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Morning Qualifying – Paranormal Activity edition

Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr. June 13, 2011 Morning Qualifying 15 Comments

The Gray Ghost in the paddock at Watkins Glen, 1971

In 1971, Pontiac engineer Herb Adams wanted to build on the racing development work that he’d done with Jerry Titus and TG Racing during the 1970 SCCA Trans-Am season.  There was just one problem.  Pontiac management didn’t want to do it; In fact, GM management wanted nothing to do with racing at all.  Jerry Titus’s death, at the wheel of a TG prepped Pontiac, at Road America the prior year had doused any enthusiasm Pontiac management might have had for motorsport.  Besides, performance car sales were down, and all of Detroit’s big 3 were scaling back the marketing dollars going to racing.  For Herb Adams, the gentleman who developed, or would develop, the Firebird Trans-Am, the 455SD, and the WS6, a little thing like a lack of corporate support wasn’t going to deter him from some hoonage.  So, Adams decided to look elsewhere for a race car…..his own driveway.

Bob Tullius at the wheel of the Gray Ghost at Mid-Ohio in 1971

Specifically, Herb Adams chose the 1964 Pontiac Tempest (with 80k miles on the odometer) driven by his wife.  With the assistance of three other Pontiac engineers, Tom Neil, Jeff Young and Joe Brady, and using his own money, Herb Adams set about converting Mrs. Adams grocery getter into a competitive race car.  Using a 389 destroked to a Trans-Am regulation friendly 303 cubic inches (producing a whopping 475hp), Adams and his skeleton crew added larger tires on the front, a few degrees negative camber on the rear to make the big Tempest hook up a little better in the corners, and a fresh coat of dull silver paint.  To drive their beast, Adams convinced the hard charging Bob Tullius.

Adams, Tullius and the big Pontiac arrived at Lime Rock for the ’71 Trans-Am opener.  No one thought for one second that the Tempest had a chance against the much smaller Javelins, Mustangs, and Camaros that populated the field.  And when the Tempest suffered engine trouble during qualifying, landing on the last row, that only fueled the derision.  Just before the green flag was about the drop, the skies opened with a torrential down pour.  As the race began, the entire field was skidding around the track like cows on skates….all but one.

Tullius, as skilled a wet weather driver as there was, tore through the field going from last on the grid to 15th….then 10th.  The track announcer, Art Peck, noticing Tullius’ rapid ascension said, “Look at that big Pontiac, carving through the field like a Gray Ghost!”  The next thing you know, the Ghost was hot on the tail of race leader Mark Donohue’s AMC Javelin.  With less than 10 laps to go, the car began to overheat, the head gasket failed and the Gray Ghost dropped out of the race.  While the final results were less than optimum, the Ghost immediately won the affections of the fans.  Out of 6 races entered in the 1971 season, Tullius and the Gray Ghost had three top 5 finishes, wound up fourth in the constructor’s standings, and scared the hell out of the competition.  Which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a ghost.

Ed Hinchcliff's Mustang duels with Bob Tullius and the Gray Ghost at Watkins Glen in 1971.

 

  • Jeremy Wilson

    That’s kind of awesome.

    • chrystlubitshi

      i believe you mean "That's *ALL* kinds of awesome"

  • The front end looks mean enough to make guys pull aside and wave you past.

  • Van Sarockin

    They should have promoted Adams to head of GM for an accomplishment like that.

  • themagicboltbox

    Boy, that hits all my tingly bits. I just got done with a suspension rebuild on my '67 Tempest (shameless plug alert: http://themagicboltbox.wordpress.com) and now I'll pretend I'm pushing the Gray Ghost through the corners instead of my white clunker.

    Thanks Scroggs!

  • raphaelinberlin

    amazing to think that a 7 year old chassis had the wherewithal to compete in top-flight competition

  • Sounds like something you'd hear about reading Murillee's LeMons stories. I love this kind of thing. I wonder how they got all that power out of a destroked 389? And what happened to this magnificent car?

    • dukeisduke

      Pontiac actually built a 303 (a destroked 400; it was known as the Ram Air V), specifically to go Trans Am racing with the Firebird, but it was never successful. It employed a lot of unusual-for-Pontiac stuff, like mechanical lifters and round port heads. Normal Pontiacs ran zero-lash hydraulic lifters (just torque the rocker arm nuts down, no adjustments needed!) and D-port heads.

      • scroggzilla

        I read an interview with Herb where, initially, Pontiac tried to develop their OHC 6 for Trans-Am. When they found they couldn't get enough power to be competitive, they cooked up the 303 (though, I thought they used the 389 as it's basis, instead of the 400). The 303 could be made to make a lot of horsepower, but it was plagued with overheating issues.

  • MrHowser

    Makes me want to take my wife's Civic, drop in a built B18, and see how comfortable it is to sleep in once she figures out how much money I spent ruining improving her car.

    • Why a B18? If you're going to be exiled from your own home over it, make it at least a K20. There are even J35 kits starting to come on the market, if you want more cylinders!

      • MrHowser

        You sound like you know what you're doing. I hereby put you in charge of Operation: Doghouse. We're now taking donations.

  • CJinSD

    How long does a solid rear axle that's been cambered work?

  • Mike

    It's bent slightly. The way I have seen it done is with chains attached to each axle housing end, with a press or jack on the pumpkin pushing against the middle of the chain. If I have described right, you can picture the axle bending like a bow. Some live axle cars can get up to 3 degrees neg camber doing it like that.

    Hard on bearings?

    You betchurass it is.

    Mike

  • midniterider 429

    That car dealer was the late Louie Spoerl. I got to sit in the car and rev the engine a little when I was 15. The Spoerls lived down the road from my family in the 80's in Cumberland Md. I was there paper boy and a friend of their son Rich. I never knew I was sitting in such a piece of american racing histrory until just recently when I saw this car on another web site. I'm pretty sure that is Louie behind the wheel in this photo. He was a great guy and a generous tipper at Christmas. He kept the car at there home garage on occasion after trips racing at Daytona and Summit Point. I'm 52 now and this photo brings back alot of fond memories. Louie died in 1988 of a heart attack and the his family moved to Florida I believe. I don't know what happened to the car. Bob Tullius lives in Winchester Va. about 65 miles from here, he may have it now? Long Live The Grey Ghost!