Wilson and Waters


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On the left is Dana Wilson and on the right is his partner Mike Waters. Mike's son Greg is behind them. Dana and Mike have been involved in making sure Speed Week goes on for years and have been long time partners on the Wilson & Waters Chevy powered '29 Roadster.

369 D/FR Wilson & Waters, Super Fours, Greg Waters, 130.301 212.180 122

Bonneville 2006

4 The Wilson and Waters B/Gas Roadster driven by Mike Manghelli sits in impound after running over 232 mph. October 2003 World Finals

D/FR Wilson & Waters Super Fours Greg Waters 200.952 212.180 2007 El Mirage

Wilson and Waters at Nov 10 El Mirage Meet SCTA

Pro Machine Vintage Street Roadster #511 El Mirage



C/FR Greg Waters Bonneville 10/04 257.274
D/FR G. Waters Bonneville 02 230.697
E/FR Greg Waters Bonneville 8/04 231.928
B/GR Mike Manghelli Bonneville 10/03 232.346
E/GR G. Waters Bonneville 8/04 202.930
C/GMR D. Wilson El Mirage 11/97 208.641
D/GMR G. Waters El Mirage 10/92 205.058
E/GMR G. Waters El Mirage 07/00 185.535
D/FR G. Waters El Mirage 11/01 212.180
E/FR G. Waters El Mirage 09/01 202.070
B/GR G. Waters El Mirage 07/99 214.295

By Bill Hoddinott

Mike Waters, now 69, grew up in the Southern California hot rod racing culture of the '50s, and ran a Flathead lakes roadster right out of high school. He's raced something all his life: cars, boats or bikes; teaming in the early years with Dean Murray. For the last fourteen years Mike, his close friend Dana Wilson and son Greg Waters have been a team.

For the first few years of Wilson & Waters they ran a roadster they bought - #368. For the last ten years or so Mike, Dana and Greg have been running the well-known #369 Model A roadster; usually with Greg driving. The team has about 20 current gas and fuel records at Bonneville, El Mirage and Muroc. Mike and Dana currently serve on the Boards of Directors of SCTA and BNI. Greg is responsible for Rookie Orientation for new drivers at both El Mirage and Bonneville.

Little or nothing has ever been published about the design of today's 250+ mph Bonneville roadster. Mike kindly agreed to talk about the team's very successful car, and his life with racing. I reached him at his home in Leona Valley, CA, about 75 miles NE of Los Angeles. It is a privilege to bring you this story!

Bill: Mike, thank you for agreeing to an interview for Bonneville Racing News. People will be eager to learn about the inside story of your team's successes with the 369 car. But first, let's go over your background. Nobody can produce racing equipment like yours without paying a lot of dues...

Mike: Sure, Bill, I'll be glad to. I suppose I was one of the lucky kids, born and raised in Los Angeles just at the time when the hot rod movement was coming on so strong. Dana was too, four years ahead of me. I graduated from high school in '52, but even before that I had been out to the dry lakes to watch the racing, and also to Santa Ana to the drags. I knew Jack Kelly in school, and we would go to El Mirage together. Jack now has that famous, fast, yellow Bonneville belly tank.

When I was still in high school I got my hands on a Model A coupe and built a hopped-up four-cylinder for it which I ran at the early Santa Ana drags in '51. After graduating from school, Dean Murray and I built a roadster with a hot Flathead, the same as everybody else was running at the time.

Bill: How were those built?

Mike: The standard lakes Flathead was 296 cubic inches, three or four Stromberg 48s on methanol; or maybe nitromethane if you knew enough to handle it. Harman and Collins magneto, Edelbrock intake manifold, Winfield cam and aluminum heads.

We started with methanol and by '53 ran 131 mph in C roadster at Bonneville. In early '54 we ventured into nitro, and ran 151 on 33%. That was pretty good. Then we went to 50%, but were too lean and burned four pistons, which got me a faceful of oil that blew out the breather! We ended up in fifth place that year at Bonneville, but by then the overheads were out in force and the record went up to 174 mph.

