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Trans Am - The Early Years of American Sedan Racing

Trans Am - A history of the first years in American Sedan Racing

Photography by The Primedia Archives

Factory teams didn't enter Trans Am until September of that first season when Carroll Shelby put Lew Spencer in charge of a three-car Ford Mustang effort. With Jerry Titus (then editor of Sports Car Graphic magazine) as the lead driver, the Ford team had little trouble securing the first over-2.0L Trans Am title, winning four of the seven races.

1967

The factories were a major presence through all 12 races of the Trans Am's second season. Shelby returned with his Mustangs, Mercury recruited NASCAR legend Bud Moore to build Mercury Cougars for Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, and Ed Leslie, and Chevrolet had Roger Penske and Mark Donohue armed with the all-new Camaro Z/28.When the 12-race '67 Trans Am season opened at Daytona on February 3, a full 34 cars made up the field. Bob Tullius put his well-sorted Dart a full lap ahead of the rest of the field in the first race and then immediately faded for the rest of the year. A startling 61 cars made it to the next race, Sebring, with 26 of them big-motor monsters and 13 of those Camaros. Jerry Titus in a Shelby-built Mustang took that race.

Titus's four wins secured another manufacturer's title over the Cougars (who also won four times), but it was Mark Donohue's three wins in the Z/28 that should have had his competitors concerned. But not even Donohue could have imagined what was in store for him during 1968.

1968

A full 36 years later, the Penske team's '68 Trans Am season is still one of the greatest feats in motorsports history. Donohue's brilliant driving and the near-perfect Penske Camaros won 10 of the 13 races--including eight in a row. Neither Bud Moore's nor Shelby's Mustangs (Mercury had dropped out) stood a chance against the Penske onslaught. In fact, the racing wasn't all that fascinating to watch, as Donohue would rip to the front and remain unchallenged.

But this sort of overwhelming performance led to other manufacturers' determination that Chevrolet should not be allowed to dominate the series.

1969

Going into 1969 there was little reason to think that Mark Donohue's #6 Sunoco Blue Camaro would be anything but dominant. Ford's answer to the Z/28 was the new '69 Boss 302, and Ford financed two teams for 1969--Carroll Shelby's with drivers Peter Revson and Horst Kwech, and the other Bud Moore's with pilots Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. AMC campaigned the Javelin for a second year with team owner Ronnie Kaplan and had virtually no success. Jerry Titus was tapped by Pontiac to campaign the new Firebird Trans Am in the series, but that effort would produce little beyond frustration.

It was the war between Ford and Chevy that made the '69 Trans Am year legendary. Parnelli Jones' Bud Moore-prepared Mustang was fast and stout--the Boss 302 engine thrived at high speeds. Jones won the rounds at Michigan and Donnybrooke, and took three Seconds while teammate #16 George Follmer won at Bridgehampton. Add in consistent finishes by the Shelby team and the Mustangs stayed close to the Camaros in the manufacturers' championship, even though they only won half as many races.

Mark Donohue "only" won six times in 1969--a disappointment only in comparison to his 1968 season. Penske however wasn't a "factory" team, despite its professionalism. For instance Donohue's engines suffered repeated rod breakage early in the season after Chevy had recommended omitting shot-peening them. Only when engine-builder Traco began to ignore the factory's advice did the reliability return. Beyond Donohue's six wins, Penske driver Ronnie Bucknum would win two more.

Roger Penske played some aggressive mind games with the competition. His Camaros wore vinyl roofs at some events to, supposedly, hide the acid-dipped waviness of their roof sheetmetal, and used a fuel tank that soared above the pit to put gravity to work fueling the Sunoco cars.

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