How Planning Now Can Have You on Track Later

By Carl Heideman
Jan 16, 2022 | Ford, SCCA, wagon, Falcon | Posted in Features | From the June 2020 issue | Never miss an article

Story and Photography by Carl Heideman and Jack Heideman

We’ve all heard it before: It takes a village.

This is a story like so many others. It starts with a few guys sitting around late at night, bench racing the what-ifs and how-tos of going fast with little time and limited funds. A barely achievable goal is set, a tight timeline is decided upon, and a build begins. Friends and onlookers start to help, and the project gains momentum.

This particular village centers around Jack and Jarrett, college students who are part of a Formula SAE team. One night, soon after competing at FSAE Lincoln, they started contemplating a fun summer project with a few of their teammates.

Formula SAE has given this team–split between fans of sports cars and fans of muscle cars–a new appreciation for autocross. As their bench racing bounced from what to do with this Miata or that Mustang, they decided they wanted to try a national-level event on a shoestring.

Then they agreed that Miatas and Mustangs were too conventional for their attempt. They quickly homed in on Jack, a second-generation grassroots racer who, like most GRM readers, has a habit of buying cheap project cars. With a few rusty Miatas and E30s under his belt, he’d acquired a 1967 Ford Falcon wagon as a roller, swapped in a 302 and Toploader, and then sort of lost interest as he went back to Miatas. The car was for sale, but it hadn’t sold yet.

Here’s the project’s modest start: a Falcon that Jack had purchased as a roller. The last drivetrain fitted was a Mercedes turbodiesel, but Jack swapped it back to Ford power with a 302 out of a 1970s Ford pickup. He backed it with a four-speed, mid-’60s Toploader.

The worn-out front suspension, complete with a poorly fitting, non-Ford anti-roll bar mounted on hockey pucks, wasn’t going to cut it.

Luckily, the car had come with quite a few new parts to replace the tired ones.

The team started updating the suspension with a “Shelby drop” up front: lowering the upper A-arm mounting points 1⅛ inch to raise the roll centers while adding camber gain. Eclectic Motorworks–owned by Carl Heideman, one of the team’s mentors–offered the equipment needed to make up a drill jig for the drop.

The team built a spring compressor to help get the front end apart.

After removing the front suspension, they used their drill jig bolted to the original A-arm holes to locate the new mounting holes.

The front end could then go back together.

The SCCA CAM Challenge at Grissom Air Force base was a month away, and the group had heard it was a great event–yet the grid was typically full of serious cars pedaled by serious drivers. Despite that, this Cinderella team set a modest goal: Finish the event, and not in last.

The build plan was straightforward: Focus on handling, since the budget couldn’t support more power. Because a Falcon shares a lot of DNA with an early Mustang, they decided to perform as many common Mustang handling mods as possible, fit the biggest possible wheels and tires under the car, and record just enough practice and development time before the big debut.

The bench racing spread to some of the team’s mentors and, little by little, the Falcon team grew and the car came together. Formula team members did almost all of the work, with some parts, advice and a bit of hands-on help coming from the mentors.

A Mustang anti-roll bar from Summit Racing fit with a little massaging of the mounts.

Mustang racers often rely on a Panhard bar to locate the rear suspension. The bar helps not only with locating the rear axle, but also with adjusting the roll center for better handling. Since the team didn’t have the budget to buy a Panhard bar, they decided to build one. Measurements for this custom piece came from the 1966 B Production Mustang owned by team mentor Bill Wiswedel. In addition to some cast-off round stock, this custom Panhard bar features an end chopped off of an MGB A-arm fitted with an MGB V8 bushing, an insert cut on the village lathe and tapped by hand, and a rod end for adjustment.

The Panhard bar mounts started out as tubing (2×3 inches with a 0.125-inch wall) and flat sheets of 0.125-inch sheet metal. After patterning, cutting, drilling and welding, the team welded the mounts to the car and installed the bar. A diagonal brace was added later.

The group decided to build their own rear anti-roll bar by bending up some solid ¾-inch rod and welding adjustable tabs to the ends.

Suspension mods wouldn’t do much without good tires, so the team researched how much tire could fit under the Falcon’s rolled wheel arches. They discovered that the Falcon and newer Hondas share bolt patterns, so a 17×7-inch Civic Si wheel was used to determine fitment.

Fabricating most of the required parts freed up some budget for a set of wheels and tires. American Racing wheels go with 1960s Fords like syrup on pancakes, so a modern-sized set of 17×9-inch wheels were shod with a modern autocross tire–in this case, the 245/40R17 Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R.

Before the big event, fresh suspension bushings were installed along with an inexpensive set of OEM replacement shock absorbers purchased from RockAuto. Longer ARP wheel studs were fitted, too.

Team mentor, pinstriper, race car letterer and patina guru Nick Hardie helped make the car a bit more presentable. The SCCA CAM guidelines state, “Interior and exterior must have a ‘finished’ look,” so Nick helped fix the damaged rear quarter and matched the paint before lettering and numbering the car for the CAM Challenge.

Not all of these stories have endings, let alone happy ones. Let’s face it, most builds that start with bench racing don’t go much further once the alcohol wears off. But this story ends well: Jack and Jarrett made it to Grissom, were overwhelmingly welcomed, and didn’t finish last.

Best of all, their village of supporters grew to include fellow CAM competitors who offered advice, encouragement and even some parts so our rookies could return with a faster Falcon.

Cam Challenge: From the Driver’s Seat

We didn’t know quite what to expect at the SCCA CAM Challenge when we arrived early Friday morning for the pre-event test and tune. This was our first national event and our first time in an American car.

Right away, it was obvious that we were one of the lowest-budget entries there. The cars were all impressive and very well prepped. But we quickly discovered that the CAM community was awesome. Everyone we spoke to answered any question we had, whether driving advice or building advice.

We started out with our plan to break in the car on the test-and-tune course. We made tire pressure, Panhard bar, and rear anti-roll bar adjustments to dial in the car.

Toward the end of the test and tune, we noticed that the Panhard brace was tearing from its body mount. Fortunately, Jarrett was able to mock up a reinforcement with some flat stock steel and extra hardware that we had on hand.

Once the car was repaired, we were able to get a couple more laps on the test-and-tune course. Overall, we found about 1.5 seconds on a roughly 30-second course.

The event started on Saturday, with three runs in the morning and three in the afternoon. We weren’t fast, but it was still a blast running the wagon. I ended up in 30th overall and Jarret was 34th out of 40 cars in our CAM-T class. We met our goal of not finishing in last place!

We each went about a tenth faster during Sunday’s runs. We would have had to go about 3 seconds faster to qualify for the final CAM Challenge event, so we were out after the first three runs. I finished 26th and Jarrett was 31st–again, still not last. (And in the overall index of 173 drivers at the event, I finished 143rd with Jared 155th.)

It was a great weekend: Our car stayed together and we met our goal. We left the event with a lot of ideas on how to build our Cinderella wagon into a more competitive car as we go to more events.

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bobzilla MegaDork
6/22/20 11:21 a.m.

Man that's a snazzy C10 in that opening photo. We should see more of that one too! wink

n8mandy New Reader
6/28/21 11:09 a.m.


60's muscle, check

Wagon, check

V8, check

Third pedal, check

ARE's, check

Patina, check

Perfect placement to block the license plate, faux Wayfarer's and beat alternative looking tennies (you know, Vans or Chucks) check

Well done, well done!

Oh yeah, first comment (but I did post a topic already [and I also grossly overuse parenthesis.])

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