The Real Story About How A Road Test Mislead Generations Of Petrolheads

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The Firenza V8 or Can Am as we prefer to call it, is just one of those cars we as petrolheads honour as being something really special from back in the day. It carries with it all manner of history and folklore and despite being considered an oddity as a road car at the time, has turned into one of the most iconic machines ever to come out of the local industry. Most believe that we know all there is to know about this incredible machine. Fact is…not so …and as mentioned in the Facebook intro we have two stories to fill in some of the blanks. Both shed something of a different light on proceedings, we start with this one and follow this up with our first Paid-for article entitled  ‘Undercover Engineering’, the story of the real Can Am road car development by GM Engineering.

Increased activity on FB recently covering all manner of historical pics of competition cars has unlocked some much needed nostalgia in these very different times. In the process there has been renewed interest in the Can Am. That in turn resulted in some direct contact with a few enthusiasts and in the process some pretty straight discussion concerning the road car and associated performance….and amongst all the good stuff, touched on an issue of unfinished business.
Those who know me understand that in conversations on this subject I tend to be pretty forthright on the history, with much of it being different to established belief. As a result, I have elected over the years to keep coms in social media limited to a tech level where I can, rather than offering opinion, because seldom these days do views running counter to popular folk-law result in a reasonable outcome.

However, in my blog publications I will not do this because on the issue of the Can Am it is time to call a spade a shovel and a few things need to be cleared. This story and our more detailed Can Am development story which follows this, do just that. The first has been motivated by the recent coincidental review of a road test not seen since it was published… but which disturbed me just the same way it did back in 1973, namely the Technicar Can Am test of that year.

This piece covers an event in the Can Am history that should have been contested by GM at the time ….but wasn’t.  If you suspect that it is written with a bit of ‘bite’… it is… because it is a story which needs to be told to set the record straight. When re-reading that Firenza road test some weeks ago, there was initially again just that feeling of disappointment, not immediately putting my finger on the detail of the bigger problem. That did not last long because the old memory bank kicked in and I quickly looked for a copy of the equivalent Perana CAR magazine test from 1971…the two together told the full story.   I in no way wish to cast either in a bad light, because given their fabulous history, I don’t think that would be appropriate. However, there are issues involving the production car road tests that need to be straightened out. I have shared this with a few friends and debated whether or not I should rake-up old bones and publish a story on the Blog. The response from those contacts is split right down the middle.

The more politically astute said let sleeping dogs lie…. but the techies amongst this lot thought it necessary to publish the facts… because that is what us techies deal with…so here is the detail, mainly concerning the Can Am, along with a few comments concerning the Perana. You see, there was a huge amount of commitment that went into the development of this car by GM Engineering… the detail of which is to be published in the article on the subject. Sadly that magnificent work has lived in the shadow of this supremely disappointing test and as we will see, real commitment by GM to the business at hand at the time would have provided a far more representative history.

Be warned, this goes into necessary detail to make the point…and just to get this clear, this is not written to blame anyone associated with the test or the cars…just a presentation of the facts as I see them.

Whilst there were countless column inches written in many publications and newspapers at the time, there is always that ‘one’ write up that carries the day and for the Can Am, this was it. The road test in Technicar of 1973 has, surprisingly, not met with much comment other than it being the sole harbinger of not only historical Can Am road car performance but set a tone for the tech positioning of the car that was less than  complimentary. Much to my continued displeasure, most of those write ups by all and sundry have published the performance figures from that single test….every time I see that figure of ‘5.4’ my blood pressure spikes….Little do folk realise that the test is both inaccurate, poorly executed and presented a less than true picture of what the Can Am Firenza was about…or capable of. More to the point, astonishingly, exposes GMSA as not being fully committed to the product that they had given birth to.

