1966 Pro Touring Studebaker
The 1966 Studebaker started from very humble beginnings. Originally, the plan was to update the front suspension on Larry's 1965 Daytona by building a new front clip. The 65 had already been transformed into a mild custom by building a larger 383 cubic inch engine, swapping in a 9" Ford rear end, converting to 4-wheel disk brakes and lowering the car several inches. Although the car looked the part, accelarated and stopped quickly, it still handled like an old car through the corners.
The basic layout of the new front clip was based on the geometry from the team's Pro Late Model race car but it was optimized for turning both left and right. The final design incorporated coil-overs for adjustable ride height, C4 Corvette hubs and spindles, a 3-piece splined sway bar, Appleton rack and pinion and enough room for a large 31" aluminum radiator.
Anti-dive was incorprated into the upper-a-arm mounts to prevent severe nose-dive under heavy braking. Adjustable slugs allow for adjustments for roll centre and caster. Camber is adjusted by changing the length of the upper a-arm or adding or removing shims.
The original 283 cubic inch engine was used during mock-up and offset 3 inches rearward to improve weight distribution by taking some of the weight off of the front tires.
Before reaching the point of no return, Larry decided that despite the shortcomings of its handling during spirited driving, the 65 Daytona was too nice of a car to cut up. On to Plan B.
A very rusty 1966 Studebaker was resting peacefully behind the shop and was actually destined for scrap. It wasn’t until the shell of the car was loaded onto a trailer and half way down the driveway that Larry had second thoughts.
After pulling the engine in the driveay, which didn't make Larry's wife very happy, the 66 soon found a home in the team's shop. After a few sketches and some further brainstorming, a plan started to take shape.
Larry wanted to honour Studebaker's racing heritage by creating a car that would turn as well as it could accelerate and stop. A 3-year build was about to begin that would transform the rusted-out parts car to a Pro-Touring inspired hot rod with modern suspension, big brakes and plenty of power.
Before long, new frame rails were grafted to the front clip and a 4-link was built to locate the rear axle.
With the rolling chassis now complete, attention turned to rejoining the remains of the body back to the new chassis. Most of the floor that hadn’t already rusted away had to be cut out to make room for the 4-link and transmission.
A new transmission tunnel and floors were fabricated and temporarily fitted to the body. The floor had to remain removable to make it easier to locate the body and roll cage. The stock fender wells remain untouched. With the correct backspacing, a 10” wide rim should clear without any interference. However, mini-tubs may be a future consideration.
Reuniting the body and the chassis allowed measurements to be taken for the bolt-in roll cage. Given that the Studebaker was destined for multiple disciplines, a specific rulebook was not followed when designing the cage. It should pass NHRA certification and provide an added level of protection during lapping days. With no plans for wheel-to-wheel racing, full door bars were deemed unnecessary and the final design was a compromise between safety and comfort.
At this point, the floor had not been permanently attached yet, making test fitting the body much easier. Unbolting the cage and moving it rearward provided sufficient clearance for lowering the body onto the chassis. Once the body was resting on the chassis, the cage was returned to its proper location.
Note the recessed firewall, which was necessary due to the engine set-back incorporated into the design. Without the proper tools or experience to bend sheet metal into compound curves, an old hot-rodder shortcut was employed. A quick trip to the local hardware store to purchase the cheapest wheel barrel that was found on sale proved to be the perfect shape and size to fill in the gap. Even if you have the tools and skills to start from scratch, this short cut will save considerable fabrication time.
With the body and cage sitting in their final positions, the removable braces were added and the floor panels reinstalled. Making the rear braces removable allows the rear seat to actually be functional. But without any padding due to the raised floor pan to provide clearance for the 4-link, it may not be the most comfortable seat for a long cruise. With the rear seat installed, the rear bars will disappear where the bottom and the back of the seat meet.
