Admit it, we all want something for nothing. If we can't get that, we'll settle for half price. It's the art of the deal and we want to come away thinking that we made a killing. For this story we will serve up some tips that cost nothing and some tips that cost a few bucks. But it's all cheap. So put your wallet away and break out the tools because if you are a weekend drag racer or you are into performance suspension upgrades and you can pinch a penny until Lincoln bites your fingers, this story is for you.
10 DRAG TIPS THAT DON'T COST A DIME
Read Those Skid Marks
One way to determine proper tire pressure without the trial and error of making many passes is to do a burnout and check the width and darkness across the rails you left on the pavement. Slicks should have enough air to keep them from turning on the wheels (unless you are smart and screwed them to the rims), while providing the widest skid marks. Radials are no different. If the mark is lighter at the outer edges, there is too much air in the tires. If it is lighter in the middle there is too little air in the tires. Consult the tire manufacturer for the lowest safe pressures.
Need to richen the secondaries on your Q-jet and you ran out of metering rods? An old racer trick is to carefully bend the secondary rod hanger in the Q-jet up .020. It may give you just enough to get by the guy in the next lane.
Line Up Those Ports
Many people spend hours grinding away to port match the heads to the intake, only to install the manifold later without a second thought to port alignment. With a Pontiac, it's a special problem because the long bolt at the front of the intake must be tightened first to avoid a coolant leak where the intake water passage mates to the front cover. By scribing a line at the top center of the #1 port on the head and intake so that they can be seen with intake in place and then lining them up for installation, you can assure that your ports match perfectly before you bolt the intake down. You may be surprised to find that some shims are needed at the aforementioned intake to front cover junction. Many times, with just the rubber gasket in place, the intake is pulled too far forward when tightening the bolt, resulting in a port mismatch.
Lash To Win
For solid lifter engines, there is power to be found by varying the lash settings on the intake and exhaust valves. Depending upon the combination, the engine may like more on the intake and less on the exhaust or vice versa. Running looser should pose no problem but to run tighter, check first with the cam manufacturer to make sure that it can safely be done. Make the adjustments in .004 increments and check the results on the strip.
Staggering To The Winner's Circle
One look at a typical Pontiac intake manifold will tell you that all of its ports are not created equal. Yet when most tuners jet their carbs, they stagger the jetting from the primaries to the secondaries but keep like numbers from left to right. Many engines will benefit from stagger jetting the carb from side to side as well. Once you think that you have the carb dialed in based on your front to rear jetting, take EGT readings during a run or plug readings of all eight cylinders at the end of a full throttle run, not after idling around the pits. You'll notice by the temps or the plug color that some cylinders are leaner than others, even though you have jetted the primaries and secondaries to get the lowest ET. Stagger jet one step at a time to get nearly equal plug color (light tan) or EGT temps (different engines like different temps, so no rule of thumb here) from cylinder to cylinder. Experiment to find out what is best for your engine.
Shocking Weight Transfer
Want instant improved weight transfer from your Pontiac without changing a part? Remove the front shock nuts and remove the washer and rubber grommet. Then reinstall the metal washer and nut. Tighten the nut only until there is full thread contact with the rod thereby leaving nearly an inch gap between the nut and the control arm. That extra inch or so of travel will allow the front end to rise instantly on launch to help plant the rear.
You should always run at least a half tank of fuel to keep the pickup submerged on launch. But did you realize the effect that the weight of fuel can have on your Pontiac's 60 ft.? If your machine doesn't transfer weight well and you find that you are blowing the tires off on each run, filling the tank will place weight in the rear right where you need it for improved traction. Experiment with amounts until you have just enough gas to keep from spinning but not so much that ET suffers.
Brakes Can Be a Drag
Need a few hundredths shaved off your ET for the final round on grudge night? Have you checked the drag on those drum brakes lately? By backing off on the adjustment a bit, the reduced drag will shave your ET. Just remember that most drum brake systems will automatically adjust when you back up, so don't do any Pro Stock burnouts that require you to back up to lights if you try this trick. If you decide to get cute and remove the self-adjusters for manual adjusters, just remember you are on your own for periodic shoe adjustments.
If you are racing to beat the guy in the next lane by reaching the finish line first, deep stage your Pontiac. You will actually be starting the race ahead of him. If you are racing for a low ET, shallow stage your Pontiac. Shallow staging gives you more rollout before you break the beams and trip the timer.
