Walking through the pits at an NMCA event, you wouldn't necessarily think it's a racecar. In fact, it looks decidedly out of place. Yet, there it is with the hood up, contingency decals plastered on the glass and a big number "1" designating this car as the defending class world champion. Ask who owns it and you'll find this is Andy Warren's championship-winning 1971 Caprice.
"When I first got the car, I was just looking for something different," Andy Warren says. "My dad and I found it in a local Bargain Mart newspaper. It was one owner, garage-kept with 95,000 miles, and they were asking $1,500 for it. I wound up getting it for a good price and used it as my daily driver for a few years. My friends thought I was crazy for building something that big, but I felt I was up to the challenge.
"I took it to the track the first weekend I had it," Warren continues. "Later on, I put headers and Flowmasters on it—and it ran 9.60s in the eighth-mile with a 2-bbl carb. Then I added an Edelbrock intake with a Quadra-Jet and drove it around for a long time like that. Later on, we built a mild 406 for it and put in some 3.90 gears, which got it into the 8.70s, which was pretty quick for a street car."
Of course, this wasn't just any street car. One of the biggest Chevy coupes ever built, the Caprice was the top of the line in a family of fullsize Chevrolets. Close cousins included the Buick LeSabre, Olds 88, and Pontiac's Bonneville. With a 121.5-inch wheelbase (the station wagon version was a bit longer), this boulevard monster offered Chevrolet buyers a premium ride, space, and luxury that one magazine said was a better value than a Cadillac. Nearly half a million Impala coupes and sedands were built that year, but Caprice production totalled only about a quarter of that. With a starting price of just over $4,000, V-8s were standard. Buyers had the choice of 454 or 402 Turbo Jet big-blocks or the 400 Turbo Fire 2-bbl small-block engine.
While they were racing the car locally, Warren and his brother had attended some of the old Edelbrock Pro Series street car events and found them to their liking. When the NMCA took over the series, he began looking at its Nostalgia Muscle Car class and found that his big Caprice fit within the rules perfectly. Designed to be a small-tire foot-brake class for American-made cars up to 1979, this class runs off of an NHRA Sportsman ladder with a .500 tree with a handicap start, with 10 different index classes ranging from 10.00 to 14.50 seconds. Modifications are severely limited to keep the costs at a minimum, and the cars as close to original as possible.
Warren attended his first event back in 2004, where he redlit during the first round, but he entered the final race of the year at Memphis and won it all in just his second start. Warren was hooked at that point, but even so, finding consistent success proved to be tough. He finished 19th in the final standings in 2005 and then a sixth place and two runner-up finishes during the next three years. The year 2009 saw him break through with his first series championship, which he defended successfully the following year. After the final event of 2011, Warren locked up an unprecedented third series title in Nostalgia Muscle Car.
"Paying attention to the weather conditions outside and on the track really helps make a difference in racing," Warren said when asked about the secret of his success. "Seat time really helps, too. Doing local bracket racing helps you know your car and to stay sharp on the tree."
When we photographed it, Warren's championship-winning Caprice was utilizing tubular lower control arms, upper/lower A-arms, an anti-roll bar, and a transmission crossmember that were custom-made by TRZ Motorsports. Afco adjustable shocks are used on all four corners along with Aerospace four-wheel disc brakes for sure-footed stopping power. Out back, a 10-bolt rear with Moser 33-spline axles, braced tubes, and 4.56:1 gearing helps plant the 28x10.5 Mickey Thompson drag slicks, which are mounted on M/T Pro 5 ET Drag wheels.
Knieriem Racing Engines in Louisville, Kentucky, built the engine combo, which uses a 4.125-inch bore with a 4.000-inch stroke in a Dart Iron Eagle block to produce 427 cubic inches. Making up the reciprocating assembly is a Scat crank and connecting rods, which motivate the 13.1 Ross pistons. The architecture on the top end consists of a set of Dart Pro 1 aluminum heads with 2.000-inch intake and 1.600 exhaust valves with a Comp Cams solid roller camshaft. Topping that is a Dart single-plane intake with a single Quick Fuel 850-cfm carburetor. An MSD lights the mixture that's provided by a Fuelab pump, while Dynatech stepped headers route the spent exhaust gases rearward through Flowmaster Outlaw mufflers. Backing that up is a column-shifted TH350 Turbo transmission with stock gear ratios built by ATF in Davie, Florida. Ultimate Converter Concepts provided the 6,000-stall torque converter.