More meaningful progress

July 27, 2012

In terms of big pieces left to get, the engine and transmission were (obviously) the biggies – through a twist of fate, one of those puzzle pieces is now sitting in the car!

The original plan when Mark was alive was to buy one of the 350 Chevy “crate” motors that an area speed shop offers and just drop it in. Well, now there just wasn’t the budget for it. As you read in my last post, I figured I’d have to build a budget SBC myself, and I have been trolling for parts just to price things out, and I’ve also been looking for engines as a starting point.

Last week I spied an ad in the local Craigslist for a built 327 Chevy with 2500 miles on the short block, and 0 miles on the heads- which are not camel humps, but 305 heads with some bowl work done and larger 1.94 intake valves and 1.50 exhaust valves fitted. So I called. Talked to a guy named Dave who races circle track up at the Roseville Speedway, and we tentitively planned on meeting up on Sunday. Well, long story short, we met up on Monday night and I drove home with a 327 in the back of my truck for WAY under what the parts bill alone would have been!

The specs are small journal 327 (which means factory forged crank!) and running the number shows that it was built between ’62 and ’65 and was used in trucks and Corvettes. Perfect! There is something awesome about having a period engine in the car that I’m trying so hard to make look as close to 1963 as possible. I know the 305 heads aren’t period, but what the hay. Anyway, it’s been balanced and has Pink rods in it and TRW pistons at 11:1 compression and a Milodon high volume oil pump. Right now it’s got a Comp Cams camshaft in it, but it’s hydraulic and more of a street grind, so that will come out and a Schneider 299F cam and solid lifters will go in once the money tree grows again. I was also able to talk Dave into swapping the stock stamped rocker arms with a set of roller-tipped rockers, so that was also money in the bank!


Tuesday evening, the engine got a new red paint job


 And last night I was able to wrangle help from my neighbor Chris and we dropped it in the car!


Of course I couldn’t resist putting the headers on and test fitting the Hilborn manifold and Vertex. I am going over to a friend of both myself and Mark, who was able to snag the ram tubes for the Hilborn from Mark’s garage before they inadvertantly got packed and shipped back to North Dakota with the rest of Mark’s stuff. But it’s getting there and starting to really look like something!


I’ll push it out onto the driveway to take more photos this weekend with the stacks on and the tail section on as well. I’m going to have to pie cut the oil pan in order to get the right amount of ground clearance, and that’s what they used to do back in the early 60’s, so it’s appropriate. It’s a GM racing pan so it has a windage tray and baffles in it. I’m going to try to make that work. Even used, those Milodon pans are pretty pricey,and while I don’t want to take any unneccesary short cuts, I have to be realistic about the budget. If this was a stock pan, I’d stay forget it and go straight for the Milodon, but at this point, I think I can make this work and have a good pan out of it. 

In the short term I will probably get back on the tail section- I’d like to have that all done by fall.

So if anyone has, or knows of a shorty powerglide, rated to 600 HP (just a typical entry level bracket racing type) and perhaps a 10″ converter that is sitting doing nothing and needs a good new home for not too much money, please get in touch!

Thanks for reading-



Progress report

June 21, 2012

Well, even though I haven’t blogged it, there has been a bit of progress. Since the last post, I was able to pick up the correct Hilborn 150-A fuel pump, and then found a matching Hilborn front timing cover and fuel pump drive spud. So everything is Hilborn in the injection system. I kind of like that sort of symmetry.

Also, while I’ve always loved the car, I had kind of wished the rear axle was narrower. Brian Fox also noticed this and without provocation told me to measure the distance between the sidewall and body, then take the rear end out of the car, box it up and send it to him with instruction on how much more it should be narrowed on each side.  I lose track, but this was last fall, I believe.

