Was there life on earth before the automobile? Of course, but it wasn't nearly as much fun. More precisely, was there high performance before the Chevy small-block? The answer again is yes, and whether it was as much fun depends on where you were standing-or sitting.
For those whose experience of Chevrolet performance is limited by a shortage of years, as well as those who have enjoyed it for decades, there's The Smith Collection at Speedway Motors in Lincoln, Nebraska. During 48 years in the racing and performance parts business, plus attending races, auctions, and swap meets, Bill and Joyce Smith have amassed a fantastic collection of race cars, engines and speed equipment, toys and pedal cars, and automobilia. A few years ago they added a room onto the Speedway Motors headquarters and started putting the collection on display. Expanded since to three large rooms and about to move to even larger quarters, the museum is crammed with exhibits to pop the eyes of any red-blooded performance enthusiast.
Single and dual overhead cam and even hemi heads are among examples of racing ingenuity applied to Bow-Tie engines, and not just the popular small-block V-8. People with names like Rajo and Roof were messing around with the same ideas on Chevy four-bangers way back in the '20s. And equipment builders like Wayne, Nicson, and McGurk came along to rescue Chevy performance during the Stovebolt Six era.
Many of the exhibits reflect Ford's early dominance of hot rodding history, but viewers will also enjoy seeing the link between Ford and Chevy. Considered the ultimate hop-up tool for the Ford flathead V-8, the Ardun overhead valve conversion was engineered by Zora Arkus-Duntov-years before he helped engineer Chevy's first small-block V8!
The restoration shop is in full-time operation, preparing new exhibits for the museum. Assistant Manager A.J. Schuman assured us that he and his dad, Jim Schuman, have a couple of big-block Chevys in the works, along with examples of the Chevy II "Iron Duke" four-cylinder.
With both the business and the collection growing, Speedway was in the process of moving to a new, larger headquarters in Lincoln when we visited. The museum will be the last to move, probably in August 2000. Jim Schuman expects it to be closed for an extended period while the collection is settled in its new quarters, so if you're planning to travel through the area and would like to see it, call first to inquire about visiting.