In 2004, John Tell of Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, wanted something that would be competitive—but also noticed—in the street-racing scene. “The choice was clearly a station wagon. This was also how I got the nickname ‘five-door.’ I completed the car in early 2005 and street-raced it for a couple years in the Twin Cities with an almost undefeated record. Only three or four cars got the better of me on the street,” he says.
You’ve heard of the guy who could pull wheelies on the street, right? This is the car. After a few years popping wheelies and laying down some “sick skids” (the hip, new vernacular for burnouts), John took the car to Byron, Illinois, for the World Power Wheelstand Competition. After three years at the competition, the car was pretty beat up, and John had broken a number of parts. By 2010, the car needed a serious ground-up rebuild.
John decided to go all-out with a Pro Stock rollcage. That makes it NHRA-legal to run 6.00–7.49, if you’re still keeping score. All the work was completed at TNT Race Shop, where John is a chassis builder and fabricator. “TJ, the owner of TNT, helped a lot. I gotta give credit to Doug Boettcher and Steve Clarke, both part-time employees of TNT, for throwing in helping hands.”
We walked around the, car and it is intimidating from almost any angle. Even the sway bar is a trick invention that slides on a custom roller-bearing setup that allows for smooth planting of the wheels.
Everything about this car is supersized. The car weighs 3,500 pounds and the headers’ primary tubes are bigger than most guys’ entire exhaust systems. They meet 5-inch collectors and a dual exhaust. The sound is primal, and race gas burns the nostrils in the best way possible.
“I prefer to stand out. When people see a regular, two-door sedan run some impressive numbers, they just turn their heads to watch the next car in line. When they see a station wagon do it, they tell their friends about it!” John says. He also tells us the car is good for mid 7s when the driver is brave enough to push the button on both stages of nitrous. We tend to believe him based on the giant smokey burnouts he laid down just for the photo shoot.
What: ’78 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon
Owner: John Tell
Where: Spring Lake Park, MN
Engine: The motor is a 632ci behemoth that includes two giant 1,150-cfm Pro-System Dominators and two shut-yer-face stages of giggle gas. All of that plus a few barrels of VP C23 race gas produces upward of 1,700 hp at 7,500 rpm. The Dart Big M Iron Block was machined by Wheeler Racing Engines. The remainder of the short-block consists of a Lunati crankshaft, GRP aluminum rods topped with 15:1 JE pistons, and a custom-ground Comp solid-roller cam with a Jesel beltdrive. The motor has a Weaver Brothers external oil pump with a dry sump. The heads are Dart Big Chief aluminum jobs with Ferrea stainless intake and exhaust valves. The Profiler intake holds both stages of a NX fogger system that adds another 450hp to the mix. Race gas is fed to the motor by an Aeromotive A200 fuel pump. Speed: 7.95 at 181 mph.
Ignition: A stout ignition system is needed at these horsepower levels. John didn’t skimp here, installing a matching MSD distributor with an MSD crank trigger, MSD HVC-2 coil and MSD 8.5mm super-conductor wires.
Exhaust: Custom built by TNT Race Shop in Blaine, MN, the headers have 21/2-inch primaries and 5-inch collectors. The mufflers are Vibrant Performance stainless-steel bullets with 5-inch inlets and outlets. The noise is glorious.
Drivetrain: The tranny is another beefy affair. The two-speed Powerglide is from Mike’s Transmissions and sports a Coan 11-inch nitrous converter. A Hughes transbrake makes for some hard launches (putting it mildly), and John’s custom-built 9-inch rear end is made to be abused, housing a Strange centersection, Strange 40-spline axles and 3.40:1 gears. Connecting the two is a 52-inch chromoly driveshaft crafted by AA Driveline in Anoka, MN.
Suspension: The car retains the stock, 110-inch wheelbase frame with solid-body bushings made by TNT Race Shop. The rear framerails have been notched for extra tire clearance. The front suspension has a set of TRZ upper and lower control arms. AFCO double-adjustable shocks are installed front and rear. An S&W Race Car’s Stiletto Dragster Rack & Pinion keeps the car going straight, and the custom, 85-inch chromoly wheelie bars keep the car planted to the road. A custom antiroll bar was built by TNT Race Shop.
Brakes: The front and rear four-piston brakes are courtesy of Wilwood.
Wheels/Tires: Even the wheel and tire combination shows everyone who’s boss. The black-center Weld AlumaStar 2.0s measure 15x3.5 inches in the front and 15x10 in the back. The Mickey Thompson Drag ET Frontrunners measure 15x4, and the rear Drag Radials are 315/60R15s.
Inside: A full array of Auto Meter gauges lets John monitor the hoard of horsepower. A Hurst Quarter Stick Pistol Grip shifter ensures that he hits the transbrake button at the right time. To fit those wide stickies, John fabricated his own carbon-fiber wheeltubs.
Paint/Body: The body remains all steel except for the fiberglass Harwood 6-inch cowl hood. Carmine Red is the color, and it was sprayed by RM Restorations in Forest Lake, MN.
Thanks To: Clinton Houle of Race Coatings in Forest Lake, MN, for powdercoating in the car and ceramic-coating the headers and exhaust; Kim’s Painting and Sandblasting in Princeton, MN, for electrostatic-painting the frame and rollcage; Wheeler Racing Engines of Blaine, MN; R&R Performance of Spring Lake Park for building the motor; Nick Strohbeen at Norm’s Tire Sales in Roseville for the Weld wheels; and Rob McGrew at RM Restorations for bodywork and paint.