The original Cragar Super Trick wheels mount a pair of crusty Goodyear slicks. Note the ma
In the history of early Pro Stock racing, it is safe to say that Pontiac was not one of the leaders in the class. The division that invented the muscle car was still subject to GM's Racing Ban of 1963, and though there was some back-door support given to a handful of NHRA Stock and Super Stock racers, backing anything beyond the Sportsman classes would have caused too much fanfare to slip past GM's draconian upper management. Chevy was big enough and had enough influence to get away with those sorts of shenanigans, but Pontiac did not.
Truth be told, the traditional Pontiac V-8 did not lend itself well to that type of racing. The very attributes that made the Pontiac engine so great in the Sportsman ranks were its undoing in Pro Stock.
Pontiac engineers built a tough, torque-monster V-8 with cylinder heads that produced high-mixture velocities at low engine speeds. Though the formula worked great on the street, those same heads were not going to cut it when the goal was all-out horsepower at the expense of everything else.
There was a glimmer of hope for Pontiac racers in the form of the legendary Ram Air V engines. While not a clean-sheet-of-paper design, the Ram Air V was an extreme-duty engine that had the goods—a reinforced block, forged bottom end, and most importantly, cylinder heads that flowed like the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, it never became a regular production option, so those over-the-counter engines that slipped out of the Engineering Department were all that were available.
California-based Pontiac racer Rudy Diephuis wasn't deterred by the lack of factory support. By the late '70s, he needed to be running in the 8.50s to be competitive in Pro Stock, and he came pretty close, running with big boys like the late great Bill Grumpy Jenkins.
Interior is typical ’70-era Pro Stock, with a replica dash and Auto Meter gauges. A single
His Pro Stock Astre was built by Hoffman Engineering and reportedly was one of two such cars built. It was the subject of a two-page color feature in the Aug. '78 issue of Popular Hot Rodding as part of a large Pro Gas racers issue.
The Astre was a slick piece and featured the cutting-edge technology of the time, including a MacPherson strut front suspension, Pinto rack-and-pinion steering, and a coilover/ladder-bar rear suspension. Braking was courtesy of Hurst/Airheart discs at all four corners. Much of this stuff is not terribly exotic by 2014 standards, but back then, this was a spaceship.
The body was a combination of production Astre sheetmetal and an Anderson Industries fiberglass front end. Inside, a replica of the production dash featured an airbrushed speedometer and a brace of Auto Meter gauges.
The drivetrain was a fascinating combination and very innovative for its application. The engine was a 440ci tunnel-port combination. A 428 block was bored 0.060 inches over and fitted with Arias forged pistons with Dykes rings, a '62 Super Duty forged-steel crankshaft ,and Howards aluminum rods.
The Ram Air V heads were extensively modified and featured a raised-port configuration that greatly increased exhaust flow. The camshaft was a custom Crane grind with 320 degrees of advertised duration and 0.740-inch lift. The engine was topped off with a factory Ram Air V dual-quad intake with a pair of reworked 750 Holley double-pumpers. Custom homebuilt headers were used, which were necessary due to the modified exhaust ports, which had the cast-in turn removed.
The Simpson parachute is probably not going to pass tech, but it’s still there after more
The original 440ci Ram Air V is long gone, replaced by Rudy with a fresh 497ci Pontiac wit
The original fuel cell and carpeted wheeltubs remain. Quite a bit of updating will be need
The original Lenco four-speed and its bladed shifter handles have been replaced with a mod
Looking much like it did in the late ’70s, Rudy Diephuis’ old Pro Stock Astre emerges from
Vintage livery remains on the car, though it is likely that Tyree will add his own graphic
The potent Poncho engine was hooked up to a Lenco four-speed with a 2.92 first gear, and the 9-inch Ford rearend featured a Summers Brothers spool and 4.56 gears. It ran in the 8.80s at 151 mph—an amazing performance for the late '70s.
When the combination was a few tenths too slow to be competitive in Pro Stock, Rudy switched to the then-new Pro Gas classes and was very competitive. He tried out different engine combinations over the years and reworked the chassis with a new Alston strut suspension.
Rudy kept the Astre for the rest of his life, and at the time of his passing in September 2002 at the age of 66, he had just installed a new combination that he was readying for bracket racing. It was a 497ci with a 4.25-inch bore, a 4.375-inch-stroke crank, and modified early '70s D-port heads with a Warrior intake and Demon 850-cfm carb. The engine was hooked to a race-prepped Turbo 400.
Unfortunately, Rudy never got a chance to even fire the engine once it was installed. A few years after his passing, his family sold his entire racing operation. The Ram Air V parts were first to go, and Jess Tyree purchased the rest. “I wasn't even aware of the race car itself,” Tyree recalled. “ I bought about $40,000 to $50,000 worth of parts and asked his daughter if there was anything else. She said there was a car in a trailer—I opened the trailer and there it was. We included it in the deal.”
When he got the Astre home, Jess was impressed at its overall condition. The car was in really good shape, though there is some deterioration from it sitting for so long. Tyree plans to restore it and is readying a new engine combination—a 500-plus-inch combo, with an aftermarket Pontiac block, 5-inch-stroke crankshaft, and Edelbrock heads. He plans on having the car ready for bracket and nostalgia racing with the new moniker Little Stinker Too.
We will feature this historic Astre when it is completed, so stay tuned for this developing story!