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JUNE 2020 NEWSLETTER

 

Since my last newsletter, things have improved here in the northeast regarding the Covid-19 virus. At its height, the hospital where Karen works had over 80 virus patients in the ICU department. I’m happy to report that there are now only 5 people in the hospital and they are all expected to recover. But other areas of the country are not fairing so well. I had a doctor’s appointment this week, and I had a conversation about the virus with my doctor. As it turns out, my doctor knows the national virus czar, Dr. Anthony Fauci; as they did research together at Yale Medical School. Of course I wanted to know about what his thoughts were regarding the future of the virus and how it will affect our nation. It seems that the consensus of many of the country’s leading physicians is one of isolation and wearing a mask………….everywhere. He said there is a good possibility of having some sort of vaccine by the fourth quarter of the year; but no one can say for certain how effective it will be. I hope all of you are well and wearing a mask, even if it is a “Royal Pain” to do so. Let’s just hope that we’ll eventually get back to some sort of normalcy sometime during the summer months. Enough on the problems with our country; it’s time to take a look at another of our members gassers.

If you remember the newsletter I did in April on Steve Vallieres ’55 Chevy; I mentioned that he hailed from Bristol, Connecticut; a town that was always famous for having some great hot rods and drag racers. Well, if you drive west about 15 minutes or so from Steve’s home; you’ll come to the home of club member Bob Lavoie; and Bob is the owner of another beautiful ’55 Chevy gasser. Bob’s car has a special place in my heart, as it is powered by a big block Cadillac engine. I’ve always been drawn to the gassers whose power comes from something other than the normal Chevrolet or Ford engines. I know money is always a major concern in building a gasser; and if you stray from the norm, as far as the power plant goes; you can expect to spend a lot more money on engine parts. In the May newsletter, Don Fardie did a great job of telling us how he acquired his Nova and how he has brought it to its current level of excellence. In this newsletter, I’m again going to let the owner tell his own tale about how he purchased his car and how it arrived at its current condition. So, here’s how Bob describes his experience in acquiring his 1955 Chevy. Way back in 2011, Bob tried to buy a ’55 Chevy gasser known as the “Madman”. The man who owned the car said that he would never sell it. So a few years go by the board and in 2013, Bob made the decision to sell his ’69 SS Chevy Camaro that he has owned for over 30 years. He really wanted a ’55 Chevy and he knew he needed some cash to buy a car; so, his beloved Camaro had to go down the road. He listed the car on “Racing Junk” and in only 4 hours he received a text from a gentleman in Indiana.

The gentleman tells Bob that he thinks he has something he might be interested in. Naturally, Bob asked the guy to send him some pictures of the car and when he took a look at what the guy had sent him; he realized that it was the very same car he tried to purchase back in 2011; but it did not have the graphics that were on it when Bob originally saw the car. Can you believe it!!! So, Bob finalized the deal; and in a few weeks he had the car he tried to buy a few years earlier. Once he got the car, he began buy addressing some engine issues. The compression ratio of a stock 1970 Cadillac 500 was 10:1; but Bob’s Caddy had a stout 14:1 squeeze ratio; and this meant he needed racing fuel for the engine to even run. Remember that Bob was looking for something he could race at the track and also run on the street. He also discovered that the limited slip unit was not working and he made short order of getting it working correctly. In 2014, the Turbo 400 gave up the ghost and Bob had to have that repaired. Fast forward to 2015 where Bob took his gasser down to a big car show we have here in Connecticut at the Berlin Fair Grounds. After he and his wife Laura made a few circuits around the grounds; they came back to where his car was parked, only to find a guy laying on his back underneath the car. When Bob asked him what he was doing, the man said he just loved the old gassers and he was checking out the car’s chassis. After the guy crawled out from underneath the Chevy and stood up; Bob had a minor heart attack. It was none other than Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. What are the chances of that happening at a small town fair? Ray encouraged Bob to do as much research on the car that he could; as he felt this was truly an old nostalgia gasser from the past. Ever since that meeting, Bob has been on the hunt to try and find out as much history as he can surrounding his car. So far, Bob has determined that in the early 60’s the car was painted “Hertz” yellow and in the later 60’s it was painted its current “Coca-Cola” red. It was built by the famed B&K Garage; a place that produced a number of gassers back in the 60’s. In 2015, Bob’s good friend, Chris Donaldson redid the entire suspension system; including the shackles, ladder bars and front pan hard bar. In addition, Bob realized that there were no fuses protecting any of the electrical system; so a complete wiring harness was fabricated and installed in the car.

