Devalued currency sucks. These days, $25 won't even get you half a tank of gas. While it's still enough cash to buy three minutes of special attention at a windowless establishment, the problem is you won't have enough beer money left over to convince yourself that those shapely young ladies are really interested in you. As a testament to how much times have changed, in 1968 Ted Parrish bought an entire car for $25. During the 45 years he's owned his 1956 Pontiac Safari wagon, it's been transformed from a mild boulevard cruiser to a big-block–powered Pro Touring brute that hangs with Porsches and Corvettes on the autocross. The prospect of a 4,500-pound land barge slicing through the cones with the big boys sounds utterly ridiculous, but after witnessing it in person, it's so wrong that it's right.
In truth, the $25 sales price that Ted likes to quote isn't entirely accurate. As a college kid, Ted had a soft spot for Chevy Nomads, but couldn't afford to buy one. He went over to a friend's house one day to borrow an air compressor, and spotted a Safari wagon in his backyard. "It was the first Safari I had ever seen, and at the time it was a disassembled shell full of a bunch of discarded parts. When I asked what he was doing with it, he said as soon as he swapped the motor out of the Safari into his 1953 Chevy pickup, he planned on hauling it to the scrap yard," he recalls. Ted was working at an automotive upholstery shop to pay for college, and although he couldn't come up with the $25 asking price for the car, he figured out a way to put his stitching skills to good use. "I had a custom bucket seat laying around that I made by narrowing a bench seat by 3 feet, then reupholstering it to look like something out of a 1955 Chevy. My friend had always wanted this seat, so I offered to trade it to him for the Safari. I only had $10 in materials into that seat, and he agreed to give me the interior along with the car if I made him a second seat to match the first one."
To get the Safari road worthy on the cheap, Ted dropped in a Chevy 283 small-block and a four-speed stick. Since the car was only 12 years old at the time, it didn't need any major sheetmetal repairs. As such, Ted gave it a quickie home paintjob and hit the road. He cruised the wagon in this configuration until 1981, when he flared the rear quarter-panels to match the front fenders, repainted the car red, and bolted up some wire wheels. "I tried to sell the car for $1,500, but thank goodness no one was interested," he chuckles. Then in 2008, Ted decided that he wanted to give the old girl a makeover, but this time he had the funds to go all out. "At first, I wanted to build a Pro Street car with tubs and a blower sticking out the hood. I really like driving my cars, however, and I realized that a Pro Street setup wouldn't be very streetable," Ted explains. "I also own a Shelby Cobra replica that I like to autocross, and thought it would be fun to do the same thing in the Safari. I wanted some wow factor, so I ordered up a 572 big-block Chevy crate motor. That gets peoples' attention right away."
The heavy-hitting Chevrolet Performance Rat motor features a four-bolt GM block bored to 4.560 inches, a forged rotating assembly, and a 254/264-at-.050 hydraulic roller camshaft. Providing the air supply is a set of GM rectangle-port aluminum cylinder heads, a single-plane intake manifold, and a Holley 750-cfm carb. Exhaust exits through a set of Sanderson headers and dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers. A trick electric cutout arrangement bypasses the mufflers entirely, and gets the crowd all fired up as the Safari navigates the autocross. GM rates the 572 at 620 hp, but Ted claims that they routinely dyno at over 700 hp. All that power gets channeled through a Tremec TKO500 five-speed manual transmission and a Ford 9-inch rearend.
It's one thing to have weight without power or power without weight, but strapping a gargantuan motor to the already portly Tri-Five platform meant that the Safari's chassis needed a serious update. To solidify the wagon's foundation, Ted boxed in the factory frame using heavy-duty steel plates. Likewise, the frame was narrowed 6 inches in the front and back to make room for fatter tires. Since the Safari's archaic suspension wasn't up to the Pro Touring challenge, Ted hacked off the entire front section of the frame, and welded in a custom Mustang II-style front suspension with tubular control arms and 2-inch drop spindles. Out back, the leaf springs got chucked for a RideTech four-link with matching air springs and shocks at each corner. Stopping power comes courtesy of Wilwood 12-inch discs clamped by four-piston calipers at the front and rear.
Despite all the impressive chassis hardware, a 4,500-pound wagon is still a 4,500-pound wagon, which should make it impossible to run around a tight autocross course with any semblance of composure, competence, or dignity. Furthermore, measuring 225/40R18 up front and 275/40R20 in the rear, the Safari's tires aren't all that big. Nevertheless, the big wagon doesn't just get out of its own way, it flat-out rips, routinely finishing within the Top 10 in the Street Machine class at the Goodguys Fort Worth autocross. In fact, the Safari can give Ted's Cobra a run for its money. "My Cobra has a 545 big-block that makes 750 hp—and the car weighs just 2,700 pounds—but my wagon is only four tenths of a second slower than it on the autocross. It's amazing that such a big car can keep up with it, and it might even match it if I was a better driver," he opines. "The wagon is actually easier to drive. Since the Cobra has no power steering and very big tires, it's very hard to turn. In comparison, the Safari is easier to turn, very flat, and handles nicely."
It's only natural to focus on the Safari's surreal cornering prowess, but what shouldn't be lost in all the performance hysteria is that it's decked out with all the posh creature comforts you'd expect out of proper Pro Touring machine. Luxuries like air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power seats, power brakes, and custom leather stitching are all present and accounted for. Did we mention that Ted also uses the wagon to trailer his Cobra around town? With enough space to roll up to a windowless establishment with your buddies in limo-like comfort, for an original purchase price that will barely get you three minutes of special attention once you get inside that establishment, the Safari is the ultimate boulevard cruiser. Stomping Porsches and Corvettes on the autocross is merely an added bonus.
BY THE NUMBERS
1956 Pontiac Safari
A refreshing cure for the common LS motor, the 572 big-block Chevy shocks everyone who wal
Type: Chevrolet Performance 572 big-block
Block: factory iron big-block Chevy, bored to 4.560 inches
Oiling: stock big-block Chevy
Rotating assembly: Chevrolet Performance 4.375-inch forged crank, rods, and 9.6:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: Chevrolet Performance rectangle-port aluminum castings with 2.250/1.880-inch valves
Camshaft: factory 254/264-at-.050 hydraulic roller with .632/.632-inch lift
Induction: Chevrolet Performance single-plane intake manifold, Holley 750-cfm carburetor
Ignition: Chevrolet Performance HEI distributor, coil, plugs, and wires; MSD 6AL ignition box
Exhaust: Sanderson 2-inch headers, dual 2.5-inch MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: GM aluminum water pump, custom radiator, Spal electric fan
Output: 620 hp and 650 lb-ft
Transmission: Tremec TKO500 five-speed manual, Lakewood bellhousing, Ram dual-disc clutch
Rear axle: Ford 9-inch rearend with 31-spline axles, 3.55:1 gears, and Strange limited-slip differential
Front suspension: custom Mustang II front clip, tubular control arms, and drop spindles; RideTech air springs and shocks
Rear suspension: RideTech four-link, air springs, and shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 12-inch discs with four-piston calipers (front and rear)
The thundering exhaust note of the big-block is even more pronounced thanks to side pipes
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: American Racing Torq-Thrust 18x7, front; 20x9, rear
Tires: BFGoodrich 225/40R18, front; 275/40R20, rear
Ted says that the Safari rides on a wheelbase that’s 7 inches longer than a Nomad, and all
The custom steel gauge cluster was custom fabricated to resemble a 1959 Chevy dash. For th
Relying on his professional upholstering skills, Ted stitched up a posh interior complete