Sunday, September 25, 2011

Test Drive "Ol' Blue"

While we at Griggs racing have become quite familiar with the G-force monsters racing vehicles that inhabit our shop its often refreshing to get the viewpoint of others who are not so familiar with the view from inside. Here is an up close and personal interview of "Ol' Blue" by Tom Wilson of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords.

Griggs Racing's Old Blue Road-Racing Mustang - Extreme Winner
Griggs Racing's Old Blue Is Arguably The Single-Most Victorious Road-Racing Mustang In History-We Drive It And Try To Keep Up

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Platform

Fox coupes make good race cars because they are the lightest modern Mustang platform. Old Blue is fairly bursting with engine and tires, and has the air filter sticking through the hood and the front fenders bulged away from the body to prove it. The wheels are 10.5-inch-wide AFS; the tires are 315/35-17 Hoosier SO4s all the way around.

Horse Sense:

Awesomely fast race cars make an adrenaline-fueled impression that's impossible to convey in print. Strap a saddle on a great white shark and ride it through an aquarium if you want to know what it was like to drive Old Blue on a track choked by schools of Miatas.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Roof Stickers

Like a fighter pilot keeping score, Old Blue's rows of roof stickers each denote a race win. After driving this friendly handling car, it's clear to us Griggs has it dialed in to perfection. Race days are an easy matter of squirting into the lead, then simply guiding the car around to the finish.

Another sure-fire candidate on our short list of significant Mustangs is the car shown here, Bruce Griggs' Old Blue. While not necessarily well known on the East Coast, the 40 car, as it is also known, is an institution in West Coast road racing. It's a multiple NASA American Iron Extreme champion, a dominating performer that amassed 20 race wins in a row to claim an undefeated AIX season in 2003, and it has also been the spoiler in SCCA American Sedan and ITE contests. For more on Old Blue's impressive record, see the 40 History sidebar.

Long ago the victor in more races than many race cars are ever entered in, the 40 car is still going strong. An engineering testbed for Griggs Racing , Old Blue is still trying out new, typically radical, hardware and waving the Griggs banner at numerous events. The car has been cut and stretched, beat on, drilled full of holes, crimped and welded, crashed and rebuilt, and hammered and massaged. It's no beauty queen, but it's always fast and sports something new and trick each time we see it.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Sla  Front end

Griggs' new SLA  front end is designed to work with its tubular K-member, coilover shocks, and familiar-looking lower control arms. We shot the 40 car with one tire on and one off so you could get a feel for just how huge a 315 front tire really is. Smaller than expected is the tiny bellhousing; it's more compact than the oil pan or Jerico gearbox.

When we visited Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, the latest trick part was represented by Griggs Racing's newest project, a Short/Long Arm (A-arm) front suspension. The SLA details are in The Short and the Long of It sidebar, but suffice it to say it completely eliminates the strut front end and provides unprecedented, incredibly powerful front-end grip.

Poking around the 40 car, you soon realize that the number of stock, unaltered Ford parts on the car can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The unibody is made nearly redundant by the Griggs rollcage and through-floor subframe connectors, while in back a Griggs 9-inch rear axle hangs off Griggs control arms, torque arm, and Watts link. Coilovers are used all-around, of course, as are huge Sierra disc brakes.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Rear Suspension

Compared to the complexity at the front of Old Blue, the rear suspension is remarkably simple but powerfully effective. The cambered 9-inch axle is located by the two lower control arms and the Watts link, which mounts its bellcrank on the rear of the axle housing. The adjustable-length torque arm features a pivot bolt at the differential end, along with a safety chain at the forward end. Koni coilovers finish off the installation. Sort of crafty are the muffler attachments. Griggs runs the car with and without the mufflers depending on the track. To expedite the mufflers' installation, attach brackets are welded directly to the mufflers so they can be installed in about two minutes.

The 9-inch is an artifact of Old Blue's age. Today Bruce would fit one of Griggs more efficient and just-as-robust hybrid axles with an 8.8-inch center and 9-inch outer sections. Also interesting is the lack of a rear sway bar and Griggs' penchant for relatively soft spring rates. He attempts to extract as much handling as possible from inherent balance and optimum suspension geometry; high spring and sway bar rates foul Griggs' goal of meaningful weight transfer to the rear tires on corner exit.

