On The Autocross
Our template by which every other car was being compared to was a base model bright red with black stripes '72 Chevelle with a 402 and backed by a stout THM 400. Shod with 15-inch BF Goodrich Radial T/A's and stock brakes, I really felt bad about passing this gorgeous car through my mess o' cones. It was a violation, sacrilege, a moment of insanity perhaps. Sitting in the driver's seat, I wasn't feeling warm or fuzzy about my job at hand.
Even though this car was everything but autocross ready, I had to do it. Campy was watching me like a hawk, cattle prod primed and told me he'd use it if I bailed. Man … a dilemma if I ever faced one, as the Chevelle was pristine, untainted, and way too perfect to beat on. The owner was also watching; occasionally sharing a worried look. This wasn't a car I wanted to flog, but rather wrap up in a thick, snuggly blanket, settle in with a bucket of real buttered popcorn and a large Diet Pepsi, and watch Vanishing Point at a local Drive-In.
Idling up to the start cone, I launched (softly), hurried the Chevelle onwards to the first left-hander and quickly realized this car likes nice, gentle wide turns. With that slow by modern-times steering, there was no way one could move this car around corners any other way. Yes, it put a huge load on those BFG's but they hung on, squealing like a herd of oinkers, and got me through the crossover and on to the slalom.
Through here, it was a leanfest and I then realized that quick, fast transitions left or right aren't part of the Chevelle's vocabulary. Hauling the mail to the end turnaround was good, but braking to get slowed was bad—really bad. Like in "I'm headed for the next county bad." We finally got some whoa, got around the end with a bunch of push but that's expected due to that big-block weight up front.
Hitting the "Box" high, wide, and handsome found yet more understeer and a sprinkle of weight transfer plus slow steering all mixed together with the start of throttle hesitation eventually got me ‘round. Through the sweepers and in the walloms (slaloms comprised of strings of cones rather than a single one), everything was done in slo-mo. Braking, turning, and then getting back on power … I'm patient and can wait for it. I only made two runs as this Chevelle wasn't willing to play my game much longer and had given it's all.
When this car was new and Solo events were called gymkhanas, I now know why the plethoras of Spridgets and Spitfires, Loti (both the Elan and Sevens), Fiat Abarths (the real ones), and other cars of tiny dimensions ruled the day. Given the choked-down autocross courses of yesteryear and the parking lot sites they were held on, there's no way a Camaro, Chevelle, or Corvette could maneuver smoothly and maintain any semblance of forward and competing in one would most likely have you preferring a root canal.
Driving this Chevelle, however, gave me smiles. Smiles from appreciation of how well the Chevelle tried to perform in a venue where it was totally misplaced. And a thankfulness for all the foresight aftermarket suspension companies had when they realized what these cars needed, then created and built parts to get them to where we are today.—Mary Pozzi