Treating a private audience...
Treating a private audience to some show before the go at Summit Motorsports Park, this former factory-experimental GTO roasts the hides off of its Hoosier Drag Slicks at a High Performance Pontiac Pavement Pounders Shootout.
It was one of the wildest-looking Pontiac racecars of the mid-’60s, and Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick says you can call his old ’66 GTO anything you want, but please don’t call it a funny car.
“The phrase ‘funny car’ was coined when racers saw the altered-wheelbase ’65 Dodges and Plymouths,” Beswick recalls. “Since my ’64 GTO Mystery Tornado was one of the very few GM racecars that was competitive against them, it earned the funny car handle as well, even though it was a completely stock-dimension GTO from the frame up.”
According to Beswick, “Match races were at the height of their popularity, and I was booked solid, travelling coast-to-coast taking on A/FX and S/FX Fords and Mopars, as well as Chrysler’s latest brainstorm, the altered-wheelbase, acid-dipped, super-lightweight funny cars.
Though the Star of the Circuit...
Though the Star of the Circuit was originally campaigned with the 421-SD from Beswick’s ’63 Catalina, along with a GMC 6-71 blower, this rebirthed racecar now features a beefed-up Pontiac 400 block (bored and stroked to 434 cubes), SCAT forged 4-inch-stroke crank, R&R billet-aluminum rods, Ross pistons, KRE 85cc D-port heads, and a Weiand 6-71 blower. Arnie knew that in addition to its horsepower-making capabilities, the extra noise-factor of a supercharged motor was a big fan turn-on then, and still is today.
After GM pulled all support for any kind of racing in early 1963, Ford and Chrysler put the pedal to the metal and made sure their race teams were well taken care of with whatever factory parts it took to keep them in top mechanical shape, and equip them with any new aftermarket parts or tricks that might come down the pike to make their cars faster. That left Pontiac and whatever few other GM drivers who didn’t jump ship to find a way to fend for themselves.”
Arnie “The Farmer,” had to look for the cheapest way to make horsepower, so he decided to try the supercharger route.
In December 1965, Beswick made arrangements with Pontiac’s upper management to take delivery of a pre-production ’66 GTO engineering car. Despite some very unfavorable winter road conditions, Beswick travelled to Pontiac, loaded the GTO, and promptly headed to Pelligrini’s Fiberglass Limited in Hillside, Illinois, to pull a fiberglass body mold from it. His instructions were to keep all of the stock body dimensions, with the exception of moving the front wheel openings forward 9 to 10 inches, which meant the hood and fenders would be lengthened likewise.
In January 1966, Beswick delivered his Mystery Tornado’s stock frame, Mickey Thompson blower intake manifold, GMC 6-71 blower, and Enderle Bug Catcher-type injector hat; a dummy motor; and the new GTO fiberglass body to Logghe Brothers in Detroit to have it graft a tubular front end onto the frame from the firewall forward. (Logghe Brothers also installed a Ford Econoline van straight axle and front spindles.)
“I would have much rather had a full-tube chassis because it was so much lighter and would allow me to run up to a 16-inch-wide tire,” Arnie says, “but I couldn’t afford it, so I settled for what I thought would be second best to the much lighter full-tube chassis.”
Beswick recalls one mandate for his new car build: “I told them, ‘Put that engine back far enough so I can get as much traction as possible with the small tires I would have to run with the stock ’64 frame, and so the blower and injector hat don’t project through the hood or windshield. It needs to be as stock-appearing as possible when it’s sitting on the starting line and going down the track. I—as did many other spectators and racers alike—hated the look of those altered-wheelbase Mopar funny cars.”
Logghe bolted the fiberglass body to the frame and set up the steering, Beswick had the interior work designed in aluminum and installed by Al Bergler Fabrication.
The engine purposefully sits...
The engine purposefully sits far back in the frame because Beswick wanted the GTO to appear stock, and get the best traction possible with the smaller tires he would have to use for clearance with the stock ’64 GTO frame. Unlike when he raced this car in the swinging ’60s, today’s NHRA safety rules require the use of blower-restraint hold-down straps.
In March of that year, Beswick transported the GTO to Dave Puhl’s House of Kustoms in Palatine, Illinois, for custom painting, followed by hand-painted lettering by Dexter and Lindquist Studios in Chicago. “Dick Skully, an employee of House of Kustoms, did most of the paintwork,” Beswick says.
With frame, suspension, body, and paint completed, Beswick began on the engine: a 421-SD with factory “980” heads, which were originally factory-installed in his ’63 Swiss Cheese Super-Duty Catalina and later raced in his Mystery Tornado.
Nestled between the radiator...
Nestled between the radiator and the engine is the fabricated-aluminum fuel tank, flanked by a fire-suppression system, which is remotely deployed via a T-handle accessible from the driver’s seat.
