#TBT | In autocrossing, sometimes different is really good

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Dec 21, 2023 | Audi, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen | Posted in Features | From the Sept. 1995 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

When we think of cars that seemed destined to become greats in the world of autocross, certain models spring to mind: Honda CRX, Mini Cooper, Fiat X 1/9, Lotus Super 7 and even the new Dodge Neon. These cars, in the hands of countless enthusiasts, have proven themselves week in and week out, earning scores of victories and titles along the way.

There are some models, however, that a lot of people just don't associate with autocross. But remember that autocross is a sport that has traditionally opened its arms to any driver with any car—only a desire to race (and some entry fee money) is required. So join us as we take a look at some autocrossers who follow the beat of a different drummer, driving cars that are a bit unique to the sport. If you'll notice, a lot of these drivers have also managed to win a few championships with their unusual choices. And if it weren't for pioneers like these drivers, we'd all probably still be driving Honda CRXs. Like a famous fast food chain said in its ad campaign: different is good.

Patrick E. Evans' 1981 ESP Mercedes-Benz 280SE

In most parts of the country, E Street Prepared is a contest between the Camaro and Mustang–a true pony car shootout between two models that have duelling for more than a quarter of a century. But things are a bit different in the Atalnta Region of the SCCA, where Patrick E. Evans and his Mercedes-Benz 280SE are a regular sight on the ESP grid.

Patrick acquired his Benz a year and a half ago with a blown engine for only $975. Patrick, a shop foreman with a local Benz dealer, replaced the bad powerplant with a fresh 2.8-liter inline DOHC six-cylinder. Only a 0.5mm overbore and K&N air filter separate the end engine from the old one. To help the car breathe a bit better, the stock exhaust manifolds now lead to a 2.5-inch exhaust pipe that terminates in a Dynomax muffler. Patrick estimates the Benz now produces 165 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 155 lb.-ft. of torque at 5400 rpm. In the interests of legality and driveability, he retained the stock four-speed gearbox and original 3.58:1 final drive.

To help get the car closer to the pavement, Patrick installed a set of Jamex springs while replacing the stock shocks with heavy-duty Bilstein units. A set of late-model Mercedes-Benz 15x7-inch alloy wheels wrapped with 225/50-15 Yokohama autocross tires are also part of the handling package, and a set of Carbon Metallic brake pads help the car slow down.

Like the running gear, the interior is mostly stock, with just a hint of race added. A Corbeau one-piece bucket seat (recovered in tweed) resides in the middle of one of Europe's most stately interiors. A late-model Benz steering wheel (salvaged after its airbag deployed) replaces the original schoolbus-sized item.

Patrick said that about $4000 and six months of labor have gone into his Benz. So what does he have to show for his efforts? After four events, he was leading the Atlanta Region ESP, and he also has a car that serves him as a daily driver, covering sixty to seventy miles per day.

John Crumb's B Prepared Porsche 928

For years, Porsche's achievements have dotted and marked the Solo Il record books—the 91 1, 944 and 914 models have all brought home the gold in their respective classes. one Porsche model that hasn't exactly shared a part of this glory, however, is the 928. Since its introduction in the late '70s, enthusiasts have viewed this model as a great luxury GT tourer, but not always their first choice when nimble footwork is required

However, Minneapolis' Kim "John" Crumb has set out to prove the 928 a worthy autocross competitor with his B Prepared 1985 model. Besides solo 11 competition, he also drives the car daily and runs Porsche Club track events.

Increased power helps put this car ahead of the competition. Headers supplied by MSDs and a Borla exhaust help the car produce 350 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 290 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4200 rpm; a five-speed Getrag transmission and ZF limited-slip rear end regulate the power.

Several swaps in hardware help John get the most from the Porsche's handling. Koni shocks and tighter springs can be found at all four corners, with Eibach 330-450 lbs./in. front springs and Weltmeister 270 lbs./in. rears. An adjustable Weltmeister front anti-roll bar helps keep the beast flat through the turns, and John typically dials in two degrees of negative camber for autocrossing. To enhance the 928 's already capable brakes, Performance Friction black 83 brake pads were added to all four corners. A step up in wheel size was also part of the car's transformation, as John added 16x9-inch wheels to the front and 16x9.5-inch wheels out back. While John lists Yokohama A008RS11 tires as his personal preference, on slicks the car has generated 1.2g on the skid pad.

Besides the wheel swap, the outside of the car has been personalized with the addition of a GT update kit and Club sport decal package. In keeping with the car's original purpose in life (daily driver), the interior has been kept very, very close to stock—only an aftermarket stereo system has been added.

