Amsoil/Street Rodder Road Tour
Testing automobiles by pushing them to their limits while taking objective measurements with a stopwatch and tape measure has long been a part of the evaluative process. Arguably the man who pioneered the practice of wringing out cars and then reporting on their capabilities was Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated magazine. Uncle Tom, as he referred to himself, invented the 0-60 mph as a standard of evaluation but, while he collected objective data to substantiate his opinions of a car's capabilities, he also had a unique ability to sum things up on a subjective level--McCahill once described the handling of a Buick as being "Like a fat matron trying to get out of a slippery bathtub."
McCahill began publishing drive test evaluations in the February '46 issue of M.I. and throughout the '50s reported on imports as well as domestic cars. He regularly criticized American manufacturers for their cars' poor handling characteristics and, as he called them, "Jell-O suspensions." The '49 to '54 Chevys certainly fit in that category--they were cars that McCahill described as "mundane."
When we acquired our '52 Chevy Bel Air some modifications had been made--it had been equipped with a small-block Chevy V-8, an automatic transmission and a later, open-drive rearend. However, other than contemporary shocks and wider wheels and tires, the suspension was stock. To find out what the car was capable of in stock form we took it to the California Speedway in Fontana for braking, skid pad and slalom testing. The results were eye-opening. On the first brake test of three attempts it took 185 feet to bring the Chevy to a halt from 60 mph, by the third test the stopping distance was up to a smoky 196 feet--and the smoke was coming from the brakes, not the tires.
Next it was off to the 200-foot skid pad. With the tires screaming in pain the Chevy made its best clockwise revolution in 13.98 seconds, counter-clockwise it did it in 13.91 seconds. It should be noted that our G-force conversion chart only goes up to 13.4 seconds--we're not used to testing something this slow--nonetheless those times translated into .62 and .63 Gs respectively.
Our final test was the 420-foot slalom course--with the rocker trim in jeopardy of being dragged on the ground the best pass through the cones netted 36.7 mph.
As the car was built at Woody's Street Rodz in Bright, Indiana, bringing it back to California for a retest at the same venue was deemed impractical. So, we sent our resident hot shoe, Nick Licata, to Columbus, Ohio, to run the Chevy in what turned out to be a less than ideal conditions. Generally speaking such tests are done on a carefully prepared surface. Unfortunately the skid pad we were forced to use was full of lumps and bumps, making it better suited for off-road testing than pulling maximum G's. An additional handicap was the tires our Chevy was wearing. More often than not cars being tested are equipped with tires having a wear index of 100, indicating a short service life as a result of soft, but stickier, tread compound. Our road tour car was equipped with all-season tires that are harder where the rubber meets the road and therefore carry a more practical, longer life wear index of 400. Of course in the real world the roads we drive on are seldom perfect and who wants to be replacing tires more often than necessary? So, while the car could have done better, we're not making any excuses because even in less than ideal conditions, like those it will be driven in regularly, the Road Tour car still posted some impressive numbers. Three 60-0 braking tests resulted in distances of 124.86, 131.02 and 128.98 feet, the skid pad was done in a best 12.1 seconds, which translates to .84 g's and the slalom was accomplished in 5.91 seconds at 48.2 mph.
To put things in perspective, an LT1 C4 Corvette tested previously at Fontana did 60 to 0 in 126 feet, pulled .86 g's on the skid pad and ran 45.03 mph through the slalom. Can you imagine a winding road and the look on a 'Vette driver's face with his rearview mirrors full of a '52 Chevrolet he can't shake?
While the test results show the Morrison chassis offers dramatically improved performance compared to a stocker from an objective standpoint, that's only part of the story. What the numbers don't show are the qualities that can't be measured: how solid and connected to the road the car now feels and the confidence it inspires in the driver and passengers. This is a car that can be driven fast safely and confidently--thanks to Smeding horsepower it has acceleration that will pin you in the seats, the brakes will press you against the seat belts as they bring the car to a straight and true halt and a flick of the steering wheel results in an instant response. This is now a car that begs to be driven. With apologies to Mr. McCahill, the Morrison chassis has transformed the AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Road Tour Chevy from a pig on roller skates to a greyhound in running shoes. We're sure Uncle Tom would agree.
In stock form the Chevy exhibited...
In stock form the Chevy exhibited lots of body roll. Not only is that disconcerting for the driver but having all that mass shift the other way when trying to change directions destroys what little balance the car has in a corner.
While it loves going around...
While it loves going around corners, the Morrison chassis makes our Chev go straight as a string when the Smeding small-block is opened up or when the four-wheel Wilwood brakes are bringing the hardtop to a halt.
You can almost hear the tires...
You can almost hear the tires squeal when looking at this photo. Pushing a stock '49 to '54 Chevy through corners isn't something you do for fun.