This weekend I figured that I’ve got to get dirty and make some progress, so I dug out my chop saw, measured and shortened the axles an 1 1/4″ each so I could at least make it a roller once again. Plus I wanted to drill out the rivets from the tail section we had bought from Roger (he had narrowed it, trimmed the sides a bit, and then rivited it together using aluminum strips, but hadn’t gotten around to glassing it again) so I could clamp it to the car and start to figure out the gaps and the fit. It’s pretty close. Once I have it in the exact spot, I will rivet just a couple of aluminum bridge pieces across the gap to hold it in position for fiberglassing. I will have to add about 2″ on the sides to meet the sides of the cowl, and then taper it back to the rear radius behind the cage. This will make the car look even lower. My friend Eddie Stein has done a lot of fiberglassing, and he’ll help me to make the tail section one piece again, and weld tabs to mount the dzus fasteners. The goal is to accomplish this sometime in July.

In the meantime, here are photos with the narrowed rear axle and the mock up of the rear section- click on them if you’d like to see them full size:

Carrying on…

March 27, 2012

I’ve had nearly a month to mull it all over, and I’ve decided that I’m going to carry on with the dragster project. In the first few days after Mark’s death everything was overwhelming. I was torn between the thought of doing this without him making me feel empty and incredibly sad, and the thought of not seeing our project through and giving up making me feel incredibly sad. 

The first couple weeks of March were spent doing Mark-related things: making phone calls to friends who needed to know the news, sorting and packing Mark’s stuff with a couple of his friends to make it easier for his daughter and son-in-law to take it all back home with them, being the info center for the kart racing fraternity and rustling up photos to help with the memorial service. All this time the dragster was in the back of my mind, with me just going through this tug of war and trying to figure out what the best thing would be.

In the last two weeks, the answer I kept arriving at more often than not was to do my best to finish the dragster. It feels right.

While I know at times I will feel incredibly lonely while working on it without Mark, I also believe the build is a way to keep our friendship alive, and that friendship will always be embedded in the DNA of this dragster.

Logistically, this is going to be a big challenge since I’m working with no real budget, and it’s the biggest car project I’ve ever taken on. Rebuilding a stocker for the street is nothing compared to scratch building a race car. But a some amazing friends have stepped in and offered to help in ways that would otherwise keep me dead in the water. Roger Lee has offered encouragement and help if I need any weirdo parts made – which if what I’m thinking in terms of cockpit controls comes to frution, may have to happen. My good karting friend Michael is a race car welder and fabricator working with road racing machinery, and he has graciously offered his services, and my longtime dear friend Don has donated a nice ’74 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle for me to spruce up a bit, sort out the brakes, and sell to generate funds.

I don’t know that it will get the dragster finished, but I’m hoping that with careful planning and a lot of beating the bushes, it will get a running engine and transmission in the car. Then it will be saving and figuring out ways to get the safety equipment for both the car and myself.

The combo will still be modest- I’m going to build the engine myself – and I still have a target of 400-425 horsepower. I’ve done a number of stock rebuilds in the past, so this is not entirely new to me, although I’ll freely admit that I’m an engine assembler and not a builder in the way that race engine builders are.

But I am armed with a decent set of micrometers, a few David Vizard books, a desire to learn and to do this right, and a good relationship with a great machine shop in town. What I will need is some good, used, but usable engine parts – mainly heads, crank and rods. But I may be able to find some good used high compression pistons in the local sprint car world. Don is connected in that world and I know that the spec SBC engine they are using will be obsoleted at the end of this season as they move to a different engine package, and that could yield some good stuff for hopefully not too much money.

If you are reading this and you have, or know of anyone who has a good steel crank, rods that will work well in my combo, and either lightly-ported Chevy camel hump “fuelie” heads, or aftermarket heads, (both with preferably 2.02 valves and 64cc combustion chambers) that they would be willing to sell from cheap to reasonable, please get in touch. I have two ways I can go with the build, depending on what parts I can find- I can mimick Gene Kreuger’s build, or I have been in touch with Rick Holliday and he’s got a good set up for his first “mild” motor. In fact, if shipping wasn’t so darn expensive from Ohio to California, I’d probably just buy Rick’s engine, now that he’s built a hotter engine for his rail.  

