The first series of powerplants used a hydraulic camshaft. Unfortunately, one of these engines exhibited serious oiling problems while being tested by Road & Track magazine. To prevent similar issues in the future, the second series was modified with a solid-lifter cam and roller rockers. The third version of the engine used similar components but displaced 383 cid.
Horsepower ratings varied over the years (375 seems to be the most commonly cited figure), but in general, the TRACO engines would make power all the way up to 5,500 rpm, much higher than the stocker's 4,000-rpm limit. Peak torque for the iron-head version was 421 lb-ft, while the aluminum-head engines made 430 lb-ft.
The main changes to the interior included the addition of racing seats, a five-point harnesses, a shift light, an oil-temperature gauge, and an analog tachometer mounted on the top of the dash. Seats varied by build period. The Van Halen car now has Prinz seats, but some articles of the time list the original supplier as Konig, and various photographs support this assertion.
The GS80 cars were also fitted with a removable 2-inch rollbar. Although the initial installation took about a week in the shop, once in place, the bar could be removed or replaced in about 10 minutes. This four-point unit is acceptable for most Solo-type events, but the cars had to be fitted with a diagonal support for SCCA competition.
As for the Van Halen car, we know it was purchased in 1988 and that it had the very last of the first-generation engines. When the oiling problems became public knowledge, Van Halen brought the car back for an upgrade. TRACO work orders provided with the vehicle documentation show that this work was completed on February 20, 1989. Despite this attention to detail, the drummer never used the car in the manner it was intended.
The next owner drove and street-raced the car for a couple of years. It was during one of these street-racing exercises that he damaged the car's front end by running into a curb. The top part of the fender and the air dam were replaced, but the damaged wheel was not.
The car was next sold to Chuck Forgey, of Elkhart, Indiana. Chuck bought two new wheels-one replacement and one spare-then proceeded to race the car throughout the Midwest for the next two years. He earned enough trophies to validate Guldstrand's expertise in performance tuning before selling the car to collector Roger Abshire in January 2003.
Roger obtained as much documentation on the car as possible, but a fire in Chuck's house destroyed much of the original paperwork. Fortunately, Chuck had photocopies stored in a separate location. Roger is still negotiating the purchase of the trophies that go with the car, and hopes to eventually incorporate them into the vehicle display in his shop.
TRACO/Travers and Coons
The TRACO engine-building company was founded in 1957 by Jim Travers and Frank Coons. Their work was legend amongst racers, and the shop, located right beside Guldstrand's Culver City facility, was never idle. Notable projects included Roger Penske's '68 Trans-Am Camaro, the Roy Woods Trans-Am AMC Javelin, and Carl Haas' one-of-a-kind "Aircraft Carrier" Lola Can-Am car.
When both men retired in the mid-'80s, the business was purchased by head engine builder Jim Jones. Jim had been hired in 1979 and had helped TRACO stay in the forefront of engine technology. One of Jim's more successful racing programs at that time was with SCCA Showroom Stock Corvette racing, where he helped improve the performance of these production-based automobiles. Consequently, the remainder of the business became devoted to high-end street engines.
Dick Guldstrand relied on Jim to provide the powerplants for all of his GS80 Corvettes. TRACO engines were also installed in some of Boyd Coddington's cars, as well as in vehicles owned by celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicolas Cage, and Charlie Sheen.
After selling TRACO to Dennis Fisher Engineering in 1996, Jim did a stint with the AJ Foyt team before joining Callaway Cars in late 2000. At Callaway, he oversaw all of the company's engine-development projects, including the 6.8-liter SuperNatural LS6 and the C12-R race motors.
More recently, Jim opened Total Racing Automotive Co. (TRA-CO), in Denver, North Carolina. He still does work for Callaway, currently heading up the company's 600hp twin-turbo C6 engine program.
For more information on Tra-Co,visit www.tra-coracingengines.com.