David Stadulis' '86 GT4/E Prepared Four-Door Civic

Since its introduction more than ten years ago, the 1984 to 1987 Honda Civic hatchback has become one of the most dominant and loved cars in our world of amateur motorsports, The fuel-injected Si model has become a legend in autocross competition, while the road racers have taken to the carbed 1500S model as an alternative to the VW Rabbit and Datsun 510 in ITC racing.

Although the hatchback version has received almost all of the attention, one racer has managed to build a four-door Civic that can hang with—and best in the business. David Stadulis' 1986 GT4/E Prepared four-door Civic has propelled him to numerous national-level trophies, most recently the GT4 record at the final Chimney Rock Hill Climb. David said he chose the four-door model due to its longer wheelbase, stiffer chassis and improved weight distribution compared to the smaller hatchback mode—all factors that, he feels, give him an edge in the handling game.

The 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (originally from a 1985 CRX Si) has received a lot of attention. It now produces some: 140 horsepower about a 55% increase over stock. Higher-compression pistons (12.5:1 compression ratio), Mugen cam, Electro— motive crankfire ignition and a pair of Mikuni 40mm carbs all contribute to the power gain; All rotating parts have been balanced, and David blueprinted the engine, a CRE header coupled to a 21/2-inch main exhaust pipe which splits Vinto two two-inch tailpipes (to add heat to the rear tires) provide little restriction. This exhaust system allowed the engine to: wind up to 9200 rpm at the Chimney Rock event A set of 4.428:1 gears from a 1985 CRX Si and a Mugen limited-slip differential help David's Civic hook up. A trip from zero to sixty that once took twelve seconds now requires only about six.

With the engine all squared away, David turned his attention to the steering and suspension. Up front Tokico five-way adjustable Illumina front Struts, CRE 25mm Integra torsion bars and a 2 Imm anti-roll bar (original equipment on a Civic station wagon) were installed: Addco and Mugen bushings also help tighten up the handling, and Davidruns 1988 Integra rotors and calipers with Lucas-Girling brake pads. The rack and pinion is a power unit from a 1986 automatic transmission-equipped Civic, and 1984 Accord power steering pump is used to save some weight. The back end of the car also received a lot of time and development: more Mugen bushings, a Porsche 91å 20mm adjustable anti-roll bar, Jackson Racing springs and a pair of Acura Integra rotors and calipers. David runs 3x7-inch H&N steel wheels (the legal maxwidth in the class) and a set of 20x9.5x13 Goodyear slicks.

To get the ear as light as possible, the doors, hood and trunk lid were all lightened. David gutted the interior and installed only the necessary equipment 10-point roll cage; Autometer gauges, Ultra Shield driver's seat, and Simpson belts. A Fuel Safe fuel cell and Aeroquip4ines Were also added. The interior was then painted brigl)C yellow, a striking contrast to the black exterior.

In the last few years, David and his Civic have managed to cart home many trophies. Besides the aforementioned Chimney Rock win and records David has scored top finishes at everything from local autocrosses to Pro Solos, while he holds Solo I track records at Road Atlanta, Roebling Road and Skelly Field.

Three Friends' EP Quattro

The Audi Quattro has proven itself many times over in the wild and woolly world of PRO Rally competition, but Craig Snyder and Mike Schowengerdt have taken the popular four-wheel-drive car into a new arena— autocrossing. While autocrossing a Quattro isn't in itself a new idea—the cars can be deadly fast in the rain—racing one in the tougher Prepared classes is a new twist.

The project began about three seasons ago after Frog's Import Salvage donated the wrecked Quattro to Mike and Craig with one stipulation—they build the car to SCCA Prepared autocross rules. To fulfill their end of the deal, Mike and Craig have spent the last three years hand-fabricating almost every part for the car because, according to them, no one in the U.S. offers serious racing equipment for a Quattro. Their efforts have not been in vain: the car scored several wins en route to the Solotime Series championship in 1994. Last year the car was also driven to a Midwest Divisional championship while placing mid-pack at the Solo Il Nationals in Kansas. While Craig and Mike race the car in its proper class of E Prepared, Mark Stewart, the team's third driver, will usually run the car up in E Modified (the SCCA only allows two drivers per car per class).

"Engine upgrades have been made easier by the fact that Super Vee components adapt quickly into Audi five-cylinder engines," Craig says. "The cylinder head came from an old factory rally 4000 Quattro, but we have not yet adapted a suitable fuel injection system to the 5x50mm high butterfly manifold that came with the head. Soon, we should be hearing five velocity stacks at full song." The rally head helps on its own merit, though, thanks to its bigger 40mm intake and 38mm exhaust valves. A set of 37mm cam followers ride a cam that features .457 inches of lift, 286 degrees of rotation and a 106-degree lobe center. A set of 10: I-compression pistons (to be replaced one day by Cosworth Super Vee 13:1 slugs) and the stock CIS-E injection all contribute to about 150 to 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm. Lightening the flywheel from its original 40 pounds to Il pounds allows the engine to spool up quicker, and solid motor, transmission and rear diff mounts allow a bit more efficiency in the running gear (Importmaster, Inc., from Kansas City, supplied a lot of the hard mounts used on the car). The stock tri-Y exhaust manifold leads to a 2 1/2-inch exhaust pipe and Flowmaster muffler. They kept the stock five-speed box and full-time four-wheel-drive system.

