Salt Swept – CAL Auto’s 250 MPH ’34 Chevy Streamliner
In the balance of form and function, we can usually place ground-pounding race cars and show-stopping customs at the opposite ends of the spectrum. It's not that motorsports fabricators and engineers can't create incidental masterpieces in machinery, it's just that it's a distant concern over the immediate goal: to go fast as hell. Part of this no-nonsense approach to building honestly just comes down to weight in many instances. Sure, a carefully machined, one-off wheel may seal the deal on the look of a custom build, but it also weighs a couple times over that of a flyweight forged piece. And typical pro-builder touches, like billet trim, is like stacking on lead weights.
That's where building a land speed car has its advantages: weight isn't a sin, it's a blessing! So when Ron Cizek wanted to chase the salt, it was the right opportunity for builder Andy Leach to blend everything he'd learned from CAL Automotive Creation's obsessive builds -- like the Art Deco-infected '30 Model A we featured in our January 2018 issue and the Ridler-winning "Checkered Past" '40 Ford coupe from February 2014 and bury those subtle styling touches deep into a 250mph land speed racer.
With a 66-percent stretch in wheelbase over the original coupe at 186 inches, a few acres of hand-formed aluminum had to be shaped to extend the nose of the 1934 Chevy. CAL Auto handled all of the sheet metal work as if someone took the nose of the early Chevy and stretched it like taffy, with the factory body lines and flow retained with the lengthened proportions. In fact, Andy and his team admitted that it's the factory lines which ultimately set the wheelbase of the streamliner. "We took the lines of the cowl and pulled them out to their ultimate end points to place the nose where it felt natural," he said. It's where CAL Auto's years of top-shelf custom work pays off, saving the coupe from the proportional woes that can affect a radical reinterpretation of a stock body.
The roof has been chopped approximately six inches, with the windshield frame laid back in an effort to further reduce the frontal area. "One thing that people don't mention is how little frontal area these older coupes have," mentions CAL Auto's Eric Hanson. "It's a big advantage over something from the 60s or later." The trailing end of this pre-war lawn dart is all business, with mounts for the parachutes, push bar, and diffuser. What's slick here is that the integrated diffuser isn't a part of the coupe body, it's instead molded into the chassis itself. Just above the trailing edge of the trunk, you can see a part line that splits the body along the rocker. It allows for the upper half of the body to be quickly removed for service or clean-up, and the integrated diffuser produces a wealth of downforce with minimal drag. In combination with the rear spoiler, the coupe produces 1,000 pounds of downforce. The team worked with ThinkFast Engineering's Neil Roberts to craft the aero package in CFD simulations, leading to such trick ideas as the windshield vents that pipe pressure built up inside the hood scoop to the rear windshield in an effort to reduce the lift (vacuum) that's created on the back-side of the roofline.
The interior is predictably all-business, but CAL Auto's attention to detail is shown with no loose ends to be seen. The complicated array of fuel, hydraulic, coolant, and air lines are neatly and sensibly routed through the tight confines of the chopped Chevy. Vital switches and levers are kept within inches of the driver's right hand, including the billet-handled air-shifter. If the shape of the gauge cluster feels like you're diving down the uncanny valley, it's because you're staring at a big-block Chevy valve cover a subtle touch that maintains the industrial mood.
While CAL Auto had built a handful of its own custom street rod chassis, stepping up to the fortification necessary in land speed racing meant over-building every detail. "When I was at Rad Rods by Troy, I did a lot of work on [George Poteet's] Blowfish. So there's a lot of inspiration that transferred from there, but this is the most purposefully-built chassis we've done to date," Andy says. "It makes all the street chassis look simple!" Overkill was the name of the game to build up the chassis weight while also making it as stiff as a steel girder. This maintains rigidity over the bumpy salt crust while also providing the weight necessary to keep the coupe planted above 200 mph. Ultimately, this cocoon of tubular steel brings the total weight of the coupe up to approximately 5,700 pounds in race trim.
The coupe was originally built with the Atlas/Vortec 4200 inline-six in mind, but as the CAL Auto crew put it, Ron simply wanted to go faster once they began down the rabbit hole. Mast Motorsports served up 427 cubic inches of Precision-boosted goodness thanks to an engine program that leans on a Callies Magnum LS9 crank and billet I-beam rods, with Mast's own heads (2.20/1.60" Titanium/Inconel valves) directing airflow from the Holley Hi-Ram. The single 108mm turbo is responsible for more than 1,200 hp at a lazy 8psi (while Ron and the CAL Auto team fine-tune and sort the new chassis), and is fed by a top-mounted air filter that sucks air through a hood scoop before being intercooled by an air-to-water intercooler. A 7.5-inch Tilton 6-disc clutch separates power from the air-shifted Jerico five-speed, which splits the gears ahead of the four-linked Winters quick-change rear axle. A unique four-link front axle was designed (due to the narrow nose) to ride along a vertical "track" of sorts, that keeps it centered in lieu of a panhard bar.
Last year, the Chevy streamliner made its debut with a stout 227.661mph blast on low-boost, even with the fractured, rough salt crust. The simulations had proven accurate, and the coupe was stable at speed. After some routine maintenance (including wiring, where salt water had leached into the insulator), the team was looking to break into the 250-300 mph range during Speed Week 2018, but the God of Speed threw the CAL Auto team some curveballs, which ate up their opportunities for runs. First, a miscalculation in the quick-change rear end meant that they were geared too short initially. After sorting through that debacle, a front-end "shimmy" began to develop at 150mph. "It was odd because we knew the car had been to 227 before," said Andy.
These little issues stacked up throughout the week, with their first 207.538mph pass being their best. What they later found was that wet salt had built up on the back-side of a front wheel, essentially creating a one-pound wheel weight. "That's one of those things about the great white dyno out there," said Eric. "You can do all the preparation you want for 11 months of the year while putting the best car in the world together and get your ass handed to you with something as simple as that!" With high hopes for a return of 2018's clean salt and excellent racing surface, CAL Auto will return for that 300 barrier.