In order to illustrate that point we should have a look at an evaluation of the classic that set the standard on just how seriously folk should handle this type of thing. …the hugely debated road test of the first great Muscle Car…. the Pontiac GTO by Car and Driver. We could fill this particular story debating the detail on that one but, other than to highlight the extent to which those involved went to achieve the biggest possible ‘Hit’, that is not what I wish to do.

For those interested, read the test…

Download Here

It is 1964 and when a saloon car runs the zero to 60 Mph cha-cha in 4.6 seconds…0-100Mph in 11.8 and the ¼ in 13.1…published in black and white… the motoring world sits up and takes notice …particularly the manufacturers. These are performance figures that would look respectable for a top-end saloon car today.  In fact, that motoring world went bananas, fingers were pointed, accusations made of impropriety… blah de blah…The bottom line?  The road test carried the day and created the biggest ‘opening salvo’ in the history of the performance saloon car…. Period. The car was eventually shown to be  a ‘ringer’, running a 421 cubic inch engine instead of the factory specced tri-carb ‘Bob Cat’ 389 version….but no one could prove it at the time…the road testers could not have known, the engines being visually identical… and Jim Wangers, the marketing guru at Pontiac who set the whole thing up and amongst continuous speculation, only revealed that as fact some 40 years later. To put this into perspective however, had the 389 been used instead, the resulting performance would only have been marginally different and would still have knocked everyone’s socks off. In my opinion Pontiac took a risk they need not have done but clearly did this because there was a very committed plan being put in place…These guys wanted to shake the tree and leave a marker that no one was going to forget.  (See the GTO Story in our Top Ten on the pdmclark Blog)

My point…the road test itself was well done, detailed and well executed by folk who were knowledgeable and looked to extract the best out of the car. Pontiac being directly involved, provided two cars properly prepared…the second a back-up in case something went wrong…and it did. The first car damaged crank bearings as a result of oil surge during track testing… so extensive was the work done by the testers. The end result? …spectacular… and set Pontiac up as GM’s initial front-line attack in the subsequent Muscle/Pony car wars of the 60’s.  So slick was the whole operation that the rest of the industry, including Pontiac’s GM siblings and particularly Chevrolet, were completely gobsmacked. This was a very clear strategy by Pontiac, cleverly executed in the midst of massive internal GM restrictions on Engine sizes for compacts and a motor racing ban by the General….

Wangers’ strategy?… If we can’t go to the track…the track must come to the street…. Pontiac had just come off a successful racing programme shut down by the Corporate Execs. But this was a proper bunch of Car-Guys, up to their eyeballs in competitive psyche…. these lads were not going to let this happen without doing something about it and planned the exercise beautifully. So… the job was done… and the rest as they say is history. GM stayed in the game despite reams of corporate red tape surrounding high powered production cars. The surge in popularity of powerful saloon cars, largely accelerated by this event and the launch of the Mustang, soon resulted in that fabulous Muscle Car era.

That test, as a matter of history, also established Car and Driver as a publication to be reckoned with. It is worth mentioning that all involved both on the Pontiac and Publication side, were young enthusiasts and had a point to prove. People like this get stuff done and for me, whilst very early in this hot-car adventure, set the bar in the way you go about doing things…with some passion…and critically, the Pontiac team had the balls to do the necessary in the face of Corporate politics

Fast forward to South Africa 1973 and GM have built the most outrageous Performance saloon car anywhere in the world. GMSA look like they finally want to go up against Ford on the track, they have the Can Am to do it with and seem to be serious. We must also assume this to be part of a larger strategy…a portion of that should surely be to achieve the maximum impact from a road test of the production car. If any car could do what was achieved back in 1964 by Pontiac…this was it…because that is what you do in this game… if you are really serious. What I am saying is that whilst GM was revelling in the spectacular performance of Basil van Rooyen’s race cars doing their visits to race tracks around the country and the associated ra-ra-ra, the production car was being treated like the poor sister.

