Rules of the Road

by Geron Kees

Chapter 5

©2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

Brian decided to keep it a secret. Ed was the only one that knew about it, besides Brian and his dad. Brian decided that he would just simply appear one day, with a new and improved Super Bee, and let things fall after that where they may. The fun that could be had this way seemed well worth sitting on the exciting news.

His dad found another 383 Magnum, a low milager from a wrecked Charger at the junkyard where he had been dealing for years. They took the engine to his dad's buddy Carl at Superior Speed, one of the local machine shops along Route 5. There the engine was disassembled and the block and heads acid dipped to clean them, and rust inhibitor applied. After that, the block and heads were checked for cracks and warpage.

Carl called the day after that had been done, to pronounce the block and heads sound and ask what was to be done next. The engine hadn't had thirty thousand miles on it, so Carl said they could just hone the cylinders without any need to bore them out.

Brian and his dad had created a list of parts and ordered them by phone, and another list of things to do, and his dad read them off to Carl on the phone. "Can you guys cut the valve seats three angles for me? Polish the ports, too. I've ordered adjustable rockers for the hydraulic lifters for this engine, and heavy-duty valve springs and retainers. You should be getting a Kellogg forged steel crank from Kar Supply, and the pistons, too. Yeah, it's a TRW forged kit. We're upping the compression from 10.25 to 11.00 to one. The cam is a Crower, and it's the humpty-dumpty we talked about. Yeah, that should be there soon, too. I got a six quart pan to go underneath, but that'll come here unless you want it for some reason. I want the short block balanced, okay?"

He listened a bit, shook his head. "Nah. Shit, Mopar two-bolt mains are stronger than Chevy four bolt mains. Unless you think we need that for some reason, I see no need to cross drill the caps. The engine will be good for seven grand just on what we've got. Huh? Are you kidding? No, you don't have to blueprint it. We don't have that kind of money to spend on something that won't matter here. Oh - you're being funny. Okay, I'm laughing." He did laugh then. "It's a daily driver, Carl, and we just want it to smile a little while it's doing that. Yeah. What do you think?"

He listened, nodded. "Great. I'll tell Brian."

He hung up the phone. "Everything's set."

They decided that the machine shop was going to assemble the short block and the heads, and then Brian and his dad would do the final assembly in the garage.

There was a bit of math involved in stuff like this, and Brian learned how it all worked. You needed to know about airflow and gas requirements for the engine to determine the best intake and carburetion, and his dad worked that out and they matched it to an Edelbrock Tarantula intake and a Holley 750 cfm, dual-feed, double pumper carb.

To spark the cylinders they bought an Accel dual-point distributor and high-energy coil, at the last minute eschewing a new solid-state set up when the dependability of the unit was called into question in track literature that his father received. While his dad hadn't built a car of his own in many years, he kept his hand in by helping friends that did, and still knew quite a few people in the business of racing.

One day, Brian was doing his homework when his dad came home from work.

"Hey, Brian. Can you come help me with something?"

"Sure." Brian followed his dad down to the garage, where the trunk of the Monte Carlo was up. A large box was inside, and the trunk lid was held down with bungees.

"What's this?" Brian asked.

"Your headers." His dad grinned. "They're not heavy, just bulky."

They removed the box and put it in the corner of the garage by the workbench.

His dad grinned. "One more thing, coming tomorrow."

Brian laughed. "What's that?"

"A surprise. You'll see."

When Brian came home from school the next day, there was a crate in the driveway. The invoice on it said it was from B&M Racing, and while Brian felt a thrill, thinking he knew what it might be, he didn't dare open the crate before his dad got home lest he spoil the man's fun.

When his dad arrived from work they opened the crate. Inside was a transmission, painted a clean, bright blue.

"Carl and I got to talking, and he said he was estimating the output of the new engine at 525 horsepower."

Brian simply gaped.

His dad nodded. "No shit. Well, we talked some more, and we decided that the first casualty of all that extra power was going to be your stock transmission with its 80,000 miles. So, I ordered this one, because it will be a lot easier to do the replacement when we do the engine swap then to go back and do it all again later." He tapped the crate with his shoe. "Probably weighs two hundred pounds, but I think we can get it inside."

