Some of the Most Amazing American Race Cars

Racing is in America’s blood. We started off racing horses, which is still one of the most profitable forms of betting to this day. We also love boat racing, whether it be sailboats or motor boats. We also love racing planes. It should only seem logical that we decided to race cars when they came out.

Our country has created some of the boldest, most successful and boldest racecars in history. These cars are some of my personal favorites, and they only scratch the surface of America’s storied racing heritage.

  • Chaparral 2E: Chaparral’s 2D was a very successful racing chassis, the 2J earned immortality thanks to it’s snowmobile-engine-driven suction fans. The 2D was better than both combined. It ushered in the aerodynamics era thanks to it’s driver-adjustable rear wing (which was adjusted via a pedal in the cockpit) and it’s side-pod mounted water cooling system. It was pure Texan ingenuity. Every modern race car owes at least something to the Chaparral 2E.chaparral-2e-03
  • 1967 Gurney Eagle-Weslake Mk. 1: Dan Gurney was a true American racing pioneer. This is what I view to be his masterpiece. He also won a Formula 1 race in this car. That’s about as good as it gets, but I still love this car to pieces. The tiny 11,000 RPM V12 and styling that looks like a shark and torpedo are just icing on the cake.gurneyeagleweslakemk1
  • Lotus 56: It’s not just another turbine-powered IndyCar. It was a car that solidified the basic shape of most high-level race cars from 1967 on out. It sent the cigar shape packing. It also had a one-speed automatic and AWD. While turbines and AWD would be banned from future IndyCar seasons, the shape remained and evolved. Even though it’s got a Lotus name and Peter Chapman modifications, it’s still basically an all-American STP-Paxon car.lotus56
  • 2016 Ford GT GTE: There was no doubt in any car or race fan’s mind when this car rained on every other car’s parade at the Detroit Auto Show this year. It’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has been proven in the TUDOR Championship series, Chip Ganassi Racing has had lots of success racing Fords and is ready for a new challenge, and what might be most important to those automotive fans who like to cook (like me) is the fact that the rear diffuser is big enough to chiffonade an acre of potatoes without trying. The fact that it is dressed up in a very patriotic livery makes it just that much more amazing.fordgtgte
  • Dodge Viper GTS-R Mk. 1: The original Dodge Viper GTS-R immediately proved that a big V10 is an essential asset in endurance racing. On it’s third outing at Le Mans, the SRT Motorsports team took a class win in 1998. Again in 1999 and 2000. You can’t forget the overall wins at the Nurburgring, Daytona, Spa, and the five (yes, five) FIA GT and two ALMS championships. Plus, the fact that it was incredibly intimidating helped.dodgevipergtsrmk1
  • Corvette Racing’s C5.R, C6.R, and C7.R: For 17 years, The Corvette Racing team has put three generations of increasingly amazing Corvette race cars on the track. All have had an “.R” designation, except the first, which was a “-R.” They have proved themselves multiple times. 1999 marked the first year of the C5-R, which snatched three class wins at Le Mans (among many other wins). The C6.R took seven thundering liters of American muscle around the world, and won many races. The C7.R just grabbed the GTE Pro class win at Le Mans, and that was one of it’s first races!corvettec5-rcorvettec6.rcorvettec7.r
  • Panoz LMP-1 and LMP07: Many, many years before Nissan’s GT-R LM caused folks to scratch their heads as to why a front-engine endurance race car is a good idea, Panoz’s LMP-1 Roadster S and it’s less successful sibling LMP07 proved to the world that an endurance racing prototype does not need to carry their engine behind the driver. Neither car was wildly successful, but the LMP-1 certainly got into a few good battles with the BMW V12 LMRs and Ferrari 333 SPs to snag the 1999 ALMS team championship.panozlmp-1panozlmp07
