Muscle in the Summer of ’69
By Drew Hardin
Photo courtesy of the Petersen Archive
Detroit’s automakers used to hold full-line previews of their new cars for the automotive press. These events allowed journalists to sample just about every new model that would be available in the fall. “First Drive” or “First Look” stories were generated at these previews, as writers typically had just enough seat time to gather initial impressions but not quite enough for a full road test.
In the summer of 1969, Car Craft magazine dispatched several of its writers to attend the ’70 model year car previews with an agenda: to test the new supercars in the quarter-mile. Once the writers and photographers returned to Los Angeles, staffer A.B. Shuman compiled their info and photos into a story that ran in the Nov. ’69 issue. Here’s a look back at the state of the union, muscle-car style, as it happened in the summer of ’69.
13.10 seconds @ 107.12 mph
“Hemi. Ah, there’s a word to inspire mixed awe and fear.” So began the write-up of the quickest car of the bunch. Shuman noted that the ’Cuda’s Hemi now used a hydraulic cam, obviating the need to constantly reset the valves, “a time-consuming and exacting chore that was the key to making a solid-lifter Hemi run.”
The car was equipped with a Shaker scoop, a four-speed, a 3.54 Sure Grip rearend, and F60-15 Polyglas tires. Car Craft’s drivers found that the best way to launch the ’Cuda was to start at 2,000-2,500 rpm “and smoothly get into it as you move off the line, keeping the tires on the ragged edge of wheelspin.” They shifted at 5,500 to 6,000 rpm, since the Hemi’s torque curve was “broad enough where a few hundred either side of 5,700 didn’t seem to make much of a difference in e.t.”
13.12 @ 107.01
Really, the Chevelle and ’Cuda tied as the quickest, as the two tests were done on different days and at different venues. Who knows how much the conditions would have affected the two hundredths of a second that separated the two? The LS6 was equipped with cowl induction, a four-speed, a 3.55 Positraction axle, and F70-14 Polyglas tires.
“This little red and black Chevelle turned out to be a real handful,” Shuman wrote. “Our first runs produced lots of smoke, frantic fishtailing, and e.t.’s in the mid-14s. One thing was certain, once you broke the tires loose in First, that was that.”
Leaving the line at about 1,200 rpm and then matting the throttle “about 20 feet out” was the plan, and once they figured out how to shift the balky Muncie they got consistent low 13-second e.t.’s. Shuman wrote, “With good tires and some suspension work the mid-12s should be no sweat, but that’s up to you.”
13.83 @ 102.10
“Bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Shuman wrote of the Boss 429-powered Cougar Eliminator shown to the press. He was told some 50 Boss Cougars were planned for production. Turns out just two were built — for racers Fast Eddie Schartman and Dyno Don Nicholson — and only one exists today. The Cougar Car Craft drove was a four-speed car with 3.91 gears, a Detroit Locker, and F60-15 Polyglas tires.
“This is another one of those machines that you have to be careful with,” Shuman wrote. “The only way to get good times is to drive it out from an idle. The shift points come at about 5,500 rpm. And the end of the quarter comes about 13.83 seconds after you leave the line. The mile per hour is pretty steady at 101-102. So, what does it mean? Well, they’re getting there, but there’s still a way to go.”
Challenger 440 Six Pack
13.62 @ 104.28
“Even if you’re not pro-Mopar, there’s a sound that turns you on. It issues forth from the Shaker scoop on a Six-Pack as you stand nearby and watch/hear it accelerate,” wrote Shuman.
It wasn’t just the Six Pack’s sound that entranced him. He liked the fact that the Challenger “is pretty much all sorted out when you get it, leaving nothing for you to do but drive it.” And drive it they did, letting the TorqueFlite shift itself to some decent e.t.’s. “If you want to shift the TorqueFlite manually, you’ll find that the ’70s transmissions are a lot more positive than their predecessors,” Shuman pointed out. “Move the lever and it shifts ... right now!”
The car was fitted with 3.23 gears and a Sure Grip and rolled on F70-14 Polyglas rubber.
Torino Super Cobra Jet
13.85 @ 104.06
Another 429, another high-13–second e.t., but that’s where the similarity ends. In this case the Car Craft staffers were in a Super Cobra Jet Torino, its 429-inch engine putting a rated 375 hp through the Cruise-O-Matic transmission to 3.91 gears, a Detroit Locker, and F70-14s. The 3,895-pound Torino was no lightweight, so the e.t. was a testament to the SCJ’s fortitude and the pilot’s ability to launch off idle and not roast the bias-plies.
“The four-speed models are a little bit quicker,” Shuman admitted, “running about .2 better on e.t. and 2 mph faster on the top end. With these, though, you’ve got to come off the line at about 1,500 rpm maximum and slip the clutch a little bit. Shocking the tires will only break ’em loose and you’ll just sit there and fry.”
13.88 @ 95.84
Shuman likened the forced-air Olds to the ’69 Hurst/Olds his magazine had tested earlier in the year, noting that the new car “seems to run just a bit quicker.” The test car mated the 455-inch, 370hp W-30 engine with a TH400 trans, 3.42 gears, and G70-14 tires. With the W-27 aluminum centersection in the rearend, fiberglass hood, and aluminum intake manifold, the 4-4-2 was lighter than the H/O “and had slightly better weight distribution.” Still, Shuman had a tough time getting the W-30’s power to the ground, having to finesse the launch by leaving the Hurst Dual-Gate shifter in Second, “leaving the line at idle and caressing the gas pedal, carefully matching power to traction.” Even so, it took doing a lengthy burnout to get the tires good and gummy before he clocked the best run of the day. The low top-end speed he blamed on the car’s “lean emission package carb mixture.”
GTO Ram Air IV
14.02 @ 98.90
Could there be a better drag-race setup for a GTO? Car Craft’s tester had the 370hp Ram Air IV motor, close-ratio Muncie four-speed with Hurst shifter, 3.90 gears, and Safe-T-Track axle. OK, it could have used better rubber than the G70-14 Wide Ovals, apparently, as Shuman complained that “traction seemed to be the chief limitation on the car.”
Because of all the engine’s low-end torque, launching the Goat required limiting the starting rpm to about 2,200 and “carefully playing clutch and throttle against the tires.” As he did with the Chevelle, Shuman found the best launch technique was to wait to floor the pedal until about 20 feet from the start line. “We ran the engine to 6,000 in each gear (though it goes higher) and had no trouble power shifting.” They tried the old hot-rodder’s trick of pulling off the air cleaner to get more speed, “but it ran quicker and faster with it in.”
14.50 @ 98.37
“Happiness is a hot Rebel,” said Shuman, opening the discussion of AMC’s muscle sedan. For the ’70 model year the 390’s output grew from 315 to 325 hp, and Car Craft’s test car was fitted with a Hurst-shifted four-speed, a 3.54 Twin-Grip axle, and E70-14 tires. The magazine had suffered some wheel-hop issues with AMC’s earlier Rogue model, “but AM engineers have apparently cured all the rear suspension problems,” Shuman noted. “The Rebel smoked off some breezy 14.50s at 98 mph, seemingly limited by top-end breathing.”
At the press preview, Shuman was shown some drawings of a coming midyear model, “and it is really sharp,” he said. “The use of paint treatment and stripes (on the renderings we saw) is extremely creative and attractive.” The car he was trying so hard not to say too much about? The Machine.