To keep up with the pace of the EP circuit, the suspension has seen a lot of work. The front struts were shortened to VW A I -chassis (Rabbit, early Scirocco, etc.) length and fitted with Koni inserts. Konis can also be found on the rear of the car, and the team added Carrera camber plates and Suspension Techniques spring perches to all four corners. Delrin control arm bushings eliminate front suspension wander, and the team runs Hyperco springs—900 lbs./in. on the front end and 700 on the rear end.

To improve the car's braking, the original front calipers were replaced with a set of Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro twin-piston units; the original front calipers can now be found working the rear discs. Repco Metalmaster pads and twin master cylinders fitted with a bias adjustment help, too. The team originally ran the car on 15x7-inch aluminum 1987 Mustang GT wheels, but has since gone to a set of Centerline wheels in the same size fitted with Hoosier 23x8.5x15 slicks.

Several measures were taken to get the car down to its fighting weight, including gutting most of the interior. The doors were lightened to the skins, and all the front end details (lights, etc.) are gone. To help improve the weight distribution, the radiator and battery were relocated to the trunk. A five-point RJS harness and Corbeau seat (mounted to a fully adjustable, modified 914 mount) help keep any one of several drivers in place.

David Richardson's DSP Ford Pinto Crusier

With its relatively light weight and peppy engine, Ford's humble Pinto has proven itself in the auto racing world with competition in oval track, vintage, drag and sports car racing. But race a Pinto station wagon? David Richarson of Kansas City, Missouri, has already been there, as he regularly competes in Solo II events with the 1977 Pinto Custom Cruiser (Ford's official name for the option package) that he has owned since new. However, quite a few tweaks have been visited upon the car in the last 18 years.

The car's 2.8-liter V6 engine has received a few boosts in power via headers and an aftermarket fuel injection system, and a Ford C4 automatic transmission and 3.40 Posi rear end back up the drivetrain. In typical Street Prepared fashion, spring rates have been upgraded up front while the rear leaf springs were de-arched until flat. Urethane bushings help eliminate wander, and a Pandhard rod and torque locate the rear end. David also installed Koni shocks and Centerline 15x8-inch wheels all the way around.

In the last few years that David has been racing his Pinto, he has managed several local wins, earning him the Crown Club championship in 1991, 1993 and 1994. He also became the Kansas City Region Champion in 1993, and has put in a few appearances at the Solo II Nationals.

Jack Van Wettering's OSP Bug

J. "Jack" Van Wettering has figured prominently the San Francisco Bay area's OSP class (essentially a run-what-you-brung group of street-legal cars) since the 1991 season. Like the other racers featured on these pages, he has chosen to make his mark with a somewhat unlikely candidate: a 1969 VW Bug.

Jack reports that the OSP class has been attracting big fields, with a lot of his competitors driving cars with a bit more performance potential. At one event, he says that he overheard a Corvette driver exclaim, "I just got beat by an old man in a Bug?!"

He won the San Francisco Bay Region's OSP title in 1994 after finishing second in the class the previous year. The Duel at Deanza is the region's premier event, and Jack has won his class every year going back until -1991—he also claimed an additional award for having the best-looking car in 1995. A former Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association champion, Jack took the OSP win at the 1994 Grizzly Hillclimb with his Bug, finishing three-thousandths of a second behind the overall winner. The wins have also come in Northern California Sports Car Club competition, where he has been their OSP class champion every year since 1992.

The root of this Bug's power is a trick 2275cc Type I engine built by Cris Hovey and Bruce Kranak of San Jose's Bugformance. A full-flowed case holds in the guts, which include a Bugpak 82mm forged crank, a set of Bugpak rods and four Cima 94mm, 12: I compression forged pistons. Total Seal piston rings also help, and the engine builders also installed a custom-ground billet cam. "Cris said he'd tell me the specs, but then he'd have to put out a contract on me," Jack said.