I’ll also be looking for a used, but hopefully recently freshened up shorty powerglide and torque converter- with the Schneider 299 cam I’m still planning for, I would be looking for a 9″ converter with a 4500 RPM stall speed, or at least close to that. Again, if you have, or know someone that is moving up to more horsepower and wants to sell of their stuff, please get in touch.

I promise future posts won’t be a downer. I just felt that since without Mark this project would have never gotten off the ground, this was the forum for me to be honest about what his loss entails. I apologize if I made anyone uncomfortable. 

IN the mean time, I need to finish a couple of other smaller projects that are on the bench before I can get the Triumph ready to sell, but on the dragster to-do list concerning parts I have already I’ve got:

  • shorten the axles 1″ 
  • drill and tap the 3rd member for the anti-rotational device bolts
  • install spool, gears, bearings in 3rd member
  • fabricate brake master cylinder tab
  • fabricate brake handle
  • install disc brake setup
  • plumb brake lines
  • weld the M/C tab, brake handle pivot tabs, shifter handle tabs, and filler and drain bungs to rear end housing 
  • fabricate and weld the fuel tank mounts to the frame
  • drill out rivets on the chute pack tail section so I can clamp halves to the frame and figure out how much it needs to be widened
  • brace and fiberglass the tail section at the new width
  • sort out tail section mounting and weld dzus tabs to accommodate

I’ve already got everything I need in order to accomplish what is on my list so far, so it will be a busy summer and with the help of my friends, I can gather the right pieces to do the engine build this fall. I also need a Hilborn 150-A (or B) fuel pump, although the Enderle 80A will do, a drive spud for the fuel pump, a shut off valve, idle bypass valve, and a set of Hilborn 14AS nozzles. I have a full set of 20A nozzles in good shape to trade if anyone is interested.

Thanks for reading and being interested in this blog. The next post I make will actually cover progress made on the dragster. 

Be well-

For inspiration and entertainment, here’s a video of Gene Krueger’s US Mule dragster. This car NAILS exactly what I’ve always envisioned, and what I’m trying to do with Rocinante. Gene’s car strives to maintain the period look as closely as possible while still passing tech: it got a 135″ wheelbase (same as Roc!), vintage stack injected small block chevy on alky, plenty of engine dump, no wheelie bar, high gear launch with a powerglide, and runs the kind of ETs I want to run, so it is as close to being the blueprint for Rocinante as I could imagine. It’s perfect!

I’m writing this with a heavy heart…

March 1, 2012

I received a terrible phone call this evening to let me know that Mark Havery, one of my very best friends, and my partner in pursuing the dream that has been the subject of this blog, had passed away.

We last spoke on Sunday about shortening the axles and the Schneider camshaft I had researched for our combo. We were getting ready to order the engine and transmission in the next week or two, and as I had alluded to in my previous post, things were happening fast and furious and boxes were showing up on my doorstep almost daily with the goodies we needed to move forward. We spoke about the next step of fabrication and how we were going to do the cockpit layout. Our conversation ended with Mark telling me to call or email after I talked to Mike at Alkydigger about the Hilborn fuel pump he found for us, and after I called Schneider to get their opinion about the cam we wanted to put in the engine.

I made those calls Tuesday morning, and then emailed Mark. I didn’t hear anything back- which seemed odd- but Mark worked the swing/graveyard shift as a machinist and with the floating days on/days off, I could never keep track of what his schedule was. So I figured he must be sleeping in preparation for his shift later that evening. I kept checking email today during work, and still no reply. When I got home I called and left a message just asking if he got the email and making sure everything was okay.

Turns out nothing was okay.

Mark was supposed to touch base with a friend on Monday, but never called. This friend tried calling on Tuesday to no response either. When he called the plant later that night and they told him that Mark hadn’t shown up for his shift, he knew something was wrong and he drove over to his house. After getting no response at the door, he called the police and they discovered the awful truth. If there is any consolation, the coroner said that he was sure that Mark didn’t suffer or even know what hit him.

I got the phone call about 7:30 tonight, and I just feel completely heartbroken and devestated.