Front brakes are 13” Baer rotors and Wilwood 4 piston calipers. For initial mock-up, coil-overs and sway bars were e-Bay finds and may be upgraded once the car is complete and the tuning process begins.
With the rolling chassis and cage now complete, the body received some much needed attention. NOS Studebaker panels are readily available and surprisingly inexpensive compared to GM muscle cars. Eventually, only the main tub remained as NOS quarter panels, doors, fenders found their way onto the car. Replacement hood, trunk lid and trim was also purchased at the National Studebaker show in South Bend, Indiana.
After fitment of the new panels, the entire car was disassembled and the chassis and cage sent for powdercoating prior to starting the re-assembly process
With the body back in position and some massaging of the N.O.S. panels, the project was starting to look like a car again. Three rows of louvers were punched into each side of the stock hood and the cowl induction from a 79 Z28 was grafted into the centre. It was also raised 1.5” and opened at the rear to become functional. High pressure air at the base of the windshield will be pulled into the engine more efficiently.
After many hours of fitting, blocking and sanding, the body was sent out Five Star Collision and Restoration for the final coat of paintl; 2006 Mustang Tungsten Grey.
By now, the powerplant had already been built; a 400 cubic inch small block chevy that had been bored and stroked to achieve 421 cubic inches. It features AFR alumunum heads, a full roller cam and breathes through a 770 CFM Holley. Power is transmitted through a 6 speed Richmond. The engine did not make any test pulls on a dyno, but it is estimated to be north of 500 horsepower and torque.
Inside, the stock appearance of the factory interior was maintained, but with a few upgrades. An ididit tilt steering column and custom wheel connects the driver to the Appleton steering rack. Front seats are from a GT Hawk and door panels are N.O.S. pieces from a '64. Classic instruments help to monitor the engine and are housed in an engine turned panel that reinforces the perfomrance theme.
Before its first test drive, the 4:10 gears on a full spool were swapped out for a 3:50 posi unit from the '65 Daytona.
With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Studebaker Drivers Club International Meet at Dover Downs, the crunch was on to complete the car. Driving lights from a '69 Camaro was incorporated into the bumper, which made it easy to bolt on the Camaro's spoiler. The grill was fabricated by polishing and fitting aluminum agle iron found in the project section of the local hardware store.
However, as the event approached, the long list of small items that needed attention ultimately proved too large to complete. The '65 was a suitable backup and with plans to sell the car once the '66 was complete, it made sense to advertiseat the 50th anniversary meet in Dover. Without knowing whether the Daytona would return home from the trip, the obligitory photoshoot of the two cars together had to be taken.
Although the to-do list remained fairly long, the car's first public appearance was at Keystone Automotive's Super Show at their Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, ON. The Ontario 1500 was on site to promote the event and the '66 looked great in full race livery.
In November, Larry had the opportunity to join Scott in Las Vegas to take in the SEMA show. For any gearhead, SEMA is definitely a bucket-list item. For Larry, it was a productive trip.
Prior to the trip, double adjustable shocks and springs from Viking were installed on the car and considerable time was spent in the booth to gain a better understanding of how they should be set up and the range of adjustment that is available.
Although additional padding was added under the stock seats, side bolstering was still minimal and the absence of a head rest was not the safest option. A pair of Procar rally seats was ordered at the show that had enough bolstering to keep the driver firmly in place and with a head rest, was a much safer option. The seats also mounted lower in the car, which provided additional clearance to the roll cage.
The Optima Batteries Ultimate Street Car Invitational was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway following the show and VIP tickets granted access to the pits before the general public. The early entrance was key, as we were only able to spend the morning at the track before heading back to the airport.
Day 1 of the event featured mirrored autocross tracks, as well as a start-stop challenge on the road course. Although it appeared that competitors were reacing each other on the autocross course, this was purely for the amusement of the fans. Each competitor was scored solely on their individual times.
