'"Hey, that's my pal Nick Jennings on TV! Cool! So, it's a best two outta three. He better win or he'll never live it down!"
Have you seen the latest version of car-guy reality TV? It's Full Throttle on the History Channel, and it's remarkably devoid of WWII footage. Hosted by the Turbo Twins, Eric and Marc Kozeluh, the show pits two pairs of competitors head-to-head in similar vehicles. The contestants do upgrades to the cars and then shoot it out in a best two-out-of-three dragstrip face-off. The winners take the cars home and the losers walk.
Nick and Lauri Jennings wrangled their way onto the show when producers wanted male and female stunt-driving couples for an episode featuring pre-Bandit Firebirds sporting 350 Ponchos. When Lauri's male stunt partner failed to show, Lauri asked if her husband could substitute. She omitted the fact that Nick had grown up tweaking cars at his dad's Jennings Dyno Shop, a magnet for fast street machines in the '70s and '80s. Lauri also had a score to settle with her female competitor, who had beat Lauri out for the female stunt-driving duties in the movie The Italian Job. The stakes were far greater than just a couple of old Firebirds.
Skip to track day. Nick drove first and was promptly Tree'd by a girl. But ripping victory from the jaws of divorce court, he won with a come-from-behind victory, leaning heavily on the button. Both teams stepped up to a full 200hp shot of nitrous for the second round, but Lauri took the win and the Jennings drove home in a pair of Firebirds.
We watched the show and thought both cars were painfully slow, and apparently we weren't alone. The losing tan '75 Firebird was especially lame, since it barely ran 14.70s at 94 mph. We called Nick and Lauri to see if they'd take the '75 back to the track for a nitrous shot at redemption without changing any major components.
Both Firebirds had flaccid 7.6:1-compression two-barrel 350 Pontiac engines rated at a wheezy 170 hp for the yellow '74 and an even more lamentable 160 hp for the tan '75. The 10 hp difference is attributable to those awful first-year catalytic converters on the '75.
The TV duo had at least chosen good parts. Both cars sported Edelbrock 600-cfm Performer carburetors and Performer RPM dual-plane intakes. They also installed Nitrous Express plate kits capable of as much as 200hp shots. To light the fire, they added MSD distributors, 6AL boxes, and plug wires, plus Bosch plugs. Both cars had Flowmaster exhaust with X-pipes, mufflers, and turndowns.
Before leaving for Los Angeles County Raceway for the Car Craft sessions, Nick first checked fuel pressure under load, and found the stock mechanical pump capable of 6 psi-surely enough to handle the mild nitrous system. But when he yanked the fuel cap to add gas, he noticed a definite "whoosh" that told him there was vacuum in the tank and hence no vent. Nick traced this to capped-off carbon-canister lines, which eliminated the fuel-tank vent. We thought we might be on to something.
Next, Nick removed the MSD distributor and tossed the heavy mechanical-advance springs, replacing them with much lighter blue springs included with the MSD distributor. He also exchanged the stock MSD limiter bushing for the black one that delivers 20 degrees of mechanical advance at the crank. He then added 16 degrees of initial for 36 degrees of total advance. With only 7.6:1 compression, we needed all the timing we could get.
During the show, Nick tried to convince the twins to use shorter-reach spark plugs so the ground straps would not turn into cherry-red glow plugs. They declined, but we had no such reservations. Nick chose AC R43T plugs to help keep detonation at bay. Armed with those tweaks and two full Nitrous Express bottles, we headed for the track to see if the freebie Firebird would be any faster.
First, we ran a couple of normally aspirated runs, which the TV show didn't do. Expectations weren't particularly high for a 160hp base motor that could easily run on moose juice, and a 15.67 and 88 mph proved that out. A backup run was 0.10 second slower so we punted and hit the squeeze.
The first attempt used a 100hp tune-up-and with a Depression-era compression ratio, we didn't bother to retard the timing. The Firebird responded with a 14.31 at 97.12 mph, an improvement of 1.36 seconds and 9 mph. We were already a solid 0.40 second quicker than the car had run on TV, and we were only getting started. It was obvious that Nick's vent fix had been worth the effort. Without a proper vent, the fuel pump will begin to lose pressure when it can't move the fuel out of the tank.