We ran the same car at the drags, and it did 117 in the quarter on 50%. Presently one of the older guys loaned us his three carbs that were set up for 100%, and our speed jumped up to 123! There was a body of lore then about modifying your Strombergs to run nitro, basically increasing the flow volume of everything from the float chamber to the jets and dump tubes. We were very young then, and this was a steep learning curve, but the older fellows coached us. Pretty soon we could run 100% nitro with a dab of Benzole reliably. We had a racing fuel tank with a hand pump. You'd pump up the pressure in the tank just before a run, and maybe a time or two going down the course.

We used to buy our parts at C.T. Automotive. Don Clark and Clem TeBow sold a lot of Flathead stroker kits in those days. But you had to get your own block. Don and Clem were still in their 20s, I think, just a few years older than Dean and myself.

Bill: What kind of gearbox and clutch did you use?

Mike: The Ford floorshift box, starting in second gear, and a hopped-up stock clutch that could take the beating(sometimes!). This was pretty good, but you'd break the gears or an axle on occasion. I imagine that our 296 Flathead on 100% nitro would have given 400 horsepower on a dyno, had it been tested. But, we never did, so I honestly do not know how much power we had.

Bill: You're known for the smallblock Chevrolet nowadays, when did that start?

Mike: About as early as possible! As soon as they came out. In '54 Dean and I built a new roadster and we heard that there would soon be a new Chevy V8. One of the wiser heads - Howard Johansen of Howard Cams - told us this was going to be BIG and we had better get into it. So we nosed around, and before long we heard that a local Chevy dealer had pulled a defect engine out of a new '55 V8 car. This was in mid-'54. I went over there, and bought it for $25. That was the beginning of the love affair with the smallblock Chevy.

It seemed like the speed-parts people were jumping right on this new V8. It was inexpensive and light, and looked very promising. In no time we had our 265 bored and a welded-stroker crank in it for 318 inches. We used domed Forged True pistons for 10 to 1 compression(not that it mattered with the nitro!), a Weiand manifold for three Strombergs, stock rods, ported heads, Vertex mag and a Howard M-8 flat-tappet cam.

Anyway, we put this engine on the dyno and it gave 475 horsepower on 50%. But we never ran it that way in the car. We weren't bashful, and just went right to 100%. We ran a 10.78 at 137 mph at the Long Beach drag strip with eight-inch slicks. This was a really fast ET for a roadster in those days. That was the "Triple Nickle" #555 car, which some readers may remember.

Tony Capanna of Wil-Cap was the 'nitro king' at that time; selling it and teaching people how to use it. He had a dyno at his shop and let us put our engine on it.

Bill: Chevys rev very high today, what rpm were you using?

Mike: Only about 5500 rpm, like we were used to with the Flatheads. You know there were all kinds of development issues with the first Chevys. Pressed-in rocker studs pulling out, valve springs were weak, lots of things. We had plenty of small problems, but never blew up the engine. We used to take it completely apart after every outing just to check things. I might mention that we used a LaSalle sideshift gearbox and an open rear axle in this car. The box had big gears and bearings in it. We just ran second and top gears and this was a very tough setup.

Bill: You were driving all this time.

Mike: That's right. At first, Dean and I took turns driving. But we soon realized that to do well, we had to let one of us drive all the time to get the feel of it. Dean let me go for it.

In '57 I was drafted into the Army for a two-year hitch. Before I left, we sold the car for $3500 to a fellow in Wichita, Kansas. As it happened, in '58 when I was stationed at Fort Reilly, Kansas, about 100 miles from Wichita, the new owner, Jim Earp, invited me to come over and drive the car at a big meet. I drove the car all that summer of '58 and then was transferred out of Kansas.

Out of the Army in '59, back home, and before long I went to work for the L.A. County Fire Department(from which I retired in '94). There I met Dana Wilson, and we've been friends ever since! In '61 I married Marie, and presently my son Greg and daughter Cynthia came along. Marie passed away in '96. In 2002, my present wife Judy and I were married.

Bill: Did you get back into racecars right away?

Mike: No, my head was turned by the inboard boat racing at Marine Stadium in Long Beach. The 266 Hydro class. I'll tell about that next...

