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Lazenby's street eliminating Chevy

1.3.05. Drag racing has its stalwarts and Colin Lazenby has been around the scene more years than he’d car to remember.  Colin may have started out with a Mini running 16-second quarter mile times at York Raceway in the 1980s, but soon the yearning for V8 power saw him the proud owner of a 12-second Dodge Charger previously owned by the Yorkshire racing couple - Dave & June Wright.   

The Charger was always going to be a long-term project and throughout the late eighties Colin began to painstakingly restore it.  “That car had major problems with rot,” says Colin. As the work progressed, Colin realised that the size and weight of the car was always going to hinder his long-term drag racing intentions. As fate would have it, a chance perusal of a magazine’s classified section saw a part-exchange deal struck and in 1994 Colin loaded up the Dodge and headed up to Scotland from his native home in Leeds.  The Charger was part-exchanged for a seemingly tricked out ‘56 Chevy. 

“The advert said that it had cost £18,000 to build - and you could see it had received plenty of attention," recalls Colin. "It had a 454 big block already fitted and although we knew there’d been a problem with the painting (micro blistering) we fell in love with it on sight.  We booked the car straight in to Leeds-based Briggate Garage for them to fully investigate the paint problem. After which they decided it needed a complete strip back to bare metal.  It looked almost DeLorean-like when it was stripped, with the 40 year old body standing up extremely well to the test of time.

“The following year we booked it in to Hauser Race Cars to have the rear clip checked out.  There was lots wrong with it, and suffice to say the whole lot was junked and subsequently replaced with a complete HRC clip. With first the body, and now the rear clip sorted, we decided to up the ante on the powerplant, finally deciding on a Sonny’s 615 cu. in. motor.  We wanted the biggest and most powerful street legal car in the UK and we knew of Sonny’s mountain motor fame, largely through the NMCA - especially Mike Moran’s 615-engined Camaro. We didn’t know then that we were about to start a trend.

“Anyhow, within a year we had the car booked back into HRC to have a new front clip, and the engine, fitted.  We managed to sell the original engine through a contact, but a few weeks later the guy phoned me up to say it wasn’t a 454 but a 427, although he was still happy. A couple of days later he called again with the news that it was actually a 402 - he wasn’t quite so happy this time.  I’d sold the engine in good faith, believing ourselves that it was a 454, though we’d never measured it. It’s fair to say that it came as a bit of a shock - to both of us.

“We checked out the car’s potential in late ’96 going out with a bunch of guys on a cruise, and we raced it proper in ‘97, though we picked up some valve train damage. The original valve train stabiliser was designed for different heads other than the Sonny’s BB4’s, and as a consequence, it placed tremendous strain on the studs - breaking one or two. Rob Loaring at ICE was then asked to investigate the problem and he resolved it once and for all.  In 1998 we took the Custom Car Street Eliminator Championship, swapping the speed record once or twice with a young upstart, I can’t remember his name but it was something like ‘Stu Patemon’ or something.  Anyhow it was us that finished on top, and the speed record stood for two years at 152 mph.

 “I then lived through a career change, everything with the car should have been put on hold, and in the main it was, but I just couldn’t leave it fully alone. We managed to convince ourselves that future-proofing the car was the best strategic option. And having seen some of the cars that Robinson Race Cars had turned out, I made a point of tracking Andy down whilst spectating at the Summer Nats. The scene was set, and we had our slot booked at RRC to have the car tube framed – to SFI 25.1d spec.

"We moved to Scotland, I found work with one of my previous customers, and we continued to make the 900 mile round trip down to Robinson Race Cars as often as we could.  I was always hugely encouraged by the progress Andy made, and he managed to interpret everything we wanted, and even one or two things that we never even spoke about. The time that the car was down at Andy’s was reflected in the completeness and indeed, in the end result.  Given where we lived, the car just had to come out of there ‘turn key’ – and it did, wired, plumbed and even painted.


Photo by Roger Gorringe

"Matching the rugged precision of the transmission is a Mark Williams nodular aluminium rear axle – this was a got to have item.  It wasn’t cheap but it’s a work of art.  Overkill, maybe, though I remembered telling Tog that I wanted something nobody else had, not realising he’d print it. The rear brakes are Citroen BX with a ‘proper’ mechanical handbrake and the steering uses a Ford Pinto rack with a custom-made RRC column. 

“Towards the end of the RRC build, I managed to stumble on one ‘Garry Coull’. I’d called in to Pinnacle Autocentre in my home town of Stirling, and noticed a number of Drag bike pictures hanging on the wall, when I got talking to the guy, we hit it off immediately. He’d run a comp bike and was currently working with Chris Hope and his ‘Pro Stock’ Suzuki Hyabusa. To say we had common interests would have been a gross understatement. And I for one have never looked back on the partnership. It was Garry who secured the Nimbus Motorsports/Torco deal.