Lets dissect that. What was going on in SA that was so different to the USA.? Again, we need to use the Ford example as the status quo in things being done with some intent locally. Ford had been involved in motor sport seriously since 1963/64 and more particularly, had written the handbook on how to go saloon car racing, a critical part of that providing  a comprehensive range of performance saloon cars for the street … Unlike the USA, GM here had chosen not to be very involved… and whilst there was huge rivalry on local streets amongst equally besotted petrolheads, GM was not in the game. Only from around 1971 did the General in SA wake up to that fact and decided to put a toe into the water. So, in order to get involved, one would assume that attempting to do the same, would simply require a ‘copy and paste’. It was that simple to do….and not hard to get done when you more than have the tools to do it. GMSA’s range of cars were begging for the treatment and could have created spectacular versions of the bread and butter stuff on offer.

BUT

GMSA were not going about this following the Ford example and instead, set up that fabulous group in the Chev Dealer Team in 1972/3 to do the hard yards on both the track and rally circuits. However, apart from the ‘bolt from the blue’ V8 Firenza, there was not much in the way of associated product on the street, nor if we are honest, much in the way of streetcred. More to the point, GM at that time did not have much self-generated ‘go faster’ DNA. A properly executed road test of the Can Am was a wonderful opportunity to start setting that right, not only for the car and those associated with this machine… but for GM. The test however turned out to be as clear an example of GMSA not understanding what was necessary as could be imagined. Here is the point of this piece…and an early indication that GM were involved in this exercise with a bit of …….distance.

Firstly those techies who lived with the test car in engineering had a good picture of the sort of figures and comment that should have appeared in early 1973 ….a representative road test of the Can Am was going to set new norms.  But that did not happen. The March edition of ‘CAR’ carrying a knockout test would have been ideal because the Can Ams were doing their thing on the track by that time.  April, May and June disappeared and along came July… no ‘CAR’ magazine…but Technicar (the aftermarket team)  arrived with a road test that, given the opportunity on hand… was a disaster…but incredibly never raised an eyebrow in the larger enthusiast community or more significantly  amongst the responsible folk within GM..

Lets look at this objectively. Auto makers know the score and get new product to the media hoping to achieve the best possible exposure wherever possible…and that is just for your average car…this wasn’t that…It was the most unique piece of motoring hardware ever to appear not only on our shores at the time…but also to be seen anywhere. The General had an opportunity to blow the minds of the enthusiast car world with an emphatic statement of GM capability that would shade anything similar done by Ford…this was not just about the performance of the car… but could make a statement about engineering competence (GM ’s direct involvement in development of the road car)*. The company could have achieved a level of unsuspected capability that would make folk sit up and take notice that the General was officially in the Go Faster business and doing it well. After all, the production Can Ams had to be sold and by mid-year things were not going well at all on that front, making a focused, professional ‘GTO type’ effort all the more important.

Neither happened…so lets take a critical peek at what really occurred:

*See the real Can Am Development story in Can Am Part Two…

Had GM wanted to launch into the performance car world and make a statement, the road test should have been in CAR not Technicar.  Fact is, GM were quite frankly a little embarrassed about being too up-front in this performance car thing and, whilst involved, hived the job over to Superformance . That is just plain wrong because the team responsible for the car at GM Engineering were perfectly capable of doing the job…and should have. Even doing this directly through the Dealer Team would have been a better alternative because that would have shown some corporate ownership and commitment.  This was a critical departure point because it should have happened with a similar passion to the philosophy in the GTO effort …and that needs a coordinated, well planned effort with specific goals.…. As it turned out, this was Cinderella going to the ball but not wanting to be seen. Giving any responsibility to Superformance was a cop out.

Just to make this clear and to give an idea of the opportunity at hand, the expectation was that the Can Am would become an official member of the  “4 and 13 clubs”…that very tiny group of production cars anywhere in the world at the time able to do the 100 dash in under five seconds and the standing ¼ in the 13’s. This may sound trite, but we live in a motoring world where these are very significant numbers associated to performance and the Can Am was easily up for it…and should have bagged both those numbers…That very average ‘5.4’ should have been a ‘4.8’. That, to the uninitiated sounds unimportant but I guarantee that would have got the motoring world’s attention …seriously…and it should have.