You see, as much as Mark liked the idea of building the dragster, I don’t think Mark had been to the drags since about 1974. Mark did this project because he knew it was a dream I’d had since I was a little kid, and I didn’t have any way possible make it happen on my own. He was that kind of friend. That’s a big reason the dragster means so much to me – because it exists as a testement and tribute to a sincere friendship. Mark saw that I’d been going through a rough 5 or 6 years, where it just seemed that life kept kicking me when I was down, and this was something he could do to help a buddy get through them and find a reason to get up in the morning and to keep on keeping on.

Mark never suffered fools kindly, and after getting to know him, I learned that he had a lot of good reasons to be guarded. We became friendly through vintage kart racing, but there was a sitution where Mark got roped into putting out a club magazine and the help he was supposed to get with it bailed on him. I had done some of this kind of work before, so I volunteered and we worked hard at putting out a great bi-monthly magazine, and we had to do most of the writing, editing, build the projects for the “how-to” articles and so forth. That’s how we came to be really, really good friends. I think Mark appreciated that someone had his back, so when this opportunity presented itself almost on a whim, I think he figured he’d return the favor…100-fold. That’s the kind of friend he was. He wouldn’t let many people in, but once you were his friend, you were his friend for life.

If I have any peace right now, it is two things:

The last day we hung out was on Sunday the 18th when we drove down to Roger Lee’s place to buy the fiberglass body he’d originally purchased for his Masters and Richter recreation. Now that he had a Dave Tuttle-crafted chutepack tail created, the fiberglass version was surplus, and he gave us a good deal on it. Mark had never been through the delta, and I’d been told about a great mom n’ pop restaurant along the river, so we took the long way home. Had lunch and Mark raved about how cool Giusti’s was and how he’s going to bring some other friends there, and then we drove through all the small delta towns on our way back. He was amazed. By the time we’d made it back to my place in Sacramento, he was talking about looking at real estate because he wanted to retire to Walnut Grove or Isleton in a few years. I felt happy that I’d been able to introduce him to something that brought such obvious joy. 

Secondly, I had discovered a video of Gene Krueger’s dragster on you tube last week and was really, really excited because he’s doing EXACTLY what we are trying to do. The same era, look, and approach (and even ETs). I forwarded this to Mark, and once again he shared in my giddiness. In our back and forth email exchange over how cool this all was and how we were setting the stage to make a big push on the dragster in the next few months, I just happed to write that I was so grateful that he is so instrumental in making this dream a reality, and that I would never be able to thank him enough.

So especially now, I am so glad that I was able to express my gratitude. I know that Mark knew, but he was never one for talking about feelings much (and if you are reading this, you can see that I don’t have quite the same filter) but at the time, I just felt the need to put it in plain English. So I am glad that I don’t have to wonder if he knew how much this all meant to me.

What will happen to the dragster now? I honestly don’t know.

This is all so fresh, and I know that now is not the time to make any kind of decision. There is a huge part of me that so badly wants to press on and finish this car as a tribute to our friendship, and to see this thing through in order to honor Mark.  But I am at a loss as to how to make it happen, and while I am confident in my mechanical abilities, I am no weldor, machinist, or fabricator, and so much of that work still needs to be done. I also wonder if working on the car without Mark will just make me sad, or if it will bring a sense of peace.  

So for the time being, I will not make any decision,. I will grieve and mourn the loss of my friend and wait and see if some kind of answer about the car presents itself in time.

Godspeed Mark Havery, you were one of the choice ones and I will miss you terribly.

We’re back!

February 23, 2012

A lot of exciting developments in the last week or so, let’s just say that my living room is starting to look like a speed shop and my UPS driver and Mail carrier  are starting to wonder what’s up. As work commences shortly, I’ll be making more posts, but for now, here’s a teaser:

It needs to be re-split and widened and the gap glassed so it can really be fitted to the car properly, but this gives a rough idea. But this was a major score for us, so we couldn’t pass it up!

Watch this space for more regular updates!

