This gigantic wagon looks like it was raced in the ’60s (Race Car In Tow) because it was—c
The biggest and heaviest station wagon that Pontiac produced for '61 is not the ride upon which dreams of record-breaking drag-racing performances are normally hitched. If you agree, then this is not your normal race-car story.
Ron Sanders, now of Aston, Pennsylvania, started racing Pontiacs in the early '60s when he bought a '61 Ventura hardtop with a blown engine. He built a 389 V-8 from scraps, converted it to a four-speed, and later installed the 8-Lug aluminum wheels.
In the same neighborhood, Frank Lumley owned the Lumley & Shaw '63 Catalina hardtop. Starting in 1963, various racers were associated with the car, including Lumley, Wayne Shaw, Bill Jenkins, Steve Kanuika, Bobby DeMarco, Sanders, and a few others. Sometimes Sanders drove the car and sometimes Shaw drove it. The '63 hardtop raced in and set the NHRA national record in E/SA in 1965 as Lumley & Shaw, and went down a couple of classes in its later iteration as the NHRA rejuggled the stock class weight breaks.
In 1966, Lumley told Sanders the race car was just sitting in the garage in pieces. They decided to rebuild it together and race it, which they did for about a year, but it wasn't competitive.
By late 1967, Lumley and Sanders started talking about building another car for the same class (H/SA). They scanned all the possibilities in the NHRA classification book and discovered that only one body style would make the class using the dealer-optional 368hp Super-Duty engine: a '61 Bonneville Custom Safari station wagon.
Tom Maddox (left) of Atlantic City is the current owner of the wagon, and is shown here wi
Sanders says, "The 368hp engine was not a factory-built engine. What you did back then was order a 348hp Tri-Power engine and the dealer would install the kit, which included new cylinder heads and a more radical camshaft, and then you had a 368hp engine. So what we were building was a car with 20 more horsepower and weighing 500-plus pounds more than the 348 hardtop we were running."
To test their theory, they ran the 348hp engine in the '63 Pontiac at Cecil County Dragway with two spare tires, two tool chests, and everything they could borrow that would fit inside to duplicate a station wagon's 4,400-pound weight.
Sanders recalls: "I went out and ran about 0.2-second slower than what I had been turning all day. I was pretty satisfied with that and was ready to go home when I decided to try another run. This time I came out at a higher rpm, which would normally spin the tires. Back then we were only allowed 7-inch-wide tires. To my delight, there was no tire spin and the car turned almost the same e.t. as before adding the weight. That cinched it—we were going to build a station wagon!"
The story goes on: "There were two problems with this combination. First, the No. 540306 cylinder heads were hard to find, as they were not factory-installed on any cars. They were a dealer-installed option and there weren't many sets to be had. Second, a '61 Bonneville Custom Safari station-wagon body was very hard to find.
We found a set of heads in Ohio, and the guy who had them told us he found a body in Boston. He wanted to sell us the heads, which we weren't going to buy without having the body first, so we grabbed our tow bar, headed to Boston, and towed the car home in a huge snowstorm."
What started out as the 368hp 389 with the dealer-installed parts kit for NHRA H/Stock Aut
The original Bonneville Custom Safari wagon found and bought in Boston was two-tone pale g
One of the nicest things about racing a giant ’60s wagon is that you can stretch out acros
The rusty, two-tone pale-green wagon had been used by an auto-parts store as a parts-chaser and had a blown engine. After a new set of fenders and hood; a ton of bodywork; and removing the parts and trim, including the roof rack, they painted the car white and put the fresh 368hp engine in it using the rearend, trans, Stahl headers, radiator, and Tri-Power from the '63 car. After weeks of testing, they went to their first NHRA meet at Capitol Raceway, Maryland, hoping to set their first national record.
Sanders laments, "We had problem after problem, and at the end of the day, we had not only not set the record, but our archrival, Don Potter, for some unknown reason, bombed the record from 13.80 to 13.40. That really took the wind out of our sails—not only did we not have the record, but we had to run against the new record at every event."
Like any worthwhile pursuit, it wasn't easy. "In the following weeks, I thrashed and thrashed on the car to make another attempt at the new record," Sanders recalls. "I experimented at the track with different timing, jetting, plugs, valve settings, engine temperatures, tires, carburetor air deflectors, cam timing, header extensions, fuel pressure, shift rpm, rear ratios, and aerodynamics. I never made a run without changing something. At home during the week, I removed all the weight I could find—radio, heater, clock. I put in a lighter grille, a lighter battery, and tried different wheel alignments."