“Anyhow, the first time out with the new car (at the Pod) in 2002 we damaged the ATI trans, and having managed to get ourselves invited to Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, we simply had to have it freshened - and quickly. It was then ready for Goodwood, but at the end of day two, and after lots of crowd-pleasing burnouts, the trans let go again, just as I was shifting into second.  I distinctly recall looking under the car expecting to see a pile of broken transmission parts. It was at that point we seriously considered switching to a two-speed ‘Glide. The peer pressure for us to do so was almost overwhelming, anyhow we decided to stick with a 3-speed. We shopped around, eventually talking to Rosslers, in Gerard, Ohio. I went out to meet Carl Rossler with my eldest son, Jodie, we did the deal whilst there, and Andy/Kate at RRC shipped it back to the UK for fitting.

“We managed to convince Andy’s son Luke to come and work with us, as Crew Chief. And it was during the end of that first season with the new car that we found form in an out of session pass, running a most rewarding 8.86 e/t. We then made a further number of Andy Robinson induced changes to both front and rear shocks, and we continued with the Sonny’s motor until, when in 2003, we nipped a piston at round six (the result of a faulty fuel pressure gauge).

With only 2 weeks between rounds 6 and 7 we decided it was best to retire the Sonny’s motor, and reassess our position. I say ‘we decided’, but I mean Garry, he just couldn’t see the logic in repairing and upgrading the 615, especially when we had the option on Gordon Appleton’s 706. Obviously he was right, just please don’t tell him I said so. This deal basically involved me selling a number of used, but still working (really) internal organs that he decided I could live without.

“Gordon’s engine had run 6.58 in Pro-Mod configuration.  Although ICE were charged with taking some compression out of it - down to 12.0:1, essentially just so it would run on pump gas, they also freshened the bottom end. The Wheelgame boys Adrian and Simon, took care of the top end. Otherwise the motor is the same spec – right down to the Eagle spec cam. 


Photo by Jackie at Split Image

“The block is an AR aluminium piece and is topped with Pontiac/Eagle heads, has an Eagle sheet metal intake topped off with twin split 1150 Dominators, oh and two stages of Nos foggers.  It makes about 1200hp normally aspirated, with around 1800hp with both stages of juice flowing.  The best e/t to date is 8.24 @178.47mph which is the current class record,” but as Colin explains, “It’s been a long hard slog to get any degree of success, and nobody (and I mean nobody) can fully appreciate what it’s like to get these babies to hook, on treads, and without being able to use Lenco-style transmissions. The rules governing the transmissions, and the treaded tyres have both proved to be great class levellers,” says Colin.

“The Street Eliminator class has matured to such a degree that it’s not about who has the most powerful engine anymore.  It’s now as much about understanding suspension and chassis tune ups as it is effective use of your power curve.  It was this understanding that allowed us to go forward in 2004.  At the end of 2003 we finished 9th in the ‘Championship and last year we were up to 4th and we would have finished higher if we’d been able to solve our over-fuelling problem much sooner, something we didn’t manage until mid–season. Thereafter we qualified #1 at the remaining three events. 

“In truth we parked the car up at end of 2004 fully satisfied – we’d run a new personal best and low e/t of the season and were also the current speed record holders. We had managed our way through what was an extremely tough season, with a new combination and no apparent damage – though it’s never quite that simple, is it.  A recent engine freshen-up for the 2005 season revealed a couple of cracks on the crank and some limited bore damage, so we’ll be placing a posting soon for more organs for sale” joked Colin (or at least I think he was joking).  Hopefully the results will mean a much healthier powerplant for 2005 with the work entrusted to Clive Bond.

“What people sometimes forget is that to race in our class the car needs to be street legal and fully roadworthy – amazingly we have an 8-second car we can go cruising in.  It has tax, MOT and is of course fully insured - albeit on a limited mileage policy. We drive it down to Pinnacle Autocentre on summer weekends, and, as you can imagine, it creates quite a stir as we drive through our sleepy town to their showrooms on the other side of Stirling.”

Colin would like to say a huge thank you, in no particular order to;

Robinson Race Cars for building the best car in its class. “Their after-sales service is second to none,” says Colin. Also Crew chief - Luke Robinson for his tuning skills  -“man can that boy read a race track.” Garry Coull at www.PinnacleAutocentre.co.uk for his continued support, and a big final thank you to Colin’s family and especially his wife, Ann-Marie, for understanding what a man needs to do!  

Story: Andy Kirk
Photos: as captioned - special thanks to various photographers
 

 
 
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