End of Part 1

Copyright © 2008 William Richard Hoddinott and reprinted with permission from Bonneville Racing News

Bill: Okay, Mike, now tell us about your boat racing.

Mike: Right. After I got discharged from the Army in '59, Dean Murray and I decided to go hydroplane racing. We bought a hydro that had been doing fairly well in the local events, went through it, and started racing. About a year later, Dean decided to move away and I bought his share of the boat. I ran it on my own until the end of '61 when after winning the National Championship, I retired that boat and started building a new one.

By then, I had already joined the Fire Department and met Dana Wilson. Dana, having already been fairly successful in drag-boat racing, played a big part in helping me build and run my new boat. While he had no financial interest in this boat, he was a big asset in developing it into a winner and was always there to help. Of course, we always ran smallblock Chevys and tried to stay up on the latest technology of the day. In '64 I again won the 266 Hydro Championship. I continued running until 1971 when I sold the boat.

Bill: I recall from reading Hot Rod Magazine in the mid-'50s that when the 265 Chevy came out, with its short 3" stroke, one of the things that excited the speed-parts guys was that people expected it would be able to run continuously at 7000 rpm. This seemed to be a magic figure for the props on inboard hydroplanes. No gearbox would be needed, etc.

Mike: After some development they did do that. By the time we quit boat racing in '71 we were running the engines up in the neighborhood of 8400 rpm and they were still staying together!

Bill: Was there any money in this series?

Mike: Not much. We won a race in Seattle one year and got about $300. On the way home my '57 Ford burned a piston and it cost me $300 to get it fixed! I think that was about our biggest paycheck. It all had to come out of our pocket, or some help from friends with shop services or discount parts. Not a lot of difference between then and what we are doing now.

Bill: From what I saw, that kind of racing must have been very dangerous in the day. No safety equipment except a helmet and a life jacket. Something happens to one hydroplane, and the next one hits it in a heartbeat! Did you ever get hurt?

Mike: Yes, but I survived. I did lose some good friends. It's all too true; that was a pretty dangerous sport. Nowadays they have upgraded safety tremendously with canopies over cockpits, flotation systems, safety harnesses and so forth.

In the mid '60s the asociation had to change the engine formula because the 265 blocks were going out of the picture, and re-boring them put them over the limit. In '68 they went to a 5 Liter size. By this time Chevrolet had done a lot of racing development of their own. You could buy a racing-quality Z28 305" shortblock assembly with forged crank, pistons and the good rods, for only a few hundred dollars. For the Ford advocates, the Boss 302 was offered. This simplified your engine-building a lot; everybody bought them, and added their own cams, heads and intakes. It wasn't long before we were pushing those to their limits also.

All during this period, Dana was teaming with me. We had a lot of fun, but by '71 it was time to get out of it.

Bill: What was next?

Mike: Motorcycles! Play riding, desert enduros, Hare and Hounds and Grand Prix racing. In the '70s this had become a big craze in Southern California. Dana and I both raced. Most of mine was in the enduros where he pitted for me; most of his was in the Grand Prix where I pitted for him. I think between the two of us we kept the local Emergency Rooms in business! But we did win some trophies along the way. My son Greg, although quite young then, did a lot of play riding and enduros with us.

Bill: This was the period when "On Any Sunday" came out, which presented Malcolm Smith as the big desert enduro champ. Steve McQueen was interested in it too.

Mike: That's right. They were part of the scene then. In fact, Greg has a photo in his collection of him and Malcolm together at an awards presentation.

Bill: What bikes did you prefer?

Mike: I started with a CZ, then got a Husqvarna, and finally a Yamaha, which was the best of them. Dana, Greg and I were at it for quite a few years, clear up into the '80s.

Bill: How did you get back into Bonneville racing?

Mike: I always kept up my contacts with the hot rod racers. In '87 Greg and I went out to Speed Week just to watch. And of course we had fun and started to feel the pull of it. The following year Dana, Greg and I were asked to tow Harold Johansen's belly tank to Bonneville, which we did. Harold had a vintage four-cylinder engine in it that year.

