If we didn't see it ourselves, we'd be hoisting up a BS flag of our own. We'd do it with the conviction of a redneck flying a Confederate flag in a trailer park too. The art of BSing requires maintaining an element of feasibility, so claiming that a car built for a measly $20,000 runs 9s reeks of pure rubbish. That leaves just two possibilities: We're either very poor BSers, or we must be telling the truth this time around. Because readers chronically remind car magazine staff of our adept BSing skills, this can't be some botched fib. With the right strategy, single-digit e.t.'s can indeed be had for dirt cheap, and Mark Cisneros' '84 Monte Carlo is the star of this non-fiction tale.
Achieving big-time speed for small-fry cash starts with selecting the right platform. A GM G-body won't ever win a beauty pageant-or even be runner-up for that matter-but it makes a surprisingly competent street/strip candidate. They're new enough that rust needn't be a concern, yet some are old enough to be exempt from smog checks in some states. Likewise, they're cheap, plentiful, and relatively lightweight. In other words, they have all the prerequisites of a good street machine. Oblivious to this fact, Mark got his car as a high school graduation gift 17 years ago. "At first, I didn't care about modifying the car," he recollects. "It was just a plain Jane Monte Carlo daily driver while going to college. Then one day I said, 'It's got a V-8, so I might as well turn it into a hot rod.'"
That sure seems like a lackadaisical attitude for someone who'd one day put together a 9-second street warrior, but the journey from casual enthusiast to hardcore racer didn't happen over night. Along the way, in addition to developing wrenching skills, Mark established a nucleus of resourceful friends who made possible hot-rodding on the cheap. "This car wouldn't be where it is today without the help of my friends, who always helped me stay within my budget," he says.
The best kind of destruction is educational destruction, and a multitude of powerplants have honorably suffered the rigors of racing in the Monte. The first victim was the stock 305. It all started innocently enough with the addition of a K&N air filter, but then the racing bug bit hard. "The poor little 305 didn't last long with me driving it everyday and racing it on the streets," Mark reminisces. "It blew a head gasket, and that convinced me to build something with a little more power." He pulled a used 350 out of a late-model truck, installed a new intake along with Edelbrock heads, and ditched the ber-lame electronically controlled factory carb and HEI ignition. That combo was good for high 13s, and a 125hp shot of spray shaved another second off of the Monte's e.t. After getting too greedy with the nitrous, the rings butted up and blew the pistons and heads to smithereens. Tired of messing with stock junk, Mark was ready to get serious. "By this time, I was hooked, and all I thought about day and night was racing. I went to the local hangouts every weekend to street race [which we don't condone at all.-ed.], and I even lived with my grandmother for a while until I saved enough money to buy a new daily driver."
Feeding the motor is a Product Engineering fuel pump and a -10AN feed line.
With the Monte now retired from commuting duties, it was time to build a motor from scratch. To keep costs to a minimum, Mark kept things simple by cleaning up the block and matching the stock crank with a set of steel aftermarket rods and forged pistons. Now displacing 355 ci, the short-block's additional strength allowed jetting up the nitrous to 200 hp, which delivered quarter-mile figures of 11.0 at 125 mph. Not too shabby for a DIY combination built with the help of some friends. The 355 survived three years of inclement cylinder pressure spikes courtesy of the giggle juice before being discharged from battle.
Engine No. 4 would prove to be the mack daddy of them all: a 427 small-block potent enough to propel the 3,480-lb car/driver package to 9.78 at 140 mph. Mark established a comprehensive game plan to assemble the ultimate Mouse motor with his machinist serving as co-conspirator on the project. The duo schemed a Motown-block-based 427 with an Eagle rotating assembly, unported Pro Topline 235cc cylinder heads, an Edelbrock Super Victor intake, a Holley Dominator carb, and a truly wicked solid roller cam.
We found it quite odd when a man of Mark's technical proficiency claimed that he didn't know his motor's cam specs, so we had to pry some figures out of his hermetically sealed trap. "Well, if you're going to make me give you some specs, it has over .630 lift, around 280/290 duration, and a 114-degree LSA," he begrudgingly replies. He insists that those duration figures are at 0.050-inch lift, which sounds completely bogus to us. "That's how I can run 12:1 compression on pump gas," he says while only semi-successfully holding in his laughter.
Numbers only say so much about how fast a car really is, and Mark found out his car was a bit too fast for TV when he showed up to compete on Pinks All Out last March in Houston. Unlike the original Pinks, All Out pits a field of 16 finalists (out of 400 entrants) in a heads-up format for a $10,000 grand prize. Because close racing makes for good TV drama, and most of the finalists were running 10s, Mark was told his car was too fast to race against the slower competition. That's even lamer than an electronically controlled carb. Nonetheless, he's not bitter about the experience. "The other cars running 9s were all-out drag cars, so it was very gratifying to see my street car hang with those guys," he comments.
Interestingly, if Mark went on to win Pinks All Out, his purse would have equated to half the total price of his car. So what's the key to going so fast for so cheap? "It's not always what you know, but who you know," he quips. "Just by hanging out at shops and at races, you can get in good with people who work on cars for a living, and they usually have spare parts they will sell for cheap. It's a matter of them needing extra money at some point in time, and me being there to snatch the parts up." For instance, Mark says his heads would normally have cost $1,400, but he grabbed them for $700 from a friend. Likewise, his machinist buddy sold him a Motown block for $1,200 instead of the $2,300 it would have cost new.
Granted, Mark's friends were instrumental in his Monte's buildup, but perhaps he should give himself more credit. By not overcomplicating matters, he was able to cut down on costs significantly. The rear drum brakes, for instance, were replaced with second-gen F-body discs instead of a sexier aftermarket setup. He bought a fresh set of calipers, rotors, and pads for $350 from O'Reilly, then had a buddy weld a set of custom brackets to mount onto his 9-inch rearend. Moreover, the Monte's suspension is nothing more than some aftermarket drag shocks, a thicker sway bar, and the biggest tires that fit in the factory tubs. It's cheap, yet effective, yielding excellent 1.41-second 60-foot times. The $600 TH400 was put together by another connection who works at a local trans shop and rebuilds his buddies' transmissions for extra cash on the side.
That's not to say that building a 9-second street car is easy, however. Just because penny-pinching pros like Mark make it seem easier than it really is doesn't mean extraordinary feats of cheap speed are bunk. So if you pride yourself in going fast for cheap, but can't top Mark's accomplishments, acknowledge his superior hot rodding skills and keep that BS flag stashed in the closet.
With exception of the Kirkey race seats, the OE interior is fully intact.
Mark found himself in a ditch after his throttle got stuck one day.