Back home from SEMA, it was time to start working on the car again. Correcting the bump steer was the first priority. Spacers placed under the rack and at both inner and outer tire rod ends were not sufficient to correct the bumpsteer. Custom steering arms were ordered and proved to be the correct fix.
The 6 speed Richmond was pulled out, in favour of a TKO 600 close ratio 5 speed. Although the chassis was designed to go, stop and steer like a modern car, the 4 link locating the rear axle was better suited to the drag strip than the autocross course. With the car entered into the Ontario 1500 and an increased focus on handling than 60’ foot times, it was determined that a torque link would be more appropriate.
It took a long time to design and fabricate the components to make it a bolt-in solution within the space constraints of the chassis. The tight space resulted in a robust design that is likely over-engineered, but deflection should be minimal.
Cardboard was used to create templates for the mounting plates to bolt directly to the 9" rear and a local shop was contracted to laser cut out of 0.375" steel plate. The rear of the torque arm mounts and pivots off the mount that attaches to the front of the pinion bearing.
Pinion Angle is adjusted with tubes running to the top of the housing mount and once locked in, the shackle links to the lower housing mount were made to length. Multiple sets of rear shackles were made to accomodate different pinion angles. This is probable overkill, but provides a safety factor that I am sure will not fail, & shares the loading in an opposite push/pull mode.
The front pivot mount to frame is a Spohn Performance High articulation Pivot & Thrust bearing Assembly, which is used on their own torque arm. Holes in mounting brackets are countersunk (taper bored) to allow use of .375 fine Polaris ATV wheel nuts to get enough thread engagement.
Removing 2 up the aluminum links from the previous setup saved 5 pounds but at least 30lbs was added with the new torque arm. The rear suspension can now fully articulate 4” in both rebound and compression.
With phase one of the project mostly complete, it was time for some testing to debug and tune the car. After several spirited drives on lightly traveled country roads, we were not happy with the car’s braking performance. Changing to a more aggressive pad compound solved the problem and now, the car brakes exceptionally well.
With a few street miles on the car to bed in the pads and a full tank of gas, the Studebaker was loaded onto the trailer for its first real opportunity to test the car’s capabilities. The first event of the season with a local autocross series, “Push It To The Limit” (PITL.CA) was held on May 23rd. Unfortunately, the event was over before it began due to a failed clutch master cylinder.
We did not plan on any major repairs, so only minimal hand tools were brought to the event. After trying unsuccessfully to bleed the system, even with the assistance of a vacuum pump, the car was loaded back onto the trailer without making a single run. Rebuilding the master cylinder with fresh seals had the car back in running order a few days later.
The 2nd attempt at an autocross several weeks later wasn’t significantly better. Even though the organizers had secured the necessary approvals for the event, it was shut down by several overzealous members of law enforcement who had concerns over the safety of the event. The Studebaker was only able to complete two runs before all on-course activity halted. The first run was conducted at ½ speed to become more familiar with the course. A missed gate during the 2nd attempt aborted the run. However, it did provide sufficient feedback to identify a pad knock-back problem on the rear brakes.
Back home and on the hoist, it was determined that the caliper mounts were not 100% true to the rotor surface, which was exaggerated by excessive run out from the wheel bearings.
The rear axle was originally assembled with previously enjoyed parts and 28 spline axles with plans to upgrade to HD components once the car was together. Moser HD 31 spline axles with Timken HD taper bearings and double retainer plates were ordered.
This also required removing the torque arm to gain access to the 9” centre section. To stabilize the rear end during torque link removal, the top 4-link bars were temporarily reinstalled. To our surprise, the 28 spline axles had already twisted significantly, despite no hard launches on sticky tires.
After installing the new 31 spline axles, the caliper mounts and rotor surface were checked to make sure they are parallel to eliminate brake bad knock back. Once everything was back together, the next opportunity to test the car was a lapping day at Toronto Motorsport Park, otherwise known as Cayuga.
We were surprised that the lapping day was offered, as it was on Friday, July 10th prior to the Nitro Nationals. Friday was setup and a test & tune day for both the drag strip and the road course and the pits were packed.
