So, our buddy Bryan sends us a lot of cool stories about old-school racing scenes. Right before Father’s Day, he mentioned that he had a neat personal story about his own dad, and granddad too. “It’s two generations of fathers and sons over the past 50 years racing a Chevy Stovebolt powered race car,” he told us, and we said, write it up, man, share it with the people. So here you go. Just in case you didn’t know, “Stovebolt” is the nickname of the Chevy straight six-cylinder engine from when it was introduced in 1929 through the early ’60s. It is commonly agreed that the nickname came due to the original fasteners being a slotted screw, like on a wood-burning stove, but some folks think it was meant as an insult by Ford fans, mocking the simplicity of the six. You’ll also hear people call various GM trucks pre-’73 or so, “Stovebolts.” Life is weird. Car people are weirder. This story is about the engine.
The Heirloom Stovebolt Racer
In 1964 my father (Bramwell Wood Jr, B.C. to his friends and fans) was barely out of school, single, working for his father fixing cars, and racing oval track stock cars on the weekends. Early in his career he won a feature race at the season-ender, in a Chevy 261ci straight six powered car, only to find that class eliminated at the start of the next season. Having just spent good money on all the best 1960s speed parts, the motor was mothballed and replaced with a V8 and life, and racing, went on. Now, more than 50 years later, that same motor has been pulled out of its Cosmoline cocoon, and dropped into a newly built pre-war coupe, with the aim being to break a record at Bonneville.
Pre-war cars with primitive speed equipment, and barely any safety gear were what everybody used, unless you made the big time and moved up to a “big car” (as opposed to a midget) or sprint car. People in the Midwest and down south seldom realize it, but there was a huge amount of racing in New York and New England back then on tracks like Danbury, Orange County (NY), Stafford Springs, Thompson, Syracuse, Riverside Park, and others. Unfortunately, many of those tracks have been gobbled up by malls and housing developments now
My grandfather (Bramwell Wood Sr, a.k.a. Woody) had never been a great driver, but built and sponsored cars. My father started racing practically as soon as he could drive, and in the 1960s was racing an old coupe in the 6-cylinder class. Piecing together the story from a box of old pictures over the holidays, he started racing in 1962, and rolled the car at Danbury in 1963. Rebuilt for 1964, you can see the 6-bolt truck axle was replaced with a wide 5-bolt pattern unit, and the motor gained a multi-carb manifold. The next year a V8 was installed in the same car, as you can tell by the hood scoop still offset to one side.
By the 1980s, marriage, kids and work had convinced him to give up racing on the weekends, and the broken bones helped. Fast forward to about 10 years ago when my father has retired and sold his machine shop/auto parts store, and he started looking for something to do. Having found the still plastic wrapped stovebolt race engine from the stock car when closing up shop, he hits on the idea of building a new race car to put it in. A pre-1959 non-V8 motor, in a pre-1948 car slots perfectly into the SCTA-BNI rulebook as a XO/VGC, which has a 144 mph record. As an added bonus, it is also really easy to keep street legal on historic plates too.
A suitable 1936 Chevy coupe body was located in rural Pennsylvania and towed home. Most of the frame was replaced or reinforced. Tubular Mustang II suspension was added up front, with a custom 4 link out back holding a Ford nine inch, both held up via coil overs. Back in the 1930s, these bodies still used structural wood elements behind the sheet metal, all of those were duplicated with steel over the course of a year, as the body was put together stronger than Chevrolet every did.
Riding low, on low profile tires more appropriate for a compact car, the coupe looks impossibly small; like a street legal Legends car. Inside are race buckets, harnesses, a full roll cage, and a minimum of creature comforts. That’s right, my 70 year old father is driving to the cruise night in a manual transmission, full roll cage race car, though admittedly not all that often.
The motor still has plenty of those 1960s speed parts, which would be impossible to find today, and whose sources are long lost to history. It started with a 261 cubic inch straight six (which only came in 2-ton trucks or school busses), which is nearly identical to the 235 externally, but stronger inside with siamesed ports to accommodate the larger bore. The motor was opened up for inspection, but inside are same pistons, rings, and cam it ran 50 years ago on the oval.
Topping it off is a milled, ported and polished head, made to breath as well as one of these can, given the bad combustion chambers and port design. A split header handles exhaust flow, leading to a 3” dump through the front fender, which can be capped off to send the gasses to pipes under the running board. The crowning jewel of the whole build is the unobtanium intake manifold mounting five Stromberg 97 2bbl carbs (because six physically won’t fit, that’s why). Without running it on a dyno we can only guess at power, but he estimates it to be around 300 hp.
My parent still live in Connecticut, and I live in Los Angeles, so I have not been able to assist much with the car. In May I flew back east to take the car with my father and run it at the Loring Maine Mile, but it was rained out. He is supposed to try again in July. Hopefully, with successful runs at Loring, and possibly the Texas Mile, to work the bugs out, he will be at Bonneville in 2018.