Though the short-block featured a stock forged-steel crank and SD connecting rods and pistons, when he installed it into the Star of the Circuit with the aforementioned blower system, the setup didn’t last for long. “I was blowing the stock head gaskets frequently (no copper or Butler/Cometic gaskets were available in those early days), forcing me into trying to lower the engine compression with M/T pistons. About that time, I also installed M/T aluminum rods and an Isky 550 Le Gerra cam (330/330-degree advertised duration, 0.594-/0.594-inch lift, 108-degree LSA) to try to stay ahead of the competition,” he says.
The rest of the drivetrain consisted of a modified torque converter, a mostly stock Turbo 400, a stock, but shortened ’64 GTO driveshaft, and a Big-Car rear-end, which was stuffed with a 4.30-geared Posi unit that in turn rotated stock Super-Duty axles and 15x10 Cragar S/S mags shod in Goodyear Bluestreak tires (28x7.5x15, front/30x10.5x15-inch, rear.)
Did high-test gasoline power it? “No way,” Beswick says. “Though I used the highest-test Sunoco gasoline I could get my hands on in the ’64 Mystery Tornado [until mid-1965], I ran methanol in the ’66 from Day 1, and after I added forged aluminum rods, I began adding 10 to 15 percent nitro-methane to the mixture.
After some half-track test runs at Gay Pontiac’s Houston Dragway in Dickinson, Texas, Beswick’s first full quarter-mile pass in this ’66 GTO made the drag-racing news of the day with an 8.73 e.t. at 173 mph. He campaigned it throughout the ’67 season, and into 1968, eventually earning a best e.t. of 8.48 at 178 mph at U.S. 30 Dragway in Gary, Indiana. Later in 1968, he retired it from duty and introduced his first full-tube-chassis Star of the Circuit II ’68 GTO.
What happened next?
The engine’s relocation required...
The engine’s relocation required putting the driver’s seat just forward of the rear wheelwells. Notice how far apart the brake pedal on far left is from the accelerator pedal to the right of the steering wheel.
“In 1969, I sold the ’66 GTO to a drag racer in neighboring Indiana,” Beswick says. “From then, it dropped out of sight until Rick Johnson located it and I bought it back in the ’80s. I sold it for the second time in May 1991 to a good friend and neighboring farmer Russ Ottens (who applied the new paintjob), and then a few years later I helped Otten arrange the sale of it to my crew chief, John Holmes, in February 2003.”
Holmes, who started with Beswick as a Tameless Tiger crewmember in 1999, recalls that his introduction into the hobby was when he started as an oil changer and car washer at Jim Detcler Pontiac in Oswego, Illinois, in 1971. When he was 18 years old, he bought his first Pontiac: a blue, four-speed ’66 GTO. In the late ’90s, he re-entered the Pontiac hobby with his purchase of a ’67 GTO project car. Two years later, he hired Beswick for a personal appearance at his company Holmes Auto Repair’s open-house event. “I’ve been around Arnie ever since,” he says.
“When I first saw Arnie’s old Star of the Circuit GTO, I liked the car a lot, and expressed my interest in buying it,” Holmes says. “Ottens had already repainted the fiberglass body and freshened up the aluminum interior, and the frame and straight axle were still intact the way Beswick had raced the car.
Several engine parts for a motor rebuild were with the car, a Mickey Thompson blower intake, one of Beswick’s TSI Turbo 400s, as well as some wiring and fuel- and cooling-systems pieces.
Because Beswick raced the car with only rear drum brakes and a ’57 Pontiac rear end, Ottens upgraded the GTO to Strange four-wheel disc brakes, and a Ford 9-inch with Strange axles and spool to pacify the track tech people on the stopping and the axle-safety issues.
John Holmes is proud to keep...
John Holmes is proud to keep Arnie’s legendary GTO in the public eye at racing events—both on the track and on display.
After first assisting Arnie with rebuilding the Tameless Tiger, Holmes started the Star of the Circuit GTO’s rebuild in 2009, beginning with sourcing a 400 block, KRE 85cc heads, and a Weiand 6-71 blower, assembling the engine, and bolting it to its vintage race frame.
It didn’t take much work—“Basically just some rollcage updates,” Holmes says—to get the famous GTO to pass NHRA 8.50 e.t. certification and then get back onto the track.
“My goal was to bring it back out as an exhibition car, but not to try to break any e.t. or speed records,” John says. At our Pavement Pounders Shootout, he piloted the old warrior to a 9.28 e.t. at 144.40 mph. “It had more throttle to go, but I felt uncomfortable because of a front-end shimmy, so I let off,” he says.
Since then, Holmes did a rebuild of all of the major steering pieces. The GTO is now running about as quick as when Arnie had it in the ’60s, and posted its best e.t. to date—8.53 seconds—at Cordova Dragway Park in October 2011.
Here’s Beswick—at 81 years...
Here’s Beswick—at 81 years old he’s not even thinking about retirement—helping guide the Star of the Circuit ’66 GTO back to the starting line after an aggressive, crowd-pleasing burnout.
