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2002 Real Street Eliminator Series - '02 Real Street Eliminator

Photography by The Car Craft Staff

Longtime Car Craft readers will remember the glory days of our annual Real Street Eliminator (RSE) series. In 1986, former Car Craft Editor Jeff Smith (currently pulling the strings at Chevy High Performance) presented a challenge to anyone with a wild street machine who'd never bothered to test it to its full potential (outside of bench racing, and that doesn't count).

The first RSE tested the mettle of four street machines to determine if they were capable of coping with real-world situations. Standardized performance testing was at the core of the competition, which included acceleration, braking, and slalom sessions, but all vehicles also had to demonstrate rational behavior in traffic without attracting equipment violations. There was even an emissions test.

For the next 12 years, RSE grew increasingly popular and attracted a growing influx of entries for each successive event. If there was a downside, it was that many people seemed to be building cars specifically for RSE, thus taking the event out of the realm of Joe Homebuilder's capability. So, after the '98 RSE, the event went on hiatus-until this year when we teamed up with Year One and held the revised RSE in conjunction with the Second annual Year One Bristol Bash, held at Thunder Valley in Bristol, Tennessee.

Unlike previous RSE functions, which had devolved into Motor Trend-esque testing with hired professional drivers, this time we insisted that the owners drive their own cars to show off their skill behind the wheel. We think this is a much better test of real-world street machines, and above all, it serves as a great equalizer-high-dollar parts don't automatically mean big points in the field of competition.

Testing consisted of four categories and a total of 270 points, the bulk coming from autocross time trials and quarter-mile dragstrip passes worth 100 points each. The remaining 70 points came from Craftsmanship and the Ride & Drive categories (see "The Results" sidebar). Real Street Eliminator isn't for the timid. The contestants vied fiercely, yet fairly, in what turned out to be an all-out showdown between five truly impressive street machines culled from the extensive pool of applicants we received. Read on to see how these savvy car crafters did, and keep an eye out for next year's RSE application, as we're already concocting a plan for RSE '03.

Terry Stevens' '78 Chevy CapriceA late-'70s fullsize Chevy may seem an unlikely candidate for the sort of makeover bestowed upon this '78 Caprice, but sometimes when opportunity knocks, you answer. At least that's what Terry Stevens did when his mother-in-law handed him the keys to her ultraclean, one-owner Caprice (the 85-year-old had just traded up to a BMW). At first, Terry, who makes his living flying commercial jetliners, simply liked the comfort of the supple Chev. Of course, after using the car as a commuter, that little voice started suggesting just a little more power and maybe a touch better handling.

Next thing you know, Terry's got the body off the frame-a pretty bold move, considering he'd never restored a car before. Undaunted, he proceeded to straighten and paint the Chevy himself in his own barn-turned-workshop. Simultaneously, with hardware and assistance from the aftermarket, the chassis and drivetrain were fortified for improved performance, or should we say, improved touring.

The end result is a car that is extremely comfortable and quiet, yet a surprisingly capable handler. Acceleration is brisk, though Terry was disappointed with the Caprice's performance during our event. The car did seem to be plagued with transmission troubles, which hurt both quarter-mile and autocross times. Terry, who has already put over 30,000 miles on the renewed Caprice, says he'll overcome the minor malfunctions and even has plans for further cosmetic detailing. We're sure we haven't heard the last of this pair.-Terry McGean

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