The Beast Within


Story by Alan Cesar

In the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” a handsome prince is cursed to live inside a monstrous body. With Andrew Nelson’s latest creation, an MGB roadster motivated by a bloodcurdling V8, it’s the other way around: The beast is under the hood, while the body gets the royal treatment.

Andrew has competed in GRM’s $2K Challenge since 2004, each year creating an incredibly well-sorted drag racer topped with impeccable bodywork. If there’s a blemish on that record, it’s his lack of prowess at the autocross portion of the event.

For last fall’s Kumho Tires presents the Grassroots Motorsports $2010 Challenge powered by RacingJunk.com, however, he planned to make his beautiful beast a bit more princely in the corners. Andrew zeroed in on the MGB for a simple reason: For nearly half a century, it’s been a favorite among sports car enthusiasts.

The timing of the project was nothing short of perfect. When Andrew asked a friend for any leads on an MGB, the friend replied that he was about to scrap one—that same day.

That MGB shell was no beauty to begin with, though; it was going to scrap for a reason. There was no engine, no transmission, a displaced front suspension and almost no interior.

On the upside, Andrew would have easy access to the rusted-through rocker panels and floorboards. The downside? Those aforementioned rocker panels and floorboards, plus other rust holes and imperfections, weren’t going to fix themselves. With just 120 build days until the Challenge, the task before him was monstrous.

Once Upon a Scrap Heap

Andrew began with the roll cage and bodywork, and in the spirit of low-buck racing, he did everything on the cheap. Nearly every piece of steel that wasn’t originally on the car was someone else’s scrap, including the cage. “I’ve picked up in the last two years five or six roll cages that were just going out for junk,” he explains. Andrew hails from York, Pennsylvania, where many local racers have been upgrading to chromoly cages. As a result, scrapped mild steel tubing is currently available there for next to nothing.

All this extra scrap allowed Andrew to build an extremely robust cage, which he incorporated into the MGB body with large square tube running along the floor pan. This provided him with a very stiff chassis, which is an important foundation for any car.

Next, the Nelson family mounted the car to a rotisserie, stripped off all the paint and removed the rust. The fiberglass hood scoop was a cast-off part that had wallowed in Andy’s barn for 15 years; the MGB project seemed like as good a use for it as any.

When the foundation was clean and complete, they sent the car to friend and teammate John Valentine to be beautified with body filler and an inexpensive coat of fresh Ford Blue tractor enamel. Now the car simply needed its driveline.

Different Exterior, Same Heart

Andrew is smart in more ways than one. While he has built several amazing cars for our Challenge events—for example, he showed us how to turn a VW Bug into a Ford hotrod worthy of “American Graffiti”—he keeps reusing his tried and true small-block Chevy. It works because he sweats all the details and cruises the area swap meets for components deemed no longer good enough for the local circle track racers.

The actual parts are hardly exciting, as the engine’s foundation is a cast-off 350 block that’s been bored over by 0.060 inch and fitted with flat-top pistons. The compression ratio measures 9.7:1, and the camshaft is of unknown origin.

The spread-port Edelbrock cylinder heads are somewhat trick—at least, they were cutting-edge when they were produced back in the ’70s. Yesterday’s technology no longer cuts it in today’s wheel-to-wheel racing, Andrew explains. The result: These old hotrod parts can be purchased for pennies on the dollar.

The race-day tuning is what makes the difference, Andrew adds, as he’ll make adjustments based on atmospheric conditions. He also strives to get every bit of mouse horsepower to the ground, tweaking the highly adjustable suspension setup to help the car leap from the line.

Horsepower numbers? Andrew has never had this engine on a dyno, but he figures it makes 400 to 450 horsepower. (Andrew’s entire driveline recipe can be found in our August 2010 issue.)

Andrew made one more change before dropping that engine into the MGB, however: The exhaust had to be rerouted to fit in the tiny car. Its headers aren’t just a bundle of snakes; they’re righteous anacondas, visible through a removable cover in the firewall like they’re on display in some demented automotive petting zoo. Andrew made these equal-length four-into-one behemoths himself, including the hand-formed collectors and Y-pipe. It all exits at a 5-inch tailpipe that he found on the side of the road. He believes it came from a dump truck.

Despite the tailpipe’s origin, that 350 made no work truck noises. It ripped up the strip sounding like a monster on a mission, with performance to match. Andrew again took the top drag time at the $2010 Challenge, posting a blazing 10.678-second run.

Since the engine was already built, Andrew had some time in his tight schedule to improve the suspension setup. Andrew’s background is in drag racing, so he consulted some autocrossers and road racers for suspension advice.

The front was lowered by an inch—just a simple modification. The heavy fab work is at the rear: The original leaf spring suspension was replaced with a three-link setup located by a Panhard bar. There’s plenty of room for adjustment, too, as Andrew can choose from 432 different settings.

To Be Continued

Sadly, the car fell short of total dominance. Despite the proven power and super-adjustable suspension of his car, Andrew ran out of sorting time—both with the engine and the suspension. He underwent an open-cut appendectomy just 8 days before the race, and the un-optimized MGB was nearly 7 seconds off the autocross front runners.

He promises better performance, however. “The blue car will come back in 2012 or 2013 after a personal project,” he says. He believes he could gain 3 to 4 seconds just from tweaking the problematic carburetor.

Even with these outstanding issues, Andrew managed ninth place overall. This is thanks to his attention to detail throughout every aspect of the project. He skipped over nothing, carefully handcrafting parts he couldn’t buy at a low enough price. His precision paid dividends in the form of an enviable second place at the concours portion of the competition.

No number of setbacks could keep Andrew from competing and enjoying himself, regardless of where he ranked in the end. “It’s not the thrill of the kill, it’s being able to experience the hunt,” he says. “That’s where the flavor is. That’s where life is juicy.”

This drag demon may resemble a fairy tale, but those words make a better conclusion than “happily ever after.” He does, after all, guarantee a sequel that will truly terrify.

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