On both ends of the engine case you'll find a pair of CB Eliminator heads, which Cris reworked before installing. The heads house 44mm intake valves, 37mm exhaust valves plus a set of Autocraft I .25: I rockers. Autocraft also supplied a set of tapered pushrods. A set of 45mm De1101to carbs sorted by Rockwell Motorsports sits on top of the heads, To provide the best possible spark, Jack runs a lot of parts from the Bosch catalog, including their 009 distributor, electronic ignition and silicon plug wires. A 1 5/8-inch Gene Berg exhaust leading to a Flowmaster muffler can be found hanging off the back of the car. Time on Rockwell's dyno has produced 197 horsepower readings at 6000 rpm, and a trip from zero to sixty now takes 4.5 seconds. Remember, this car only weighs 1625 pounds.

Depending upon the venue, Jack runs one of two different gearboxes. His short box allows quicker acceleration, although the car will top out at just 90 miles per hour at 7000 rpm; swapping in his long box will allow 120 miles per hour at the same engine speed. A Porsche-type Gene Berg clutch disk and 200mm lightened flywheel are also critical parts of his driveline.

To help keep the beast cool, a remote oil cooler teamed with an electric fan were installed and sorted by Rockwell Motorsports' Charlie Rockwell. Amsoil 10-W 10 oil is Jack's lube of choice.

Serious gains were also made in the ear' s handling. Koni shocks and Sway-a-WayB/Å-inch anti-roll bars are used all around the car. Heavy-duty torsion bars, adjustable spring plates and beefed-up trailing arms all help. The car now has a slight tendency to oversteer, which makes Jack very happy. Jack also installed front disc brakes which bring the crazed Beetle to a quick halt.

With all these modifications, a serious jump up in tire specifications was also required. Jack now runs Centerline 15x8 1 /2-inch -rims wrapped with Hoosier -Autocrosser tires—225/45-15 on the fronts and 245/45-15 on the rears—as OSP rules require DOT-approved rubber. Parnelli Jones of Milpitas, Calif., handled all of the Bug's tire and alignment requirements.

The coachwork of the car also received a fair amount of attention. Fiberglass measuring three inches wider than the stock ones, were added to the outside before Sturken Auto Body of San Jose applied the new paint. A full interior that includes a Recaro seat and five-point harness is also part of the package, although future plans call for a full roll cage.

Thanks to his sponsors–Bugformance, New Dimensions, Rockwell Motorsports„ Parnelli Jones and Sturken Auto Body—Jack has a true giant-killer.

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Matt B
Matt B SuperDork
10/20/16 11:57 a.m.

Awesome. I love these old articles. Keep'em coming.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
10/20/16 7:42 p.m.

Gotta love the porthole in the Pinto wagon.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/28/16 9:15 a.m.

Yeah, this one was fun to do--back before we printed in all-color. This was even back before you could talk to everyone over the internet.

Yesterday Ed and I picked some more old articles to scan and post. Look for them soon.

pinchvalve GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
10/28/16 9:17 a.m.

Nothing oddball about racing a 4-Door Civic! (BTDT)

te72 Reader
5/11/18 10:27 p.m.

Fun article. My very first autocross event was the very first one held in my hometown. I was truly amazed that someone had figured out how to convince our county events complex to host an automotive event that wasn't a stock car race or demo derby. Anyway, among the field that day:

-Volvo V70R... with the kiddos in the back, literally.

-70's era Civic on some really skinny tires. Talk about body roll, but it actually did surprisingly well for the class!

-Typical sports cars, pony cars, etc, nothing unusual to see them out among cones.

-1980 something F150... driven by a grandma in her 70's, with the 302 and 5-speed. Turns out, granny could wheel!

-Speaking of Fords... there was also a 1930's Ford hot rod of some sort or another. Pretty sure the car was pieced together from a few different models. Rear tires were probably 5x as wide as the fronts, and somehow this thing still managed to turn on those motorcycle-skinny front tires... car ended up taking the class win that day.


Really looking forward to seeing what the field looks like this year!

irish44j UltimaDork
5/11/18 10:46 p.m.

I always thought my first autocross car was a bit oddball.. DSP and later EP. It actually finished mid-pack most of the time :)

Nick Comstock
Nick Comstock MegaDork
5/12/18 7:51 a.m.

Every car I've autocrossed has been an odd ball. 

Started off in a 1996 Impala SS.

Then a 1982 BMW 320is.

Then a 2005 Grand Prix


Then a 1980 BMW 320 

I guess the BMW's aren't so odd for autoX cars but certainly none of those cars are what you would call a popular pick for the sport. 

buzzboy Reader
5/12/18 8:08 a.m.

The top photo excites me. I'm hoping to get our Lemons W116 ready for some autocross duty. Gonna be FUN in the cones, although a bit slow.

Trackmouse UltraDork
5/12/18 9:14 a.m.

Can you guys do a retro article like this? Basically, this same article, but featuring oddball cars of today. 

captdownshift GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
5/12/18 7:16 p.m.

Time for me to find photos and result sheets from running the xB, before it was banned ;) :D 

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