Competition is a funny thing – for some people, competition makes them rise to the occasion, whereas for others, competition makes them hide. Some people are born competitors, much like “Flyin” Ryan Bell, owner of this beautiful 1976 C3 Corvette. Born and raised in Canada, Bell got his first taste of competition at a young age riding dirt bikes. The hobby turned into a passion and it eventually lead him into competing professionally in the sport of motocross.
For those of you that don’t know, motocross consists of racing high-powered dirt bikes on closed courses at ridiculously high speeds. Riders compete in a two-a-day race format called “motos” whereas the rider with the best average across the two motos wins the “overall” for that day. What makes it even more difficult, is that typically motocross is a summer-season sport meaning the riders race their two 30 minute motos regardless if it is during a hurricane or 105-degrees and humid. It has been described as the world’s most physically demanding sport due to the extremely high levels of risk and the struggles with having to wrestle a 250-pound dirt bike for over an hour each raceway.
His nickname “Flyin Ryan” was not only used in Motocross.
This insanely-competitve sport is where Bell cut his teeth in competition. Sponsored by Honda, which at the time was the creme-de-la-creme of sponsors to have, he raced professionally from 1987-1990 in both the Canadian and American Pro Motocross series until it became time to move on. Much like drag racing, motocross is a very expensive sport to compete in, only when you crash in motocross, you don’t have a roll cage and five point harness to help break your fall.
Courtesy of Bell, he sent us pictures of his factory Honda jacket and a shot from an ad campaign.
Having purchased his Canadian-version 1976 Corvette in June of 1988, he originally had the intentions of using the car as a fun daily driver. After leaving professional motocross in 1990, Bell was in need of competition (and going fast) and he quickly discovered drag racing – it just so happened he had the perfect car to get his feet wet with too! From the original purchase date in 1988 until 1993, Bell used his Corvette as a daily driver while competing at various events on the weekends. By 1993, the drag racing “itch” was in full effect and what once was a casual hobby was beginning to become more serious competition to him. The outcome of an increasing obsession in drag racing turned a car that originally cost him $9,600 in 1988 to a vehicle that now has easily over $100,000 into it.
We caught up with Flyin Ryan himself at the NCMA West Coast Shootout presented by Lucas Oil this past June. Having moved to Phoenix, Arizona full-time a couple years ago, he made the six hour trek to Fontana, CA to test the capabilities of his beautiful red C3 against some of the west coast’s toughest competition in the naturally aspirated 10.5 class (NA 10.5), which is the fastest naturally aspirated class to run in NMCA. As a two man team, he and his good friend Erick Gano were on site ready to see where they stood against the high level of competition.
Taken in 1995, Bell’s C3 has changed quite a bit over the years.
Having never met either of them previously, we were quickly welcomed by both Bell and Gano who despite their busy schedule and Bell’s double-duty of playing both driver and mechanic, still offered us ample time to get to know them and learn about the Vette. For Corvette enthusiasts, the first thing you notice about this C3 is that it looks like an early 80s Vette, not a late 70s. There is method to the madness and as Bell explained, he replaced the nose and tail sections of his ’76 Vette with those from a 1982 for cosmetic and aerodynamic purposes.
The change to the ’82 cosmetics really helped add to the overall look of the Vette and while looking at the tail section, we quickly noticed that the vehicle still had Alberta, Canada plates. Seeing a plated car at any serious drag racing event isn’t exactly unusual as some drivers will have a custom plate with the cars name or something clever, however what was unusual is that when we asked about the plates, we were quickly informed that this Vette not only has Canadian plates, but is licensed, insured, and street legal – which is outright awesome. After further conversation, we uncovered that this Vette still gets driven on a regular basis and as such is no “trailer queen.”
Adding to the reality of the vehicles street capabilities, we noticed that the car still had the functional headlights, functioning radio, factory gauges, and used the original glass windows all the way around – no lexan in this Vette.
As the owner of FPS or Flyin’s Pro Street Engines, it should come as no surprise that when we asked Bell what his favorite part of the build is, he responded by saying, “The engine, because I’m an engine guy.” Being his third NMCA race he had ever competed in, we wanted to know what motivates him to compete and what made him drive over six hours to see what the west coast had to offer. When asked, he stated, “I am a small time guy, just trying to compete with these guys,” but we could sense his competitive nature as it was obvious he wanted to win!
When you consider the age of the Vette, it is obvious it has been well cared for. The paint shines bright and it was almost clean enough to eat off of – although we don’t recommend that for obvious reasons. Weighing in at a very reasonable 2,815 pounds with Bell, this C3 has recorded its best time of 8.57 in the quarter-mile at 159 mph (at NMCA Fontana) – impressive in its own right, especially when considering you can drive it to the grocery story mid week. After hearing those kinds of numbers, we immediately had to know what was under the well-kept exterior.
