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Virginia City Hill Climb 341 Challenge - King Of The Mountain

Some Of The Baddest Production Cars In The Country Assaulted 22 Turns, A 1,200-Foot Elevation Change, And Sheer Drop-Offs To Claim The Title.

By , Photography by , Spectre 341 Challenge

The YouTube videos are downright spooky. The low-resolution moving images reveal an early Mustang standing on the throttle, banging gears, snaking through the first few turns of what used to be called the Virginia City Hill Climb. Early on, there's a sweeping righthander where the camera flashes on a dirt shoulder, no guardrail, and what appears to be a 10,000-foot drop into nothingness. It's intimidating to say the least.

The course is set up over the 5.2-mile truck route 341 that winds into Virginia City, Nevada, over a beautiful landscape of undulating turns, minimal guardrails, and a climb that starts at a rarefied 5,000 feet and ends crossing a bridge at 6,200 feet. Walking a portion of the course at a brisk pace will take your breath away both from the impressive view and the fact that there's precious little air for humans or engines at that altitude. It's the perfect place to test a serious torque curve, suspension tuning, and perhaps most of all, driver skill and how much you're willing to risk.

Amir Rosenbaum is the owner of Spectre Performance, the company makes that those trick, prefabricated cold-air-induction systems for muscle cars and even the new '10 Camaro. Among Amir's many haunts is the Bonneville Salt Flats, which lured him into building a Cadillac-powered streamliner to run more than 300 mph. Match that with the near-vertical assault of his other passion, the Virginia City Hill Climb, and you see that Amir revels in the nontraditional. What's even more impressive is that he can claim the title of the one true king of the mountain, because he owns the record. So when he saw a chance to revive this event, Amir dubbed it the 341 Challenge and offered up this inaugural race as an invitational to charge the summit. It took us less than five seconds to volunteer a certain blue '65 Chevelle to enter the fray.

Inaugural events like this often attract a broad spectrum of cars, and the 341 Challenge paid off in that respect like a Fremont Street slot machine. We expected the typical turbo Porsches, big-dog Vipers, and Corvettes to rumble amid the inevitable all-wheel-drive and turbocharged Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo cars. Even rally hero Rod Millen showed up with his race-prepped AWD Nissan GT-R. What we didn't expect was a '52 DeSoto and a GMC pickup. Sprinkle in an aluminum front-end '69 Camaro and Spectre's LS7 427ci El Camino and the field of vehicles was as eclectic as Jay Leno's garage.

Lou Gigliotti of Trans-Am and American Le Mans Series (ALMS) road racing fame and owner of Lou Gigliotti Motorsports that builds high-end Corvettes took the overall event win with a 3:21.747 pass. Mark Gillies actually ran a couple of seconds quicker in a borrowed Viper RCR, but the sticky tires didn't meet the 341 Challenge's 100 treadwear rating requirement, so Gillies' was strictly a moral victory. Among the car crafty cars that impressed us most was the Griggs Racing GR40 Mustang driven by mountain veteran Guy Cunningham, who blasted a solid 3:28.423-second pass that was good for Fourth overall. Our Chevelle was far slower, but the goal this first year was just to keep all four wheels on the pavement and come home with another hash mark on the Chevelle's long-term goal of running as many different events as possible.

Amir and Spectre Performance are already planning 2011's return to the mountain, and like the gold fever that struck the 19th century men who worked the famous Virginia City Comstock mine, we've been hit with our own strain of mountain fever. We learned about the 3:41 Club, populated with courageous souls and strong machines that have forced their way to the top in less than 3 minutes and 42 seconds. For 2011, we'll settle for a quicker lap than we ran this year.

The Syclone
One of the first racers we met on Friday morning before tech was Adam Auerbach, who was doing some last0minute prep work on his '91 GMC Syclone pickup. The Syclone is an interesting all-wheel-drive, S-15-pickup-based variation of the GMC Typhoon. Adam's truck retains the turbo V-6 concepts but pushes the envelope with a larger 4.8L, all-aluminum Bow Tie block V-6 pumping out around 11 psi of turbo pressure using a 4L80E automatic through the stock transfer case. Squeezing the 4L80E into the truck became a necessity, Adam says, because "I blew up six 700s." The V-6 pumps out about 600 hp and applies all that power through four Nitto NT05 315/35R17 tires. He says he can push the boost up to as much as 22 psi but chose to be conservative with his first shot at the mountain. Despite the heft added with an additional axle and a transfer case, Adam says the truck only weighs 3,365 pounds wet with a driver. His best time was 3:53.348.

