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1971 LeMans Wagon

Most of us dig wagons, especially sleeper wagons. This particular former grocery hauler turned strip mauler is a '71 LeMans wagon packing 473ci of Pontiac big-block power. With a glove box full of 11 second slips, this is one pump-gas wagon to be reckone

Photography by Marko Radielovic

Imagine, if you will, an automobile of substantial girth equipped with a large but mild power plant, able to live on a steady diet of pump premium with a cam so mild it pulls 14.5 inches of vacuum; a car that goes about its business on a highway-friendly 3.31 gear and lulls you into thinking you're driving a luxury sedan. Now, imagine abruptly slamming your right foot deep into the carpet and this Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde as it catapults you forward like it's been rear-ended by a freight train. Stop imagining and meet Jim Hand and his '71 Pontiac wagon.

Jim Hand's love affair with this '71 LeMans wagon began back in 1986 when it was rescued from a salvage yard in Dallas. The purchasing price was a low $350, and the tattered wagon was dragged back to Missouri where the transformation began. Only 125 wagons were produced in 1971 with the GTO appearance package front clip, making it a rare find. By 1987, the paint and bodywork were completed and the big Pontiac was presentable.

Over the course of the next decade and a half, the Poncho was massaged, flogged, tuned, and refined into a monster that is able to idle complacently in traffic at a cool 180 degrees F; comfortably traverse the imperfections of the local roads the way only a long-wheel-based car like a station wagon can; accelerate smoothly, and then after a good hard burnout, jerk its left front wheel 8 inches off of the tarmac on its way to high-11s at a buck-fifteen. Then, as if that wasn't enough, it delivers its owner home safely without any drama whatsoever. Try that in your hot rod.

Lots of time and patience were dedicated to refining the combination. The '73 455 was poked and stroked via an offset grinding on the stock nodular iron crankshaft and a 0.060-inch overbore. A '69 428 provided the donor four-bolt-main caps, and Eagle 6.8-inch big-block Chevy rods were attached to a set of JE forged pistons to round out the stout bottom-end. A repro Ram Air IV cam controls valve-timing events and a set of 1970-vintage cast-iron heads (ported by Jim) handle the breathing chores in conjunction with a massaged factory iron intake. A tweaked Quadrajet on a homemade spacer tops the engine off. The resulting torque and power is, as Jim puts it, "adequate" to click off high-11s reliably all day long. A Continental "tight 10-inch" converter ensures that wheels-up launches are the norm. Jim's son Tom built the Turbo 400 trans and set it up to shift itself at 5,500 rpm when matted, allowing the driver to keep both hands on the wheel. A freeway-friendly 3.31 posi resides in the 12-bolt rear.

Weighing in at a not-so-svelte 4,040 pounds with driver, this LeMans represents a lifetime of hard work. You don't need the trick of the month or cubic dollars to go fast, but you do need ingenuity, perseverance, and a good dose of patience to find out what works and what doesn't. As Jim has proven, to have your cake and eat it, you just have to invest the time.

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