Another recent development is 315/35-17 Hoosier tires at all four corners. This immense tire size has long been popular at the rear of AIX cars, but by November 2003 they showed up on the front of some cars. With an 18 percent gain in contact patch area over a 275 tire, the huge rubber answers nagging Mustang questions-namely how to handle such a nose-heavy weight bias. Bruce put off fitting the 40 car with the big front tires, because they are difficult to fit, but they work so well he went to the trouble and expense during the car's refit last summer.

As one glance shows, the rest of the chassis, including the interior, the seating, the instruments, the bodywork, and so on are, hmmm-let's say part of this thoroughly tested race car. To clear the huge front tires, the fenders have been cut and the flares pie-shape-enlarged for the second time. And because the fender doesn't have a chance of mating with the rest of the bodywork at the rear, a business-like gap has been generated. A natural exit for high-pressure fenderwell air, the fender openings-along with the air filter bursting through the hood-personify the 40 car's purposeful demeanor.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Engine Compartment

The latest, all-aluminum habitant of Old Blue's engine compartment makes a rousing 600 hp from 345 inches. Bruce Griggs says there is plenty more power in the exhaust, but with the car so low and the 3-inch exhaust so big, he doesn't feel like-or need to-invest in trick headers or pipes only to smash them against race track curbs. Engine-plate mounting best handles the big power, while many of the accessories follow circle track practice. The MSD coil on the now-useless right shock tower has been in the car since day one. It's about the only thing under the hood that has been there all along.

Many powertrains have visited this chassis, from its original four-cylinder automatic combination to the mild bolt-on 302 and stock T5 transmission of American Sedan days, to the current AIX booster rocket and synchro-less crash box we drove for this story. The current engine snarls out just over 600 flywheel horsepower and is a conjunction of an aluminum racing block and a set of heavily ported Trick Flow Street Heat heads breathing through an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake and an 800-cfm Holley carburetor. The 4.145-inch bored and 3.250-inch stroked Sonny Bryant-forged crank gives 345 ci. Compression is proprietary in typical Griggs fashion, but let's just say we've seen Bruce run 13:1 combustion chambers on street cars. Obviously, the reciprocating parts are the best American forgings Carrillo and Ross can supply, and the clutch is a 7-inch, three-disc light switch from Quartermaster.

Bruce is keeping what are clearly stratospheric cam specs to himself, but he lamented that the current engine is "too drag racy" to work as well as it could. That means the cam specs have changed since we visited anyway.

Behind all this excitement is a Jerico four-speed transmission. As is everything on Old Blue save the prototype pieces, the non synchro, lightning-fast, practically unused Jerico was something Griggs already had in the shop; cobblers kids have no shoes, and development hacks, even one as successful as this car, are last in the budget line.

We're afraid we took whatever new may have been left out of the gearbox during our practice session in Old Blue, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. To tell that part of the story, we should note this is one of those beasts for which we bothered suiting up all the way-fireproof underwear, crash hat, gloves, the works. It's that kind of car.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Interior

Everything in Old Blue's hot and noisy cockpit is laid out to make the driver's job easier. That includes seating, steering, and shifting moved back 7 inches, leg and torso extensions on the well-worn Kirkey seat to combat crash loads and cornering g's, and a hose for ducting fresh air to the driver's helmet. Seating is low and the hood bulge is high, so spotting right-hand apexes is occasionally a challenge, and heat is noticeable on warm days. We found the switches too hot to touch without gloves by the end of our practice session.

Getting in and comfortable was easy. Bruce and I are almost the same size-well over 6 feet tall-and the 40 car is about the only Mustang in the world I truly fit in. As the only parts of Old Blue that are original Ford include the roof, the windshield, and the door handles, it's no surprise to find the driver has been moved back 7 inches, with the steering wheel and shifter even more so. Done to aid weight distribution, the movement was engineered by fitting a spacer to the stripped-but-otherwise-stock '93 steering column, using a deep-dish, large-diameter Schroeder circle-track steering wheel, and placing the Long shifter right where Bruce wanted it. There's a distinct feeling of being back from the windshield, but not quite like you're sitting in the rear seat. The naked interior, the five-pane rear view mirror, the rollcage tubes everywhere, and the dry sump tank in the right footwell make the interior an all-business sort of place.

Starting the carbureted small-block is easy. Flip the usual master, ignition, and fuel-pump switches and crank away. Rrrrrap! The engine flies to life and proves ultra-eager to rev. Even with mufflers and helmet, the gloriously crackling exhaust requires ear plugs, so we were glad to have them.