They say the devil is in the details, and this saying stands true with Bell’s C3. We noticed earlier on during the day that the car ran without the hood in the qualifying rounds and when we caught up with the team in the pits, the hood was still not on it. While the missing hood did provide for a great view of the motor which we will get to, it did make us scratch our head and we had to ask why. As soon as we asked why the hood was missing, Bell smiled and replied, “I hate that it’s missing!” As it turns out, he had recently relocated the fuel tank to the front of the car to help with weight distribution and in doing so he had to remove the mounting hardware for the stock hood. While we thought it actually looked kind of cool without the hood, he did inform us that he has a hood ready to go for the car, but that he needed to switch over the Dzus fittings to secure it.
Under the hood is where things get real. At the heart of the C3 is a naturally aspirated 439 cubic inch small-block Chevy motor. With weight placement and the size of the driveline, the motor does not sit in the original location and has actually been moved two inches forward and two inches down to aid with handling. This small block has 16:1 compression with a John Partridge made, one inch lift intake cam. Sitting toward the top of the motor are Dart Little Chief heads and a carburetor – no fuel injection for this power plant! Built and tuned by Bell, this package produced 1,050 hp at the flywheel the last time it was on the dyno – which was just one week prior to the NMCA race. Quite impressive numbers for an all-motor and carbureted setup.
After breathing in all that air, it has to go somewhere – and the exhaust note coming out the back does not disappoint, either. Bell custom made a set of headers for his Vette that collect into a full FlowMaster exhaust system with dual-rear exit turn-down pipes. While the Vette had been run off of pump gas for the majority of the time he owned it, for the sake of more power it was switched over to race gas in 2011 and remains on race gas.
A powerful motor alone is no good unless there is a drivetrain that will be efficient and help transfer the power to the wheels. Thankfully, this C3 has a drivetrain setup to do just that. Using a Turbo 400 transmission in its original case with a sequential, ratchet-style shifter, Bell is able to transfer power to the rear wheels. The stock independent rear suspension system has been completely removed to make way for a traditional solid axle setup featuring a 12-bolt Strange built rearend. The rearend is held in place with a ladder bar style setup with a set of Strange double adjustable rear shocks to fine tune the launch and traction capabilities.
The suspension is much more stock upfront as the stock A-arms and coils are used in conjunction with a set of AFCO front shocks. The steering system is still completely stock all the way from the tie-rods to the steering wheel which shows how good the stock system actually is. Being that the Vette runs in the NA 10.5 class, it is only fitting that a set of Micky Thompson 10.5-inch ET radials wrap the Weld Racing beadlock rear wheels. Weld Racing wheels are also used for the front although they are wrapped with four and a half-inch Goodyear Eagles. Bell did mention that he plans to switch over to Mickey Thompson front tires in the near future, he just hasn’t made the switch yet.
With the speeds the C3 is running, it is required by most sanctioning bodies that the car be equipped with a roll cage – and Bell’s C3 is no exception. Inside the cockpit, you find a very original-looking red interior that has had a few additions made to it in order to provide safety and meet the requirements of the various racing organizations. The majority of the roll cage is either painted red to match the exterior or has been wrapped with red padding for safety. When you first open the door however, you notice a very trick-looking set of chrome door bars that can be removed for ease of entry when not competing at the track.
Secured to the cage, is a pair of Recaro race seats with five-point harnesses. Throughout the interior, you see that the majority of the stock components still remain – which is a refreshing twist to the standard gutted interior with aluminum door panels. From the gauges, steering wheel, dash, and door panels, a large portion of this Vette remain in stock form and looks really good doing so. The safety features of this vehicle are not just on the exterior. With the speeds Bell runs with his Vette, it can be rather taxing on the stock brake system. As such, he has added a parachute to help slow this beast down at the end of the quarter-mile.
Slowing the Vette down is not the only concern produced by the amount of power it produces. In order to keep the front tires planted to the ground and reduce loss of time from excessive wheelies, Bell added a wheelie bar to backside of the Vette that has had its fair share of usage and has proven to be more than valuable by keeping this eight-second car planted.
After spending a good amount of time with Bell and Gano, we really got the feel that they are just two guys living the dream and doing what they love. Their passion for the sport is apparent and they really helped make our day at the track even better. At the end of the day, they aren’t doing it alone and Bell wanted to make sure that he thanked some of his sponsors that make it all possible – sponsors like A-1 Transmissions in Vancouver, WA and Braswell Carburetion of Tucson, AZ.
Shortly after the weekend ended, Bell got in contact with us and sent us the pictures to his new hood, scoop and all! He has worked extensively with Jonathan Fiello at K&N in the past who was instrumental in supplying Bell with the much needed scoop to ensure a steady flow of air. The hood has yet to be painted, however judging by the looks of it, it’s going to fit in with the overall look of the car just fine!
To see more cars exciting car features from NMCA Fontana and future events, stay tuned to Corvette Online!