There’s a two-lane stretch of asphalt right behind the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee, curiously decorated with epic streaks of rubber. Some squiggles are S-shaped and others look like O’s, but alphabetic resemblance aside, someone’s been having a very good time. That someone is one of the craziest band of hot rodding buddies you’ll ever meet. They don’t believe in small-blocks. To them, nitrous that doesn’t have at least two stages isn’t worth your while, and the only carb that matters is a Dominator. They even have the audacity to equate trick suspension parts and big tires to cheating. Rounding out this opinionated group of Midwestern iron is a ’72 Nova, a pair of ’67 Chevelles, a ’66 Coronet, a ’67 Chevy II, a ’66 Biscayne, and a ’55 Chevy pickup. These cars range from show-car pretty to downright ratty, but what they all share in common is serious speed.
Considering the slow car in the pack runs 10s and everything else runs 8s, these guys have every right to be opinionated. They’re so hard-core and so consumed with going fast that they didn’t even waste their time coming up with some cutesy name for their club. We’re talkin’ cars that trip the 60-foot marker on the back tires, cams pushing 300 degrees of duration, spread-port heads, and interiors stuffed full of rollcages. Yum. When they’re not cruising down the freeway or pulling wheelstands at the track, these boys congregate at the local burger joint, talk some trash, then settle their differences behind the Harley building. This might be Hog country, but V-twins aren’t the kings of this secluded industrial street.
At first, experiencing Rat motors and Chrysler 440s battering air molecules into deafening sound waves and seeing social miscreants whizzing by in muscle cars might make you think it’s 1967 all over again. Then you’d realize something else is going down because even all-out race cars didn’t run this fast back in the day. What these Wisconsin boys have managed to do is combine the blue-collar know-how of ’60s hot rodding culture with modern technology to create some wickedly fast street machines. Needless to say, the results are devastating in a very good way. Sure, you can find a faster car every now and then, but rarely will you witness so many hard-core, track-honed, and street-driven hot rods hanging out together in the same place at the same time. So let’s take a closer look at machines behind the hype, shall we?
1972 Chevy Nova
Primer-gray Novas are so common that just about every dragstrip in America has some dude who shows up on test-and-tune night and thoroughly embarrasses himself. Dan Weiss isn’t that dude, and he’s got a fist full of 8-second timeslips to prove it. As this ’72 Nova’s ratty exterior suggests, there’s nothing elaborate about the combination—just a big motor in a small car with a very-well-sorted-out suspension. The result: 8.86 at 152 mph on leaf springs and 9-inch-wide tires. Now that’s impressive.
What Dan’s been able to accomplish with a $1,200 swap-meet find is low-buck hot rodding at its finest. Instead of wasting money on silly stuff like paint, Dan put his resources into building a wicked big-block and a driveline stout enough to handle it. The 540ci mill features a Dart block, a Callies crank and rods, Diamond 11.0:1 pistons, a Cam Motion 280/280-at-0.050 solid roller, AFR 357cc cylinder heads, an Edelbrock intake manifold, and a Braswell-tuned 1,150-cfm Dominator carb. The combo kicks out 940 hp in naturally aspirated trim, and Dan adds another 200 hp of nitrous through the fogger nozzles for good measure. Channeling the power rearward is a TSI Racing TH400 trans and a DTS Dana 60 rear end. Despite being handicapped with modestly sized 30x9x15 Hoosier radials, the Nova still cuts brisk 1.31-second 60-foot times, even with an alarmingly rudimentary suspension. The only aftermarket parts up front are Competition Engineering 90/10 shocks. Out back, the Nova sits on Calvert Racing leaf springs, Cal-Trac bars, and QA1 shocks. So how does Dan get such a simple setup to work so well? “It took a lot of trial and error to get the preload on the Cal-Tracs bars just right, but now we just leave them alone,” he explains. “With the preload now set, we just tune for the track conditions with the Edelbrock progressive nitrous controller.”
Good journalists should strive for impartiality, but when a truck is this freakin’ cool, it’s hard not to pick favorites. Aptly named the hillbilly pickup, Brian Schimmel’s ’55 Chevy 3100 wears its rust holes and crooked body lines with pride. There isn’t a straight panel on the thing, and it’s tough to distinguish where the surface rust ends and where the peeling paint begins. The patina is all part of the truck’s charm, but the real shocker are its rippling 8.75-at-152-mph timeslips.
