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1965 Pontiac Tempest - Everything On Black

Jeff Schwartz's '65 Pontiac Wins The '09 RSE Title.

By , Photography by , Wes AlIison

Snapping out of our WWII fantasy, we noted that the dash consists of a simple array of Auto Meter Pro Comp tach, speedo, and gauges set in an engine-turned aluminum plate. To the immediate right, there's a rectangular hole where the AM radio used to reside-and not much else. The hydraulic clutch pedal feels light and exhibits half the travel of mechanical versions. The American Powertrain hydraulic master cylinder is mounted to the floor and uses an adjustable angle that eliminates clutch pedal rod bind in the master cylinder. The shifter for the Tremec TKO-600 five-speed is conveniently placed and shifts without effort. As expected, the ride is stiff. Jeff comments that the car is set up for the autocross and road course with the shock settings and the spherical bearings more accountable to the ride quality than the springs.

Our first surprise was the near-instantaneous steering input from the rack-and-pinion. Rated at 15:1, a slight tug on the wheel commanded the car to an instant leap into the corners. This is partly due to the 2-degree negative camber setting. Of course, the 275/ 40R18 front BFG KDW II front tires are partly responsible for this impressive steering response. The fronts are mounted on 9 1/2-inch-wide XXRs while the rears are on 13-inch hoops custom-widened by Weldcraft wheels. This was part of the Schwartz/Craft plan because the off-the-shelf XXR 18-inch wheels are nicely affordable, but XXR didn't offer the width needed for the rear. Even adding an additional $210 each for the custom machine work, Jeff says they still spent much less than $2,000.

This whole plan was aimed at having fun while still being practical. The Tempest had just completed the Hot Rod Power Tour when Jeff buckled in for the Motor State Challenge Pro Street car competition that required timed runs through an autocross and the road course at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. He pushed the revs a little too high on the road course, resulting in a stock connecting rod bolt letting fly, creating a fist-sized hole in the aluminum block. This ended the Pontiac's day-but not before the car had managed to set the 10th-quickest road course lap time overall on the BFGs when most of the front runners were racing on supersticky tires.

This was also only a few short days before the Real Street Eliminator event in St. Paul during the Car Craft Summer Nationals, requiring a full-contact thrash to assemble a new engine for the Pontiac. Time was of the essence, but it was not a complete catastrophe, since Jeff had a pile of spare parts, including a block and an LS9 crank that were looking for a new home. For those not conversant in GM speak, LS9 stands for the new 6.2L (374ci) supercharged engine that's used in the instantly legendary ZR-1 Corvette. Since this engine was destined for normally aspirated duty, he changed to a different set of forged pistons with more compression and a set of LS3 heads along with an LS7 dry-sump oiling system in anticipation of turning corners. Jeff and his team completed the refit mere hours before the Car Craft Nationals and RSE.

During the initial Real Street Eliminator contest, at first it didn't appear the Tempest was destined for glory. On a first dyno pull, the Pontiac couldn't clear the 400hp mark but came back later to post 476 hp with the help of a 100hp NOS dry-nitrous kit. This placed the Pontiac eventually in Second Place on the dyno, but it was on the autocross where the Tempest exhibited its excellent handling capabilities with a winning 11.456-second time and then on the Launch Box, scoring a Second Place finish behind Mark Storlien's amazing little '62 Corvette. This combination of a First and two Second Place finishes was enough to just beat out the equally consistent John Wegner and his '69 big-block Camaro. Jeff plans to make as many competitive events in the next year as possible to show off the car's capabilities and keep it together enough to allow Grant to drive it when he comes to visit. It beats driving a rental car.

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