It was a struggle, but they managed to drag the crate in and put it by the workbench.

"I have a few things in the car, too."

A few things proved to be a transmission cooler kit, which consisted of a small radiator that mounted in front of the Bee's primary cooling radiator, along with braided steel lines, and fittings that connected it all to the transmission. Also, there was a Hurst transmission-mounted in-line shifter with a reverse pattern.

Park was all the way forward. You pulled it back one notch for reverse, another notch for neutral. After that, you pulled it back another notch for first gear. When you were racing, you just slapped it back and it stopped at second by itself. Another quick slap would bring it back into third. It was ratcheted, and impossible to accidentally yank it through second and right into third. Flawless racing.

"Fortunately, your Bee already has the big, cross-flow radiator, so we don't have to replace that." He tapped the crate holding the transmission. "This is a special box, Brian. This transmission has a full-manual valvebody in it. It won't shift by itself. You have to do it on your own. It also has a 3,500 RPM stall-speed convertor, so that you can sit on the line and crank a few revs before take off. This thing should launch you about as quickly as any four-speed out there." He smiled. "And, it's a Hemi Torqueflite, so it is about as bulletproof as it gets. You'll twist the car in half before you break this transmission."

"I'm afraid to ask what it cost," Brian said.

His father shrugged. "Well, I budgeted about thirty-five hundred for the car I was going to get for you, and we're not there yet, although between this and the engine we are getting up there. We still have to buy some nice chrome or aluminum valve covers, and an air cleaner, because that stock ram-air cleaner won't fit on the Holley. It sits too high on the new manifold."

"Dad." Brian was at a loss for words.

His dad clapped him on the shoulder. "Something?"

"Yeah. Why are you doing all this?"

His dad squeezed him. "Brian, this is a growth experience for you. Having a car like this is going to give you memories you'll have your entire life. I have mine, so I know. I want yours to be as good as mine are for me." He sighed. "If you are going to have a hot car, it should be a hot car."

Brian grinned. "I think we're about there, dad."

"So do I, son. I can't wait to ride in the damn thing."

Ed was almost as excited about all the new toys as Brian was. He showed up every day, looked everything over, and clapped his hands together. "I can't wait to see the look on Colin's face the next time he tries to show you up."

In the interval, the Bee developed a reputation as a solid performer, if not the quickest car in those parts. Brian beat nearly everything that compared to the Bee in performance, though he lost a few, too, to cars that obviously had had work done to them.

Colin had had a kind of superior air about him ever since the run that night coming back from Zion, though he seemed to be careful not to show it off in front of Ed. Somehow he sensed that Ed was mad at him - maybe it was because Ed told him he was a lame-ass, shithead, cocksucker in front of half the car crowd the day after the race.

Brian just smiled when the two were around each other, imagining in his mind a dance between a bullfighter with a wickedly pointed sword, and a bull of somewhat cowardly demeanor, who was just scared shitless of the color red. As in blood.

The engine was finally delivered to the house, and Brian and his dad spent a Saturday putting the heads on and getting things ready for the big day.

Finally, after more than a month of waiting for everything to come together, the Saturday arrived for the swap.

Ed showed up early, determined to at least do his part handing wrenches and screwdrivers and hefting heavy shit around. He was a pretty good car guy like Brian, but both of them knew this was Brian's dad's baby, and that they were there to follow his instructions as much as anything else. Both expected to learn some things, and both were excited at the prospect.

It only took a couple of hours to unbolt stuff, drain the transmission and cooling system, separate the engine from the transmission and exhaust system, remove the old exhaust manifolds, and pluck the old 383 out with his dad's engine lift. They used the big floor jack to raise the car and they pulled the old transmission out from underneath. They inserted the new exhaust headers, cut a hole through the floor pan for the new shifter, put the new transmission in, carefully put another jack underneath it to hold it up, and let both the car and the transmission down together.

