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Hitting the Track in a 1964 Ford Falcon [w/video]

Until today, my Falcon’s temperature gauge had never so much as crossed the halfway point. But there we were just outside of scalding hot coolant explosion range, listening to it percolate coolant through my cracked overflow bottle. This might turn into a very short day, I thought.

We were in the paddock at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, taking advantage of the open test and tune track day before the 24 Hours of LeMons Arse-Sweat-apalooza, particularly the “open” part. I’m all for personal responsibility, but was a little surprised when the staff ok’ed my bench seats, lap belts and complete absence of crash engineering for track use. Certainly not complaining, though.

To make things interesting, I’d proposed to Jack Baruth of The Truth About Cars that he come give me some driving instruction in my antiquated machine. The goal was to see just how great or lousy a 48 year old car with a little modern augmentation could be on the track. More importantly, to see if it’s inherent flaws would help or hurt my attempts to become a better driver.

Having spent a characteristically Baruthian evening the night before, Jack was still en route when the first session began. I went out solo, figuring it’d be a great chance to get a feel for the car and track.

I’m semi-proficient when it comes to go-fast driving. Were it a foreign language, I’d know plenty of vocab and proper conjugations, but regularly flub my pronunciation and stumble in conversation. The knowledge is there, the precision execution is lacking. To that end, Jack wasn’t there to teach a whole new language, just to drill in some pronunciation rules. “Lay Maahn”, “Ver-sigh”, “Shamps El-lee-say”.

As such, I spent 15 of that first solo session’s 30 minutes doing the hard-drivin’ I’d learned 11 years ago at a 2-day Skip Barber course: threshold braking, heel-toe down to 2nd, power on past the apex up to 5,000rpm, eyes up to the next corner. The remaining 15 minutes? Parked in the paddock while the car overheated.

In our first session together, Jack just let me drive. When the temp gauge climbed again, we pulled into the paddock to cool off the car and get some instruction. “You’ve got aggression, which is good, because I can’t teach that” Don’t be a wuss: Check. “But you’re beating the shit out of your car and not really getting any faster for it.” Noted. “I want you to run the whole track in 4th”. Surely not the whole–“The whole track”.

There are two ways to highlight a bad line through a corner: go fast and over/understeer your way into the dirt, or drive two gears too high and nearly stall the car if you fail to unwind the wheel. At like 18mph, there’s no concern of careening off the track by straightening the wheel on a corner exit. You’ve got a good 12 seconds before you even reach the curb, so straighten that baby out and give the motor one less thing to push against. The drill removed the adrenaline and split-second corrections from the learning process; did a great job of cooling off the car as well.

For the rest of the day, “Unwind the wheel” became the objective. However, one does not simply unwind the wheel. To maximize one’s unwinding on corner exit, one must properly set up the corner and take the right line into the apex. My inability to unwind the wheel was a symptom of a crappy corner entrance. Taking a less frenetic approach to corner entry by easing up on the heel-toe and not wringing out every last millisecond of straightaway helped set me up for success on the other end.

The key to entering and exiting well (no laughing) is to plan, rather than react. If you just look at the portion of corner you’re about to deal with, you’ve already blown it (which I regularly did). Our next exercise was an eyeball drill: notice something new on every corner. Signs, corner worker gender, skid marks, whatever. The point was to force me to move my eyes around and stimulate my visual cortex beyond tunnel vision on the approaching tarmac. The net result had me remembering to look up and through the corner exit, which had the biggest effect on my overall success.

By the end of the day, I’d shaved about 15 seconds off my lap, and managed to do so with a driving style that showed a bit more respect to the car. I knew the drills I needed to run, it was just a matter of repeating them. I wish I would’ve had more time and less traffic to keep practicing, but the car still couldn’t quite run a hard 30 minute session and things were getting crowded with LeMons cars.

Despite an online presence as a shit-talking agent provocateur, Jack’s an excellent coach. Regardless of how many things you’re screwing up, he keeps you working on only one or two at a time, providing relevant feedback without bombardment. A decade ago at Skip Barber, the instructors basically talked me around the track: “gasgasgasgasBRAKESmorewheelwmorewheelGASGASGAS”. The method can produce great real-time results, but doesn’t result in as much self-evaluation and learning as Jack’s more patient style. Spending the day talking blooger inside baseball with Jack and Jeff was just a bonus.