Download THe Can Am ROad Test Here

Worse was to come,  the car Broke Down during the test…and had to be replaced… this is an opportunity to showcase the General’s expertise in this ‘newfangled’ Go-Faster business and, think about this….we have here the biggest, boldest statement in a performance car ever made in this country, properly engineered by GMSA*, going directly up against the established leader in the quick car game… and the ball is dropped on the 10 metre line. But, using the GTO as a reference, you will say that a breakdown is not a crime…these things happen…NO… in this context they should not. The two situations were totally different both in time, circumstance and the fundamental requirement. Pontiac were making a statement in uncharted waters and, relative to the stunning performance of the car and the era…. An engine problem caused by hammering a road car on a race track as part of a rigorous test was seen as a minor glitch (The test team, whilst incorporating the performance testing, did over 5000 Km in the GTO) The spare car immediately on hand anyway showed a level of unspoken professional intent. The Can Am test, had it been done properly, provided a magnificent opportunity to quite literally, change the mindset of what a real performance car was about. Firstly by completely obliterating the Perana on every level of full throttle performance (which it does easily anyway…but  as we will see in a ‘mo…not quite so, according to Technicar) but also leaving the scene having done a really smart, professional job. What really happened, compared to the larger opportunity, was like the proverbial ‘Big Bang’ firework that gets wet, stutters and goes off with a puff rather than the bang.

The original test car was replaced for the test directly from the dealer….My earlier point….a replacement car of this calibre and type, brand new and from a company newly into the go-faster business and if we are honest…needing to make a serious statement. NO. Here’s the point, at the end of this we do not know which car was chosen to represent the figures given in the test…I’ve been in this game for a long time and to have two cars, one of which is on the way to being crippled and the other straight off the showroom floor, giving identical times and speeds as quoted …not likely… and neither coming close to optimising the result.

 Also the Can Ams had an update to a radiused pipe ‘mini header’ type exhaust manifold as a running change in production. Early Can Ams were fitted with the old type of Log Exhaust manifold (An extremely agricultural looking device) which knocked measurable BHP off the power curve…Which one was fitted to the second car?

Lastly, the ignition distributor spec for the Can Am ran a single point system, which if not properly set, would result in point bounce and a misfire at around 6300Rpm…from the text it would seem that that could quite likely have been the case…certainly on the 2nd car..

The bottom line was that the Test was conducted poorly and the performance figures below par… So… having made the point, we cannot leave this to opinion or conjecture…there is a need to drive the point home….and it will get a bit technical.

Unquestionably what happened was a massive opportunity lost but before we go into the detail, it is important to look at the Z28 Camaro because that gives a pretty good baseline as to what should have been the outcome…. a Petrolhead’s view of what that US icon had already achieved. This was the donor car for that magnificent 302 engine… and should in my thinking, have formed some portion of educated commentary in the test text.

The engines were the same, 302 DZ’s hitting 290+ Bhp between 5800 and 6500Rpm (See the brief note on this later in this piece and covered in detail in the Can Am Development story “Undercover Engineering”)

The Camaro curb weight 1390 Kg.
The Camaro Road test ¼  mile figures varied between 14.6 and 14.9 sec (Various publications)
Terminal speed at ¼ mile 98 to 101Mph
0-60 Mph hovered around the 5.5 to 5.7 bracket.

The Can Am Weighed in at under 1100Kg….. 300 odd Kg lighter than the Camaro
Technicar managed a ¼ in 14.6 @ 100Mph… identical to the quicker stated Camaro times..but way off the pace.
0-100Kmh: 5.4 … that number again… quicker…but again way too slow.

