In 1956, the award-winning Broadway musical comedy Damn Yankees debuted about a long-suffering baseball fan who sold his soul to the devil so his team could find success against the New York Yankees. The DOT racers at Maple Grove Raceway and Richmond might wonder if the same dealings might be at play with this mid-8-second '56 Bel Air, as the car continually gets quicker and faster every year. A subsequent investigation found, however, that dark forces have less to do with how well this car performs as much as hard work and a few well-chosen parts and pieces.
"This was my first hot rod," owner Glenn Hunter of Long Island, New York, said with a hint of a devilish grin when asked about the origins of the car. "My father bought it in 1979 when I was in ninth grade and paid $800 for it. He'd had a bunch of these as a kid and bought it to fix it up, but never got around to it, so I kinda stole it from him."
Of course, dad probably didn't object too greatly when he saw all the work Glenn was putting into the Tri-Five. While he was still in high school, Glenn yanked the original six-cylinder in favor of a warmed-over 327 that was backed by a four-speed. It was just a 13-second street car used for hot rodding around town, but it was still an object of passion for the youngster as one modification ultimately led to another.
"In 1987, I built a big-block 427 with a 6-71 blower for the car and ran an 11.19 best with it," Glenn said. "A few years later, I went to a 509 and was running low 10s in the beginning before I eventually went with an 8-71 blower. Later on, I upgraded again to a 10-71, and finally to a Whipple screw charger, which is on the car now. I worked my way up a little each year, but it was always a street car and only made an occasional appearance on the track."
Today, the car runs in DOT and Super Chevy True Street classes with a 555 ci stroker that uses a Dart aluminum block, Lunati crank, and CP flat top pistons. Conventional big-block Chevy BMF billet aluminum heads feature 2.300 intake and 1.880 exhaust stainless steel valves. A custom-ground Bullet roller cam orchestrates the valvetrain and is capped by a Blower Drive Service intake with twin Mark Sullens-prepped 1050 cfm carbs and the Whipple supercharger. Fuel is supplied by a Magnafuel pump and Barry Grant regulator that draws from a 13-gallon cell via -10 AN line. Kooks provided the custom headers that discharge the spent gases through a custom 4-inch diameter stainless steel exhaust. Behind that is a Turbo 400 transmission manipulated with a B&M shifter.
Glenn rebuilt the front end with suspension pieces, spindles and brakes from a '92 Corvette. The chassis on this Bel Air was supplanted by a S&W Race Cars ladder bar rear suspension that's anchored by a Dana 60 pumpkin, which houses 3.55:1 gears with Moser 40-spline axles. Weld wheels are used all around, with 33x18.5 Mickey Thompson ET Streets on the rear.
With the exception of a single parachute and wheelie bars, the body remains essentially stock with full glass throughout. The paint is the same single-stage PPG combo Glenn painted the car with in 1991.
In terms of sheer performance, everything Glenn did was pretty straightforward, but there are a handful of things that really separate this Tri-Five from the rest of the pack. First is the Whipple W510R 305 series supercharger, which provides a high level of volumetric efficiency for bigger power as compared to older GM-style huffers, along with quieter operation and the need for fewer rebuilds.
Converting from gasoline to E85 fuel also made a significant difference. This alone allowed Glenn to bump the compression up to 9.5:1 for more power while minimizing detonation. Modifications to the fuel cell and staggered throttle linkage allow the car to run on 87-octane pump gas for cruising, while a stock GM flex fuel sensor switches the supply over to octane-rish E85 whenever Glenn stabs the throttle. Switching from carbs to sequential fuel injection enabled individual cylinder tuning with the aid of an Innovate LM-1 wide band air/fuel ratio meter, which is also used for data collection capability. All of this helped Glenn run an impressive 8.443 at 160.42 mph in the quarter-mile, with a 1.287 60-ft time—at a race weight of 3,850 pounds with driver.
If you still think this is really a thinly disguised racecar, think again—Glenn put over 2,000 miles on the car during Hot Rod Drag Week in 2012. He went from highway to drag strip several times without incident (no trailers allowed).
"Over the years, picking the right parts and changing some things around has been the secret of success," Glenn said. "I've been tweaking this supercharged combination since 1987, when I first went to a Super Chevy event. Eventually, I'd like to redo the rear suspension and upgrade the chassis certification so I can go into the 7s."
While some may be disappointed to learn that there weren't any real supernatural secrets or deals with the devil behind this mid 8-second Tri Five, others may take solace in knowing the real secret. For just like in the original play, true love (coupled with some busted knuckles, research and elbow grease) can always save the day!