The Falcon itself was a great teaching tool. With nowhere near enough power to really get in trouble and a chassis that pretty much puked all over itself if treated roughly, it definitely wasn’t masking any of my deficiencies. With a good setup and slow hands, it rewarded with competent performance. Some decent low-back buckets and quicker (and less clapped out) steering would’ve made driving less like hanging from monkey bars. A bit more cooling for the motor and some brake ducts for the fronts would’ve let me wring all 30 minutes out of each 30 minute session. Aside from engineering complications, the next downside is the cost of failure. Namely, Falcon V. Any Solid Object at more than about 40mph = game over, while even lesser altercations with LeMons traffic are no big deal for them but quite big for me. There’s something to be said for a caged, semi-disposable track car.

[Images copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker]

  • Come on Jeff, what was your best lap time? Our Billy Beer Futura parked nearby did about a 2:30 the next day at the Lemons race.

    Overheating = no fan shroud plain and simple

    • Tim was driving… I'm not sure what the times were.

    • Tim did a 2:31 I believe

    • I was at/under 2:30 on the best best lap, IIRC.

      Definitely a few seconds of "I don't give a fnck about my car" left in there once traffic showed up.

      Still, the Falcon? Not fast.

      • jeepjeff

        If I remember correctly, the best lap the ZomBee pulled out was 2:31, but that was its all-out, shred the tires, fastest it could go time (or very, very close to it).

        • Not bad laptimes at all!

          My guys could definitely benefit from a few 4th-gear only laps. Shredding the tires (like they did) on a light car like the Bee means you are beating on the car waaaay too hard. maybe I'll put that passenger's seat back in and start doing ride alongs.

          Momentum is your friend…

          • Van_Sarockin

            What, and make your engine lonely?

    • Re: overheating…shouldn't the shroud be irrelevant at speed?

      The car moving would provide more CFM than the fan, right?

      • njhoon

        Not really, the shroud acts as a funnel for the fan. With a shroud the air that the fan pulls comes through the radiator, without it air gets pulled from the least resistant path, from under the car, the sides etc.

        • Point being that once you're moving, you could turn the fan off (as many cars do) because the simple act of pushing the grill through the air moves enough air through it to get the job done.

          • If the area between the bottom of the bumper and the radiator support is opened air could be coming thru the grill and going down instead of thru the radiator. The fan shroud would help the fan suck that air thru the radiator. Also, you could try making a metal filler piece between the radiator support and the bumper.

            Our problem was the carb vibrating loose and going lean from sucking air. So do a plug chop after a little high RPM/WOT driving and see if that could be the case.

            One other issue may be that at high RPM the water pump is sucking the radiator hose "closed" restricting flow, or turning so fast its just cavitating and not really pumping.

    • BTW, were I back into LeMons, I'd have some serious envy of that Fairmont.

      There's a lot of potential there.

      Dig a hole in your backyard, you might just find a 302 of some kind in it.

      • We may go there. LTDScott donated a V8 K member last year. At the moment I have a hopped up 200 six ready to go back in it complete with butchered log manifold, home made header, and 2bbl Rochester carb off a SBC. We are oh so close to winning class C, I'd hate to put a V8 in it and jump to Class B. I've been thinking 4.6 modular motor.

        We're still working on the chassis, but our fastest lap time (2:34) was knocking right on your door, and our fast guy didn't get a chance to drive. We're still running a C4, mostly with it just stuck in drive.

        • With the ZF 3 speed in the Uberbird, we gained a lot from leaving it in 2nd, then going to 3rd on the big straights.

          The manual would be really nice to have an appropriate gear in which to exit the tighter corners, but the upside on the 3AT is that people just give them away.

          • At Sears Point we were having fuel starvation issues, but we were shifting it manually because parts of the track are so tight. We'd rev it to 5000rpm, then pop it back into drive (which put us back to 3000rpm). I fixed the fuel issue for Buttonwillow and we were able to exit the sweeper in D at 3500-4000RPM and hit 4500+ on the dragstrip. The gearing was perfect for that track. I don't want to jinx anything, but I may have found the rare SROD 200 six bell housing/flywheel. So a manual may be going in soon.

  • JayP2112

    I've done the 'leave it in 4th' with students- but because it takes that element out if the mix. Too much stimulation.

