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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

Car Craft Q&A

Car Craft: Why a wagon?
Jim Hand: It all started in 1965. I had seven children and could only afford one car, so we had a '65 Catalina nine-passenger wagon with a tri-power 389 and a 3.23 posi. I ordered it without A/C as the performance engine took its place in the budget. I raced it regularly and drove it daily. In '66 I raced the wagon and won Top Stock Eliminator in Wichita. In those days, Top Stock was just that. The car weighed 4,600 pounds and ran 15.30s at 88 mph in pure stock form. So, I got into station wagons out of necessity and soon came to realize that wagons have a traction advantage that somewhat offsets the weight penalty. The Catalina was my daily driver up until 1986 at which time I retired and I retired the Catalina. Time and rust had taken their toll. I was looking for a retirement project when my brother located this LeMans wagon in Texas. I actually wanted an intermediate wagon that was a bit more modern, lighter, and equipped with disc brakes.

CC: Your wagon has run a previous best of 11.32 at 117 mph. What made you detune it?
JH: In late 1999 we lost an engine in the wagon when a carb screw dropped into the motor and destroyed it. We decided to build a bigger motor with an offset grind on the crank and I had a 0.060-over 455 block sitting in the garage collecting dust. We also went to a bigger cam, an aftermarket intake, and a reworked Holley carb. This combination was good for some low-11-second passes at the Pontiac Uprising event in Arkansas City, Kansas. Well, evidently some people in the Pontiac community believed that it would only be possible for me to run this fast with expensive aftermarket parts. There was a real buzz on the Pontiac Web sites. So, I set out to prove that it was possible to go fast with stock-type parts.

CC: How did you arrive at this combination?
JH: Through a lot of experimentation with cylinder heads, cams, intakes, headers, and so on. This combo started coming together in 1986. The wagon ran 13.60s with what was essentially a stock engine. We kept tuning and tinkering to get it to this level. We ran through the entire range of Pontiac production cams and tried some aftermarket pieces and slowly arrived at an idea of what would run best. We tried manifolds from a number of Pontiac racers as well. I got to where I am today by trying a whole range of parts and tune-ups.

Car: '71 Pontiac LeMans wagon
Engine: 473ci Pontiac
Heads: Iron No. 64 castings, 2.11/1.77 intake/exhaust valves, ported by ownerInduction: Cast-iron production dual-plane intake modified by owner, 840-cfm Rochester Quadrajet carb by Cliff Ruggles
Camshaft: Melling hydraulic flat-tappet RA-IV, 230/240 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift, 0.469-inch lift
Power: "Adequate!"
Transmission: Turbo-400, Trans-Go Shift Kit, Continental 3,200-stall converter
Rearend: GM 12-bolt, 3.31:1 gears
Front suspension: Stock, Competition Engineering drag shocks
Rear suspension: Moroso springs, Competition Engineering drag shocks, air bag, Olds 442 boxed lower control arms
Brakes: Stock discs, front, stock drums, rear
Wheels and tires: Cragar Super Light 15x6s with P205/75R15 radials, front; Cragar Super Light 15x10s with Mickey Thompson 28x13.5-15 ET Streets, rear
Body mods: VFN fiberglass front bumper, trim removed
Paint: Dupont Carmine Red, Ditzler clear, by owner
Best e.t.: 11.32 @ 117 (quarter-mile)
Cost to Build: "Unknown"

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