West Coast Report 17th Edition: by John Gilbert

Shop Talk — Street Rodder Road Tour Heads to Eastwood

The beauty of cranking out a weekly blog as opposed to having to adhere to the strict format of a monthly magazine is being able to rely on stream of consciousness to come up with the content instead of a predetermined pagination. That said, it’s not a guarantee that I’m going to be writing anything here that someone might want to read, but I’ll take a shot at it.

I do start with an idea, or premise as we used to call it back when I was a script writer for reality TV. First things first in this 17th edition of West Coast Eastwood I’d like to talk a little about the Podcast interviews Kevin Tetz conducts on Shop Talk. I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with Kevin’s name, the first time I was introduced to Kevin’s work was while I was watching Trucks! on TV.

In the first of the Shop Talk series Kevin has to look no further than the crew at Eastwood, and gets a preview of things to come with Eastwood’s Senior Content & Engagement Marketing Manager Nick Capinski. Next up was Brian Finch, and then on to Ron Covel. The interview with Ron Covel was very interesting because it covered who he apprenticed with and how he got started by building race car bodies at Brian Fullers. Of particular interest was listening to how Ron made the jump from fabricator to adding teacher to his credits, and ultimately developing the ability to speak in front of an audience.

The latest Shop Talk interview posted 7/1/13 is with long time Street Rodder contributor Jerry Dixey, and I knew that was going to be a good one. It’s one thing to sit down write an article where one can back up and do a rewrite, but it’s really a talent when one can put it all together while they’re speaking, and have it as coherent as the written word.


Last year I met up with Jerry at the Syracuse Nationals in Syracuse, New York, and was able to hear firsthand some tales of the cool places the folks got to visit while on the Street Rodder Road Tour. The really neat part is some of the places they go are private collections that are rarely seen by the general public. Next to the 2012 Road Tour ’40 Ford here’s an example of how hard Jerry works to keep the Road Tour participants up to date, and having memorable fun — Talk about providing personal attention for Road Tour participants, Jerry mans the Road Tour Hot Line 24-hours a day with his cell phone.

—   John Gilbert

‘Merican Muscle

The Longpre Grand Prix

The following is an unedited draft of a car feature I shot and wrote for Muscle Car Review that appeared in the June 2013 issue. In the article I didn’t have room to expand on Ray Harstad at J&R Motorsports telling about how much he relied on using Eastwood products, but since I do have room here why not run an expanded look at Ray’s use of Eastwood products — But first, here’s the story.

If there ever was a surefire way for a muscle car aficionado to make a fool out of himself its to get into an argument insisting a particular configuration of car was never built by the factory— There’s always an exception. Take for example Robert Longpre II’s 1960 Pontiac Catalina factory equipped with a Bonneville bucket seat interior, 4-bolt SD 389, and Corvette 4 speed transmission.

The seed for this special edition Pontiac coming into creation began before World War II when Robert’s grandfather Raphael Longpre rose through the ranks to Pontiac’s Production Manager at the company’s home plant in Pontiac, Michigan. Robert’s father worked at Pontiac, and GM divisions all through high school and college before joining the Army Air Corps, and going off to war. After World War II Bob’s dad worked for Pontiac Motor in the Cincinnati office. In 1947 Bob Longpre senior formed a partnership with his cousin also named Bob Longpre, and opened a Pontiac dealership in Arlington Massachusetts. In 1950 Bob’s father moved the family to California, and opened Bob Longpre Pontiac in Monrovia. The dealership was on Route 66 the main drag right through the heart of town.

In 1958 Bob’s father bought out Suburban Pontiac in Bellflower, California. Part of the new car inventory was a red and white ‘58 Pontiac 860 2-door hardtop with a hot 370-inch V8 and three-speed stick transmission. Bob’s dad decided to give him the ’58 to use as a driver. Bob told us “Suburban Pontiac had been big into drag racing, but the recession in 1958 took a lot of new car dealers down. This had been their drag race car and I doubt that GMAC or Pontiac would have wanted to buy the car back. It had a lot of horsepower, but was cursed with a three-speed column shift transmission. The shift linkage was always locking up in one gear or another. The shifting for the three-speed was so bad that it was common for Pontiac drag racers to start out in second gear hoping they could get at least one shift without jamming. I never took it to the drag strip, but had lots of street races.

When the 1959 Pontiac models arrived, I had the chance to move up to a different car, and chose to go with an automatic transmission. As it turned out the silver Catalina coupe I named “Hydra-Magic” was fast. I ran it in A/Stock Automatic, and the car won lots of trophies at nearby San Gabriel dragstrip. I graduated in June of 1959 and my graduation present was to spend a month with my grandfather at the Pontiac plant and learn how cars were manufactured. My granddad introduced me to the various department heads, Pete Estes, John DeLorean, and General Manager Bunkie Knudsen.

In September of ’59 I returned to Detroit with Hydra-Magic for the NHRA Nationals. At that time my granddad made the suggestion that I let him help build me a special racecar for 1960. I asked how special, and he replied anything that I wanted. Earlier that year in June while I was staying with my granddad I was cruising Woodward Avenue and spotted a ’59 Catalina 2-door hardtop Bunkie Knudsen had custom made for his daughter. It had a funny squared-off roof that later became the 1962 Grand Prix roofline. The interior had individual front bucket seats not available in a Catalina, and a 4 speed transmission obviously pirated out of a Corvette. It also had funny looking finned wheels instead of wheel covers. (As Pontiac’s General Manager John DeLorean got the lion’s share of credit for creating the Grand Prix line in ’62, but behind the scenes it was Bunkie Knudsen in 1959).