Unfortunately, track time was limited due to an electrical problem that caused the car to shut off. The problem was traced to the ignition switch. Despite track time being cut short, the test was a success. It provided enough feedback to realize the suspension was too soft. Front springs were increased from 350 to 400 lbs, front and rear sway bars were tightened up and the shock damping increased by two clicks in both rebound and compression.
All of the testing to date was in preparation for a track event as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) on July 15th. We felt that the firmer suspension settings would be a better match for the higher speeds at Mosport. Prior to unloading at the track, plates and spacers were added to the rear 4-link brackets to a much stronger double-shear mount.
The event at Mosport was hosted by 6thgear and offered 7 hours of open track time. With no run groups, everyone was free to enter and exit the track as they pleased. Although we have considerable experience on the track, it was a little intimidating sharing the track with so many high-end and extremely fast cars. It had been nearly 30 years since Larry was at speed on the big track.
Image courtesty of 6thgear.ca
The first 15 minutes was under controlled speed with no passing and was a great opportunity to get reacquainted with the track. We alternated sessions behind the wheel as we cautiously explored the limits of the car. The car ran flawlessly all day. The coolant temp stayed under 180, the brakes felt great and the car was clearly more capable than the drivers. The car was slightly loose around several of the tighter corners, so the rear bar will be softened for the next time it hits the track.
We were strapping in for one last session when a Porsche 911 GT3 RS made hard impact with the pit wall exiting turn 10. Rather than wait for track to be cleared, the car was loaded back onto the trailer after a successful day at the track.
After a successful test at Mosoport, it was time to start working on some of the smaller, detail items that remained on teh "to-do" list. By grafting the lower valance from a 69 Camaro and
replacing the clear bulbs with amber units, the Camaro driving lights were converted to the front signals. This left the Studebaker's original turn signal openings as ideal candidates to be converted into brake cooling ducts.
Left-over hose from the late model was donated to the cause and new ducts were purchased from Bicknell Racing Products, a local builder of Dirt Modifieds.
The original signal opening had to be enlarged to match the brake ducts and the bottom corners were trimmed to to allow the bottom of the duct to attach to the front of the bumper.
A 4" PVC union is used to locate the brake hose. A small splice was removed from the union prior to sliding over the hose. This allows the hose clamp to tighten the union against the hose. Attaching the assembly to the upper control arm keeps everything in place.
From the front, aluminum trim and screening is still required to produce a finished look.
The lower control arms are stock car pieces, manufactured by Howe iRacing Enterprises in Michigan. They are made out of extremely thin wall tubing that are designed to bend on impact to minimize damage to the main chassis. Although the latemodel sees its fair share of bumps and bruises, it does not have to contend with deep pot holes, rough railway crossings, exposed manholse covers or the rumble strips at the race track.
We decided to fabricate new lower control arms using thicker material. The added strength will provide peace of mind during the Ontario 1500 and we will pack the original control arms to take with us as spares. The rubber bushing will also be swapped for a rod end for the 1500. After the event, we wil go back to the rubber busing, which should help to improve ride quality on the street.
We also decided to have the control arms tig welded. Unfortunately, we don't have a tig welder at our disposal, so we had to outsource the final welding. Bicknell Racing Products was extremely fair.
After swapping out control arms, camber & bumpsteer had to be reset. Static camber is set at -1.5 degrees and reaches -4.5 degrees at 3 inches of compression. Bumpsteer is very good and peaks with very little bump out through 2.5" of travel. Max bump at 3" of travel is 0.050".
Unfortunatley, the car gained a few pounds this summer. Earlier in the build, the car weighed 3,100 lbs, but the full interior was not in yet and that was prior converting to a torque link, building a skid plate to protect the oil pan and installation of the trailer hitch required for the 1500. With a full tank of gas, the car now weighs 3337 lbs.