320CI, 500HP, Injected Jimmy Six
Bill Harris, Riverside, CA
If you're into automotive eccentricity, it can be found in abundance in Southern California Timing Association's (SCTA) dry lakes and Bonneville top speed racing. Bill Harris used to drive an inline Chevy six back when he was in high school, and while he's always been into cars, he wasn't a racer. That is, until he went to Bonneville. "I made the mistake of going to Bonneville a few years ago as a spectator." A year later, he and partner/crewchief Dale Wester were neck deep in an '88 Camaro that runs in a variety of Fuel Altered, Gas Altered, and Gas Coupe classes. As we were assembling this story, Bill, Dale, and driver Richard Ross had just returned from the Salt, where they set the XXO/Fuel Altered record at 196.488 mph with an exit speed of 200.9 mph, powered by this ancient Jimmy six. Bill says they're now thinking of bolting on a centrifugal supercharger and running this inliner in several blown classes, where they think they can run between 215 and 220 mph.
'Bill and Dale own two Bonneville records including XXO/GALT at 184.149 and XXO/FALT at 196.488, both with this ancient Jimmy six.
'Howard Johansen is credited as the first to build an aluminum connecting rod for racing, way back in 1957. He was also a partner with Phil Weiand in the first drag car to run over 150 mph in the quarter-mile. Son Bob Johansen now operates the Howard's Rods company in Los Angeles.
1. Split Exhaust
The header package was built by Bill and his team. It splits the front three pipes to exit through the fender ahead of the right front wheelwell, while the rear three cylinders are routed behind the right front wheel. This gives this Camaro a unique exhaust note.
2. Long Short-Block
The short-block is an original early-'50s Chevy truck, cast-iron, six-cylinder block with an equally antiquated steel 4.00-inch stroke crank. The 4.125-inch bore is 0.060 inch oversize to create 320 ci. The block only has four main bearings (which means no main web between the center cylinders), so engine builder Mike Kirby of Sissel Automotive added a large steel girdle along with Carrillo rods and a set of Arias 14:1 pistons.
The cam is a mechanical roller with 0.720 inch of lift, courtesy of a rare set of Crower mechanical roller lifters and a set of 1.7:1 roller rockers.
It may look like a dry-sump package, but this is still a true wet-sump engine, using a Peterson Fluid Systems external oil pump. That's the mechanical fuel pump that is driven off the back of the oil pump.
The heart of this vintage six-cylinder is a Howard Johansen/Nick Arias aluminum six-cylinder head. No longer in production, the rare head features 2.25/1.75-inch stainless steel valves. If you use your imagination and squint your eyes, the combination of the injector stacks and valve cover does make this engine look a little like an elongated Offy.
The wild Hilborn mechanical-fuel-injection manifold is also very rare, built for Nick Arias to be used with the Howard/Arias head. Currently the engine is running on gasoline in the Fuel Altered class, but Bill says he wants to go back to try methanol on the little six to see what that's worth.
7. Hydraulic Drive
For a drivetrain, Bill and Dale chose an equally nontraditional TH350 from Mike's Transmissions in Lancaster, California, with a Continental torque converter so tight that Bill says, "It almost kills the engine when you drop it into gear." The rearend is a 9-inch Ford with a 2.50:1 rear gear.
8. Suspended Animation
The automotive eccentricity doesn't end with the engine. While the Camaro looks like any other slammed top-ender, Bill says the rear suspension is solid and sports a straight front axle with airbags for ride-height adjustability.