When new, Detroit’s muscle cars weren’t known as “muscle cars,” rather they were advertised as sport coupes, performance sedans, gentleman’s racers, and even as supercars. When lined up, manufacturers happily exchanged blows at the track – and we’re not just talking about the quarter mile. Chevrolet, Pontiac, Dodge, Oldsmobile, AMC, and Ford regularly put their machines through the paces through the cones and on the skid pad. To the engineers who were part of those heydays, claiming that the muscle cars of the 1960s were never designed for handling or braking is actually offensive.
While clearly overshadowed by today’s innovations in brake controlling and suspension geometry, yesterday’s muscle machines can hold their own – at least with a little bit of aftermarket encouragement. This movement, typically coined as Pro-Touring, has helped to spark a new renaissance in muscle car performance.
Bill Howell, the man behind the very successful Run Through the Hills (RTTH) pro-touring competition through the Tennessee mountains, brought his knack for classic road racing to Southern California last year with the first ever Run To The Coast (RTTC) which returned again to the vacated El Toro Air Station this last month.
Last year’s RTTC was an unmitigated hit, hosting a field of true competitors, ranging from accomplished enthusiasts, media personnel and the aftermarket, particularly from the likes of Detroit Speed, Hotchkis, and SpeedTech. The abandoned El Toro Air Base sits south of Los Angeles, in the City of Irvine.
Literally an abandoned airfield, the sprawling acres of coarse, gray concrete has been on the city’s “to do” list for decades. Many have petitioned to have it turned into a sports park with a quarter mile drag strip, a road course and skid pad, in addition to a playground, soccer and football fields and an indoor basketball stadium. Stuck in bureaucratic limbo, the air field remains empty and available for rent.
Scheduled for a three-day weekend, silver sheets of rain drowned out much of any hope for Friday, but the clouds parted for most of Saturday and all of Sunday. Over 50 participants took to the field with only the minimalist of rules: 1) no exotic rubber, tires had to be DOT legal and feature a minimum of a 200 treadwear; 2) all cars had to pass a cursory tech inspection; and 3) SNELL-rated helmets were mandatory.
All vehicles competed on the same plane, and that included a wickedly supercharged Ford GT, a measly FWD Dodge Omni and everything in between. If it was a domestic, it could play.
We were impressed with the amount of non-traditional muscle cars and trucks we saw at this year's Run To The Coast event. Street trucks are quickly becoming the choice for many car enthusiasts looking to build something other than the same old same old.
This mind-numbingly expensive Ford GT vomited out its exhaust's internals during a very aggressive Speed Stop pass (see the debris flying behind).
The three arenas of combat were simple, a 1,000-foot “speed stop” challenge, an autocross serpentine course and the open road course. Mainly dominated by first generation Camaros, the remainder of the fray included a few first generation and late-model Mustangs, a Shelby Cobra 427, some other F-Bodies (including a gold Trans Am and some second-generation Camaros), one sweet ’69 GTO, a couple classic trucks, a pair of Novas, Corvettes, and a solitary ’55 Chevy.
The Baer Speed Stop proved more difficult that expected, as many pitched their cars sideways in an effort to halt before the final cone. Others, like a wayward C6 'Vette simply plowed straight through it.
Considering the toil these cars were put through over the weekend, there were a surprisingly low amount of terminal breakdowns. Participants were quick to troubleshoot their machines between heats and make for a good showing out on the field, impressing fellow competitors and the few spectators present.
Plenty of orange cones were gobbled up by wayward racers, some impromptu drifting ensued, tires rolled away with flat spots and a whole lot of extra mileage was put on some brakes; all making for a great two days of friendly racing.
When the smoke cleared and the trailers loaded up, Kyle Tucker won the vendor’s King of the Hill award, just edging out DSE’s Ryan Mathews and his first gen. Camaro. In the Detroit Speed and Engineering Road Coarse, Blake Foster in his Nova bested Brian Hobaugh and Brian Finch behind the wheel of his Camaro.
During the Carbon Kustoms Autocross, Brian Hobaugh piloting his Corvette ousted Mary Pozzi and her Camaro and Brian Finch. In the final challenge, the Baer Speed Stop, Sal Solorzano’s Camaro overtook Kyle Tucker and Kyle Newman in his ’55 Chevy shoebox.
Wear and tear can be a mean mistress. This bare bones 383-powered, Hotchkis-equipped '68 Plymouth Road Runner spent all-day Sunday in triage while others could quickly repair their rides and get back out on the field.
Carroll Shelby knew what he was doing when he first sought out to build a true road racing machine with the Shelby Cobra. This red-and-white-striped snake made short work of the autocross course.
Maybe it's that we're biased towards the bigger intermediate-sized muscle cars, but we fell in love with this look-at-me orange GTO. Whether on the Speed Stop stretch on running paces on the road course, this A-Body always had our attention.
A Word From Editor Mark about his experience with the StangTV 2011 GT
It has been nearly seven years since I had been on a road course or autocross, though in my heyday, use to be a decent threat in my local SCCA division. When I purchased my 2011 Mustang, my goal was back to get into road racing with it and the Run to the Coast 2 event was going to be my return.
In the grand spectrum of the Run to the Coast event, I knew I was going to be at a disadvantage. Most folks brought their race cars in trailers, equipped with fully built suspensions, a wide set of wheels and tires, 500-1000HP, and a set of big brakes. I would load my stock wheels and tires in the trunk and backseat along with a bare set of tools, helmets, wife (she was in the passenger seat, not the trunk), and drove the car to the event. The Mustang still has the temporary tags on it and is simply equipped with a FRPP Adjustable Handling Pack, SVT 18×9.5 wheels wrapped in Falken RT-615K tires, that sat in front of my stock (non-Brembo) brakes. An axle back, Airaid intake and SCT tune would be the extent of my added power.
The Ford Racing suspension worked amazing – it isn’t some high-dollar fully adjustable coilover suspension, it is a direct bolt-in, single adjustable shock and spring package that utilizes the stock suspension geometry and is designed for weekend warriors on a budget that still drive their car everyday. That means that with a twist of the adjustment knob can change the dampening from slightly firm daily driver with a quiet ride, to all-out track monster. FRPP also includes a strut bar, fixed sway bar, and adjustable front sway bar with this package – though the shocks provided enough adjustment for me that I did not need to play with the sway bar settings.
The beefy sway bar end links are even shorter than stock so they align better on the lowered vehicle. Also, a hallow factory bar is replaced by a solid version
In addition to the suspension, a set of 18×9.5 SVT wheels were wrapped with Falken’s new RT-615K tires. I have owned many sets of Falken Azenis tires, including their very first design that was released in the early 2000s. They were among some of the meanest tires allowed in the Street Tire-based classes. The biggest beef with the second revision of the Azenis (the original RT-615) is that they worked awesome when they were cool, but would get slippery if they became overheated. I can attest that after five back-to-back laps on the RTTC2 road course with speeds as high as 120mph and as low as 40mph, the new Azenis compound is just as predictable on the first lap as it is on the last lap.
At the end of the day I was very happy how the Mustang and I performed, 8th place on the Detroit Speed Road Course and 4th place in the Baer Speed Stop competition out of 70+ cars. The autocross I finished in the middle of the pack and never got a run that I deemed was decent enough to my standards. Stay tuned for a complete installation article on this Mustang coming up soon.
Looks can be deceiving. The RT-615K may look like the original design, but underneath that tread pattern is a whole new tire compound.