Friday, March 18, 2011

Scott Parkhurst Interview Part II

(Theme music) (Applause) Welcome back! If you're just joining us, we're talking station wagons with 'Chevelle from Hell' owner/builder, Scott Parkhurst. Now, this thing is just nuts - a full on Autocross and Road Course terror that floats down the highway on 87 Octane swill! There's some pretty bent wagon owner/builders in this book, but you sir, are seriously twisted.


When we went to break, you were decided on a 6-speed trans for the car. Was that like installing a locomotive switchyard in a shopping mall?

(takes sip of coffee) ...Well, the aces at American Touring Specialties had pioneered the A-body swap kit for the T56 and they worked with me to insure that it was flawless.

Is that because you offered them magazine exposure that could potentially make them enough money to justify GIVING you a tranny?

(blows coffee across room) Damn, Scotty! Actually, ATS used my car to prototype their T56 swap for A-bodies. My trans came from Rockland Standard Gear - makers of the 'Tranzilla T56'. Mine is officially a 'Son of Tranzilla' version.
Ah, got it. And did the swap meet your expectations?

Yes. By using a lot of factory (LT-1 F-body) parts, the upgrade is simple, once the trans tunnel is replaced. The T56 makes the car what it is and once it was in place, the notion of the wagon as 'tow vehicle' was gone for good. (more coffee)

The road narrowed at that point.

(nodding) Now it was a summer only car. ATS offered geometry-correcting spindles for the A-body, so I wanted a pair of those. They're based on late model Corvette hubs, which allow for use of huge Corvette brakes. Nice! What else could I do to improve the handling? I coordinated with various experts and chose QA1 double adjustable coilovers  - soft for daily driving, stiff for the road course at high speed, or stiff compression and loose rebound for the dragstrip. Simple adjustment with a knob, too. The swaybar is from Hellwig and it's designed to match their adjustable rear bar.

Can I drive it?

(dismissive wave of hand) Wait! (puts coffee down) The rear suspension is where the men and the boys go their separate ways. After making wholesale changes to the front end until it worked well, the back of the car was nowhere close to keeping up. At speed, the front would grip and the back would predictably come around. Not good.

I'd drive it!

(sideways glance) So when Hellwig created their adjustable chassis-mount rear bar, I was all over it.  A set of upper and lower control arms from Currie Enterprises , teamed with the adjustable bar from Hellwig and another pair of double-adjustable shocks from QA1 really brought the rear suspension into the same dimension as the front. I then learned from Mark Savitske at SC&C (who has been my suspension coach from day one) that Jim Fay at Fays2 was releasing a bolt-in Watts link for the A-body. This would allow the rear suspension to travel up and down as much as it wanted, but wouldn't allow the axle to shift from side to side. That's all the motivation I needed to get one.

A longroof slot car! That's how it sounds, anyway...

It corners nicely. Some stickier tires (Nitto's 555 design, with a 300 treadwear rating) helped too.

Shifting gears here, but they're easy on the eyes, too. Your rolling stock, combined with the stance and paint, make for a fun but aggressive visual package. Did that look just fall together, or was it all planned from the start?

(leaning forward, inspired) Style-wise, I wanted to retain some vintage flavor. I decided to stick with some late '60s/early '70s inspirations, without letting van-era disco sillyness get the better of me. I love the Trans Am race cars of that period and they served as loose models for my mods. Where function was critical, I let performance take over. Where visuals were key, I stuck with 1970 as a time stamp.

Personally, I get a kick out of how the two-tone paint scheme seems to drive home the Trans Am look, even though those cars were mostly monotone.

The wagon has a gold interior. Typical in 1967, but when's the last time you saw one? It's simply too cool to replace. So, I brought the gold interior to the outside and kept the factory off-white as the lower half of the two-tone. The stripe separating the two colors is thick and purposeful and gives the scallop stripes on the hood and roof a reason to exist. It looks old and fast - which is good, since the car is both.

Could I just have it for a weekend? I'm a very careful driver...

(scowling) No. I've had it for seven years now. The first year, I drove it as it was when I bought it. The next three years, it was in pieces as I upgraded the suspension, drivetrain and paint. It's been on the road for the last three years, but spent most of 2010 sitting, as the engine ate a rod bearing and blew up in May and wasn't running again until September. That pissed me off, sure... but it happened on track, down the long straight at Road America in Wisconsin.  I'd been beating on it relentlessly all weekend and was traveling at about 100 MPH when it let go. So I got over it pretty quickly.

