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Get the Most From Your Day On The Chassis Dyno

The basics on how to get the most from your day on the chassis dyno.

By Johnny Handzel, Photography by Johnny Handzel

'While you might consider buying testing time on a vehicle chassis dyno an expensive luxury, we hope you'll at least read this article to consider the possibilities. If anything, what we experienced in creating this story wasn't what we expected, but the safety, durability, and performance unleashed would have definitely been more painful to discover and resolve without time on the chassis rolls. To learn the most we could possibly learn, we partnered with the pros at Wheel to Wheel Powertrain (W2W), in Madison Heights, Michigan, as we ran a vehicle through its paces on the company's four-wheel-drive Mustang chassis dyno.

The Setup
So we dug up a pretty common vehicle for Car Craft: a barely streetable, cool-to-look-at-and-see-driving, somewhat-fast-at-the-dragstrip and seemingly ready to go faster with a little tuning street/strip machine. This '71 Buick Skylark GS Stage 1 killer is replete with a Dyer's 6-71 wheezer adding to the street cred of this 468ci all-Buford ride. Owner Mike Kunkle bought the car mostly complete about a decade ago and has been tuning on it ever since with the idea of getting into the 10-second club in the quarter-mile.

He has always felt the engine made enough power to go 10s but has never had the engine or vehicle on a dyno. Previous runs at the dragstrip have resulted in tire-smoking elapsed times in the 12s, with trap speeds in the 108-mph range, and after the dyno tune, the car went 11.55 at 114 mph.

The issues this car was faced with were not unusual on the street, making it a good starting point for going to the chassis dyno. The goal was to find out if there were any simple fixes/upgrades that would result in "found" power and improve the chances of a more impressive e.t. Some unexpected finds helped minimize the chances of burning the car to the ground and inadvertently breaking parts, so we'll add that in hindsight-and you should, too-when you test at the chassis dyno.

The Experience
If you haven't seen a chassis dyno in action, here's the deal. There is a lot of setup time, the actual testing is brief but exciting, and the resulting power numbers are usually numbing-but not in a good way. Invariably, enthusiasts think their vehicles make much more power at the wheels than they really do. In fact, as far as we're concerned, there should be a special private room in which to share the power numbers for the first time-as this is usually gut-wrenching.

The testing with this Buick wasn't unusual in any of those respects. W2W dyno operator Rich Gala drove the vehicle onto the chassis dyno and positioned it so the rear wheels were over one set of the dyno rollers (this is a four-wheel-drive dyno, so in this case, only one set of rollers was used). Large straps were used to lock the vehicle down onto these rollers, and powerful fans directed at the radiator and under the vehicle kept everything cool during the runs.

The W2W dyno can record air/fuel ratio O2 sensor data during a run, but this vehicle did not have an O2 sensor bung in the headers. To assist in the tuning, Denny Dera from the W2W fab shop installed a bung in the passenger header. This would prove to be valuable later on.

By Johnny Handzel
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