Getting started from rest is decidedly not easy due to the feather-weight clutch and flywheel, a torque curve that starts about where a stock Mustang hits the rev limiter, and a First-gear ratio that felt like Second. Told to use 3,000 rpm and not slip the clutch, I found it actually took 3,500 rpm and a series of quick jabs of clutch engagement coordinated with some fancy throttle work to get the beast moving. And, yeah, I stalled it about five times and never got the hang of it.

Once on the track, however, there isn't a driveability care in the world, although self-preservation may cross your mind. This car is mind-bendingly fast-more fleet than our guardian angels, we decided, as the pavement uncoiled and flung itself through the windshield. Without benefit of recent racing experience, it was faster than we could think in the manhood test of Turn 10 at Infineon, so the throttle magically self-levitated off the floor there every lap. And while ours was a warm day, we wager this machine can leave a dry and pasty taste in your mouth during the coldest winter race meeting.

There are no vices, no tricks up the 40 car's fenders. Its handling is completely benign, even while tuned to the razor's edge. Bruce is an exceptional driver and prefers his cars to be quite neutral-that's a tightrope walk on the edge of oversteer for the rest of us, but once you learn to trust this tremendously capable chassis, you see how it points with economy. There's never a need to hustle this car, but rather a continuous need to relax and simply guide it as necessary.

This effect is multiplied by the way Griggs has fitted the car with long throttle-pedal travel and slightly slow steering. Both are deliberate and done to give maximum control. We especially loved coming out of the turns, feeding in more and more throttle, and having the nuclear reactor under the hood pull more and more strongly in direct proportion to the throttle position. And when you thought that had to be about it, there was still plenty more throttle travel-and power-to go.

Griggs Road Racing Mustang Quarter Master Clutch

Accommodating the Jerico transmission-which is tucked up tightly under the car thanks to the minuscule Quarter Master clutch and bellhousing has meant a hand-fabricated section of the transmission tunnel, while the switch panel, dry-sump oil tank, and ignition boxes have been laid out wherever convenient.
Whipping the Jerico through the gears is another pleasure center overload. All it takes is a quarter lift of the throttle, lever the manly-but-precise shifter, and mash the gas. Forget the clutch-it's absolutely not needed and only slows the process. With the engine delivering its hand-of-God power from the high sixes to 8,000 rpm, up shifting through three gears might as well be a narcotic. There's no perceptible interruption of thrust or engine note, which simply wails afresh with each change.

Downshifting is another story. Again, the clutch is not needed, but precise matching of engine and road speed is before the shifter slips seamlessly into the next gear. Here's where we were too excited to tickle the throttle and finesse the transmission. Instead we resorted to the clutch and larger throttle blips more than necessary. But clearly, with a bit of practice, downshifting could be as rewarding as up shifting.

What truly has to be felt to be believed is the way Old Blue turns in, carves the line, and can still react or correct in mid corner. This is the SLA and 315 tires at work, as we've never felt another Mustang-race car or not-with the front end grip this one has. And those huge tires are obviously being presented flat to the pavement, as they do not pull or twitch, and until the tire's grip is exceeded, the front-end simply keeps tracking or turning in as commanded. So, for the first time in our 17 years of testing Mustangs, rear grip, not front grip, is the limit with this car.

"Amazing" is the only-yet lame-word I can summon to describe how relaxed, stable, and responsive this car was in the corners. Cornering as hard as I dared, Old Blue clearly had more in reserve and awaited only my courage to put it to use. Corner exit traction-even with all the power-was excellent as well.

Before I was ready, I realized I was tired. Like piloting the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field, the 40 car had me whipped with its mind-bending speed and strenuous cornering loads. I pulled in and talked it over with Bruce. I said the car felt similar to a modern Trans Am racer, with nearly the same thrust but not quite the same precision. He agreed, noting the Trans Am car has a more rigid chassis and the benefit of purpose-built racing slicks. As for my being tired-especially in the long, accelerating right-hander leading to the carousel-Bruce said that was from trying to sit upright, "a bad habit from sitting in lousy street car seats." He then delivered his rather sangfroid advice: "I just let my head lean against the rollcage, relax, and sort of slump against the side of the seat and steer." Easier said than done when accelerating through 100 mph like a dragster while cornering.

Ultimately I noted that while lapping this monster was a real gas, racing it against similar cars might give me pause. Bruce replied, "Yeah, it's so fast it's not fun any more," and in a way I know he's right. But I'm sure you could get used to winning in it. He certainly has!