In '89 Dana and I bought a Bonneville roadster for $7000. This was a steel A body on a '32 frame, with a Chevy V8. It had been raced at Bonneville for years.

Bill: Was rust much of a problem?

Mike: There was some. We took the car apart and fixed it. Rust attacks all steel cars out there. And a disadvantage of this one was that the body was bolted to the frame in the traditional way, which made it a big job to disassemble. But it was just the start of getting back into Bonneville and Lakes racing. 1990 was the beginning of Wilson & Waters. We had our new acquisition out there, and ran it 202 mph against a 203 record. That did it!

Bill: Was there any ballast in the car then?

Mike: Not much, but it handled well. This was the #368 car and we ran it up to '94. By then we had a few records with it. Greg got into the El Mirage 200 MPH Club in this car at 205 and we finished the '92 season second in points there.

We had done pretty well and we were having a lot of fun running the car. During this time, we were checking out what people were doing with roadsters, and what we would do differently. Because we had decided we wanted to build an all-out, state-of-the-art car, and really become record contenders. This takes a LOT of thought, discussion, research and planning. Every part and function of the car is important, and it all must be reliable.

Bill: Okay, now we're getting down to the design and execution of your present car, #369. What were the fundamental principles that you came up with?

Mike: We saw that frontal area is a crucial factor. You have the regulation grill shell size, of course, but everything else that adds to the frontal silhouette is just as important. For the power unit, we already knew that we wanted to stay with the smallblock Chevy. It's still light, small and relatively inexpensive. Besides that, untold millions of dollars of research and development have been poured into it, by GM for NASCAR and other racing programs, and by many outside companies. NASCAR teams have also put huge sums into it. For Bonneville racing, your references are NASCAR, because you want endurance to run on the Long Course; and big-time drag racing, where they get the power, but only for very short periods. So you can't go too far into their practice. But in summary, in our opinion, the smallblock Chevy still gives you the most bang for your buck.

Bill: Mike, that all makes good sense to me. What was next?

Mike: We built our own frame from 2x6x.125" rectangular steel tubing. We went with a quick-detachable Model A fiberglass body and used a '32 grill shell for looks. We wanted no hood scoop on it because that would increase frontal area, and this meant putting the engine low, and in turn that meant a dry-sump oiling system. The whole car needs to be down because frontal area really means from the ground up. That's why today's roadsters are built so low, as one of the speed secrets.

We wanted the driver and his roll cage to be down as much as possible too, so the driveline is offset four inches to the right at the rear axle; and the driver sits down to the side of the driveshaft, with his floor level with the bottom of the car. But with his roll cage under him to meet the regs, of course. NOTHING is more important than the driver's safety!

Bill: What about the track of the car, how did you locate the wheels in relation to the body?

Mike: There are various schools of thought about how close the wheels should be to the body. Obviously your front wheels need to be slim to cut the air and the rear wheels need to be large enough to provide traction. We gave a lot of thought to how wide a track to use, and we didn't go with the wheels too close to the body, on the score of stability. A wider track and a longer wheelbase give the best steering and stability on a roadster, we think. In a spin they certainly give you more protection against rolling. We have tested ours in a spin at 250+ mph and except for leaving a few body panels lying on the course, it passed! But obviously we do not want to spin again.

Bill: What about your front and rear suspension, or do you HAVE a rear suspension?

Mike: Yes we do, four-bars, panhard bar and coil-overs on the rear with a V8 quickchange. The axle has three inches of movement in it, and moves about two in practice. We have found that just the right gear ratio to suit the power characteristics of your engine is a critical issue at Bonneville. We are running in four engine size classes, you know.

I might mention that we run an open rear end in it too, not a spool. Many racers prefer a locked rear end, but we have found this to work quite well for us. The Halibrand V8 quickchange rear end works fine for our application and for the most part has been pretty reliable.

The front axle is an early Ford-style tube, with a cross-leaf spring and Monroe tube shocks. We use drag-link-type steering from a reversed Corvair gearbox.

Bill: How much caster is there on your front kingpins?

Mike: We use 16 degrees, and this seems to be plenty for our application. Some use more and some use less but here again, this becomes a matter of opinion.