That NEVER would've happened if I'd been driving it. I always keep one eye on the oil pressure gauge and -

(sneers) The rebuilt engine is pretty much a duplicate of the original, with a touch more compression (10:1 vs 9.7:1), H-beam rods, shaft-mounted rockers, Tri-Y headers, etc. I plan on attending a few Track Day events, some Autocrosses and maybe even a couple trips to the dragstrip. Mostly, I'll just be driving it on the street and enjoying it the way I'd initially intended. It's comfortable, delivers 20+ MPG and is just a blast to drive. (nervously glancing at wristwatch)

Hey Scott - before you take off, whatever happened to the GTO clone project?

I sold it, unfinished, last year. It was the car I always wanted and I began building it at the highest level of performance and quality - I always envisioned it with the best of everything. About halfway through the build, I realized there was no way I could afford to see it through to completion on my current salary. So away it went. But, the wagon I bought to tow it with is still here and hopefully it will remain for many years to come. Or, at least until I can get the speedometer and heater to work.

At that point, Scott's army of interns, attorneys, managers and press agents whisked him from the building and out to the sidewalk. I saw them pile into the wagon and make a dramatic exit, cutting into heavy traffic with tires ablaze and RPMs still climbing, as they disappeared in a cloud of tire smoke and clutch dust.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Scott Parkhurst Interview Part 1

After mucho hype, it's finally time to fire up the SGE interview series. Our historical first guest is none other than my own boss and owner/builder of the '67 'Chevelle from Hell' wagon, CarTech Editor, Scott Parkhurst. Picture us sitting on toolboxes, jangling at the workbench in Scott's spacious shop compound (his home garage). So, without any further adeu, how 'bout a warm SGE welcome for Scooott Paaarkhuuurst!!!
(Imagine theme music here)

Welcome to the blog, Scott. How's it hangin, Chief?

Just right, thanks (don't call me 'Chief' here).

(Gotcha Chief). Scott, 'America's Coolest Station Wagons' features 65 wagons. We asked each owner, "Why a wagon?" and your response was, "I bought it to be a functional vintage daily driver and tow vehicle for my GTO road racer. I went a little overboard on the upgrades. No regrets though!" Your book feature is packed with tech specs and the buildup of the car, but how did it go from 'daily driver and tow vehicle' to harassing megabuck race cars on the road course?

I can't tell the story of the wagon without some mention of the GTO, which wasn't really a GTO. Bear with me.

No sweat.

I'd always dreamed of owning a really hot '65 GTO.

Who hasn't?

Ha! I know. The crisp, square lines, the stacked headlights, the little scoop on the hood, the fact it was lighter than the '66s and others that followed it...

I'm right there with you.

So I found a '65 LeMans for sale when I lived in Huntington Beach. I got a good deal on it and immediately began dreaming of making it a GTO clone and modifying it.

We seem to have led parallel lives in this department. But how'd it turn into a station wagon? Pixie dust?

Well, I even allowed myself to dream of a killer tow vehicle. Something that'd look the part and be from the same timeframe. Jason Walker - a guy I worked with at the former McMullin/Argus/Yee/Primedia magazine factory - was writing for both Super Chevy and Street Rodder at the time. He was driving the '67 wagon to work regularly. He didn't want to sell, but as these things often happen, I had some parts he wanted and he had the wagon I wanted. We traded off and I began working on the wagon almost immediately.

Did it look then like it does now?

Not exactly. It boasted three different colors (four, if you looked closely) and that simply wouldn't do. I bought a couple cases of white primer spray cans and made the whole car that color within a week. It was a big improvement.

Ha! I never would've guessed you'd do something like that! You just earned another hero point... Okay, so you made the most of what the factory and father time gave you to work with...

It had a later 350 installed, but the Powerglide and 10-bolt rear remained in the car since its birth, untouched. The speedo didn't work, so I had no real idea how many miles were actually on it, but I didn't care - all the stock stuff would be replaced. Jason had upgraded to aftermarket front disc brakes and the wheels were Edelbrock 17 X 8s with Nitto 450 rubber. The coils had been cut to lower it and it looked pretty good. It started, stopped and turned.