    ALSO- someone buy this before I do…
    '68 Falcon w. 2v 5.0 http://dallas.craigslist.org/mdf/cto/3035934522.h

  • MVEilenstein

    15 seconds? That's impressive.

  • Bummer, I was hoping to see some video of my car in action too. It was fun passing you guys – you looked good out there.

    I friggin love your Cragars.

    <img src="https://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/484589_333576700061568_1345107139_n.jpg"&gt;

    • I have b-roll of your car I believe… but not sound, sadly.

      • MrHowser

        Do you have video with… what are they calling it on YouTube these days… Pure Engine Sounds?

        • Nope. I fudged the audio portion during filming.

          • MrHowser


    • This picture makes me so happy.

      I'm in great company.

  • Mad_Science > Ken Block

  • 3304hl

    2 dr post – sweet ride

  • It was great seeing you bloogers at the track! Almost didn't recognize Jeff. (Ok, I did not recognize him at ALL out in meatspace)

    And thanks for the Hooniverse sticker!! I found a GREAT place for it…

    <img src="https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/295212_4331363006822_1029389272_n.jpg&quot; width="600">

  • Xargs

    2:14 something in the Judge Busters E30, and 2:14 something slightly less in the Civic Wagovan Iceberg. 2:24 something in the Nintendo 300ZX (at 3:30 am) 2:34 in the Scrubbing Bubble Beetle (3 laps only, got clouted by the Jurassic E30)

    That is a very cool car.
    There was a very cool Falcon at the DC Lemons race, all tricked out but needed a lot of develpoment: http://blog.caranddriver.com/wp-content/uploads/2

    The 4th gear thing reminds me of the 'no brakes' drill at the California Superbike School. It's amazing how focused you get when you are trying to choose your entry speed without using the brakes- most discover they can go in a lot faster than they thought.

    • I would seriously consider a Falcon for LeMons.

      Crappy ones are crazy cheap, but with a bit of sorting they can get seriously un-crappy as driver's cars (at least in the "just do laps" school of LeMons performance).

      • …plus, the reason we have kept the 200 in the Fairmont, people practically give those motors away all the time. So having back up motors is easy.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      When I'm out enjoying myself late at night on New Hampshire's empty back roads, I still usually try to brake as little as possible, just as I do while driving ordinarily – sure, I drive faster, but still in a manner that's fairly economical and saves my brakes. It's definitely made me a better driver, I think.

  • Spring-heeled Jack

    Really enjoyed this. Amazing how he got better when restricted to 4th gear. Like how this was about the art and craft of driving and not the big egos you see at track-days.

  • McQueen

    If you have a chance , not sure if the United States of Excitment had em but a big beefy rad out of a deisel Ranger is a perfect fit in my 68' Galaxie . Should be a damn close fit , of coarse there is the Griffinrad.com or Coolcraft.com choices

  • Joe Dunlap

    Re: the overheating problem. As noted a fan shroud will no doubt help. You might look at sealing off the front side of the radiator so that air coming through the grille is funnelled to it and not escaping around it through all the various holes in the support. Also consider where the air must exit to. Air can also sweep up under the engine bay creating a high pressure area behind the radiator, thus partially stalling the flow. Some sort of chin spoiler can help with this. Keep in mind, the greater the pressure differential between the front and back of the radiator, the better the airflow. Classic example (though extreme of course) the Ford GT-40.
    Love what your doing, and love that old Falcon. Best of luck with it!

  • craigsu

    Well, it's a good thing you didn't have a 3-speed tranny in the Falcon. Would have made for a pointless exercise (and a really good blank stare).

  • Congrats on the improved lap times, it's amazing how much better you did with a little coaching. I'd love to bring something as interesting as the Falcon to a track, and have someone walk me through the process like that. Obviously, it's not as simple as it looks.

  • DerangedStoat

    Jack's coaching sounds very similar to what most of the motorcycle track day courses I've been on taught. Head up/Look through the corner is far and away the most stressed point there too.
    They'll often restrict you to a single gear for early sessions as well. In fact, the best one I've done, started the day with the first session being 'single gear, no brakes'. It was great for realising just how much corner speed you can carry with a good line, when you're no longer rushing into the corner and hard on the brakes (by the end of the day, we were using all gears, trail braking into the corners etc).

  • HankFink

    What front coil springs are you using?