At Du Quoin, the buzz was all about Dobbertin’s J2000, and even the local television stati
It is the pinnacle year for Pro Street. Guys are tubbing and stuffing monster rear tires under anything with four wheels, when a street machiner by the name of Rick Dobbertin tweaks everybody with the debut of his Pro Street Pontiac J2000 in 1986. The multi-hued roller features a pneumatically actuated tilt body used to reveal the fully polished stainless-steel tube chassis and a Dominator carburetor relocated to the front of the engine, feeding a pair of Roto-Master turbos. But Rick didn’t stop there; he ducted the turbo discharge tubes to a pair of Magnuson superchargers atop an all-aluminum small-block Chevy. While you’re trying to assimilate this visual assault, tech details begin to burn through. You realize the only way Rick could stuff those leviathan Firestones under the back of the diminutive J-car was to eliminate—wait for it—the rear suspension. There are no shocks and no springs. At its coming-out party, the J2000 relied strictly on sidewall deflection to tune ride quality. And, yes, given the right circumstances, it would bounce like a Top Fuel car. Later, Dobbertin added a pair of valvesprings(!) between the top of the rear-end housing and the chassis to dampen the legion of critics who howled that any car without a rear suspension was not a real street car.
Car Craft upstaged everybody with an exclusive story of this phenomenon in the Aug. ’86 issue, after GM photographer Ed Sperko agreed to shoot the car for us in the GM studios in Detroit. Clearly, Dobbertin’s intent was to shock the community, to create a seismic rumble like no Pro Street car had ever done before. The J2000 accomplished that goal by immediately polarizing opinions—you either loved it or hated it. The car demanded you take a stand. Detractors claimed it was nothing less than a fairground queen—some calling it a parody, or even a cartoon car. Proponents offered that most Pro Streeters of the day were little more than cousins to the ’50s’ “angel-hair” customs. While the battle raged, Dobbertin enjoyed the wave of attention he knew would eventually blow out—like a hurricane washing ashore. “The Prince of Pro Street” went on to build a couple more cars and then constructed a final engineering exercise dubbed the Surface Orbiter—an open-ocean amphibian built around a road-going, stainless-steel milk tank. His plan was to circumnavigate the globe. That never happened, but to prove its seaworthiness, Rick showed us photos of the beast traversing the Panama Canal. But that, Captain Nemo, is another story.
Pushing the envelope is all part of the nature of man. So it took Dobbertin’s epic build to reveal that the ’80s Pro Street trend was not sustainable. If we examine street-car trends with the benefit of historical hindsight, a case can be made that Dobbertin’s exuberance was the watershed moment for the creation of what we now call Pro Touring. From the moment the J2000 first put tread to pavement, the single-purpose Pro Fairground car was doomed. Street car Darwinism would require two decades to evolve into amazing track-worthy Pro Touring cars that do everything those ’80s Pro Street cars could not. But at the Street Machine Nationals in 1986, all we knew was that Rick Dobbertin had just fired a fat-tired salvo across the Pro Street fleet’s bow. The rumbles of that blast can still be felt today.
Rocky Robertson was another player, and in 1986, his then-new Buick Somerset took Third Pl
The Return of the Street Machine Nationals
If you were into hot street machines in the ’80s, then the place to be was the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois. It’s been a couple of decades, but the big news for 2013 is Car Craft is loading its cameras and heading deep in the heartland to focus on the return of the Street Machine Nationals June 28–30. We’re talking to many of the Pro Street heroes who helped shape the Nationals, and many of them promise they will make an appearance, perhaps even with a few of the cars that made them famous. Plus, on Saturday night you can sign up to help us invade I-57 Dragstrip’s eighth-mile tarmac in Benton, Illinois, for some Saturday Night Flights. Help us celebrate the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals by entering on StreetMachineNationals.net and drinking the Street Machine Nationals Kool-Aid. It’s a moral imperative.