Predictable: The most popular vehicle we’ve built in a long time is also the only one that we smashed into a retaining wall the day it was finished. Accidentally, that is. We’re talking about the Nascarlo, the star of ROADKILL episode 46 and a car that crowded our fantasies for three or four years before its few moments of glory.
We say “three or four years,” not really knowing for sure. But it was quite a while ago, in the early days of the ROADKILL show, when Mike Finnegan bought a late-model, paved-oval-track car that had been set up to turn both right and left and that participated in road-course open track days at California’s Willow Springs International Raceway. Our plan was to outfit the car with lights and a passenger seat and take it on a road trip to the South—circle-track country. For once, we were hit with a sense of personal responsibility and made the critical error of asking our insurance department if it would be possible to cover something that was never a production car, and that never had a VIN. No. We fought it all the way up the line and learned we were not going to be able to both make the trip and keep our jobs. The stock car sat derelict. All the tires went flat. Guys backed trucks into it. Miraculously, nothing was stolen.
There comes a time once a month when we have no idea what we’re going to do for the next episode of ROADKILL, and “let’s do a body swap on the stock car” was raised dozens of times but never executed due to time problems—yet the plan was simple: If the stock car had no VIN, we’d install a body that did so that we could insure the thing. It’s not purely kosher in the eyes of The Man, but close enough for us. In December 2015, we finally lived out one of the oldest schemes in ROADKILL land. This doesn’t need a spoiler alert: We drove the Nascarlo about 100 miles on public roads, arrived at the half-mile clay oval track at Perris Auto Speedway in Perris, California, and made maybe 10 laps before a front lower ball joint broke and the car spun into the wall. We’ll guess you saw that on the ROADKILL show. What you didn’t see is the behind-the-scenes photos and info we’re sharing here.
And BTW, yes, we are rebuilding the Nascarlo. Sledgehammers are involved.
For just a few hours, our ’70 Chevy Monte Carlo (with a ’72 front clip) was one of the most wickedly stanced, Mad Maxy-looking cars we’d ever built. The unsightly proboscis from the original stock car chassis fit perfectly through the grille opening. The scoop on the bottom draws air to the radiator.
Here’s the race car we bought as a starting platform. It’s what circle trackers call a “late model,” and we think the body is based on some nondescript ’90s Chevy Monte Carlo. In retrospect, we wish we’d kept that lip spoiler for the ’70.
There’s nothing to see here, folks, just a simple ol’ Chevy small-block V-8. We presume it’s a ZZ4 crate engine. All the magnificence is parked behind it: a Jerico four-speed manual trans with clutchless operation. You use the clutch to start and stop, but you can just bangshift your up- and downshifts without the clutch. It’s the best ever.
BADGE OF HONOR
The Nascarlo is the first car with its own custom-made ROADKILL emblem.
The easiest part of the job was tearing off the thin fiberglass body by hand. The result was reminiscent of the ROADKILL ’Vette Kart.
The race car came with some pretty good stuff, such as Auto Meter gauges and of course the eyeball shift knob. It must have been built for a tiny guy because we had to maim the steering column mount so we had enough room to work the clutch.
The exhaust system resided where we needed a passenger seat to be, so out came the Sawzall. Here you can also see the onboard fire system and the triple-wide framerails that were loaded with lead as ballast.
Remember Hector? He’s the guy we visited in ROADKILL episode 37 when we needed doors for a Buick wagon. Dude has a backyard business called Carhex and parts out a zillion GM cars every year. He was the first person we texted when we needed an old-car body with a VIN and registration.
THE PARTIAL MONTE
Here’s what Hector brought us, a totally gutted but registered ’70 Monte Carlo body.
With the Monte body on our lift, we used a Miller plasma cutter to remove a whole lot o’ car. The idea was to make room for the body to drop directly down over the chassis.
The wheelbase on the race car was 14 inches shorter than the Monte Carlo, so the body had to get shorter by a like amount so that the wheels would fit in the openings. We could have just moved the rear wheels forward on the body (like a ’60s altered-wheelbase car) or just cut it all out of the middle. Instead, we shortened the doors 14 inches but left the roof length intact by cutting it apart at the B-pillars and sliding it rearward on the quarter panels.
The rocker panels on the body turned out to exactly match the overall width of the frame, so we were able to slice and dice to get them to fit together perfectly for welding. We mocked the rear tire in place so we could start hacking the tire openings much higher onto the body than stock.
Lucky Costa from HOT ROD Garage helped us wrap up the final details of the project. He’s seen here shorting up the doors before welding the skins in place. All the inner structure was amputated, plasma-cutter style.
YAY OR NAY?
Here’s our first test fitting of the body on the chassis. We weren’t yet sure if we’d created goofiness or glory.
We loved the remote filler for the Fuel Safe cell (we installed a new bladder) and had to keep it on the Nascarlo.
Finnegan fabbed the new exhaust system, consisting of nothing but a tiny 3-inch-diameter bullet muffler and a fender exit. It sounded wicked. The race car has headers that both dump on the right side of the car.
Finally, we were on the road in the stock car! We ran out of time to make a Plexi windshield, so we wore helmets on the highway.
Here’s the best the Nascarlo ever was! At the half-mile clay oval track, it took about 10 laps as a first timer to just start to get the hang of throwing the car sideways into the turn at 50-plus mph and building up to the speed. It was majestic. People ask about the 714 on the door. It was Finnegan’s old area code.
It’s not totally off the wall—no hitting wall joke intended–to build a Chevy Monte Carlo as a circle-track car. The second-gen (’73-’77) and third-gen (’78-’88) cars were famous on the big ovals, but a few of the first-gen (’70-’72) models also saw action. This is Bobby Allison’s ’72 at the 1972 Daytona 500.
Here’s the reason we crashed. The right front lower ball joint broke, flipping the wheel out of control, digging the suspension into the dirt, and spinning the car clockwise. We are very fortunate the joint didn’t break on the highway, but we think the cause was a hard hit against a dirt berm entering the pits. Just a few laps later, it separated.
The wreck mashed the body, destroyed the left rear wheel, bent the panhard-bar mount, broke the panhard itself, and bent a four-link mount. Plus the damage to the front suspension from the broken ball joint. But fear not. Nascarlo will return.