The Old Standbys
Here is collection of the tricks that you have read in all of the other go-fast-for-free articles over the years. Remove the A/C belt and/or the alternator belt to reduce engine drag. Cool down the intake with ice for a denser charge, increase front tire pressure to reduce rolling resistance, remove weight, preferably from the front of the vehicle, lower the front end to reduce drag and align the front end so that the tires are perfectly straight when going down the track.
10 HANDLING IMPROVEMENTS USING FRUGAL FACTORY PARTS
Gimme a Big Front Bar For My Car
The GTO front stabilizer bar measured .938-inch in diameter from 1964 to 1968, 1-inch in 1969 and 1.125 inches from 1970 to 1972. The Second Gen. Trans Am 1.25-inch front stabilizer bar is a direct bolt in for '64-72 A-bodies and can be had for a song at any swap meet.
The Old Steering Box Switch
While the 12.7:1 steering boxes of the mid '80s specialty G-bodies are getting all the press for installations into early Goats and while some companies offer true bolt-in installations for a price, the junkyarder will still require an adaptor kit and some mods because the fittings are metric on the new box. If you want a cheap upgrade for your 1964 to 1972 A-body, any Second Gen. Firebird power steering box (15:1 to 13:1 variable ratio) will bolt directly in place of a '64-72 A-body ratio power steering box. And with the early Pontiacs, the improvement is more noticeable as the new box will reduce turns lock to lock to 2.7 from 4.5 with the 17.5:1 ratio stock unit. A 14:1 constant ratio WS6 box of '78-81 vintage will provide even quicker response and increased road feel, due to a specially calibrated spool valve. Prices we have seen run as low as free to as high as $40.
Add A Bar
The addition of a .875-inch rear stabilizer bar (which was factory installed in '70-72 GTOs, from '64 to 72 in 442s and other A-bodies from the late '60s up to 1972) to an early A-body will make a marked improvement in handling by reducing understeer considerably. The GTO handling package for 1972 included a 1.125-inch rear bar, that would be even better but they are difficult to find. Prices for the .875-inch unit are as little as $25 at swap meets and complete setups with boxed rear control arms sell many times for less than $75.
Lower Control Arms
Factory rear stabilizer bar-equipped Pontiacs used lower control arms that were drilled to accept the stabilizer bar's mounting bolts and were boxed by welding metal plates to the bottom of the channel steel pieces to strengthen them. You can buy these control arms new or used or you can just do what the factory did and weld in the metal plates and drill the holes on the control arms that you already have, for pennies.
Bigger Better Rally Wheels
The 15x7 Rally II wheels with the brushed aluminum trim rings and center caps from 1973 on up can be had forchump change anywhere on the planet. We've seen sets of four sell for $40. They make a nice cheap upgrade to any 14-inch-wheeled Pontiac and they look great. Besides, 14-inch early Rally IIs can cost a bundle, depending on the condition. If you must have the stock look, bright trim rings are available for the 15-inchers and the early center caps will fit.
Bang The Drums Slowly
Aluminum rear drums were used on many '80s GM G-bodies and can be installed on any 9.5-inch drum A-body. If you want the really cheap route, noted Pontiac engineer and racer Herb Adams used to drill cooling holes in the face of the stock rear brake drums with a hole saw. I wouldn't do this with the aluminum pieces.
Ventura My Way
Any 1975 and up Ventura will accept any 1975 and up Trans Am suspension parts and even its front subframe.
Bracing the Second Gen. Front End
Many Second Gen. F-bodies used a pair of braces that tied the subframe to the rear attaching point of the lower control arms. This helped tighten up the front end during spirited driving but made header installations nearly impossible, so many would-be stoplight jockeys got rid of them. Crawl under your Second Gen. and see if they are there. If not, score them from F-bodies of the late '70s and early '80s. I recently saw eight Z28s and regular Camaros of '78-81 vintage in a junkyard and every one had the braces still in place.
1973-77 A-body Front Bar Swap
The same 1.25-inch Trans Am stabilizer bar that fits the '64 72 GTO is a bolt-in for the '73-77 A-bodies but the '73 and up rear stabilizer bar is different from the early A-bodies and the F-bodies so no luck there.
A set of polyurethane bushings at the stabilizer bar links and frame mounts can make a small bar act like a big one because compliance is reduced due to the harder durometer of the plastic. In fact, some companies have choices of different durometers to fit your Pontiac's needs and the cost is minimal.