Now…if there is not something fishy in this, we are not paying attention. Yes there were gearing differences but these are minor issues compared to the Camaro having to lug an extra 300Kg  (and greater frontal area) down the strip…that for the Can Am is an extra 3 fairly robust South Africans at 100Kg each.

Stop there…The Engineering Test Can Am was run at Scribante…absolutely stock …. after nearly a year of hammering….@ a 13.05 @ 106 Mph. That’s getting to 100 Mph well under 13 seconds, more like very low 12s. That is nearly 2.5 seconds faster than the Technicar figure and as noted later in this text … could have gone quicker.

And as a point of clarity…Peter Du Plessis (RIP) in his 1967 Z28 Camaro (with Headers but an otherwise stock 302) ran 13.8/9’s …and did so consistently in the early 70’s at Witteklip in Port Elizabeth.

Those two strip figures are also consistent given the weight difference between the two cars running the same engine but with headers on the Camaro … and… the Camaro Figure is consistent with US Road tests…because we need to add  a few tenths due to test equipment.

But there’s more…

The Quoted max speeds in the first three gears by Technicar  vs  the attainable top speeds at the optimum shift points of 6800Rpm are shown below:

Technicar Reality at 6800 Rpm
1st Gear 85Kmh 100Kmh
2nd Gear 115Kmh 135 Kmh
3rd Gear 148Kmh 174  Kmh

A really professional road test will do two things (amongst many) with a performance car, firstly find optimum shift points…..use them…..and talk about why. Here I am appalled at the significant lack of intent shown by the test crew. Under the bonnet is one of the most iconic V8 engines of the period, an engine with such character and technical intrigue at the time, that not to understand that the machine could and would pull hard to heady rpm  producing stonking power, again boggles the mind. The tester hardly eludes to this amazing piece of machinery properly and apart from noting the very basic specification, sure as anything only wrote what it seems the script called for. Whilst mentioning the “wild” Camshaft…the testers did not seem to use that fact, readers want to know what the car really does….and the one thing this machine does,  is produce huge power at unusually high rpm for an American V8. More than that, one then needs to contextualise the result. The precedent of the ‘parent’ Camaro and its performance, also certainly a comparison to Green’s Perana, the very reason the car existed, and that CAR test …. absolutely a must. (The reason I say this will become apparent when we touch on the Perana later.)

To illustrate this…. testers who came with a few inane comments and test methods… a major contributing factor to the poor performance results….

third is good for 155Km/h, so you take top before the ton”…?!?!… NO YOU DON’T!…

If you do that,  you’re shifting at 6000Rpm….  at least 800 rpm short of optimum shift points, that is if you were paying attention….100Mph is 6300 Rpm in third, so why not hold it to that point to get the best number)
Worse was the fact that according to the testers, the ¼ mile and 100Mph occurred simultaneously (they don’t with a properly tuned and driven car), which means that shifting at 155Km/h (96 Mph) forced a shift to 4th just before the line. The acceleration graph, however, indicates that the 3-4 shift happened at 148Kmh (5800Rpm), if that is so, that drops 4th gear rpm  at the shift point to 3900..below max torque…and for the 302DZ…’off the cam’.  …..Guys….that’s amateur stuff!!?

I must make the point that absolutely no effort was made to optimise the critical numbers at all:

0-100Kmh shifted at 90Kmh ….1st gear will bag 100 and break the 5 sec mark
0-100Mph shifted at 155Kmh …3rd gear will easily hit 100mph & 6800 shift points will get into the 12.s
S1/4… unbelievable…. rather read the text

Next:

“drop the clutch at 4000-4500 rpm and brace yourself for pressure on the kidneys; after 2.7 seconds of screaming rubber and frantic jerks, you’re snicking the 60 Kmh button on the stop watch”….No that is not how it is done with a Can Am……and here is why…

First thing….The clutch on the original Z28 302DZ was specced by Vince Piggins the creator of the Z28, to use the 396 Big Block assembly from the outset…because he knew it would get a hammering. This not only because of the ‘hot’ engine spec but because the DZ302 only came on song at 4200Rpm. The soft  bottom-end engine response on the 302 with the Camaro being such a heavy package, would require more clutch slip simply because that is how such car with a ‘peaky’ engine gets driven…so… his answer was to ‘over-engineer’ the thing from the start… and there would be no problem. This was just one of those engineers who oozed technical ‘Nous’ and the reason the Z28 hit the ground running.

