Russ didn’t know much about racing, but he knew Pontiacs and had enthusiasm for getting things done. To gain knowledge about racing Pontiacs, he started running ’57s as fast as they would go. (He remembers getting them to go over 150 mph.) Of course, the early Pontiac overhead-valve V-8s were not designed for top-speed racing, so there were many failures. While Russ was solving the car problems, the Pontiac engine engineers were working on upping the horsepower. The result of the combined efforts of Russ and the other Pontiac engineers was that Pontiac ruled the NASCAR tracks from 1957 to 1962.
Russ left Pontiac in 1979 during Pontiac’s downslide, and transferred to Chevrolet to run its racing and high-performance programs. (I’ll discuss Russ more in “Pioneers of the Pontiac V-8, Part II: The Intermediate Years.”)
We’ve brought you the stories of the men, filled with attitude and dedication, who defined Pontiac Engineering during the early days of its overhead-valve V-8 and high-performance programs. In addition to these examples, there are hundreds of other stories by the many engineers who worked on the Pontiac V-8 engines. The excitement and success of Pontiacs in the ’60s is the direct result of their impassioned work under the enlightened management of Knudsen, Estes, and DeLorean. The desirability of these Pontiacs is a testimony of what can be accomplished when a talented group of engineers have a good leader.
HPP would like to thank Russ Gee, Marge Sawruk, Geneva Campbell, and Herb Adams for providing photos.