Warrior In Repose

(From the Archives – 04.12.02)

We have told you about some of the exciting projects currently under construction in the Banks race shop, but we have some good skeletons in the closet here at Banks, too. By far the best is our Pontiac Trans Am Bonneville record holder. In 1986 it upped the SCTA AA/Gas Coupe record from 201 mph to a two-way average of 260.211 mph, with a best one-way speed of 267.618. (To set a record at Bonneville, you average the speeds of one run down the course, and then one run back, or a “return run.”) The next year, at Speedweek ’87, this car increased its own record to 268.033 mph. This record, now classified as A/Blown Gas Coupe, still stands today, 15 years later. It reached a timed top speed of 277 mph that year. If those numbers were anywhere near easy to achieve, this record would have been broken years ago. But it hasn’t.

This old warrior isn't about to die.
This old warrior isn’t about to die.

What makes these numbers even more amazing is that they were set in a stock-bodied production vehicle. Other than the bulge in the hood, which is allowable, the exterior of this Trans Am is completely factory stock, including the rear wing and front air dam, which are part of Pontiac’s accessory aero package. Other than the required roll cage and water/ice tanks and extra instrumentation, most of the interior remains stock, too, including the seats, dash, door panels, carpets, power windows, and even the stereo. At the time, and until quite recently, this was the fastest stock-bodied, production passenger car in the world. In 1987 it was selected as one of Hot Rod magazine’s Top Ten cars of the year—a prestigious honor. I remember voting for it.

Firebird TransAm engine 454
Although it looks like there’s a whole lot of engine in there, the stock-displacement 454 GM big block is relatively small for the class…

Further, these records were set with a relatively conservative power package. In the top class (which was AA, but is now A/BGC) there is no limit on engine size. IHRA Pro Stock and Pro Mod drag racers are running big blocks in the 700 to 800 cubic inch range today. But Gale (actually driver Don Stringfellow) set the record with a stock-displacement, 454 cubic inch GM cast iron marine block and a set of then-new Pontiac Super Duty aluminum heads. Running ice-cooled water-to-air intercoolers, the twin turbos were only pumping about 25 pounds of boost through two 1050 cfm four barrels, making approximately 1600 horsepower. Gale says he could have turned the boost up to 38 psi for about 2200 hp, but multiple gremlins of weather (rainout, then wet salt), time, and light-weight valves (the only ones available at the time) that tended to bend on long Bonneville runs limited the assault. In fact, the record was set on the last possible runs on the last day, a mile short of a full run. Bonneville is often like that.

There are plenty of extra gauges to monitor things at 270+ mph

Obviously there’s more potential in this car. Why hasn’t it run again? Building other race cars to set other records (i.e. the 210 mph S-10 Syclone—the world’s fastest pickup; and the diesel Dodge Dakota Project Sidewinder—optimistically the next world’s fastest pickup). Who knows? This old warrior may return to battle once again. But, in the meantime, it still holds the record.

Firebird TransAm exploded view
In 1986 the Geisler-Stringfellow-Banks entry wore red-and-white livery and was featured in Popular Mechanics.

The news, however, is that this interesting and not bad-looking race car will be on display next weekend at the Oakland Rod, Custom, and Motorcycle Show at the Oakland Arena. This is the Oakland Show that’s actually in Oakland. It runs from the 19th through the 21st, and the Trans Am will be part of a special display of land speed record holders. The other news is that there won’t be a Friday Night News next Friday. I’ll be at the show taking care of the car. Stop by and say hi if you’re in the area.

Leave a Reply