Bo Laws, Bernie Agaman, Ollie Volpe, Martinez & Barth, Bobby Thompson: NHRA record-holding Corvette racers all. Never heard of 'em, huh? Don't expect you to. They burned rubber in the early '70s, drag-racing fiberglass coffins that weren't really meant for that kind of abuse.
The third member was the rotten spot. These cars are light and slippery, but put tires on the back of them and the stock IRS, which was a wonder on the road, became weaker than a strand of linguine. Teeth peeled off pinions and rings like a meth freak's. Axle shafts twisted candy cane-like. U-joints spewed their guts like a Claymore mine.
But rules required the factory assembly to stay put, so people invented myriad Band-Aids to keep them from disintegrating. Dick Moroso fashioned a Dana 60 coconut for it. Others gave them chrome-moly halfshafts and kryptonite U-joints. Geometry was adjusted. Gears were treated with heat. These guys wouldn't believe what's happening now.
So we gotta hand it to Mike Saiki. He's brave. He's savvy. He runs his '72 Corvette in the Pacific Street Car Association's Limited Street and has won the championship five times. He found the car on eBay and bought it as a bare-bones racer. It had been defiled: a solid axle, ladder bars, and an aluminum dashboard. Mike wanted his ride to look as stock as possible, so he didn't cotton to any of that stuff. He ripped it all out.
His '66 Vette, on the other paw, was still more of a street car, so he did the cannibal dance and consumed liberal doses of it (brakes, suspension, transmission) for the '72. He refurbished the '72 with a stock frame that he rewelded--every inch of every seam--and added gussets at all corners, anything to augment torsional stiffness. After that, the platform assumed a mild-steel rollcage.
This 40-days-in-the-hole squeal comes from truth. It was the end of 2004. Mike shut down his shop, Motivational Engineering, for 40 days to thrash the '72 together. Forty days straight, nose disintegrating on grindstone. Look what happened. The thing runs 8s, fer chrissakes. That stroker small-block is making some pretty terrible power, too, like 700. And those 7,000-rpm launches are brutal. The tires plant right now and the car rotates on its back axle nearly every time. What the hell's making that differential behave?
The key to it all may well lay over there in Idaho, friends, with Tom and Kenny at Tom's Differentials. These guys build a 12-bolt conversion for the factory differential that would make those old guys get nuts with envy: good pinion location, low rotational mass, tough guts. The most telling thing about Mike's car is the way its suspension treats the tires. His Vette rips 8s on anorexic rubber. If he runs ET Streets, it's 8.7 inches of variegated slick. If it's Street Radials, the contact patch is still only 9.2 inches wide. "Why drag along more than I really need?" thought Mike. Regardless of the tire construction, the Corvette happily sucks up 1.50-second short times because that suspension flat works.
The sweet spot of it all is a family that likes to hit the loud pedal. Mike's dad Gordon races his '65 coupe in PSCA's Limited Street right there next to his kin. Wife Chanin is a first-grade teacher with a velocity yen. She handles an LUV truck with a small-block under the hood that makes it run 10.60s! Swat the boys! Fourteen-year-old son Ryan? Ready, willing, and able to assume responsibility. Thanks, Tim Rigby, for the advice, and Erik at CFO Enterprises, for help on the engine combo.
Big power needs a fortress of a cylinder case to contain it, hence the World Motown block that works 377 ci (4.158 x 3.48). As the master of his own shop, Mike grew his short-stroke wonder off the machining prowess of Team C (Bellflower, California). The short-block is based on an Eagle forging and 5.85-inch-long Groden Racing connecting rods fitted with 14.5:1 Diamond slugs and Speed-Pro rings. The custom-ground Comp hydraulic roller is very bumpy, sporting 268/279 duration at 0.050 inch and a whopping 0.701/0.670 inch lift. It's pasted to the Motown block with a Jesel beltdrive. The hiney end is covered by a Billet Fabrication aluminum sump. Since the motor was designed to run about 8,000 rpm, the 2.10/1.60 SI stainless valves are surrounded by Isky guides, retainers, and locks, and controlled by Isky springs that offer 700 pounds of open pressure. They are situated in AFR 227 castings ported and polished by CFO Enterprises. A Jesel shaft rocker system enables 3/8-inch Manton pushrods. Mike sealed the valley with an Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold and put a C&J-prepped 800-cfm carb on top. An air cleaner is not used. There's juice, of course, a single-stage 10,000-rpm unit rigged for a 360hp shot. On the motor, Mike plays 42 degrees; on spray, he pares the total to 27 degrees via an MSD Digital 7 box. Spent gas escapes through 17/8-inch Hedman primaries that terminate in a 3.5-inch collector and Borla race muffs.
Mike trucked up the road few miles to Torrance to see Steve Sharp about building him a proper transmission out of a Turbo 400. Sharp left the gear ratios stock and didn't bother to include a transbrake. No, launch viciousness comes from human reaction and an 8-inch Coan converter with a wicked 7,000 stall speed. A B&M cooler siphons off the tremendous heat generated when Mike mats the throttle, holds the brakes, and leaves the line with the wheels in the air. Torque is passed through a Cook's Machine steel driveshaft to a GM 12-bolt-equipped Corvette independent rear axle prepped by Tom's Differentials (Ponderay, Idaho). The differential holds a spool and a 4.56:1 ring and pinion.
Well, at one time it could have been Mike's street ride, so it got a full-on audio system: JVC CD player, MTX 12-inch woofers, and Alpine amplifiers, all installed before the rollcage went into place. He upholstered the JAZ aluminum seats in black and offset them with the metallic swatch of Auto Meter gauges. Mike relocated the B&M QuickSilver shifter beneath the floor and coaxed it to pop up through the original boot, secreted the "nasty" switches in the ash tray, and turned the E-brake handle into the parachute release.
HOOPS AND FRICTION
Drag race simple here: minimal Wilwood discs are fixed at both ends of the car, capped by Bogart Racing wheels (15x3.5 and 15x10) fitted with Mickey Thompson ET Fronts and ET Streets or ET Street Radials.
Much to the chagrin of Corvette purists, Mike's example wears a custom hood with a 4-inch cowl and (even worse) rear fenders with a 1-inch flare. (Can't ya see 'em twisting this way and that like grubs held over a flame?) He prepped the body and shot the PPG single-stage custom red.
He welded all the seams on the stock frame and wedged the corners with gussets wherever applicable. He also installed mild-steel rollcage. Tom's Differentials narrowed the transverse leaf spring and Mike applied it along with Koni adjustable shock absorbers. In the front, it's just basic: more Konis inside of Moroso coils. Control arms, steering, and spindles are stock.
At a relative flyweight 3,230 pounds, the Mike car reacts quickly with 579 lb-ft at 5,900 rpm and 708 hp at 7,600 rpm. Best quarter-mile performance is 8.98 at 155.5mph. You ready for this, Chanin?