission. I know that one of the reasons Marty got one for his turbo car was he tried modified Turbo-400s before and they didn't work. I don't know what J.W. does to them, but they're tough!"
So the motor's got twin turbos, and the torque converter stalls higher than many engines redline. How do you get that kind of power down? Think 4-link, my boy.
"At the line, I let the trans brake go right at five grand, and the tires spin one full revolution, but then it hooks really well. Mind you, it took some time to sort the suspension out. With the first set of shocks, when I left the front came up and the rear tires went sideways a foot--that didn't work. Once I went to Strange shocks, it settled the Catalina down a whole lot." 8.58 at 160 is settled down enough for us, especially at this Pontiac's full race weight of 3,200 pounds! But Marty let the Cat out of the bag (so to speak): "That time comes from a kickdown when the light goes green, not from launching on the trans brake. Throw in what I would call a very conservative tune on his Catalina with only 23 pounds of boost, and I think it should go high 7s."
Currently, Stan is looking to Marty to build an auxiliary fuel system before he ups the power. The current fuel system is designed specifically for this combination and includes a custom built 5-gallon fuel cell mounted up between radiator and grille, a custom belt-driven mechanical fuel pump from Marty and a fuel regulator mounted on the firewall. #10 AN lines are used from the fuel cell to the pump and #8 runs from the pump to the injectors and regulator. Required fuel pressure is 70 pounds on alcohol, hence the use of the custom mechanical pump over electric pumps.
According to Marty, electric pumps can't provide the volume needed to run alcohol with this combination. Also electric pumps may fail slowly, diminishing in pressure and volume over time, and go unnoticed until the engine blows. Conversely, a mechanical pump failure will shut the engine down right away and save it. The pump Marty customized flows 3,500 pounds per hour and is considered the safe minimum for the combination that Stan is currently running. On gas, Marty says that they would have enough fuel for 2,000 hp but this is not case on alcohol, where this system is sufficient for the estimated 1,200 hp that the engine is producing.
"Everyone says turbos won't work with alcohol but they work for us," Marty states. Turbo lag is another issue that Palbykin has been able to overcome in his engines. According to the builder, "The elimination of turbo lag is a function of choosing the correct headers and turbos and then properly tuning the engine."
As you have read, this project is far from finished. And with more fuel, higher boost, and some harder launches, this bad Catalina's possibilities seem endless.
The cage and big tach seen...
The cage and big tach seen through the windows and cold-air intakes where the headlights should be usually won't cause a second glance. The dump pipes behind the front wheels are your first indication of the forced power possessed by this wicked Catalina. The wheels up launch is another indication that there is more happening under the hood than your normally aspirated 400 engine usually provides.
Not a typical sight at a Pontiac...
Not a typical sight at a Pontiac show. Compressed atmosphere is a proven way to get big power from a small displacement. And while 400 cubes is not normally considered small, most engines with this kind of power usually displace a lot more inches. Speed-Pro fuel injection adds laptop tuneability and computerized efficiency to the combination.
In case you couldn't tell,...
In case you couldn't tell, this happens to be a Pontiac 400. The block was bored .030-over and filled with cement to quench whatever vibration-based destruction twin turbos can produce. Builder Marty Palbykin utilizes 0-ring seals between the heads and the grooved block to cope with 23 pounds of boost and an estimated 1,200 horsepower!
With slicks the width of oil...
With slicks the width of oil drums and wheelie bars handling the launch, Wilwood disc brakes and aparachute bring Stan's '61back down to earth after 8-second runs.
The 34.5-inch tall x 17-inch...
The 34.5-inch tall x 17-inch wide Goodyear slicks and 25 x 5-inch skinnies ride on Weld Pro Star wheels, with 16-inch rims out back and 15-inchers in the front. DuPont was called upon to provide a mirror-like finish to the '61 Cat, and their ChromaBase black paint doesn't disappoint.
Adding some nostalgia to the...
Adding some nostalgia to the mix is a full-tilting front end. This one is all steel and took some brainpower to figure out how to mount and secure it practically.
Palbykin builds the compressors...
Palbykin builds the compressors himself, then ships the hybrid Garrett turbos out to be completed. Sheldon fabricated the intake, exhaust and wastegate tubing. The success in building a potent turbo combination lies in proper sizing of the compressor and turbine to the engine according to Marty. While he was reluctant to let his secrets out to determine how to size the compressors and turbines for a specific combination, he did say that cubic feet per minute relates to the efficiency of the compressor.
Stan appointed the interior...
Stan appointed the interior with AutoMeter oil pressure, water temp, brake pressure and boost gauges and a B&M Pro-Ratchet shifter. Custom touches include hand-bent aluminum gracing the cabin.
As per NHRA safety regulations,...
As per NHRA safety regulations, the '61 is fitted with a roll cage, a racing seat and a safety harness for the driver. The remainder of the aft section of the interior consists of fabricated tubs for the tires and more fancy sheetmetal work doused in red paint.
During a tuning session we...
During a tuning session we get a sneak peek at what lives under the valve covers. For this application Marty employed 1.65:1 ratio Lunati roller rockers. The rods are top of the line Smith Brothers and the valve springs feature 230 pounds seat pressure and 725 pounds at full lift. A bar-type Ridgeway stud girdle uses two 1/2-in. pieces of aluminum to clamp the studs.
In the pits, prior to time...
In the pits, prior to time shots, the engine builder Marty Palbykin looks on while car owner Stan Sheldon turns some wrenches.