The backup run netted a slightly quicker 14.28. That's when Nick decided to go for all the glory and pill the Pontiac with the 200hp shot. Nick swapped the jets, pulled the timing back 4 degrees, then stood on it. The results were less than spectacular, delivering only a 14.21 at 98 mph. We decided to swap in our fresh Nitrous Express bottle to pump the pressure back up to 900 psi. After two runs, Nick had managed a 14.05, then-frustratingly close to the 13s-a 14.01.
The 60-foot times were still slow at 2 seconds flat even though Nick was hitting the squeeze right on the starting line. Worse, we could hear the engine wavering in high gear all the way through the lights. By now we'd improved by almost 0.70 second with some simple tune-up tricks, so we figured we had reached the Firebird's power limit.
Keep in mind we were trying to add 200 hp worth of nitrous to an engine originally rated at 160 hp. Granted, we had a better induction system, but the Edelbrock carb and intake were probably not worth 25 hp, which would only make this a 185hp engine. Trying to add 110 percent worth of power is asking a lot.
We packed up and started back home. About five miles later, the Firebird ran out of gas even though the gauge still read a quarter tank. After some ribbing and a call to Lauri to come bail us out, we realized we could have gone quicker at the track-the Firebird was probably laying down at the top end because it was sucking more air than fuel from the tank.
Even with our blunder, we improved the TV car's performance by about 7 car lengths and all we really did was change the spark plugs, vent the tank, and change the timing curve. Sometimes it's not the parts you buy, it's maximizing what you have.
|'E.T. TALES |
|E.T. @ MPH ||E.T. @ MPH |
|Observed ||Corrected ||Description |
|14.80 @ 95 ||- ||First TV pass at Fontana, 100hp tune |
|14.70 @ 94 ||- ||Second TV pass at Fontana, 200hp tune |
|15.67 @ 88.77 ||15.16 @ 91.76 ||First baseline pass, no nitrous |
|15.87 @ 87.80 ||15.36 @ 90.75 ||Second baseline pass, no nitrous |
|14.31 @ 97.12 ||13.85 @ 100.39 ||100hp nitrous tune |
|14.28 @ 96.97 ||13.82 @ 100.23 ||Same as above |
|14.21 @ 98.34 ||13.75 @ 101.65 ||200hp nitrous tune |
|14.05 @ 97.09 ||13.59 @ 100.36 ||Fresh bottle, same tune |
|14.01 @ 97.82 ||13.55 @ 100.36 ||Same as above |
|‘THE DAMAGE |
|DESCRIPTION ||PN ||SOURCE ||PRICE |
|Edelbrock 600-cfm carb ||1405 ||Summit Racing ||$234.95 |
|Edelbrock RPM intake ||7156 ||Summit Racing ||$193.95 |
|Edelbrock valve covers ||4456 ||Summit Racing ||$39.88 |
|MSD billet distributor ||8563 ||Summit Racing ||$259.88 |
|MSD 6AL ||6420 ||Summit Racing ||$209.95 |
|MSD plug wires ||31183 ||Summit Racing ||$71.95 |
|AC spark plugs ||R43T ||Pep Boys ||$11.88 |
|Flowmaster exhaust system ||17104 ||Summit Racing ||$359.95 |
|Nitrous Express system ||40040-10 ||Summit Racing ||$389.95 |
|Weld ProStar wheels, front ||96-57276 ||Summit Racing ||$309.90 |
|Weld ProStar wheels, rear ||96-58278 ||Summit Racing ||$315.90 |
|M/T tires, front ||1575 ||Summit Racing ||$207.90 |
|M/T tires, rear ||3753 ||Summit Racing ||$347.90 |
|TOTAL || || ||$2,953.94 |
2700 California St.
5411 Seymour Hwy.
Mickey Thompson Performance Tires
4670 Allen Rd.
933 Mulberry St.