My interest in vintage racing goes back to the late '60s. As a young kid, I was fascinated by the American pony cars running in the Trans Am series, so I followed it closely up through the '70s, when the series lost some of its luster.
In 1976, at age 16, I bought my first car, a '68 Firebird, which I still own. While I was never able to actively participate in Trans Am or road racing until recently, the interest never went away. Many times I contemplated turning my street Firebird into a Trans Am-era racer. While some may think these cars are now only good for drag racing, cruise-ins, or car shows, I believe they were and are meant to be driven, and driven hard.
In 2007, after an injury ended my skiing career, I took a trip to Road Atlanta to watch the Historic Walter Mitty Challenge race to see if vintage racing could become my new hobby. I introduced myself to some of the racers and a few took the time to tell me all about their vintage cars. Having followed it so closely and owned '60s cars, I realized I could build and drive one; but I had to decide-what to build and where to run it.
One of the racers told me National Auto Sport Association (NASA) was a great organization in which to learn. It was good advice that I now pass on to others. Regarding which car to build, a '68 Firebird would be the only logical choice, given my long connection to them. I've owned and parted out numerous Pontiacs over the years, and had crates of parts to pick from.
I found a clapped-out hulk, replaced the floorpan, and designed and installed an eight-point 0.120-wall by 1.75-DOM-tubing X-braced rollcage. A set of 2x3-inch subframe connectors were welded in, 1/2-inch lower solid body bushings were installed to tighten everything up, and a JAZ 22-gallon fuel cell was added.
The suspension bushings were replaced with Global West solid ones. The OEM-style A-arm front suspension was retained but I upgraded it with billet shafts, heavy-duty springs, a 1.00-inch sway bar, and Koni single-adjustable shocks. To hold the rear in place, I chose a Global West Cat-5 rear leaf-spring system with Koni single-adjustable shocks.
Up front, original 11-inch '68 Firebird four-piston caliper disc brakes from a long-parted-out donor and stock rear drum brakes help slow the Bird, and Wheel Vintiques 15x8 rear and 15x7 front Pontiac Rally IIs with reproduction Goodyear Blue Streak bias-ply tires finish off the vintage look of the car.
Underhood, it would have to be all Pontiac, which for road racing presents special challenges. To help the Pontiac live in this environment, I built a 365ci engine using a '72 350 service-replacement block. It now has forged Super Duty rods, a nodular-iron crank, Clevite forged pistons, a high-volume Melling oil pump, a Canton 7-quart road race pan with -10 lines feeding a remote oil filter, and a Fluidyne oil cooler taking the oil capacity to 10.5 quarts.
A Comp solid flat-tappet cam, with 240/248 degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.561/0.582 gross lift, was used to keep stress off the lifter bores, and the restrictive solid lifters and pushrods keep most of the oil in the bottom end where it's needed most.
The zero-deck short-block was topped with KRE aluminum heads that flow 290 cfm and were built special for the 350's small bore, using 2.07/1.66-inch stainless-steel valves in 62cc chambers and Scorpion 1.65:1 roller rockers. A Torker II intake is fed by a Holley 750-cfm carburetor.