In just eight short months, our '65 Cutlass project car has gone from vegetating on grandma's driveway to pulling major g's around Road America. During that time, it's blossomed from a mushy, wimpy conglomerate of decrepit OE parts into a cutting-edge Pro Touring machine poised to grip it up at autocross events and road courses throughout the country. During one glorious weekend in May, we did just that. As Brent Jarvis and company at Performance Restorations (www.PerformanceRestorations.com) were putting the finishing touches on Project Olds, car owner/photographer Robert McGaffin decided to give it a proper shakedown thrashing at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Faceoff at Road America. It proved to be one heck of a maiden voyage, as the event pitted 40 wicked g-Machines against each other in an automotive triathlon featuring timed hot laps around Road America's famed 4.048-mile road course, an autocross shootout, and a braking competition. Although the excursion revealed several bugs that need to be ironed out, Project Olds performed remarkably well overall.
The Optima Ultimate Street...
The Optima Ultimate Street Car Faceoff kicked off at Andrew Chevrolet in Milwaukee with a breakfast hosted by Pennzoil. In preparation for a weekend of festivities, McGaffin deftly affixed his official car number onto the front windshield.
To recap, Project Olds has been transformed from slug to slugger by trading in its 330ci small-block and two-speed automatic for a 514hp big-block Olds and a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed stick from Hurst Driveline Conversions. Since the Pro Touring creed calls for multifaceted talents, the chassis has received some big-time fortification with a complete Detroit Speed and Engineering suspension, Baer brakes, and R-compound Nitto NT01 meats wrapped around 18-inch Rocket Racing wheels. The event kicked off with a cruise around Milwaukee up to Road America's premium facility in Elkhart Lake. During the 80-mile trek, a few stabs of the throttle quickly revealed the Cutlass's bipolar demeanor. "The 461 big-block doesn't buck or surge at all at low speeds, and pulls very hard from idle all the way up to 6,000 rpm," McGaffin says. "It has so much torque that you never feel the need to wind it out all the way. The overall balance of power and driveability is excellent."
After rolling into the pit...
After rolling into the pit lanes, the Road America crew gave Project Olds a proper inspection. Rules vary by track, but at the bare minimum cars competing on a road course must have seatbelts, a battery hold-down, good brake pedal pressure, and healthy hoses and belts. The Optima event also mandated proof of insurance, and functioning lights and turn signals.
After a pit stop at West Bend Dyno Tuning in West Bend, the racers rolled into Road America's facility on Saturday afternoon. As a warm-up to Sunday's main event, we were treated to a riotous team go-kart racing session. This afforded the opportunity to socialize and make some new friends with fellow competitors, and as we found out the next day, it always pays to have friends should you need a helping hand.
On The Autocross
While the road course and braking events proved to be ridiculously entertaining, we were most concerned with how quickly the Cutlass could rip through the cones. First and foremost, Project Olds was built as an autocross machine, so we were very eager to see if it could hang with the lighter and more powerful competition. The field ranged from first- and second-gen Camaros, to Chevelles, E-Body Mopars, and late-models. Many boasted lightweight aluminum LS motors and modern Hemis, so it remained to be seen if plopping in a big-block would hamper the Cutlass' ability to plant the front end through a tight autocross course. As we quickly learned, that myth doesn't always hold true.