In went the new engine, suspended by a chain from the engine lift. It was a tricky business getting the block lined up with the transmission housing, and then bolting the flywheel to the torque convertor flex plate, laying on their backs underneath; but they got that done, put the access cover on, and ran the cooling lines forward. The shifter was mounted and the linkage attached, and then they bolted the engine to the mounts. The exhaust headers were bolted to the heads, the accessories like the power steering pump and the alternator re-attached, and then they put the distributor in and mounted the carburetor.

Six quarts of oil went into the oil pan through the new cast aluminum valve cover fill, the cooling system was refilled, the radiator for the transmission cooler mounted and the transmission filled with fluid, and then they were almost ready for a test start to set the timing.

Brian's dad brought the number one piston up to top dead center, used a ratchet and socket on the crank balancer and set the timing to twelve degrees before that mark, and checked the distributor cap wiring to make sure the rotor pointed the right way to ensure they didn't have the distributor shaft in 180 degrees off. Then they all stepped back and sat and drank soft drinks and ate ham and cheese sandwiches before the big test.

"Six and a half hours," Brian's dad said. "Not too shabby."

"What about the old engine and trans?" Brian asked. "They're still good."

His dad shrugged. "We'll keep 'em. There's room here. We might want them again in case something goes blooie later. " He shrugged. "Happens."

Finally, they were ready. The cam specs only gave an about for timing the engine, and Brian knew his dad was going to play it a little by ear. To Brian's great surprise the engine started immediately, sounding deep and powerful through the new exhaust headers, which had yet to be connected to the exhaust system.

"Sheez," Ed said, covering his ears, "sounds like a damn funny car."

There was a pronounced lope to the engine at idle. They checked the tach, brought the idle speed up to 900 RPMs. Seven hundred was stock, but this baby was no longer stock. Even at 900 RPMs the duration of the cam could be heard quite clearly.

They used a timing light and adjusted the timing to about where the cam specs suggested, then shut the engine off, crawled underneath, cut the exhaust pipes to match the new headers, and Brian's dad welded on new flanges to bolt everything together.

The next time they started the new engine it was much quieter through the mufflers, but still sounded like a different beast than the old engine. They let it run awhile, and it seemed to be content to idle all day. Finally, Brian's dad suggested they road test it.

They piled in, with Brian's dad in the shotgun seat and Ed in the back. Brian backed the Bee out of the driveway and headed it up the street. "Hesitates," he said immediately. "Timing's too far retarded."

His dad had him pull over and he got out, raised the hood, loosened the distributor, turned it a bit, retightened it, got back in. "I advanced the timing a little. Let's try it again."

The car was more responsive this time. Brian kept the RPM's down, shifting too quickly, until his father smiled over at him. "It's not made of glass, son. Let it wind up a little."

"I thought you weren't supposed to jump on new engines for a few hundred miles."

"So don't jump on it. I would avoid a full-throttle run for a couple of hundred miles, at least, although there are people who think you should drive a new engine the way you always intend to drive it from the very first day. If you're unsure, keep it under four grand for now. But you can wind it up more than you are. When we get home we'll let it cool and then we can pull the valve covers and re-torque the head bolts, and check the header bolts."

The next time they stopped at a stop sign, Brian took off a little more aggressively. The Bee simply turned the tires against the pavement with a loud squeal, and launched itself forward with shocking power. Brian shifted at four thousand RPMs, inducing the rear tires to break loose with another loud squeal.

Definitely, the difference in performance over the old engine was noticeable. Kind of like a hammer blow to the side of the head was. The new one just oozed power, and the car moved with the purposeful energy of a tyrannosaurus bounding after a spray of fleeing raptors.

Brian's dad looked over at him, smiling. "Feels somewhat beastlike, doesn't it?"

Brian could only nod. In the rearview mirror, Ed was grinning ear-to-ear. "You gotta winner here, Bry. I can't wait until you can run her full out."

Brian nodded. Neither could he.

It was impossible to hide the Bee's change in personality from the car crowd at school. Jim Van Pelt noticed right away that the car had headers on it, because the collectors were visible underneath. Brian claimed he had just put them on, as well as new mufflers, which accounted for the car's different sound. He also showed off the new shifter, which couldn't be hidden, either.