Second thing…anyone who seriously tried to accelerate a Can Am from a standing start fitted with stock rubber, knew you do not ‘light the tyres’… limiting wheelspin was the key…that is if you wanted the best times. GM Engineering knew that. So why was that info not passed on to Technicar and why was the clutch info not known? and why did the testers not attempt alternatives as car testers should do anyway? In a Can Am you use that big clutch to moderate power to the rear wheels, the difference in the early part of the run can be over half a second… without frantic jerks… 300Bhp and 185/13 rubber and you drop the clutch and wait for things to catch up???!!!….again NO…and worse… instead of short-shifting,  buzz the thing, because that is what that engine is all about….

By 1973, anyone who called himself a knowledgeable Muscle/Pony car boffin would know this sort of thing. I would think a competent vehicle tester at a top class journal to be in that territory….But at a more detailed engineering level if you were the Engineer responsible…nothing should be an unknown (something I consider absolutely mandatory with a car as  unique as the Can Am) and …what you know… should be applied at all times to get the best possible outcome….because that is what the road test is all about. All the work, all the testing and all the knowledge gained is, in essence, the practise before the big game.

So your question at this point would be…why involve the engineers in this…this is an independent road test? The answer to that one is simple…you had better go with the precedent set by your major competitor….and guess what? …… Ford sorted those last three paragraphs by getting ex works racer Koos Swanepoel to drive the Perana during the CAR test. From experience in these things, I will assure you that that simple occurrence along with the man setting the car up at Windsor Motors, optimised that result. (see my final comment at the end of this piece)

Have a look at this:

Here are three shots of the factory test Can Am in Sept of 1973 at Scribante taken by Bruce Meaker. All three shots at the respective start points (In one you can see the starter Gordon Briggs (RIP) with the starters flag) and there were only three runs that day.

Scribante | PDM Clark | FIrenza V8 | South Africa

Run 1   13.41 Smokey Start

Scribante 2 | PDM Clark | FIrenza V8 | South Africa

Run 2  13.05     Clean start

Scribante 3 | PDM Clark | FIrenza V8 | South Africa

Run 3    13.25   Clean Start***

Here is the official result sheet for the runs:

Scribante 4

The shadows in each shot confirm the sequence and on the final run you only have my word that the start was clean and a 13.25..(the copy and rear wheels not fully visible)  But…that first smokey start was also done by slipping the clutch, with only moderate wheelspin …and still lost time…By giving it the full beans and lots of smoke I gaurantee at least 0.8  if not more down the drain.

***The asterisks on the last run need clarification. That 3rd run would have broken into the 12’s…the 13.25 happened despite a ‘two stab’ 2nd to 3rd shift brought about by a clutch pedal cable attachment bending during that shift, probably from a year of pounding as a test car and the punishment that day.

More important to note…the engineering car ran a stock engine, 2.92 final drive and 185/13 rubber… Oh and I should mention that Andre Brand in Can Am #15 managed a 13.25 as well, which kind of makes the point of a representative ¼ mile time fairly conclusive.

Next point…the overheating noted in the test requiring a vehicle replacement. Lets not mess about…the replacement car, brand new and with a ‘tight’ set of mechanicals and exactly the same cooling spec as the original test car… did not overheat. That is because the problem on the first car had little to do with spark plugs and cooling fan as stated in the text… but an internal engine problem which from memory was a damaged head gasket. (As noted in the test Text this was supposedly a GM execs car so its real history was unknown)

* Next…anyone notice that the car’s real name was not mentioned once in the whole thing? the car was a Chevrolet Firenza Can Am. Was that because GMSA was using the name outside of copyright??