8s In a Brick
1955 Chevy 3100
Getting a 3,660-pound brick to run 8s is a seriously heroic achievement, and Brian built a 555ci big-block Chevy to make it happen. Based on a Bowtie block, the combo utilizes a Callies crank, Oliver rods, JE 13.0:1 pistons, a Cam Motion 286/306-at-0.050 solid roller, BMF Racing 350cc cylinder heads, a Profiler intake manifold, a Braswell 1,150-cfm Dominator carb, and a 300hp hit of nitrous. The power feeds into a TH400 trans and a ’57 Olds rearend, and getting it all to hook on modest 31x10x15 slicks required lots of creativity. “With the big-block, the truck had a frontend weight bias of 57 percent. To even things out, we put a Heidts Mustang II suspension up front and moved the radiator, trans cooler, and battery to the back,” Brian explains. “That reduced the weight on the nose to 52 percent. To help with weight transfer, we installed double-adjustable QA1 coilovers and a custom four-link. We also boxed the stock frame.”
Not surprisingly, the truck’s interior has a few endearing quirks as well. Among the most heroic touches is a hole that’s been mercilessly hacked into the original steel dash to mount the nitrous gauge because, of course, buying an aftermarket gauge pod would have been far too fancy. Likewise, masquerading as carpet are some random pieces of fabric Brian found in a hardware store. Just when we thought the mystique of this truck couldn’t get any cooler, Brian dropped the ultimate bomb on us: “I love how beat up this truck looks, but the funny thing is that my dad owns a body shop.”
1967 Chevy Chevelle SS
Some guys just don’t care about numbers. Paul Tadin has no idea how much power his Chevelle cranks out. “I don’t believe in dynos. The track is my dyno,” he quips. He doesn’t even know how much nitrous he’s putting through his 565ci big-block. “I have size 32 jets in the fogger nozzles, whatever that comes out to,” he chuckles. You want cam specs? All he can confirm is that it’s got a hair over 300 degrees of duration at 0.050 and 0.900-plus lift. Unlike typical bench-racing goobers who rely on dyno sheets to cure their malaise, the only numbers Paul cares about are what’s printed on his timeslips: 8.42 at 170 mph.
Granted that Paul doesn’t concern himself with horsepower figures, but his Chevelle packs one of the meanest engine combos you’ll find in a street/strip machine. Pop the hood, gasp at the gleaming 18-degree Brodix spread-port heads, and suddenly those cam specs don’t seem so bogus. The Pro Stock–inspired lungs feed massive quantities of air to a 565ci short-block based on a World Products block, Callies crank, GRP aluminum rods, and JE 12.0:1 pistons. A Book Racing 1,250-cfm Dominator carb supplies the fuel, and a single-stage fogger kit plumbed into the Edelbrock intake manifold provides additional oxygen molecules. To better manage the A-body’s hefty 3,600-pound race weight, Paul opted for a TH400 trans over a Powerglide, and a Dana 60 rearend has taken the place of the stock 12-bolt that blew up a long time ago.
Perhaps the most incredible variable in the equation is that Paul gets all that power to hook on 30x9x15 Hoosier radials through a stock-style suspension. Sure there’s a 25.5 rollcage to stiffen things up, but other than a set of Santhuff springs, Strange shocks, a custom antiroll bar, and TRZ control arms, the suspension is stock. “Getting the suspension to work is just a lot of trial and error. I’ve been working on it for the last seven years,” he explains. “It’s a combination of dialing in the shocks, moving the instant center around, and adjusting the progressive nitrous controller. The car pulls the front tires 5 feet in the air, and the best 60-foot it has run so far is a 1.34 on the back tires.”