I didn't realize you started with such a nice car. Is that 350 the one you built up into the current powerplant?

No. I built a 383 small-block to power it. I wanted it to run on 87 octane, since this was to be my daily driver. Being a performance guy, I wanted as much power as I could get on the 87 octane. I threw every trick I knew into the build and aimed at 500 peak horses at 6,500 RPM. When the engine made 545 at 6,500, even I was surprised.

Man, that's major gow, on cat pee gas! Again, most of the specs are in the book, for those of you wanting to duplicate Scott's efforts - just remember to duplicate them EXACTLY, if you want to get similar results. So, now you had a fresh engine...

I dropped the engine in at a pal's shop. He said I could take a day to do it. One single day. I rounded up some pals and we got going early. I drove the car home late that night. It sounded really mean and it was. But that Powerglide was not happy - it slipped and slid whenever I eased the pedal down even halfway. The need for a new transmission just moved to the top of the list.

Then, of course, we chose to move across the country, to Minnesota. The return to a four-season environment dictated that this would no longer be a daily driver. My new job as Editor of a start-up hot rodding magazine allowed some of the upgrades to happen as magazine stories. The move to a T56 6-speed was one of them.

And that's only the beginning of the beginning of the 'Chevelle from Hell' story behind the story. Get the rest of the dirt behind the build next time, followed by Scott's driving impressions of the finished product. And more... Coming soon in Part 2.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just A Speck On The Road To The Next Road

Everyone's busy these days. So it's taking longer than expected to put together the interviews for this blog. It should be worth the wait though, for chats with Scott Parkhurst, Cole Coonce and Holly Felsen Welch. And more are coming...

Meanwhile, I'm busy too, working on multiple book and magazine projects. CarTech has me working on 'Rat Rods - Rodding's Imperfect Stepchildren'. This one had me digging deep to identify my balkiness at the subject matter and I learned some beautiful ugly truths about my rigid narrowmindedness and how I'd managed to forget where I came from. Since that excavation, I'm more comfy in my skin and having big fun now with the book. These guys and their cars are all colorful characters, to say the least - a writer's toybox!

On a more pragmatic note, I'm exploring publishing options for 'Surfing the Asphalt Playground - A Hitch Hiker's Guide to Grassroots Motorsports', the socio-political journal of my time on the road to various race events around the country. A grassroots book seems to demand grassroots publishing, especially when the "impossible to market" subject matter scares traditional publishing houses into closing the blinds and taping scribbled 'Sorry, We're Closed' signs to the door. Luckily, I love a challenge. Expect to see this one being spammed on your Facebook page soon. Or at least stapled to your phone pole.

Some really cool pieces are falling into place now on the latest project - a book of short stories about racers from around the world who come to run in the U.S. - working title: 'Racing to America'. I have about a dozen of these stories so far and more trickling in every day. Jaw dropping stuff of the incredible passion required to build a race car oceans away from the land of instant gratification (parts stores and wrecking yards on every corner) and spending huge money to ship it (and several hangers-on) to and from a longshot at glory in the birthplace of hot rod culture.

A couple of years ago, a local gearhead asked me when I was going to write something about Noel Black . It's excruciating to admit this today, but I was unaware of the guy who grew up one block from me here in Medford, Oregon, then wrenched and drove his way to legendary status, ultimately paying his dues at Bonneville in 1970, when he crashed at well over 400 MPH. As I researched this one, events unfolded that had me talking in tongues, when a much bigger story presented itself. The result is 'Black Wednesday Libretto - The Not So Famous Story of B&N Automotive And Their Attack on the Record Books'. Originally written for Hot Rod magazine, the end product is too long for a magazine and too short for a book. The perfect challenge for a guy with more passion than brains! I have a couple of options in the works, but this one really makes the publishers nervous.

There's also the biography of a hot rod pioneer who doesn't want his story published until after his death (it's that juicy); a magazine feature on the latest car from one of rodding's most edgy and whimsical builders; and yet another CarTech book, deemed Top Secret by my publisher. Typical corporate paranoia, but I'm an obedient slave to the machine myself, so I'll remained zipped up for the team. And oh yeah, I apparently have enough time on my hands to update this blog, dailyish. Life is so sweet. Really. You just can't get here from where I came from. I'm the luckiest guy in town - if you believe in luck. I just may be the most grateful though. I'm lovin' this.