Finally… and something I find extraordinary, the main picture of this most magnificent road car in this so called test…. shows a 300Bhp lightweight performance saloon car, a unique-in-the-world tarmac street rocket…. on a dirt road with some inane comment about how it was necessary to be careful because of the power available …Really??!  In fact not one pic of the test Car(s) is shown doing anything on Tarmac,

In summary,  the test was poor, the cars not well prepared and unnacceptable that the General did this in a hands-off manner, leaving Superformance with a responsibility only GM should have handled….Dare I say with a level of commitment to ‘shake the tree’ in the same way we saw from the Pontiac team. Using the GTO test and to a lesser extent the Perana as references, the Can Am road test is by comparison, singularly the worst possible representation of the most iconic South African road car… ever …Period.

One more Comment that may annoy… but needs to be noted…truthfully this test left me with a feeling that this test was more of an advertorial for Superformance and their ability to sell parts than a true OE  test…if so… one cannot criticise Basil because that was his business and in the face of GM being backward in coming forward…He did his Job with a car supplied.

 I haven’t Finished…not by a long shot….Mention magic numbers in acceleration runs and a few figures are the standout stats that catch the petrolheads eye. 0-60 Mph,  0-100Kmh, 0-100Mph and that magical ¼ Mile. Why CAR magazine changed to focus on the standing kilometre time in their road tests as the primary S/Start distance run many years ago, I cannot fathom…Yes, for info it gives a good indication of high speed acceleration and OK to have as secondary data. But….the world is not jam packed with ¼ mile venues and dragstrips because the 400M sprint is a Mickey Mouse indicator. It is THE measure of proper acceleration numbers and believe it or not, a reliable indicator of real horsepower when the weight of a car is known…. Fortunately, the CAR /Technicar teams were still doing the ¼ mile testing during this time…but as we will see in a ‘mo’…not too well.

I Wrote the previous paragraphs focusing on the Can Am and whilst unravelling that lot, I had remembered something that really extended my ire back in the day. Not only was the Can Am test a mess but compared to the less questionable test of the Perana by CAR magazine….. THERE WAS DEFINITELY SOMETHING DISENGENUOUS IN THESE TWO TESTS.

Enter now the 1971 Car magazine road test of the V8  Capri Perana…

View The Road Test Here

… here we have the issue that wound me up so spectacularly back in the day (The walls in experimental engineering are probably still resonating to my response). Wonder of wonders, according to CAR/Technicar the Perana delivers exactly the same ¼ mile time as does the Can Am at 14.6 sec…despite the Ford being demonstrably slower throughout the full throttle acceleration spectrum….

Now we know, in reality, that is not the case but how exactly did they manage to get away with that without there being significant fallout, a retraction and retest?  Disinterest in critical endeavour leaves a bad taste….and  whilst there may have been some feedback that I am not aware of, I do not know of any publication of a corrected Test. If there was, I would like to see it…

Here Is a Comparison of the two cars and the acceleration profiles….

Perana Can Am Difference
0-60 Km/h 3.1 2.7 -0,4  (That’s despite wasting rubber and time)
0-80 4.8 3.9 -0.9
0-100 6.7 5.4 -1.3
0-120 9.3 7.3 -2.0
0-100Mph 17.2 14.6 -2.6
S ¼ 14.6 14.6 (This must include a Can Am stop for a sandwich)

Lets break that down…So…by the time we get to 120 Km/h the Can Am is miles ahead and gets there two seconds clear… and because it is considerably more powerful (239 vs 290Bhp)… should continue to do so.  BUT  ACCORDING TO TECH/CAR IT DOES NOT, the Can Am barely matches the Perana from 120 to 160. Both cars, according to the times, doing this bit in around 7.0 seconds. That’s bad enough…BUT…lets take a peek at the ¼ mile result because that says the Can Am is slower in the latter portion of the ¼ …. and this simply by examining the data.

