Over the period 1969 and into the 70’s, Four Dealer Team activities linked to GM OEM’s were launched. The first in Australia with HDT the Holden Dealer Team, the next was DTV, Dealer Team Vauxhall in the UK, CDT, the Chev Dealer Team in South Africa and Opel launching DOT the Dealer Opel Team in 1974. It had become patently obvious to all on the front line that performance cars and the associated activity of racing had become a norm in the industry, virtually all manufacturers were involved by the end of the sixties with the exception of General Motors. The dealer groups in the various GM operations outside of the USA were now in trouble with younger buyers.
The Execs in Detroit were unmoving and running under the ‘Corporate Responsibility’ banner to maintain their position.
In order to get the job done, GM dealers started putting huge pressure on their respective marketing operations and eventually the dam burst and dealers either decided to set up teams doing their own thing, or where they could with help from Head Office through a dealer channel. Racing teams were put together under Dealer Team activities, ostensibly managed and funded by the dealer bodies. For HDT and CDT, history will show that this was duplicitous, the real masters were the factories and whilst funding did come from dealers in the form of standard contributions based on dealer car sales in all cases, the major costs were funded by Head Office. For the Vauxhall DTV/DOT it was an arms-length activity with control by the Dealer body. The Vauxhall assistance came mainly from interested enthusiasts senior enough to arrange the necessary help to the team. Be that as it may, it was better than nothing and allowed another breed of G-Men the chance to build and race/rally the product.
Before we go to the individual Dealer Team activities, let’s take a more detailed look at how the G-Men functioned in the USA.
The big difference between the US and UK/SA/Oz, post ’63, was that the engineering expertise and drive for the go faster stuff came from within the organisation in the ‘States and that, in turn, stemmed from motor sport being embedded in the DNA right up to the fateful decision in 1963. In the two major contributors at the time, Chevrolet and Pontiac, there were legions of folk involved not only on the tech side but in support roles such as the manufacture and distribution of parts used in competition by privateers across the country. To bring down the ‘no racing’ guillotine in the manner it had been, put all those involved off-sides. Shutting down the works race operations was one thing, telling the legions of Chevy and Pontiac privateer racers across the USA to stop what they were doing was just not going to happen. Just so many dealers were involved that this was a really ill-considered decision. So yes, the factory front line race ops shut down but the show had to go on and immediately, the Techies in the system devised ways to circumvent the directives…… special part availability was largely maintained. (this is a story that we will cover in some detail in future)……The in-house design and development of go- faster bits was curtailed…..but….and this is again a big but…..so much work had already gone into the high performance area prior to 1963 that there was enough good stuff in the armoury for our G Men to do some clever applications engineering….The Pontiac GTO was the first salvo, the Small Block Chevy was a self- fulfilling prophesy and the newly launched Chevy Big Block 396/427 “Rat” engines had already established a leadership position in the Big engine category. The icing on the cake was the fact that the aftermarket specialists in all areas of the go faster game were inextricably linked to the General’s product and not surprisingly, these entrepreneurs benefitted massively by being able to keep the pot boiling.
I any event Chevy engines were soon powering all manner of sports racers including Mclaren, Lola and Chaparrals in numbers far outnumbering equivalent Fords.
Let’s get back to the G-men. If I had to list the names of those brave souls who maintained the Go Faster roles inside GM operations after 1963, we could probably fill the rest of this tale with their names alone….I have a deep respect for these folk but in mentioning just a few related to the stories at hand, I pay tribute to the rest.
In the preamble to part three, I mentioned the fact that GM and Ford did have a racing series clash in the late ‘60s and we covered part of this in the earlier article “the Option to Option”. The racing was the Tran-Am series with the Z28 Camaro. Vince Piggins* was a G Man of note, well respected not only as an engineer within Chevrolet but by his peers in the larger race community. He completed the ‘Quadruple whammy’ doing all four tasks in producing a winning race car. Firstly he came up with the idea for the Z28, built a prototype and had the concept approved, managed the engineering of the production cars, and lastly drew together and appointed the racing team in Penske and Donahue to take the Trans Am series from Ford in 1968/69….This in spite of the racing ban.
*Vince cut his teeth in the Chevy world with the ’57 Black Widow racer see
http://nwccc.net/oldsite/News_events/blackwidow.pdf….. a site that I note simply because it gives a neat story of the history and just how professionally Chevrolet took their racing responsibility .
Piggins had to plan this carefully. Firstly, the Trans Am series was at risk of folding due to lack of serious competition and, through his contacts in the racing fraternity it became clear that a professional Chevrolet entry into the series would be beneficial to both GM and the T/A organisers. Such was the man’s influence that he pulled off this task in the face of corporate nonsense. Next, the appointment of the Penske/Donahue combination…. a masterstroke. Despite being relatively inexperienced in the business of running a race team, Penske showed his mettle early by maintaining a strictly managed independence from Chevy Engineering and kept the Generals troops at arms-length from direct involvement in the activity, both in the race car build area and at the track. Very different from Shelby who tended to be overrun by Ford propeller heads. This helped to keep the record books clean from overt GM involvement, Sunoco being the primary sponsor was used as the cover….behind the scenes GM did the bulk of the engineering work. Mark Donahue, being not only a first class race car driver but a very good race engineer, was able to fill the role of the engineer at the track and covered the critical tech communication with the one Chevy engineer assigned by Penske to the liaison role.
I have already mentioned the fact that this race effort came mainly from GM’s parts bins but there were two major development activities requiring direct involvement by Chevy Engineering thru Vince. One was easily handled off-site with Smokey Yunick developing the dual quad cross-ram inlet manifold for the otherwise original factory spec 302. The second involved some undercover work and had to do with rear suspension geometry….in this instance the race car did find its way to Chevy engineering in a covert operation and also required Chevy engineers at the track, dressed in suitable race mechanic attire, to help with the testing. Below the line, most in the know figured this was a full blown Chevrolet race programme…..above the line GM were squeaky clean and Sunoco/Penske were doing the business. The nice part of this is that with Ford on top of everything in the racing game they had hugely underestimated both the General’s capability and the professionalism of the Penske operation. Takes a peek at the many well documented articles covering the work Ford did on particularly the Ford 302 engine to recover lost ground, first with the tunnel port (‘68) and then the Cleveland (’69), Chevy swotted both attempts with their own 302 package based on the early ‘60’s 327 Duntov Corvette mill.