End of Part 2

Copyright © 2008 William Richard Hoddinott and reprinted with permission from Bonneville Racing News

Bill: Do you have a 'slow' steering ratio in the car, like a Top Fuel dragster?

Mike: Yes, fairly slow, so the car doesn't over-react to the driver's inputs. You just want the car to go straight down the course. But there is always some amount of cross-wind, and the driver needs to be able to point the car where he wants it.

Bill: I hear about 'down-force' on roadster-class cars. How much of a factor is this?

Mike: Down-force assists traction and stability, so some people like a small 'angle of approach' to the top of their roadsters, to push the car down at speed. But the downside of this is that it increases your frontal area, and that slows you down. We have a little of it, but rely more on ballast, and I'll tell you about that later on.

Bill: What about your tires?

Mike: 24x15x4 M&H on the front, 28x15x5 Goodyear 300 mph tires on the rear. I might mention that tires are a subject of considerable current importance. The supply of them in suitable sizes and speed ratings has been uncertain lately. And it's not unusual to damage one because try as we might, and SCTA puts a lot of effort into this, we always have junk on the courses, and tires easily get hurt. Then you have to scrap them. You would not believe, for example, how many Dzus fasteners you can find out on the salt flats. And these little things can puncture a tire instantly.

Liability issues are a negative, too. Especially for small companies that might otherwise be interested in making speed trials racing tires in smallish batches and various sizes people like. But there IS money in them for the manufacturers. The whole racing community is aware of this problem and there appear to be some developments taking shape.

Greg had one of our front tires pick up something and blow at about 250 mph at a recent meet. It made a tremendous vibration in the car and he didn't know what happened at first; thought maybe the engine had blown up big-time. The tire was in shreds, but he didn't lose control of the car.

Bill: Okay, Mike, can we talk about the car weight, its distribution, and ballasting.

Mike: Sure. When we first got 369 running it was about 2600 lbs with the driver, and something under 60% was on the rear wheels. Then a while back, we had that spin at 250+ and we realized we didn't have the safety and stability we want. So we added about 100 lbs of lead over the front axle, and 500 more in the frame ahead of the rear axle. This put us up to 3200 lbs with the driver, and the distribution still about 57% to the rear. You understand that we DON'T want to add any ballast behind the rear axle. That would give you a pendulum effect that would increase any tendency to spin that you had in a fish-tailing situation.

You want some of your ballast over the front axle to assist your steering control of the vehicle. The main part of it does you the most good right ahead of your drive wheels, for traction. You want all of it as low as possible, for CG reasons. You understand, Bill, that these blunt-nose roadsters run into a wall of air at some speed, so you may have plenty more power, but your wheels just start to spin and slip because there's not enough traction force to push the car any faster. But this is what we've come up with so far, and we expect it will take us into the range over 260 before long.

Bill: Yes, I understand people have studied ballast for roadsters for many years and some run half a ton of lead, or more, at Bonneville.

Mike: That's right. Now weight is a different consideration at El Mirage. There you only have 1.3 miles to run, on dirt, so a lighter vehicle helps. But you still have to think about traction. It gets to be a complex balancing act...

Bill: What kind of gearbox are you using?

Mike: We use a Richmond Super T-10 gearbox(4-speed) with a three-disc clutch and a hydraulic throw-out bearing. Four gears gives you good acceleration.

We have had very little trouble with the Richmond. We recently started having problems with the tailshaft bushing seizing up but after a few attempts we are pretty sure we fixed that. The answer was right in front of our noses; we installed a Zerk fitting in the tailshaft and we give it a shot of grease every once in a while. So far so good!

Bill: Tell me about the packaging of the various tanks and parts in the car.

Mike: Space is very tight in general. The 7 gallon fuel tank is up in front of the engine, because mechanical fuel injection pumps work best that way. Also you want the fuel away from the driver in the event of a fire. Naturally, we have a regulation fire system.

