Herb Adams today showing off a scale-model of his Contessa sports car’s frame at a recent
Unlike John DeLorean, who preceded him and would give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down and that was that, McDonald subjected what Special Projects believed was the best idea in Pontiac V-8 history to a slow death. He sent me to the engine plant and its leaders disbelieved that a 366 made more power than a 400. Then he sent me to the sales department, which uttered the same disbelief. In my opinion, if DeLorean was still Pontiac general manager at that time, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Pontiac 366 would have changed the course of Pontiac V-8 history by powering all of the Division’s production cars from ’73 onward.
I credit Russ with another idea: Why not take what we learned on the 303 and 366 race engines and apply them to a high-performance 455? By this time, the use of unleaded fuel and insurance rates had put an end to the horsepower race, but if Pontiac could have the first high-performance engine with 9.0:1 compression it would help to maintain the brand’s image and keep the Trans Am from becoming a decal package.
Russ stayed with Pontiac until 1979, and then transferred to Chevrolet’s high-performance team. While at Chevy, with authority over Pontiac regarding powertrain, Russ issued the corporate order to turbocharge the Trans Ams and Firebird for ’80 and ’81.
In the fall of 1972, we sold our ’71 Firebird racecar and bought a body-in-white ’73 Grand Am, which we fitted with a 366 race engine and prepared to race in the 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup series.
Near the end of 1972, Pontiac management disbanded Special Projects entirely. “The official reason was that Pontiac needed to put all of its engineering efforts on upcoming emissions requirements, which were to be implemented in March 1973,” Tom recalls. Luckily, when we were shut down, the SD-455 engine was ready for production.
Despite being disbanded, we campaigned the Grand Am at the Winston Western 500 on January 23, 1973. We started at 16 and ended the race in 15th place. The next month we took the Grand Am to Daytona. After enduring more tech-inspector scrutiny than we had at any race up to that date, NASCAR brass allowed us to enter the Twin 125 Qualifying Race on February 15. We started in 35th place and did not finish.
While at Daytona, I learned that the then-Pontiac PR director made a personal telephone call to Bill France Sr. and told him Pontiac did not want our car to compete in the Daytona 500. So when I returned to Pontiac after the race, I tendered my resignation. Shortly thereafter, I saw Tom in the hallway at work, and he told me he had put in his resignation, too. Though we didn’t plan our resignations together, we were both disappointed with Pontiac management.
My final staff meeting at Pontiac was in the spring of 1973 when Russ Gee and I were required to answer the interrogations from Pontiac General Manager Martin Caserio, who was determined to learn who was responsible for authorizing the SD-455 program. Caserio demanded a verbal report from all of us in the meeting. The engine-assembly plant told him it had parts to build 600 engines. The Sales Department told him it had 600 orders for the SD-455 engine, but Pontiac management was holding back on its release. Since I had already resigned from my job at Pontiac, I told him he had 600 engines in parts and 600 orders—why not build the engines and sell them? It was my last official contribution to the Pontiac V-8.