The DeSoto
"This is a bucket race for me," Dean Smith said while I was checking out his 392ci Chrysler Hemi-powered '52 DeSoto. Dean has a stable of these older machines that includes a '57 DeSoto, and he loves to push them hard. Back at his home in Las Vegas is a 440-powered '61 Chrysler that has been modified to look like a 300G. It is a two-time veteran of the Mexican La Carrera Panamericana. He has also raced Pikes Peak. This event was close enough to home that he thought it would be fun. But as for a challenge, Dean says "This will be like going to breakfast compared to the Pan Am."

History, Records, And Results
The very first Virginia City Hill Climb took place way back in 1972 when the Southern California Ferrari Club organized an event that eventually attracted purebred race cars. By 1988, a big-block Chevy-powered Lola T-70 race car driven by Reg Howell owned the record at 3:23.78 (91.9 mph average).But because the loop that returns the cars to the starting line is also a state highway, officials required all hillclimb cars to be street legal. Eventually, Amir Rosenbaum set the current record in 2002 at 3:10.53 with an average speed of 98.25 mph in a '92 Ferrari F40.

INAUGURAL 341 CHALLENGE RESULTS

Driver Car Time Avg. MPH
1. Lou Gigliotti ZR1 Corvette 3:21.747 92.79
2. Steve Millen Mitsubishi GT-R 3:22.926 92.25
3. Jeremy Kappus Mitsubishi Evo RS 3:25.579 91.06
4. Guy Cunningham Griggs GR40 Mustang 3:28.423 89.82
5. Ezra Dyer 911 Porsche 3:33.419 87.71
14. Jeff Smith '65 Chevelle 3:59.320 78.22

The Griggs Mustang
Perhaps the most innocuous car at the 341 was the Griggs GR40 Mustang. Bruce Griggs brought his factory demo car to both challenge the mountain and show just how easily this Mustang can straighten the curves. After several shots up the mountain in our Chevelle, Bruce offered us a ride in this red pony. With son John behind the wheel, the first thing the younger Griggs said was "The engine's a little hot since we've been making laps, so this won't be as quick as it could be." That disclaimer wasn't necessary because his lap was easily 20 seconds quicker than my best effort. While it helps to have a Paxton-Novi supercharger to make that 450 rwhp, you also have to carry speed through the corners. To say that the GR40 has grip is like saying the Comstock mine was a profitable venture. The Griggs Mustang proved itself with Guy Cunningham behind the wheel with a Fourth Place finish-with a real street car-against machines that most would consider far stronger than a mere Mustang. It's obvious that Bruce Griggs is onto something here.

The 341
Race Director Jimi Day said it best: "This is a unique event-one like you have never run before." You start on cold tires, and unlike on a typical road course, more weight transfers to the rear tires because you are pointed uphill. This makes the car tend to understeer slightly-at least until the tires warm up. Amir mentioned the intangibles, like wild horses that occasionally saunter across the road without warning, or local residents who insist on driving down the highway despite the road closure. But it is exactly those situations that give this event its color. Like anything else, you have to experience the event to grasp the 341's appeal. But be careful-mountain fever is contagious.

The Blue Chevelle
The first thing I noticed after dumping the clutch and accelerating into the first turn was what a pooch my Chevelle had become. The thin air at 5,000 feet will do that to a normally aspirated engine. The consensus opinion is that if you want to go fast, you're gonna need a supercharger. But horsepower wasn't my only problem. With 22-plus turns, 341 takes several passes just to remember where the scary parts are. After my second lap, I noticed the voltmeter was showing just shy of 12 volts, which later I traced to a dead alternator. I'm not sure when it gave up, [first turn, died of fear -Glad] but it could easily have been on the first run up the mountain, meaning that my Optima battery was subjected to a long, continuous, 25-to-30-amp drain from the twin electric fans, fuel pump, fuel injection, and MSD 6AL ignition. It took until around 9 p.m. that night to drive to Summit Racing in Sparks, Nevada, to buy a Powermaster alternator and bolt it in for Saturday's runs. What did work exceptionally well was our new 275/35R18 KDW2 tires mounted on a set of 9.5x18-inch Center Line wheels. Combined with our new Global West coilover shock conversion on all four corners, the handling was never in question. Next year we need a driver who's willing to carry more speed through the corners that don't have those long drop-offs.

SOURCES
Spectre Performance
1720 South Carlos Avenue
Ontario
CA  90761
909-673-9800
www.spectreperformance.com
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