We have an 18 gallon vented water tank in the middle of the car, with a couple of 12v water pumps, plus the engine's own crank-driven pump; as I'll detail when we get to the all-important engines. There is a very substantial aluminum partition between the tank and the driver, because the hot water is a serious burn hazard. You want the driver protected from it in any conceivable circumstances of upset or whatever. There is a 3-gallon oil tank behind the firewall, also partitioned from the driver for the same reason. Both these tanks have quick-draining arrangements. As I mentioned, it's a definite advantage to be able to remove the car body quickly and have all your tanks and everything else instantly accessible for maintenance. Not only during a meet, but for the all-important cleaning job after your trip to the salt flats!

Bill: Do you dump your oil often during a meet?

Mike: Running gas like we do, with this large-capacity dry-sump system, there is not that much contamination from the fuel; certainly in comparison with what you get from large percentages of nitromethane. Unless something unusual happens, we don't dump it until we change engines.

Bill: Do you have a big on-board battery to crank your engines, and handle the electrical needs, total-loss?

Mike: Not at all. We have a single 12v battery which supports the on-board electrical system;and it in turn has a small crank-driven alternator keeping 14 volts in the system. Now that we have gone to the MSD ignition and nitrous solenoids, having the alternator is a big plus. I'll discuss this more in the engine section. With our bigger, high-compression engines it's nice to have a larger starting system. So we use a detachable, external, 18v power pack for starting purposes, and then disconnect it.

Bill: How much data acquisition do you use?

Mike: Not that much, really. We like to record exhaust gas temperature, which tells us something about engine operating conditions, fuel distribution, cylinder efficiency and so forth. Most of all it gives us a baseline for tuning purposes. In addition we use a playback tachometer that gives us accurate readings on how we are with our gearing.

We do have full instrumentation for the driver, and I must say Greg, our regular driver, is very sharp. A number of times he has sensed that something was not right, from the feel of things or the gauge readings, and shut it off, which saved us a lot of expensive damage. The driver has a lot to do with a car like this, and it is best to have someone who is infinitely familiar with all the systems in the car. Between Dana, Greg and myself, we do most all the construction, maintenance and preparation ourselves. Of course, as I'll get into later, "with some help from our friends". Greg normally drives, but both Dana and myself, and our nitrous guru Mike Manghelli, have used the car to get ourselves into the 200 MPH Clubs.

Bill: Okay Mike, I guess that covers about everything on the car, except the very-important engines. So let's go into that for the last part of our story...

Mike: Fine, Bill!

End of Part 3

Copyright © 2008 William Richard Hoddinott and reprinted with permission from Bonneville Racing News

Bill: Okay, Mike, I think we've covered the #369 car pretty well, all but the engines. And they are always of absorbing interest.

Mike: We have shortblocks in four sizes, 421, 372, 305 and 258, for classes B, C, D, and E respectively. The bigger two are Bowtie blocks with siamese cylinders. The smaller engines are modified stock blocks.

When you go into a program like this, as we did back around '90, you need the best advice you can get; and you've got to get the best parts available, if you want endurance and reliability. We run our engines from the mid-7000s to as high as the mid-9000s according to engine size and the course we're running on. At El Mirage, for example, you can get by running a little higher due to the shorter course. Our engines put out horsepower in the range of 2 to 2-1/2 per cubic inch on straight gas, and of course considerably more on nitrous; so you can see that with this kind of power and rpm the strain on them is tremendous. That's why you have to put considerable thought into the parts you use. Otherwise, you will just have things breaking. We, fortunately, have not had a great deal of breakage, and in fact we are still using the block from our old roadster (#368) that we sold in '94. As far as good advice, we've had a lot of that. One of our good friends and neighbors, Jim Stevens, has been an invaluable source when it comes to engine theory and what makes things work. Jim's usually the first one we talk to when we're getting ready to try something new with an engine. Jim has been very successful building Jr. Drag Race engines, and believe it or not, the R & D and dyno time he has with the little engines spills over to what we are doing.

As I said earlier, we've had a lot of help with our success; and I suppose now is a good time to mention some of the folks that have gotten us there. Jim Stevens with his unending advice and mentoring(he's not a bad aluminum welder either!); Jack Kelly for his fiberglass expertise; Mark Adams of Adams Metalizing for his fantastic support; Mel Swain for his unbelieveable aluminum work; and of course when it comes to running our nitrous program, Mike(Gotta Love The Bottle) Manghelli!