II The Extreme
1967 Chevy II
With enough thump to lay down 1,480 hp at the rear wheels, each cylinder in this Chevy II’s 540ci Rat puts out almost as much horsepower as an entire third-gen Camaro. And that’s what makes the car’s 8.56-at-162-mph e.t. so damn impressive. It was done with just seven cylinders. “When we pulled the car into the pits after that pass, the crew noticed that one of the plug wires had burned completely through. This car only weighs 3,250 pounds, so I figure it should run 7.80s when firing on all cylinders,” car owner Gene Bruckner reasons. Yeah, yeah—guys talk trash about what their cars should run all the time, but the math certainly works in Gene’s favor in this instance.
Arguably the wildest car out of this wicked collection of street machines, the ’67 Chevy II was rescued by Gene out of chassis-shop jail. His buddy took it in for a full tube chassis, and after finishing it seven years later, he lost interest in it and sold the car to Gene. With a chassis good for 7.50s, a ladder-bar rear suspension, and big tubs, the car was in dire need of an epic engine combo. To answer the call, Gene built a 540 big-block featuring an aluminum Dart Big M block, a Callies crank, Oliver rods, Diamond 8.7:1 pistons, AFR 357cc heads, an Isky 284/292-at-.050 solid roller cam, and a BDS 10-71 supercharger. Overdriven at 20 percent, the blower huffs out 20 psi of boost and squirts 120-octane fuel through 16 injectors.
Coupling all 1,480 ponies to 33x18.5x15 Mickey Thompson E.T. Streets are a TSI Racing TH400 trans and a Strange 9-inch rearend. Granted the Chevy II is the only big-tire car out of this overachieving pack, but when you’re making this much power, who cares? Besides, Gene’s already bored with the car and plans on giving it to his girlfriend. This would normally be cause for concern, but with a handle like Nitro Methane Mary, we’re sure she can handle it.
Built From Scraps, Runs 10s
1966 Dodge Coronet
No one wants to be the slowest guy in the pack, but when six of the seven cars in your club run 8s at the track, “slow” is a relative term. To put this in perspective, the second-slowest ride here runs 8.86! In any other circle outside of this outrageous pack of Midwestern iron, Mark Gruenfeldt’s ’66 Coronet would probably be king of the hill. Thanks to a stroked 440 big-block, Mark’s managed to eke out some very respectable 10.80-second e.t.’s from a car he built entirely himself using a stack of second- and third-hand parts.
He picked up the car back in 1988 for $2,800 as a 49,000-original-mile granny special complete with a bench seat and column shifter. The car has had several motors over the years, but the current combo is a 493ci Wedge complete with an Eagle crank and rods, Diamond pistons, a 256/256-at-0.050 flat-tappet cam, a Weiand Team G intake manifold, ported factory iron cylinder heads, and a DaVinci-tuned Dominator carb. As Mark points out, the motor is far from optimized, as it’s missing some key pieces of hardware. “I built this motor with a bunch of spare parts I scrounged out of my garage. I actually planned on putting a ProCharger on it, which is why it only has 9.0:1 compression, so now it’s basically a blower motor without a blower,” he quips. “In the meantime, I’m putting 150–200hp of nitrous through it. That will hold me over for now, but I’m thinking about putting some turbos on it.”
The 493 has been matched with an all-Mopar driveline consisting of a homebuilt TorqueFlite 727 transmission and a Dana 60 rearend. As for the converter, Mark has no idea what’s in the car. “It’s just some 23-year-old converter I found in my garage. All I know is that it’s 10 inches,” he says. Not surprisingly, Mark has taken an equally relaxed approach with the suspension. It’s as stock as stock can be, right down to the factory torsion bars and leaf springs. According to Mark, the only chassis tuning he’s done is adjust the pinion angle and experiment with a box full of old, worn-out gas shocks. Whatever he did has worked, because the Coronet pulls respectable 1.52-second short times on miniscule 28.5x9x15 slicks.
The beauty of this machine is in its simplicity, and it does so much with so little that the fact that it just happens to be the slowest car out of field of 8-second monsters seems irrelevant. With a muted idle and unassuming demeanor, it’s the perfect tool for hustling the competition. “This car isn’t as fast as some of the other cars out there, but it’s a very streetable driver that you can take to the track and have some fun in,” Mark opines.