  • Ford 999: Henry Ford should go down in the history books as a stark raving lunatic (for several reasons) because he took the crude, incredibly dangerous 18.9-liter Ford 999 racecar to 92 mph (the equivalent of somebody taking a car to 300 mph today) – a world record – on a frozen lake. The frozen lake was the only place large enough to get the car up to that speed. It made a whopping 80 horsepower, a lot of noise, and had killed a man a year before. It was a brutish, outrageous car that put Ford on the map, even if he became known for utilitarian and economical Model T’s and the now-legendary 1932 Ford.ford999
  • DeltaWing: No other American creation has so upset the normality of what race cars should look like as the Ben Bowlby-designed, Panoz-managed, Gurney’s All-American Racers-built DeltaWing. The car drastically reduced frontal area to reduce drag and fuel consumption. It worked, and even sparked a copycat (the Nissan ZEOD RC), even though it didn’t achieve any incredible success.deltawing
  • Cadillac ATS-V.R: Cadillac attained massive success for ten years with the CTS-V.R in the Pirelli World Championship Series. Now it’s the turn for the ATS-V.R to take the reins. It’s got some big shoes to fill. It’s got a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 making somewhere around 600 horsepower that sits somewhere between the massive fender flares and the huge extractor hood. Between this car and the Ford GT GTE, it looks like most, if not all, future American race cars will have forced induction engines.cadillacats-v.r
  • Swift 007.i: The year 1997 was a lucky year. The team owned by Paul Newman and Carl Haas stopped running a Lola chassis, and switched to a chassis made by the American company Swift. The car had a Ford Cosworth engine, Goodyear tires, and an all-American driver in Michael Andretti. I should probably mention that it won it’s first-ever race outing. Talk about coming in with style. Oh, and I was born that year.swift007.1
  • Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe: This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cars ever made, as well as one of the most successful. Carroll Shelby needed to make the already-successful Cobra 427 faster, but that meant he needed a more aerodynamic body. He brought on legendary designer Peter Brock, who helped design the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Brock designed a flowing, muscular body that still looks like nothing else on the track. The result was a smashing success. The car won the 24 Hours of Daytona, Le Mans, Spa, and countless other races.shelbycobradaytonacoupe
  • Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird: Mopar’s “Winged Warriors” made aero cars illegal in NASCAR. That should be telling as to how good those cars were. They packed quite the punch with their 426 HEMI engines and special aerodynamics packages. NASCAR outlawed aero cars after 1970. Buddy Baker campaigned a Daytona through 1970, and Richard Petty had one of his most dominant years in 1970 with his Superbird. It’s also one of the most iconic race cars ever.dodgedaytonaplymouthsuperbird
  • 1966 Chevrolet Corvette: The 1966 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the best race cars Chevrolet ever had. It had a walloping punch with it’s 427 cubic-inch big block V8, with the code-name L-88. This engine made any car it was in a true monster. It’s still fast enough to show a modern NASCAR stock car how it’s done on a road course. It’s like carving a statue with a hydraulic shovel. 1966chevroletcorvettel88

