A tap of the toe produces blurred surroundings. Your thoughts flap wildly in the slipstrea
You don't do a killer car cheap. You can build it yourself, have someone do it for you, or buy something that's already rolling. Regardless of origin, the thing's naturally gonna be expensive. Did we mention turbochargers? Though not necessarily the most expensive power adder in the universe, its plumbing complexity, high-quality materials, and powerful adaptable electronics are mandates. To complete the package, the engine and drivetrain (the management of all that torque) must be able to respond accordingly. If you're stabbing an overkill engine, the rest of the car's systems have to withstand hellish abuse, even for a few seconds of bloodletting. Doing it all in an obscure but memorable suit makes it that much more deadly.
Then we have the case of Brad Hillebrand, a 43-year-old professional who is joined by a wife and two kids. None of this deterred him from his love of the Pontiac Momma. He's a Pontiac head, oh yeah, and has gone through a '74 GTO, a '79 Trans Am, and currently herds a '67 GTO. Brad got tied to this thug LeMans along the way that looks too much like a mass murderer. Actually, it was Brad.
"The quest for more power started when I was looking for more power than was in my '67 GTO. I restored and drove it for a couple of years with a 500hp engine. Sure, it hauled, but it didn't really haul. I thought twice that much power would be cool and just what I needed. I set the objective as a 1,200-1,300hp street/strip car, and was hunting for a body to build and researching what stuff to buy for it.
"Originally, I was going to do a supercharged Pontiac engine ... and was leaning toward a '74 GTO or early Firebird to put it in. I estimated build time at one to two years, depending on the car. I was dreading the build time. I'm a busy guy, and finding time to do another car would be tough, but I figured it was worth it."
Brad was looking for a motor combo when he came to the Nelson Supercars Web site. What he saw there got him thinking that turbocharging might be the shining path for a dual-purpose machine. On the Nelson site, he spied a '63 LeMans that was boosted by a twin-turbo 522-inch big-block with all the good stuff. There was one HUGE issue: The engine wasn't a Pontiac, and being a staunch Pontiac fan, that was akin to laying with the Devil. But didn't Ol' Scratchy perch on Brad's right shoulder and whisper in his ear: "C'mon man, you love the look of the car, it's a Pontiac, and the sheer meanness and madness of a streetable 2,000 hp is nothing if not insane. Sure, having a few extra horses lying around is a good thing." His job was done. Brad wrestled with it for some time before letting his good sense get the best of him.
Tom Nelson's Web site is energized by driving clips. "I just couldn't get enough of watching it," says Brad. "I was addicted and pictured myself driving it. I think that's the point where things changed for me. It went from nice to have, to must have. I had to have it. I started thinking the car was really cool and after all, it's done, I don't have to wait, and wouldn't be spending all those nights building one. After I got over the big-block versus Pontiac thing, I was good to go." Watch it, Brad, when the Poncho vigilantes see this they'll be wiring up to waste a heathen, even a misguided one like you.
The next hurdle was breaking the news to his better half. After hinting around for a few weeks, he leaked the scheme to her. Her first take on it was: "No way. It can't be safe." Don't ya hate that, when your wife is so intuitive, like she's already seen the damn movie so she knows what happens in the end? Kelly was no match for Brad's ego-driven persistence. He wore through her like a belt sander.
For all the whimsy of the uncommon Pontiac body, the interior is hard-core business. No fr
He went to Cali, huddled with Nelson, and looked the car over for a couple of hours. Then it was time for a testdrive, first as a passenger, then behind the throttle of the A-bomb with slicks. The front end didn't lift and the tires didn't spin. The LeMans just rocketed straight down the pike like it was drawn by a magnet.
"I have the boost set at 11 psi via the electronic controller, which leaks a paltry 1,244 hp and 1,054 lb-ft of twist-perfect for cruising around," cracked Brad. Yeah, boy. In a neighborhood crawling with thermonuclear devices, maybe. And there's so much more laying in wait. At the top of the 32-psi threshold, the 522 issues a sack-shriveling 1,960 hp at 6,300 rpm, and 1,750 lb-ft of locomotive-like grunt at 5,000 rpm. Yes, ready for all-out war.
Nelson Supercars built the entire project and refinished the body as well. Supercars' Scott Carpenter did the Viper Blue paint. The minimal fiberglass cowl hood features a pair of rectangular cutouts on either side to vent the big Rat. On the inside, it's all business. JAZ race seats, not lounges, and no creature comforts at all, save for that nostalgic AM radio. With more Auto Meter gauges than a fighter aircraft dash, the gut cohosts a master panel with switches for all the basic systems.
To the right of the steering wheel is the Innovative boost controller. The red switch is connected to the trans brake. Directly below it, on a fabbed portion of the transmission tunnel, the Winter Racing shifter sits up high, right in line with the driver's reach. Out back, the Tempest's trunk is gobbled by the big wheel tubs, the fuel cell, the Product Engineering fuel delivery system, and the twin Optima Red Tops standing sentinel on either side.
Brad admits: "The car is complete overkill, and I still can't get over the fact that with all that power it can cruise around in traffic, idle at 900 rpm, and stay at 190 degrees." But all is not sweet in the Land of Brad. "The suspension leaves a little to be desired for street use. It's OK, but bumps are a big concern as the downpipes from the turbochargers are only 4 inches from the ground. To accommodate, I'm going to use oval exhaust tubing and install an Air Ride system in place of the coilover shocks, so I can further change the stance." Sure, different mufflers will quiet the car down some, but stealthy is something it will never be. Brad still needs to quell the interior chat with sound deadener and new carpet.
If you were at all introverted, this fugitive from an Arnie Beswick nightmare would not appeal. People hear it long before they see it, and when they see it, they become completely wazzled, tongue-tied, and totally wrong about what they think their eyes are telling them. Says Brad: "As it turns out, I have items on the engine that I wasn't aware of. The fuel regulator becomes a nitrous solenoid and the oil lines for the turbo are the nitrous lines. The combination radiator/intercooler becomes two radiators, the turbochargers become superchargers, and there's a carburetor under the intake manifold cover. It takes a while to absorb it all. The item I get most questions on is the kill switch (above the righthand taillight). Most people think it turns the lights on!"
You might suspect a vintage dual-quad Poncho under the cowl hood, but noooo! What you smel
The Tempest has girth-considerable. At about 3,800 pounds with Brad behind the wheel with the 1,244hp tune-up, it has run 5.30s at 137 on Irwindale's eighth-mile (translation: about 8.30s in the quarter). Although he probably should be trailing a parachute, Brad takes some comfort in a tube-frame car that is certified to 7.50. So that his kidney disturber will be a scooch more acceptable in the real world, he's going to put skinny radials up front and humongous M/T radials on the drive axle. Probably do the aforementioned Air Ride system, too.
And still Brad will be pinned against the seat in a real hurry, listening to the twins boost up. He'll have both paws on that steering wheel as everything in the periphery blurs out when the LeMans pierces the exclusivity of the 2,000hp street-car universe. Brad cops to it: "I don't think God intended us to drive stuff like this-it's just not natural."