For car guys, we never forget the cars of our childhood. Be it our parents everyday driver, to the "guy down the street's" asphalt-eating monster, when we're young, certain cars permanently stamp our brains with a memory of loud exhaust and screeching tires.
Growing up, it was almost assured that Miami brothers Gary and Keith Gittleman would become obsessive car nuts. It began when their grandfather, Joe Gittleman, passed his love of fast cars on to their dad, Bob. Not long ago, the brothers sat down and made a list of the high-performance cars the family has owned. The collective number stoodat more than 350, and Keith quickly noted: "Yeah, I guess we've always been into fast cars."
Later years saw several vintage Ferrari's join the family's collection, but the Gittleman clan has always been particularly partial to good old American horsepower--most notably that found in the rumble of a Chevy V-8.
Joe Gittleman got the musclecar bug back when he bought a '60 Chevy Impala, with the tri-power, high-performance 348 W-motor. The white-on-black Impala won plenty of B/Stock trophies and Stock Eliminator titles in its day. Joe's son, Bob, acquired his taste for tire smoke early, going racing with his dad and watching and learning. By the early 1960s, Joe decided to build a car for son Bob to drive--one that was competitive and unique for NHRA's F/Stock class. When they came across a mint, '57 two-door, Two-Ten station wagon, they knew their search had ended. For motivation they decided on a dual carb 270hp 283small-block V-8, the same engine in street animals such as the Corvette. The 270/283 was factory-equipped with a solid-lifter, Duntov "097" cam (last three part number digits "097") and a pair of Rochester 4GC, four-barrel carbs mounted atop a factory aluminum intake. Even withless power than the "283/283" fuel-injected 283, the carb-equipped motor responded better to tuning and modifications. When properly set up, it reportedly produced better power than the FI-equipped engines.
The car itself was exceptionally inconspicuous. Instead of flashy paint, they left it the factory two-tone--bronze and white. For several years they ran the car unmarked with only white shoe polish class and entry numbers applied. No mag wheels, just painted factory steel wheels with Chevy "dog bowl" wheel covers. In those days, Stock Eliminator cars could only run a rear tire with a maximum 7-inch tread width, plus a minimum of two tread grooves. Ludicrous perhaps, but the idea was to keep the class entries as close to stock as possible. Joe and Bob complied, installing a set of Casler 7-inch "cheater slicks" made from a racing rubber compound, with the two mandatory grooves. A set of homemade traction bars cancelled wheel-hop and planted the tires on asphalt or concrete, allowing the high-winding 283 to leave the line at almost any rpm that driver Bob chose. After it became well known in the southern region, the car was treated to bold, hand-painted lettering and crowned "Xcellerator," a name that proved exceptionally accurate.
Never ones to embrace shiftlessness, Joe opted for the optional Borg-Warner, T-10 four-speed to transfer power from the 283 to the rear wheels. Bob quickly showed his prowess for timely starting line "leaves" and wide-open-throttle power shifts. To build the 270/283 engine, Joe and Bob chose Bob Fulp, a Ft. Lauderdale engine whiz with a solid reputation for stout drag motors. Fulp had come to South Florida via California, learning plenty of engine building techniques from the "Left Coast" racers.
Class rules were stringent, and "stock" was taken literally by tech inspectors. To get the most horsepower out of a stock engine meant careful "blueprinting" of every component, micro-checking each dimension, opening clearances, and making sure piston ring seal and fine-tuning was close to perfect. Tough to imagine with today's wide array of high-quality aftermarket "stock" parts, but the best motors back in the day saw a fair share of handwork and massaging to make sure the factory components were at their very best.
The car began turning low 14s on South Florida's typically sandy, ex-airfield strips, and when traction was available, high 13s at 105-plus mph. By 1964, the two-door grocery-hauler was the car to beat in South and Central Florida. Joe and Bob notched wins at tracks such as Amelia Earhart in Hialeah; Masters Field, Miami; Ft. Meyers Dragstrip; Valkaria Dragstrip; Palm Beach International Raceway; SpruceCreek Dragstrip, (outside Daytona Beach); Deland Dragstrip; OrlandoDragway; Miami-Hollywood Dragway; and plenty of others. The car also scored wins at the Big Go East Winter Nationals in Miami, the FloridaState Championships, and at the Dixie Drag Festival in Valkaria, Florida.
Ultimately, the demands of life replaced drag racing as No. 1. BobGittleman took over operation of the family's construction and propertydevelopment companies, effectively halting Joe and Bob's racing activities. Over the years after Bob let the car go, The Xcellerator wassold and re-sold, finally ending up in Orlando, Florida. Now grown up, Bob's sons Keith and Gary wanted to find a similar 210 two-door wagon to build a replica of their dad's car as a present and a way to honor his life. They contacted nationally known Tri-5 expert and restoration guru Wendell Snowden to find the appropriate car.
Wendell took on the project enthusiastically, but instead of trying to find just any 210 two-door wagon, Wendell proposed to the Gittleman'strying to find Bob's original car. Even though they were skeptical, they gave the thumbs up for Wendell to start the search. Starting with the first person Bob sold the car to, Wendell searched through various Classic Chevy club records and other sources, tracking the car's VIN to see where the car had ended up. The search ended in Orlando, where the car sat behind a house, waiting to be restored by the current owner. Wendell knew he hit pay dirt when he first saw the car, the old decaloutlines still on the rear windows. A deal was struck, and Wendell leftwith Bob Gittleman's original race car.
Fortunately, the car was largely intact, and Wendell's restoration of the car was outstanding. Every piece of original sheetmetal that could be saved was, and the usual Tri-5 cancer spots were repaired to as-new condition. Ironically, his knowledge of the car from "the old days" proved handy in his task of bringing the Xcellerator back to mid-'60s life. Wendell was an integral member of the South Florida Timing Association, and personally knew the car from its days as a drag stripwarrior. Along with info and pictures Gary and Keith had put together, Wendell returned the '57 wagon to almost exactly the way it was when Bobowned the car.
For power, the Gittlemans went to well-known engine builder Dave Waltersfor a 383 small-block pumping out 467 hp. Working with Wendell, they made the 383 look like the original 270hp 283, complete with dual quads and finned Corvette valvecovers. For better streetability, a Richmond five-speed was tasked with handling the power of the 383 and getting it to the rear wheels through a Currie 9-inch rear. Walter's Engineering fabricated a handmade set of traction bars for the car, so that, top to bottom, the '57 looks just like it did in the 1960s when Bob was racing.
Gary and Keith Gittleman also deserve considerable credit for seeing thejob through. Bob was once again able to see and enjoy the car shortly before he passed away in 2000. You can see mirrored in his son's eyes how much their dad loved that high-revving,'57 Chevy.