He was careful how he drove it in front of everyone, and they all seemed to take him at his word on the changes except Jim Van Pelt, who pulled him up in the gym one afternoon after a practice bout with the boxing squad. Jim also boxed, but he was not as good as Brian, and made no bones about his admiration for Brian's speed.

"If we were cars, you could take me easy in the quarter," Jim said, smiling.

He frowned, looked around to make sure no one could hear them. "Come on, Brian, 'fess up. You have a lot of new stuff under your hood. Who you trying to kid?"

Brian decided to trust Jim. If the other guy suspected the changes but hadn't told anyone, he probably wouldn't do it now.

"Its a new engine," Brian told him. "And a new transmission."

"Yeah? What's in it?"

Brian told him, and Van Pelt shook his head. "Holy shit. I'm gonna have to look out for you now - maybe from behind you, too. You timed it in the quarter yet?"

"No. I want to put about three hundred miles on it before I run it flat out."

"How many you got now?"

"Well, Ed and I drive around in it every day after school. I've put a couple of hundred miles on it, and it should be ready to go by the weekend."

Jim nodded. "Tell you what. There's never anybody at Zion after school - not until the evening. What say we run up there Friday after school and see if we can get a time in the quarter. I have a stop watch - I'll bring it."

Brian grinned. "Sounds like fun. I'm game."

Friday arrived, and Brian followed Jim up to Zion Road. A couple of times along the way Jim jumped on it, sending his Roadrunner whipping away; Brian did so, too, and was amazed at the way the Bee lit out after the other car. He had no trouble at all keeping up, and when they got to the starting line at Zion and stopped, Jim got out of his car and climbed into the back of the Bee.

"I'm prepared to lose my crown today," he said, grinning. "Didn't look like you had any trouble staying with me on the way."

"I didn't, " Brian acknowledged.

"What's your redline?" Jim asked.

Brian had had it set at 5,500 RPMs before the engine swap; his dad had reset it to 6,500 RPMs after.

"Okay," Jim said. "We'll try a straight run, with all three of us inside. You can subtract two tenths right off for our weight from whatever we get. I'll call you. I'll give you a countdown, five, four, three, two one, go. When I say go, I'll start the watch. Got it?"

Brian nodded. He pulled up to the starting line, put the Bee in first gear, stepped on the brake, and tached the car up to three grand with his other foot on the gas. The car hunched up like a puma poised to leap, and the front breaks groaned with the effort of holding the Bee in check.

Jim began the countdown, and when he said go, Brian let off the brake and walked into the gas pedal. The Bee's nose lifted and she bolted forward, her tires screeching, and Brian was just shocked at the acceleration as he was pinned to the seat. From about thirty-five hundred RPMs up until he shifted at sixty-five hundred, the engine seemed to be throwing them forward down the road. Brian shifted, the tires screeched again, and the car surged forward even quicker than before.

Brian was still in second gear when they crossed the yellow finish line and Jim's hand compressed on the stopwatch. Brian backed off the gas; the speedometer said one hundred and ten miles per hour. He let the car slow naturally, then braked when it got down to sixty.

He slowed, turned the car around, stopped on the shoulder of the road.

In the back seat, Jim was laughing. "Shitfire, Brian. You just pulled a twelve-two with two dudes in the car with you."

Whoa. "Are you sure?"

Jim shrugged. "Hey, I might not have got the watch going or stopped perfectly, but I guarantee you I'm not off by more than two tenths either way. This thing is a fucking beast, boy."

Ed clapped him on the shoulder. "Dude, I wouldn't have believed it if I wasn't here. What a goddamn monster. Jeeze, I can't wait until you run Colin again."

Jim blinked. "Is that was this about? That run you guys had?"

Brian grinned. "That's what started it, yeah. But now it's just about having a nice car."

"Well, you got one. " Jim laughed. "Man, I hope I get to see that race with your boy myself."

Brian nodded. "Can you keep this to yourself, Jim? I don't want Colin to chicken out beforehand."

"My lips are sealed, buddy."

And they were.

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