“You can’t imagine how popular the Star of the Circuit GTO was in the ’60s. The fact that it had a GM nameplate and its performance numbers were equal to, and in many cases, better than the very popular Fords and Mopars of the day. I raced that car at more tracks nationwide than any other Pontiac racer I’ve owned to this day,” Beswick concludes. “The phone calls I got for that car was totally mind-boggling and unbelievable.” “Because of my time in the car and its popularity from coast to coast, I appreciate the efforts John has made to get my famous racecar back on the track.”
John Holmes wants to give special thanks to his personal assistant Mike Ehrhart for his help on restoring and maintaining the Star of the Circuit ’66 GTO.
Race Weight With Driver:
Cubic Inches Before/After:
Engine Built By:
Machine work and balancing by Precision Engine Rebuilders/assembled by owner
Enderle Bug Catcher fuel injection
0.150 (main) / 0.70 (high-speed bypass) / 0.58 (nozzles)
Mickey Thompson blower
Enderle Bug Catcher
AN 12 steel-braided from tank to pump, AN 8 steel braided from pump to barrel valve, AN 6 return line from barrel valve to tank
Kauffman D-port aluminum
Stainless steel, 2.11/1.66-in
Ross flat-top, 4.15-in, four-valve relief
Speed Pro, file-to-fit, 1⁄16, 1⁄16, 3⁄16
R&R billet-aluminum, 6.800-in
Scat, forged, 4.00-in stroke
Rotating Assembly Balanced:
Precision Engine Builders
Cam Dynamics/Crane solid-roller
Duration at 0.050:
Duration (advertised) 314/323-deg
Lift with Specified Rocker Arms:
Crane stud-mounted roller, 1.55-ratio
Mallory Super Mag III magneto
Autolite AR 3912
Four 1.75-in-diameter header pipes from cylinder head to edge of body (zoomie style)
TSI Turbo 400 with transbrake and reverse shift pattern
Midwest, 3,500 stall, 10-in
B&M Pro Stick, reverse pattern
Ford 9-inch by Strange
Rear Gear Ratio:
Strange, 35 spline
Chassis and Suspension
Strange 11-in disc
Weld Racing 15x4.5, widened Pontiac steel rims 15x10
Hoosier 26x4.5x15 / Hoosier Drag Slick 29x10x15
Tire Pressure F/R:
35 psi / 10 psi
Ford Econoline straight-axle and spindles
Ladder bar/traction arms
48-in wheelie bars
Complete hand-formed aluminum interior with Auto Meter tachometer, oil pressure, and water-temp gauges, custom racing seat with flame-retardant seat cover, RCI six-point seatbelts
’66 GTO Fiberglass body, wheel openings, hood, and fenders lengthened 9 inches, Lexan windshield
Safety system on board, fire extinguisher, parachute, fuel shut-off
Red, orange, brown, grey
1,500 rpm with transbrake
Arnie dug into his personal collection to provide some great vintage photos.
In August 1966, Beswick shows...
In August 1966, Beswick shows off his new Star of the Circuit front spoiler. “In June and July of 1966, a race-track announcer at U.S. 131 Dragway in Martin, Michigan, began calling my GTO ‘Star of the Circuit’ because of what he described as ‘unquestionably the most breathtakingly beautiful paint scheme he’d ever seen on a race car.’ My crew and I liked it so much that it became the official name of the car, and had it painted on it shortly thereafter.”
Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick...
Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick poses with his Star of the Circuit ’66 GTO before a match race against one of his fiercest rivals, Dyno Don Nicholson (in a ’66 funny car Mercury Comet), at Atlanta Speed Shop Dragway in Covington, Georgia, in April 1968. Beswick won the race. Note: In exchange for allowing the lettering “Hurst Test Car #7” to be applied to this GTO, Hurst loaned Beswick a truck to trailer it to some of his West Coast races, including the Smokers U.S. Fuel Gas Championship in Bakersfield, California, as well as the big funnycar shootout at Lions Dragstrip.
“Sometimes fans send me photos...
“Sometimes fans send me photos and don’t remember where it was taken,” Beswick says. “I don’t recall the location of this photo, either, but I can tell you that I had the rear wheels jacked up and the motor running, while two crew members checked for leaks. That’s me in the driver’s seat.”
Beswick lifts the GTO’s front...
Beswick lifts the GTO’s front wheels off of the ground during this launch at Smokers Hot Rod Club United States Fuel and Gas Championship in October 1967. “Don’t forget, this was a time when it was a ‘run what you brung’ all-out war, as the Ford and Chrysler factories were throwing new horsepower items at their race teams almost on a weekly basis. Unless you raced against them in that era, there’s no way to describe how badly the factory motorsport managers wanted their teams to win so they’d have bragging rights when they reported to their corporate bosses on Monday morning,” he says.
By 1967, Beswick was travelling...
By 1967, Beswick was travelling coast to coast to compete in match races at America’s most popular dragstrips. In October, he lined up against Al Vanderwoude’s Flying Dutchman ’67 Dodge Dart.