#Projecttarantula started life, innocently enough as a pre-war Chevy coupe. The twisted path that led it to becoming an open wheel modified in the early 60s is unknown. What is readily apparent, are the battle scars and repairs that punctuated it’s hard driving racing career. Each of them have a rich story to tell. When we encountered the car on Craigslist, November 2016, it spoke to us. We knew it had to be given another run around the track. After a couple of phone calls we were on our way to northeast Georgia, trailer in tow. Upon arrival we met the owner and I scrambled to sit inside. The former driver must have been 5 foot 2 and 125 pounds. It was all but impossible to squeeze my 6’2” 260 pound frame inside. After a few panicked moments the task was accomplished. One of many problems we would encounter.
The state of it’s mechanicals fell far short of desirable. As we plunged into the history of cuts and welds and re-welds, we realized that it was going to need more than a little attention. But however hacked an old race car becomes, the beautiful simplicity required for cheap speed makes a teardown much simpler than an ordinary car. After removing 8-12 bolts, the body was resting patiently on the shop floor, leaving behind the full horror of crusty welds and mangled tubes. The interior cage would have to be redone, but the frame appeared to be very solid. Common practice among racers back in the day was to employ the frame rails from a 55-57 chevy to act as the main support. This was for several reasons, not the least of which were their plentiful supply, and the fact that they were fully boxed. This makes them very strong and happily, ours were unmarred by the years of racing.
The next issue was the radical offset employed by many elements of the car to give it the advantage while turning LEFT. The attempt to “de-circle-fy” it was going to be a challenge. The franklin rear end was the most obvious. The left tube and axle would need replacing. The front rt lower control arm would need shortened, the wheels would all need replaced, and the rack would be moved. Thankfully, the frame itself was square.
She arrived w a Rochester 4 speed, and sweet running 283 w lopey cam. We upgraded with an M-22 we had along with Aluminum driveshaft, (which just happened to be the right length). The power tour was only 5 months away by now so the 283 would have to suffice until we found something “Special” for her. The rear suspension was in complete disarray, so we built a 2×4 square tube swing arm setup for more stability, using enormous heim joints. The bones were all in place.
The front of the beast was going to present a special challenge. The car had such visceral and simple lines, but the big blocky radiator up front was an unpleasant addition. It stuck out like an expletive in a sunday sermon. We had to relocate it to the rear. To accomplish this, two steel pipes were installed down the passenger frame rail and a position under the decklid was chosen. It was angled forward w a dual electric fan, and we are happy to report not a single overheating problem. At least, not after we punched about 12 holes in the trunk “area”.
The paint was a different story. The ancient sheet metal had been blasted and painted w a simple enamel paint job by the previous owner. It was shiny and looked like an ostrich egg w all of the rust pits. We knew that something special was in order, but what? We are Graphics people by trade and some crummy vinyl stickers would not suffice. Everything must be painted on just like they would have back in the day. So we got our brushes out and got busy. Layer by layer, the colors went down until an authentic story emerged. Inspiration came from some old Hotwheel designs, and it was all in paint but some patina was in order. This was a tough call, since it actually looked pretty cool the way it was. The shiny paint was just not lending the perfect feel. So after all of the graphics were applied, we crossed our fingers and painted over the whole thing in strategic patches of rust brown, and burgundy, making note of where the sun and rain would have conspired to weather the finish. The existing thousands of rust pits captured the darker hues and lent an unmistakable authenticity to the hand painted designs. Our gamble paid off.
Now we actually had a few days to shake her down before the tour. We discovered that an 11 gallon fuel cell, no gas gauge, no odometer, and a thirsty small block are a bad combination. We ran out of gas three times in as many days. D’OH!! A workable solution was applied by carrying two gallons in old school paint cans 8 inches behind the drivers head. Like the proverbial umbrella insurance of no rain, we have not run out of fuel since. As for the shakedown, it was unbelievably sorted out. The efforts of John and the team at Ozan Chassis Shop has been proven once again. The only issues we have had were a few loose bolts and some alternator problems. But that would not appear until after the Power Tour and a 560 HP Heart transplant… Tune in to hear the rest of the story. #projecttarantula lives!!