What to Look for in Collector Cars Part 1

Collector cars are often daily drivers for years that were driven into the ground – literally.  They were often parked for a reason (i.e. the transmission, engine, or something major went out and the owner never got around to fixing it) in a garage or barn, and then never restored to their former glory.  They are sometimes cars that somebody bought to fix up and enjoy, but never was.  Collector cars were once the pride and joy of somebody else, so when you go to buy the car, don’t make jokes about the car or tell stupid stories about a similar car that you once owned.  It’s just a bad idea.  Here’s a quick list of what to look for, should you decide to buy one.

  • Small Animals:  Small animals, remnants of them, or their excrement are not uncommon in collector cars.  Most of the time, the cars were parked in a barn or a garage and not touched for many years.  In barns, rats, mice, and the like often make nests in the engine bay, trunk, or interior.  This is a big, smelly pain to get rid of.  However, don’t be afraid to tackle getting rid of the poop.  All you need is protective eye and mouth wear, a good shop vacuum, and a good few hours or so.  These small critters will often have gnawed their way through the firewall, into the interior, eaten up the seat cushions, and made nests in their.  Don’t worry.  Most of these collector cars are going to need a new interior anyways.  I’ll talk about interiors later.
  • Rust:  Lots of classic cars rust.  It’s a sad fact, but it’s the unavoidable truth.  Even concours-worthy cars have had rust at some point in their life.  Really, don’t be daunted by rust.  There are so many NOS (not original stock), OEM (original equipment manufacturer), and reproduction parts around that you don’t need to look far for new body panels, floorboards, etc.  I’ll do another post on where to find reproduction body panels and parts soon – there are too many to list in a relatively short post like this!
  • Seized Engines:  Most collector cars that were daily drivers were often parked for a reason.  It could be that the engine went boom, the transmission went bang, or something else major.  With a seized engine, don’t worry.  If something, say a piston, went through the valve cover due to a blown crankshaft or connecting rod, you might want to look into getting a modern crate engine.  If the engine had something smaller, like a bad timing chain, any gearhead who has a good repair manual, a couple of friends, some beer, a full tool set, and a replacement part can do that fix in a couple of days.  Do something fun like invite your buddies over for a bratwurst party, or something else fun, and then go out to the garage/workshop/man cave and fix the car.  You’ve probably read a story or three about how a guy invited a couple of friends over to his house to replace a transmission and ended up restoring the car in his garage with his buddies.  Be one of those people.  It gives you creds in the car world, and it’s fun to hang out and work on something that was built to be enjoyed.
  • Failed Transmissions:  Sometimes transmissions fail.  It’s an albeit expensive part of life, but it happens.  Most of the time, it’s better to get a new transmission in a classic car unless it was a custom-built transmission for an old race car or something like that.  Gearstar transmissions (gearstar.net) offers overdrive-equipped transmissions that come in a crate ready to be bolted in.  If you want to add an overdrive to a stock transmission, check out Gear Vendors Overdrives (gearvendors.com).  These transmissions and transmission parts will last you a long time, increase the reliability and efficiency of your pride and joy, and make it more fun to drive.
  • Body Damage:  Don’t worry about body damage.   You can easily find a new replacement body part online (again, I will do a blog post on where to find new body parts) or at a swap meet.  If it’s something simple like a ding, it might be worth it to take it to a body shop and let them fix it for a couple of days.  Or, you can find out how to do it online.  The internet is a great place to go for advice.  Just don’t rely on it for everything.
  • Brakes:  Braking systems wear out over time.  It’s scary and bad when brakes go bad.  Don’t fret.  Classic cars often come with drum brakes, which don’t really stop a car that well.  Most classic cars have manual brakes.  If you want more comfort and driveability in your car, consider going with power brakes.  Master cylinders should be rebuilt, replaced, or fixed if needed.  If a car has been sitting for a long time, think about cleaning out the master cylinder and testing it before you drive the car.  It is worth it to buy a brake bleeder kit.  Should you decide to go for bigger, better brakes in a restomod or pro-touring car, or just want better performance, Wilwood Brakes (wilwood.com) is one of the best in the business.
  • Suspension:  Lots of old cars aren’t exactly known for their handling.  If you have an old muscle car and live in an area where there are a lot of curves, think about getting Koni adjustable shocks (koni-na.com) or Hotchkis Suspension (hotchkis.net).  These suspension systems will greatly improve your car’s performance and driveability, and will make it even more enjoyable for you to drive.  With the Koni shocks, you can adjust the shocks to your liking with a screwdriver!
  • Exhaust:  The exhaust system in a car can fail quite easily.  It can get holes in it, the muffler could have gotten dented beyond repair, and the exhaust pipes could have a leak.  Exhaust leaks can be deadly.  Exhaust from cars contains large amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and many other bad gasses.  Don’t ever hesitate to replace them!  If you have something that needs to be smogged, consider going for a Flowmaster Muffler (flowmastermufflers.com).  It gives a great sound while helping keep your baby on the road.  If you do need to smog it, always tune up the engine before taking it in.  It will be much less of a headache.  If you don’t know what Flowmasters sound like, look them up on YouTube.  They sound far better than stock while looking stock.
  • Wheels:  Wheels take a lot of abuse.  Most of you have probably accidentally scraped the curb with them or gotten them scratched somehow.  Don’t worry – I have too!  There are so many aftermarket wheel manufacturers that they are a 3-piece blog post – at least!  Go for a reputable name!  Cragar Wheels (cragarwheel.com) is a leading manufacturer in wheels.  They are well-known, look great on old muscle cars, and you can find really cool old ones for sale too!
  • Tires:  Think about it.  The only thing keeping your car attached to the road is about four square inches at four corners of the car.  That’s not a lot.  Get good tires.  Don’t get bias-ply tires unless your car is a trailer queen that is only driven to it’s place at the lawn on Pebble Beach.  Coker Tires (cokertire.com) offers vintage-looking radial tires for not too much money, and last a long time.  If your car is built for the drag strip, Firestone makes vintage-looking “cheater slicks,” as well as Mickey Thompson and Goodyear.  All of these tires are good drag slicks, and most are street-legal!  Get good tires that won’t go bald quickly!

I think that’s enough for you to digest right now, so I’ll leave the rest for another time.