The Great Swoopster
1967 Chevy Chevelle
Building a car from the ground up is rarely the most cost effective way to go racing, but scrounging for parts and staying up until 4 a.m. getting greasy is how most car guys get their jollies. Meanwhile, piranhas like Jim Forrer lurk around in the pits waiting for the perfect opportunity to swoop in on a car that’s already 90 percent completed, saving themselves a whole lot of hassle and money at the same time. That’s precisely what Jim did when one of his buddies was running a little low in the motivation department. “My friend had just bought a ’67 Chevelle, put a new motor and trans in it over the winter, and took it to the track once or twice,” he recalls. “I decided that I wanted the car more than he did, so I asked him how much he wanted for it. He said it wasn’t for sale, and I told him I didn’t ask if it was for sale. I asked how much.”
The haggling paid off. Jim went home with a new A-body, immediately rebuilt the Powerglide, and updated the 10-point ’cage to 25.5 specifications. That much ’cage hints at as seriously stout engine combo, which takes the form of a 598ci big-block. The bottom end boasts a Dart block, a Callies crank, Oliver rods, JE 12.5:1 pistons, and a 284/296-at-0.050 solid roller. The air supply comes from a set of BMF Racing 385cc cylinder heads, a Dart intake manifold, and a Gary Williams Dominator carb. With a 225hp dose of nitrous flowing through the fogger nozzles, the Chevelle has run 8.63 at 162 mph on 275/60-15 Mickey Thompson drag radials. Planting all that power is yet another remarkably simple suspension setup comprised of nothing more than aftermarket rear control arms, and AFCO double-adjustable shocks. Jim hasn’t quite dialed in the tune on the second stage of nitrous just yet, but once he gets that extra 200 hp to hook, this A-body will be pushing deep 8s.
What makes this feat even more impressive is the Chevelle’s hefty 3,775 pounds of mass. It still has a real interior, a full SpinTech 4-inch exhaust, and no weight reduction measures whatsoever. The way Jim sees things, speed is just part of the equation. “I love going fast, but I don’t care for stripped-down cars with aluminum door panels,” he says. “They have to be streetable, too.”
1966 Chevy Biscayne
Purists take note: You’ve officially been given the middle finger. With just 22,000 original miles on the ticker, Pat Spangenberg’s ’66 Biscayne is a rare machine made even rarer by the fact that it’s an original L72 four-speed car. The big white beast is flawless from every angle. That’s because in lieu of the factory 427 is a 615ci monster of a Rat that scoots the 4,420-pound grannymobile down the track in 8.77 seconds at 156 mph. As is customary in this group, the B-body gets the job done on 10.5-inch wide slicks and a stock suspension. Oh yeah, that’s with mufflers and a full interior, too. In some respects, Pat is the nucleus of this tightly knit group of street racing throwbacks. He owns Rod & Competition Specialties in Butler, Wisconsin, and although the cars in this group were built mostly by their respective owners, Pat’s done some chassis or heavy-duty fab work on just about all of them. During our visit, he was putting the finishing touches on a ProCharged 2,000hp ’Cuda and a blown and Lenco-shifted street rod. You don’t earn business like that unless you’re as nutty as the clients that commission these projects, and Pat’s Biscayne is proof that he’s one seriously unbalanced dude.
The 615ci ogre under the hood uses a Dart tall-deck block as its foundation and has been fitted with a Callies crank, Oliver rods, JE 12.5:1 pistons, and a big solid-roller cam. Cavernous 410cc Dart Big M heads and intake manifold topped by a Carb Shop 1,150-cfm Dominator provide the air and fuel supply, and the NOS fogger nozzles add an extra 400 hp. For extra security, there’s another 250 hp on top of that through the nitrous plate, but Pat doesn’t have to use it very often. A TH400 trans does the shifting and channels the power back to a 12-bolt rearend fortified with Strange 35-spline axles and 4.11:1 gears.
Biscaynes—in their stripped down, two-door post glory—have always been sleepers. But Pat’s ride takes things to a whole different level. Not only is the ’cage tucked tightly into the body pillars and headliners, it has been painted red to blend in with the interior. The stock bench seat, carpet, and dash still remain. Detach the ’chute, and the only giveaways that something sinister is going on are the five-point harnesses and Auto Meter tach. So if you ever see an unassuming white Biscayne roaming the streets of Wisconsin, you better put your money on it.