Reality check and adjusting expectations…

January 29, 2011

Just a quick check in. Mark and I have chewed everything over recently and have come to a conclusion or two. Given that we are both in the same boat that many of us are in economy-wise – I recently got my pay whacked and I’m still up to my eyeballs in alimony – and the realization that to build the car the way we had originally intended would take a few years longer than either of us care to think about, we’re adjusting our performance/equipment expectations a bit.

Originally Mark wanted to build a bulletproof motor with all the best brand new parts, and go with a new powerglide that has a Deadenbear or Reid case and all that jazz. As nice as that would be, we’ve decided that where it makes sense, we’re going to aim for getting good, clean used stuff, and if we end up with a nearly stock SBC and we only run 10’s to begin with, that’s fine. We can always upgrade later. The first outings will probably be sans paint or the swoopy tail section we hope to have eventually. The goal is to get out there and have fun, and then we can revamp and go faster over time. As super cool as it is to have Rocinante as a roller sitting in my garage, the truth is that it gets a little depressing to not make progress, and to know that how we wanted to do the car all zooty to begin with, just pushes finances and a completion date out so far that it gets to be a little disheartening.

Just to be clear, we aren’t deviating from the purpose of this whole deal, which is to build a dragster as period correct as possible, but she’ll be a work in progress. It still might take 6, 7, 8 years before she’s truly finished- but I hope that by that time we will have been running her and having fun for a few years already.

The goal this year is to get the pumpkin, spool and gears, and the brake system finished.

In the mean time, if any of you reading this have, or know about good used stuff that would work for us for not much money, please drop a line. Finned Cal-custom or Corvette style valve covers, a moon style fuel tank, Hilborn-style timing covers, a Hilborn 150 fuel pump or shut off are part of the list of things we could probably swing now if it was cheap enough. Heck, even let us know if there is a decent 283, 327 or 350 out of someone’s hot rod with no place to go, or a decent shorty powerglide that a bracket racer you know no longer needs.

Not saying we could do something right away, but if the price was right, you never know.

I hope that this doesn’t come across as feeling sorry for myself- it certainly isn’t intended that way. It is clearly understood that building a dragster is about as non-essential to survival as anything. But like the role everyone’s hot rods play in their lives, it serves to allow you to dream a little and the joy and excitement of those hopes and plans makes it easier to endure the bumps and bruises that life hands out. So in so many ways, this reality check is liberating and exciting because it puts the carrot on the end of the stick back into view.

Thanks for reading. Here are a few photos for your enjoyment…

A bit of a diversion…

August 17, 2010

While we’re rebuilding the war chest and planning our next move, I’ve been goofing around with windows movie maker and done a few little videos. Often times folks will post old home movies and they will either have some kind of modern soundtrack, or if it is someone from the trad rod scene, a kind of neo-rockabilly deal. I got really tired of rockabilly in the 1980s, and never regained a taste for it. Besides, it always seems to fit better with 1950’s footage anyway, not 1960’s drag racing. So I added songs that to me, lend themselves more to the mid-60’s vibe.  

The first one is some of the dragster clips from the Lou Baney home movies that were posted on the Jalopy Journal. Soundtrack is Hotline by the Bomboras.

The second one is footage from the ’65 Indy Nats and the ’65 Winternats set to She Rides a Chopper by Evan Foster.

I think the films further illustrate that at least in my opinion, modern drag racing will never hold a candle to drag racing in the 60’s.


More random photos

June 18, 2010

My 12 year old son Adam was bored so he asked me to push the car out onto the driveway, and then proceeded to climb on the roof of the garage and take some photos. Kind of a cool perspective, and you can see where I have started goofing around with a sharpie on the cowl…

We’re still here…

June 11, 2010

There will be large gaps where there isn’t much activity on the blog or the car. It’s just the reality of doing this deal bucks down, but maintaining the vision for building a dragster to high standards quality-wise as well as visually. So right now we’re replenishing the war cheast and making plans for the work to do next year. Rocinante gets plenty of attention, and I still just like being around her- there are times where I’ll just go sit in the car after a stressful day to unwind and dream. But if things go black on the blog for awhile, rest assured that we haven’t abandoned the project. Rocinante will ride even if it takes a few years to make it happen.