Bill: Mike, what you have just said here shows the scope of what is necessary for competitive performance today in roadster racing.
What kind of intake system do you use?

Mike: A Kinsler mechanical fuel injector.

Bill: What ignition do you favor?

Mike: Until we started using nitrous we always used the Vertex magneto. We have had great luck with them all down through the years. In our recent program we used the Don Zig Vertex with an external coil, which ups the output a lot. And it was perfectly satisfactory even up over 9000 rpm. But when we went to nitrous, we needed a way to retard the ignition when we hit the button. That's essential when you run the 'bottle'. This meant going to an MSD ignition.

Bill: I'm surprised, and glad, to hear that you ran the Vertex over 9000 that way. I use one myself on my Ardun, but I didn't know they could run that high.

Mike: Oh sure, we have run ours well over 9000 on occasion on gas. They may not be the best for the higher horsepower nitro engines but for gas they are fine.

Bill: A Vertex magneto has always been good ignition. You know they were designed by Scintilla AG in Switzerland long ago as a part of their car and aircraft magneto line. The Vertex first appeared on the market about 1925. They looked the same then as they do now, still made by Taylor-Vertex in Missouri; except that in the beginning the body was steel. Now they are made in both the original form, with internal coil, which many use, and with an external coil, which is also popular.

What compression ratios do you use?

Mike: We've played with compression a lot. On the small engines it's tough to get much due to the chamber volumes required. On the larger ones we have run up to 16 to 1 although that gets touchy trying to control detonation. Of course when you are running nitrous, compression is not all that important. Obviously, EVERYTHING about your combination and your tune-up has to work together in harmony to achieve high power and endurance. This is where good advice, experience, research and a lot of hard work all come together.

Bill: I see you have an air box out the front of the grill shell. I suppose you have a tight chamber for your fuel injection bodies, so that you get a little supercharge effect at the higher speeds.

Mike: Yes, that brings in cool air and gives a little pressure. Depending on how efficient the box is, it can help a lot; or hurt your performance if it's not designed correctly.

Bill: I'm sure that with the kind of power you have, the cooling system has to be good. Would you tell us about it.

Mike: As we developed our engines, and especially since we went to nitrous, we've had to upgrade the cooling system. I told you about our 18 gallon water capacity. At first we were just using two 12v Jabsco pumps to circulate the water in a vented system. These, of course, give a constant flow regardless of engine conditions. When we went with nitrous, we upped our power and heat quite a bit, and we saw this was not going to be adequate.

Bill: What happened?

Mike: You know that the smallblock Chevy, since '55, has always had the two center exhaust ports together. In a super-power engine, in an endurance situation, this part of the cylinder head tends to get too hot, expand, and blow the head joint in that area. It wasn't long before we found that out. The first thing we did was re-plumb the cooling system to put the tank water first into both heads at that hot point; to give them our coolest water right there. Before long we had evolved a whole system of water hoses taking water in and out of various places on the engine to get the cooling we needed. That worked better, but was not the complete answer.

Next, we added a belt-driven high-capacity water pump to the engine so that the flow can increase as the rpms, power and heat go up. With this, we restrict the returns from the engine to two AN-8 hoses. This gives us a pressure in the water jackets of approximately 22 psi. This in turn minimizes steam pockets and forces the water into close contact with more of the water jacket metal, taking heat out.

Another thing we did is build our own exhaust system, four into one on each side, according to the best exhaust theories available. It goes out through the hood panels to get the heat away from the engine as quickly as possible. It discharges in a low-pressure area behind the front wheel to minimize additional frontal area drag.

So when you put all these strategies together, we've come up with a cooling system that works for us. The center of the head stays cool enough to keep the head joint intact.

Bill: What you refer to about the center exhaust ports being together has, I notice, finally been changed by Chevrolet in their latest generation of engines. For quite a few years, other makers' V8s have had their exhaust ports spaced evenly along the head. To equalize the heat distribution, obviously.

