Pro Touring Progenitors Newman Car Creations Builds a World-Class Shoebox.
TEXT: Ro McGonegal
PHOTO: Henry Z. DeKuyper
TRUTH be known, the Northern California Newman confab has been building Pro Touring cars before Pro Touring was invented. They were among the very first, if not the first, outfit to mate the hellacious capability of lightweight, geometrically sound C4 Corvette underpinnings with a purpose-built, secular frame under-seasoned envelope and feel good about it long after the metal turned cold.
If there was a problem with this venture back then (more than two decades!), it’s that no one knew what it was really for. Suffice that an advertising bankroll wasn’t in the picture then. Word spread by mouth and from the endorsement found on pages of magazines like Hot Rod, but elevated handling and big front tires on a muscle car was still something out of the Weird Closet.
Though the recipients of Newman’s largesse were Chevrolet originals, they were certainly not mainstream material and refreshingly, there wasn’t a Camaro, Nova, Chevelle, or B-body among them. No, the roster was (and still is) composed of pointed remedial changes for the C1, C2, and C3 Corvette, ’55-57 Chevrolet, and ’55-59 ¼-ton pickups. Newman has had the ’55 for many years, as well as the funky green ’57 wagon that preceded it. For the record, the 210 “belongs” to Kyle Newman.
Kyle: “This car was meant to be a shop car for Newman Car Creations so that we could run events and use it as a marketing tool. The shop built the chassis. Paul Newman [his dad and company founder] did most of the fab work for the exhaust and rollcage. James Arredondo did all the mechanical work on the suspension, motor install, wiring, and body assembly. Dave Wheeler did the interior and underhood paintwork, sheetmetal/aluminum work, and a lot of the little styling cues, like the exhaust outlets and the radiator top tank.”
Arredondo clearly excelled in this realm. He came up with the idea of nesting all of the exhaust system in the front fenders, which saves weight over a full system that runs to the rear bumper. Obviously, this was a feat unknown to most. Everyone was certain that the heat would bubble a tire or melt the paint off the fender at the very least.
The chassis and suspension were built as an illustrative showpiece for the shop in 2007. It stayed that way until 2009, when the select sheetmetal was finally married to it. From the onset, the credo was “go fast on a budget.” As such, the wish list was often accommodated with stuff trying to hide in a corner of the shop.
Kyle: “It had to be light, which meant no fluff and nothing extra. Creature comforts were thrown out the manual windows, along with most of the interior. At this point, the car started to get its name: Bad Idea. When we would explain to people what we wanted — no heater, no A/C, no interior — all we would hear was ‘that might not be a good idea’. At the time, the LS3 376/480 hot cam [Chevrolet Performance crate] motor was the obvious choice. We also decided that dropping the motor 4 inches and moving it back into the firewall about 6 inches would put it all behind the rack steering, helping to achieve that 50/50 weight bias.
“This car is something that we feel comfortable driving across the country, running flat out on a track, and driving home in. Wow, talk about living the life! The car has been running for a little over a year now and as we tune and test it, it is only getting faster [Kyle drives at the events]. In the beginning stages of the build we had discussed the fact that ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we could make it as race car as possible, but still be able to drive it to the events?’ As of now, it has been driven to everything we have competed in [Street Machine class at the Goodguys Del Mar in 2011, Second Place at the NMCA West Coast Shootout autocross, Second Place in the speed-stop event at Run to the Coast among them].”
Verdict? So far, all the bad ideas have worked beyond well — and there’s still no bubbled paint on the fenders.
We imagine that a large part of the “budget build” fell directly to the in-house capabilities of Newman Car Creations. They built the 210 so long ago that it still retains the original ’rails, although they have been abetted by a custom sheetmetal crossmember with attachment for a torque arm. This entity has since been superseded by a full-perimeter square-tube frame with larger dimensions and thicker material, and equipped it with a pair of aluminum crossmembers, one for the transmission mount, the other situated about midway between the tranny mount and the frame kickup. The rearmost stringer functions as an anchoring point for the differential torque arm necessary to eliminate wheelhop and keep the differential housing from rotating. Newman uses everything from the C4 Corvette simply because all of it was designed to work in unison. The front suspension, spindles, and steering rack are from a ’96 C4. RideTech single-adjustable shock absorbers are at all points. The antisway bars are substantial — 1.18 inches in front and 1.02 inches in the rear, usually an indication that spring rates are moderate and not used solely to control body and wheel movement. All of it makes for pleasant ride quality. There is a minimal drawback with the IRS as it precludes the space normally used for the fuel reservoir. They skirted that pitfall with a custom tank and submersible fuel pump.
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Adhering to the game plan, the hot cam LS3 crate was not modified. It emits 480 hp at 5,750 rpm and 475 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. The key to the power boost (430 hp and 425 lb-ft stock) is the camshaft swap, 0.525-inch lift on both valves and 219/228 degrees duration at 0.050. There’s less lift on the intake side than the standard LS3 camshaft but more duration, allowing the valves to stay open longer. As a result, the peak power comes on earlier and the torque curve remains flat higher in the rpm band, producing a great running engine and a faultless, fluid driver to be sure. Since using tubular headers was impossible, to simplify the conversion and the entire exhaust system in general (remember that it all fits inside the front fenderwell), James Arredondo had little choice but to put it in place with the original cast-iron exhaust manifolds and MagnaFlow stainless mufflers. Paint and bodyman Dave Wheeler, out of Atascadero, California, massaged the inner fenders and fabbed the Outlaw 10.5-style exhaust outlets. Since the radiator in Bad Idea is Be Cool for the ’62 Corvette and without the usual filler opening, he also fabricated the fill tank and situated it high on the firewall. Top that. The engine controller (PN 19201327) is in league with 2008, the fly-by-wire pedal and throttle body. The drivetrain for the Bad Idea ’box begins with a Z06 clutch assembly that transfers torque to the Tremec T56 (equipped with an easy cruisin’ 0.50:1 top gear). The prop shaft is a wrapped carbon-fiber unit produced by Precision Shaft Technologies that spins into a Newman-built Dana 44 (independent rear suspension system) differential housing and cover for a ’85-96 Corvette. PST also built the carbon-fiber halfshafts. Even with a 4.10:1 axle ratio, the Bad Idea can still blow down the road with a 2-something-to-1 Bonneville gear. An Eaton Truetrac differential provides unexcelled bite.
Newman began with straight sheetmetal and a middling paintjob. Considering that the car was expected to be driven to and from a venue, the decision was to pass on an unnecessary expense and invest the money in the realm of function instead. Under the skin, however, Dave Wheeler did all the sheetmetal and aluminum work inside the car and underhood. Aside from the fender exhaust outlets, he was responsible for the new aluminum tunnel envelope that hides the computer, inner fender work to make room for the MagnaFlows, the engine covers, the radiator shroud, and the air cleaner receptacle.
No fuzzy dice here. Beyond Spartan but much to our delight, the ground zero interior reveals all in an eye sweep. There is no frivolity, and therefore no distraction. From the rollcage to the Corbeau seats, to the acres of sheetmetal, to that naked stick waggling from the floorboards, the Bad Idea becomes a Great Idea. Antiestablishment machines don’t need stuff like a back seat, either. With a half tank of 92, the car weighs approximately 3,300 pounds.
One of Newman’s core tenets was to reduce unsprung weight and the C4 components lend a great advantage here. The front brakes are Baer 6P on 14-inch rotors. The back units are straight from a C5 Corvete. Rolling stock is composed of polished 10.5-inch C5 Z06 rims and 295/35YR18 Nito NT05 tires.