NHRA sportsman drag racing is one of the last places to see musclecars from the heyday dueling it out on 9-inch tires. Over the years, rules have changed for various reasons, but the motivation is the same as it was when Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins and Ronnie Sox battled it out in the 1960s: a battle of wits to decide which of the fleet is faster than the rest. Even today, you see 396 Camaros, 428 'Stangs, and 426 Hemis across the country carrying the front wheels, making 9-second passes at more than 135 mph.
The rules have changed so much that streetability was thrown out the window decades ago. Full racing slicks, open headers, non-functional lights, wheelie bars, and 116-octane racing fuel have taken this sport to a new level.
In the upper reaches of North American civilization, otherwise known as Hanna, Alberta, Canada, resides a man with a need for speed, but no dragstrip for hundreds of miles. So what are your options if you have an NHRA D/Stock Eliminator 409 Bel Air and want to chirp through the gears? You steal some chalk, mark out 1,320 feet on the highway, and drop the hammer. While bouncing around YouTube, I was giddy after coming across Aubrey Bruneau's 409 laying a strip of rubber on a two-lane highway. From all of us hot rodders, we congratulate you, Mr. Bruneau, on having one giant beanbag.
Aubrey's 1962 is equipped with General Motor's original high-horsepower big-block, the 409ci/409hp W-series engine. This full-bodied icon is the fastest stickshift 409 Stocker of all time, with a best run of 11.87 at 116.5 mph in 4,000 feet of adjusted altitude. As per NHRA rules, the engine retains the factory engine block, cylinder heads, stock-lift cam, and intake manifold. Said Aubrey, "I had become tired of the criticism that you can't be competitive in this class with the 409 engine. People whine about the manifold and port design, but I knew I could make it work."
All engine work for this build was completed by Lee Brothers Automotive in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. This included the installation of a stock, machined crankshaft, a custom-grind cam retaining the factory 0.507/0.516 lift, and aftermarket Ross dome pistons creating a compression ratio of 11.6:1. Given the lack of available Carter-AFB aluminum carburetors, NHRA allows racers to run two Edelbrock reproduction carbs sucking 600 cf f airflow apiece.
In 1962, the factory rated this engine at 409 horsepower, but realistic power numbers were said to have been in the mid-400s. With today's advancements in valvetrain technology combined with high-octane fuel and custom headers, actual horsepower for this 409 in Stock Eliminator trim is upwards of 520 at the flywheel. How is it possible to make this much power out of a "stock" engine, you ask? If you were to pose that question to a handful of racers at an NHRA event, you would get more than a handful of answers. In fact, most would make up a bold-faced lie in order to conceal any secrets.
Backing this monster W-block is a Jerico DR4 four-speed manual and a McLeod 10.5-inch Soft-Lok clutch. "The idea of running an automatic is completely laughable," Aubrey says. "When people ask if the car has an automatic transmission, I simply say, 'What's that?'"
Inside the original rear housing sits a 30-spline spool with custom Moser axles that attempts-and I stress attempts-to plant two 9-inch skins when Aubrey drops the clutch at over 7,000 rpm. Speaking of skins, American Racing Pro Series Trackstar wheels on all fours are wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber (28x4 up front, 29.5x9 out back).
Much of the suspension cannot be altered as per the rules, but aftermarket shocks, springs, traction bars, and subframe connectors are allowed. The front end of this 409 is completely stock except for Moroso front springs (cut for a 11/2-inch lower ride height) and double-adjustable QA1 shocks. The rear suspension is much the same, with modified stock control arms and QA1s helping to plant rubber.
The exterior is coated in Corona Cream and works perfectly with the Bel Air's style and nostalgia. And of course, in typical stocker fashion, the interior is as original and untouched as it was in 1962, except for, of course, the wand of power and six-point rollbar.
This year, Aubrey plans to attend as many NHRA events as he can in the northern plains-also referred to as Divisions 5 and 6. Be sure to try and catch one of these events across the country to see high-flying Chevrolets.