Thanks for being interested and checking out the blog. For those of you toying with the idea of building a dragster of your own- go for it. You won’t regret it! 

All the best-

Injection is nice…

April 8, 2010

and I’ll leave it at that!

Despite our concerns that all the guys wanting old Hilborn setups to convert over to EFI is sending the prices of vintage units to the moon, Mark scored a killer 2 1/16″ set up, and managed to find a set of plated stacks as well.


I had always heard good things about the folks at Hilborn,  so I called them with the casting number, and they told me that our unit was built in 1966. They also told me that there should be a 4-digit serial number stamped up by the front of the manifold, and if I could get that, they could probably get me a copy of the original invoice. So I called Mark back and he found the number. A quick call back to Hilborn, and they told me that they would email a copy to me later in the day. All free of charge! I am impressed and a dedicated Hilborn booster now. Here’s the info they sent us:

While the original intention was to find an even earlier 1 13/16″ setup, the ones we found were either too rough, too incomplete, or just plain beyond the budget. So while this one is from 1966 and not 1963, it still looks the part with the lines running to the outside and the stacks with the two screw mounting. So a fair compromise. It’s a relief to have a big part of the “period correct” puzzle squared away.

I did an internet search on Brockman’s Speed Shop and only came up with a decal set intended to make the Stone, Woods and Cook model kit into the purple ’41 Willys gasser they sponsored in the late 60’s. So I asked on the HAMB and received some very passionate replies. I found out that Brockman’s was a major mover and shaker in the Dayton Ohio era from the 1950’s through the golden age of drag racing. Like most real speed shops that didn’t simply morph into an outlet for custom wheels, noisy exhausts, and bolt-on “body packages” in order to keep the doors open, they closed sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s.

There is no way to know if the unit was ever run on a Brockman’s “team” car, or if it was just ordered for a customer. But as you can see from the original invoice/build sheet, this unit was originally setup for alky (and up to 20% nitro!) so I’m guessing that it was originally on a digger or altered. I’d prefer to think that it was on the baddest B/D in the Dayton area, but that’s just me looking at it as a talisman for Roc.

Regardless, we ended up with a nice setup at a “mere mortals” price. In time we’re looking for a Hilborn front cover, and have determined it’s probably best to get the pump and shutoff new, since those still look close enough to look period, while giving us a fresh baseline to start with.

While there hasn’t been any wrenches turned or welds made as of late, there has been plenty of planning. We don’t have the skills, equipment or funds to have a chute pack tail made for the car, but I think it’s important to clean up the rear of the car, so ala the Surfer’s or George Bolthoff, we’re planning on making a simple rear wraparound tail section, so the frame will be covered.


I think with the old cars, you could make the open rear section look okay by painting the seat, but the current SFI specs have those extra bars required and they are at different angles that conflict with the lines of the car, and it just kinda bugs me looks-wise. I presented this to Mark, and he signed off on it, so I called Brian and asked what he recommended to use. So we’ll be getting a sheet of .050″ 3003 aluminum. It’s typically used for making cowls on aircraft, and Brian said it’s easy to work with. Not sure when that will happen, but it’s a game plan.

Also countering the old drag racer’s axiom of “too much is just about right” we’ve decided to build a mild motor for the car. This works on a lot of levels, but mostly less expense means we’ll hit the track that much sooner and with me being green as a driver, it’ll flatten the learning curve and give me something that I can feel more comfortable with and utilize all the horsepower that much sooner.  I realize that having a car that runs ETs in the high 9s and 130-ish isn’t nearly as sexy as 8.30s at 175, (and even 8.30s at 175 is only sexy to a very limited audience at that) but the car can always be made to go faster and quicker in the future.

We may find that given our lack of competetive drive, aversion to more hassles than necessary, and desire to do this for our own amusement, running in the 9s might suit us just fine.