At the 120 Km/h point the Can Am would clearly be ahead of the Perana on the road by quite a chunk…I’m going to guess here…approx…2-3 car lengths.  Then between that point and the end of the ¼, according to these two tests, the Can Am loses ground in order to cross the line in an identical time to the Perana…14.6…. Balls!…  Sorry, but that is exactly the expletive I used when I did this comparison 47 years ago….and I use it again.

Lets look at this another way:

By using the the Accel runs (and the graphs to fill in the missing data) the Two Curves look like this to 160Kmh – but showing the ‘+’ time increment for each 20Km/h measurement point:

Perana Can Am
0 to 60 3.1 2.7
0 to 80 4.8 +1.7 3.9   +1.2
0 to 100 6.7   +1.9 5.4   +1.5
0 to 120 9.3   +2.6 7.3   +1.9
0 to 140 12.6   +3.3 9.4   +2.1
0 to 160 17.0   +4.4 14.6   +5.2??

Two Points…the Perana progression and time elapsed between each 20Kmh increment is progressive and understandable. The Can Am is much quicker and up to 140, the progression is also progressive and understandable, however, at that point it looks as though the tester took his foot off the juice and had a bite of that sandwich .
Lets make this properly understandable. There is no way on this planet that a Perana in the state of tune given in the road test by Car Magazine (239 Bhp net), will match a Can Am (290Bhp net) in full throttle max rpm accelerataion through the gears…ANYWHERE. The Can am will simply obliterate a Perana….again…Period. To even suggest that the two had similar ¼ mile times…someone is smoking his socks…no, something stronger. This falls into the category of … Somebody Please Explain….

Through practical experience here is my  moderately conservative take on the correct figures for the Can Am adjusted for road test mass. This is the minimum achieved if done properly:

0-100Kmh:      4.8    1st gear
0-100Mph:     12.7   3rd gear
S ¼ :                 13.6  3rd gear @ around 105Mph
Max Speed:    236

But…also just by way of factual history … a ‘one up’ 0-100 using an electronically triggered mechanical counter varied between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds in 1st gear…and quite easy to do with a bit of practise.

Oh and about that Perana….hats off to that team because those figures are not representative of a stock Perana either….Because as a close follower of these things, a stock Perana ¼ mile time hovers around the 15.0+ second mark….and that’s only if it is a very good one….

OK so lets drive the point home. The difference between these two tests is quite simple…..The GTO test sets the bar and if we think that all test cars back in the day were absolutely to factory spec, think again…but that’s not the issue here… it is the end result that counts….to  put it bluntly….The Ford team ended with figures better than their stock road car could do and the GM team considerably worse….thats because GM were not committed.

What do I mean by commitment? …here I share what should have been done. Firstly a good plan put together and a car properly inspected and tested before being prepared. The engine removed, stripped & blueprinted to spec, run in on the dyno, optimised and refitted to to the car. At this point you would have a Chevy 302 at well over 300Bhp….but importantly absolutely to spec. Next select your preferred driver and practise the run…right down to the exact shift points in each gear to get the best result. Call Car magazine and do the deed.

If anyone out there thinks that this was not done back in the day…dream on… but the point here is that if that had been done that ‘5.4’ would have been a 4.4 and the ¼ a 13 second flat. For those that don’t think so, heres a challenge for you… Find a representative Can Am…. find a Dyno and the means  to strip  & rebuild and the support funds to do it and I will  manage this process for you. I remain disappionted and for anyone that wishes to set this right I am at your disposal… because for Chevy supporters and more importantly, all the lads at GM engineering who did the hard yards in making this magnificent motor car a reality…. They deserved better.

Paul

SEE THE DETAIL OF THE CAN AM DEVELOPMENT STORY IN OUR “UNDERCOVER ENGINEERING” ARTICLE…

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