Mike: Exactly. But the smallblock Chevy started out that way, and continued right up to a couple of years ago, with legendary success all the same.

Bill: That's certainly the truth. A lot of people would call the smallblock Chevy the most successful V8 in history in terms of many, many millions made, and enormous racing success. All in a small, light, inexpensive package.

What about your nitrous program?

Mike: Here Mike Manghelli comes to center stage, he is our nitrous guru! Mike started working on our program with us early on. The nitrous appealed to us because you can add it to an already fully-developed gas racing engine. All of our engines are very good gas engines first.

Now, I hasten to say that it's NOT SIMPLE!!! People have been running the bottle for thirty years or more, and its BIG reputation is for instantly burning engine parts if it is NOT controlled 100%!

Most know that using nitrous is just a means of pouring more oxygen and fuel into your engine, to up the power dramatically. But the key is having equipment that will keep the fuel-air ratio rich enough for safety. You MUST not lean out, and you MUST not go into detonation for any reason; or you will burn something in a heartbeat. Another key item is that your ignition must automatically retard when you button your bottle, to help the engine handle the added power load without detonation. For this you need an ignition that can do it electronically.

You understand that what we're dealing with here is just increasing the load on your engine, to get more output. It's the same as if you were using a blower, or a turbo, or nitromethane. There will be more power, and more heat; but you MUST avoid detonation and pre-ignition, or you WILL blow up your engine.

We would like to go even further with it, but we are short of packaging space for more bottle capacity. Nitrous is a compressed gas, and for safety reasons the driver has to be protected from it with suitable partititions. So far we have not been able to carry enough to keep the feed up too long, so all our Fuel records are in the middle mile on the Long Course. Our winter project is to figure out where to put another bottle!

Bill: Mike, what you say above is a very illuminating discussion about the realities of high-performance engine design. Not long ago my friend Dave "Hayseed" Thomssen, who has a lot of Bonneville Ardun records, invited my attention to a good, useful article that covers what you're talking about. It's available on the Internet and I want to give readers the reference right now, if they care to review it. It's on the website streetrodstuff.com . When you go there, click on "Articles", and when you get that page, scroll down to "Engine Basics: Detonation and Pre-Ignition" by Allen W. Cline.

From statements in the article it appears Mr. Cline is currently on the engine design staff at Cadillac, as an engineer or technician. Naturally, a man like that would know a lot!

Okay, Mike, I can visualize these monster engines in #369, well over a thousand horsepower in the bigger sizes and with nitrous. How do you handle the oiling system?

Mike: With a standard belt-driven dry sump pump, pan and the three-gallon oil tank I mentioned before. We use a heater on the tank, and get the 20w-50 Valvoline Racing oil to 200 degrees or so before running. We like to start with the water at ambient temperature as part of our cooling system strategy. The oil pump has a regulator in it and keeps 100 psi in the engine at all times. You have various screens in the system to keep trash out of the pump; that would damage it. We also have a Systems One full-flow screen filter through which all the delivery oil goes. You check that to see if you're getting too much metal in the oil. This gives you early warning that something's coming apart inside the engine, and you can stop before you get serious damage. We do check this filter frequently.

Bill: Well, Mike, I think that covers the outlines of your engine program, and shows people the way to go if they want to build engines like yours. Have you had any cash sponsorship for your car?

Mike: None. We do have some folks that help with some parts and supplies and machine work, which we appreciate very much. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of running the roadster it's Dana, Greg and myself; with of course a lot of support from our families.

You know, SCTA/BNI racing is sportsman racing and we have a wonderful tradition of running equipment people build in their backyard shops. I feel very protective about this, and about roadster racing in particular. I'm going to do everything in my power to see that those of us here now pass this sport to those that come after us to enjoy for many, many years to come!

Bill: Mike, that sums it all up beautifully, and thank you so much for taking the time to give the readers of Bonneville Racing News this fascinating story!

Mike: I enjoyed it, Bill.

End of Part 4

Copyright © 2008 William Richard Hoddinott and reprinted with permission from Bonneville Racing News