One reason that big block Caddy engines never really took off is the lack of cylinder sealing capability. You see, there are only 10 head bolts per side on a 500 CI Cadillac; whereas, a big block Chevy has 16 bolts per head. There is a method to add additional head bolts to the Caddy head; but it involves some serious machine work. Bob was rudely introduced to this situation when he kept blowing the head gaskets on his engine; due to the 14:1 compression ratio. As a result, in 2016 the motor was redone and the compression ratio was lowered to a respectable 10:1. However, the engine shop that did the work on his engine was less than stellar. Needless to say, there was significant damage done to the engine and the car was put aside till 2018. Eventually, Bob located an engine shop with a good reputation (Pro-Star Engines in Bristol) and the owner, Andy Gaidis took care of all the issues that the previous shop had caused. The motor now runs beautifully and Bob is quite happy with the cars performance. He also re-did the entire brake system; and he changed the rear end gear set from a 3:50 to a 4:11 ratio. Now that the car was ready to go, Bob and Laura decided to name their car ”The Mistress”. During last year, they made a number of test and tune runs and after their trip down to the Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, they were able to make our race at Maple Grove; where Bob proceeded to run through the entire field and grab a well-deserved victory. He ran a 12.42, 12.60, 12.44, 13.08 (bye) and 12.43 on a 12.40 dial. The car is very consistent in its present configuration. We’ll see what happens this year, when Bob comes out to do battle with the club.

Now that you have the story of how Bob got his 1955 Chevy gasser; let’s take a peek at what makes this car run. This big block Cadillac has a 4.375” bore and a 4.30 stroke; which translates into 517 cubic inches. Just a side note here, a stock 1970 500 CI Cadillac engine from an Eldorado developed 400 HP @ 4400 RPM and 550 LB-FT of torque @ 3000 RPM; and the complete engine was actually lighter than a comparable 454 Chevy. The Cadillac is a 2 bolt main unit and the crank is huge and strong and it is said to be able to handle up to 1000 HP; so naturally, Bob’s engine uses stock components on the lower end of the engine. It does have an SFI harmonic balancer on the crank; while an aluminum oil pan covers up the bottom end; as well as hold the 10W-30 oil. As the big crank rotates, it moves a set of forged H-beam rods that are connected to 8 Ross forged aluminum, 10:1 pistons and moly ring set. The Lunati hydraulic flat tappet camshaft is connected to the crank via a Cloyes double roller, super high performance timing chain set. Duration is 290 degrees and valve lift is .560” on the intake and .580” on the exhaust side. The heads on this torque monster are the much sought after 76CC Cadillac iron units that have been ported and polished to improve flow. The stainless intake valves measure 2.19” and the exhausts are 1.84”; and they are operated by 1.71 Harland Sharpe rocker arms that are riding on 5/8” hardened shafts. Covering up the valve train are a nice set of PML aluminum valve covers. Feeding fuel to this monster is an 850 CFM Demon carb that sits atop a MTS single plane intake manifold. Regular high test pump gas flows from the 20 gallon fuel cell, through a Holley blue electric pump and up to the carb via ½” aluminum fuel lines. Keeping this big Caddy cool belongs to an Afco double row aluminum radiator and a CSR electric water pump. Firing the fuel mixture is a complete MSD ignition system and once the fuel has been burned, the spent gases flow from the engine through a set of Garrett Monde fender well headers. As is the case with most of our racing members, Bob uses ARP fasteners throughout his engine.

Once this big block Cadillac roars to life, the massive amount of torque is transferred through a steel flywheel that has a 2800 RPM stall torque converter bolted to it. The modified, long tail shaft GM Turbo 400 utilizes a reverse manual valve body that is controlled via a B&M Pro Rachet shifter. The output of the transmission is carried to the Ford 9” rear end housing via a 4” steel drive shaft. As I previously mentioned the rear 4:11 gear set is mounted on a Moser limited slip differential and the Moser 31 spline axles easily transfer the rotational motion to American Racing Torque Thrust 15”x 7” aluminum wheels and a set of the old fashioned 8.20” X 15” Pie-Crust cheater slicks. The Ford banjo is held in place with a pair of stock Chevrolet leaf springs and a set of air shocks. Traction control belongs to some Nickey Chicago floating ladder bars. Keeping the nose of the all steel ’55 in the air is a Model A straight axle; complete with the transverse leaf spring and a pair of hair pins to keep things where they belong. A pair of Pro Street Rod shocks help dampen any bumps in the track and a Borgeson steering setup, using a Vega style box, controls the cars steering movement. A nice set of American Racing Torque Thrust 15”x4” aluminum wheels hold a pair of Pro Trac front runner bias ply 5.50”x 15” skins. Stopping this 3740 pound car at the end of the track is no problem for a quartet of GM disc brakes. Inside the car, there’s a 4 point cage, a pair of Impala bucket seats from the 60’s and an “OLD” Sun tach from the 60’s that Bob uses for his 5800 RPM shifts. Keeping track of the oil pressure, water temperature and the charging system is a trio of Auto Gages from Autometer. All of body and paint work was done before he bought the car. Bob calls his ’55 Chevy “The Mistress”; ‘cause he truly loves her and she takes all his money; but he doesn’t care!! This has been a great story about the way things work out sometimes for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAST COAST GASSERS-DRAG RACING LIKE IT USED TO BE!

 

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