When I got back to California I ordered what I wanted through my dad’s Pontiac dealership. The special options I desired that weren’t listed on the order form were handwritten on a list and sent to my grandfather for production. As a 17 year-old kid I made some goofy decisions on how I wanted the car equipped. I thought 3.90:1 was best, but Bunkie Knudsen convinced me a 4.56:1 rearend with Safe-T-Track would work best for drag racing. With the same interior dimensions fitting the Bonneville interior into the Catalina body was easy. The bucket seat mounts were welded in on the assembly line. The four-speed stick shift however could not be accommodated on the assembly line. A 4-speed was sent over from the Corvette plant and installed at a service department housed at the end of the production line. Afterward due to public demand there was maybe 15 Pontiacs ordered with the part number created for my car with 4-speeds installed at the end of the line. My ’60 Pontiac was the 12,690th car built that model year”.

It took about a month for the Pontiac to be built. Unbeknownst to Bob, somewhere in between ordering the car in California to driving it off the assembly line in Michigan, his grandfather had Ray Nichols in Indianapolis add some super stock modifications including a lumpy solid-lifter cam. Bob recalled the performance of the car was very good, but not exceptional. He said it was so big and heavy racing it was like trying to teach a fat man to become a ballet dancer. The first time down the quarter-mile it ran 98 mph with a 14.30 ET. Not bad, but citing it wasn’t fast enough to win in 1960, Bob started to hop things up.

The first improvement was a set of tube headers with cut-outs by Doug Robinson at Horsepower Engineering in Pasadena, California. Next the OE two-ply tires were ditched in favor of Atlas Bucron four-ply tires sourced from a local Chevron station. A drag racer’s dream, Atlas Bucrons were famous for a super soft sticky compound backed with an incredible guarantee that if you wore them out within so many miles Chevron would replace the tires for free.

Bob’s dyno tune and engine guy was Roger Bursch owner of Scientific Automotive in Pasadena. Roger had a dyno, but couldn’t run cars uncorked adjacent residential housing. The solution was to drive down Colorado Boulevard to Champion Chevrolet, and borrow Don Nicholson’s dyno. After an evolutionary process that involved identifying the 348-horse, four-bolt 389’s hunger to round-off camshafts, and battling low oil-pressure spinning main bearings the final result was an NHRA legal 389 punched .060 over to 403-inches. Equipped with Jahn’s pistons, and cammed with an Isky E-2 carrying a Pontiac part number the Poncho picked up 30 horsepower at the rear wheels. By the time it was all said and done the ’60 uncorked, and shod with Bucrons held the super stock record at San Gabriel dragstrip, running 104.71 mph with a 13.41 ET.

In February 1960, Bob joined the Army, and had hoped to store the Pontiac, but his dad informed him they were in the car business and cars were not to be kept as pets, they were merchandise. The ex-drag car was shod with Vogue tires and sold like cattle.

Fast forward 50 years to July 16, 2010, Bob is at his Westminster, California Lexus dealership when he spots an ad on eBay headlining a 1960 Pontiac Catalina with Bonneville interior. The seller’s name is George Knevelbaard, Bob discovers George to be extremely honest, and a Pontiac preservationist to boot. George bought the car in 1993 from Dale Boomgaarden a Gilroy, California drag racer that bought the ’60 in 1964 from Bob Shiro Motors in San Jose. Dale’s description of the car when he bought it fit right to a T including the Vogue tires. In 2004, George loaded up the ’60 Pontiac and moved from Artesia, California to retire in Michigan.

The first thing Bob did when he was reunited with his “brass hat” drag car was to contact Raymond Harstad at J&R Motorsports in Costa Mesa, California. Raymond is a fully-certified master mechanic, and one those rare individuals that can disassemble a vintage automobile and put it back together without signs of it having ever been apart. Next along with his Mopar racer buddy Bob Small, Bob hauled the gutted shell down to Steve Kouracos’ autobody shop in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. When the ‘60 returned to Raymond’s shop for reassembly it was in a perfect rendition of its original Newport Blue metallic paint.

Bob recalls the 60s were the Golden Age of factory sponsored drag racing. Stating if you found a part you liked the factory would give it a part number so you could race with it. He also considers himself very fortunate for having the opportunity to enjoy this particular car not once, but twice.

Ray Harstad at J&R Motorsports in Costa Mesa, mere feet from Newport Beach, is known for producing show quality work on a consistent basis. Ray said he used a lot of Eastwood products during the ’60 Pontiac’s restoration. 2K Aero-Spray Underhood Black was used throughout including the Poncho’s Tri-Power air-cleaner. Two component urethane paints provide a finish equal to powdercoat in durability, and do require complete disassembly of the part to be painted.

Under a dual-snorkel air-cleaner resides a Tri-power SD 389 blueprinted for racing. Eastwood spray paints coat the carbs, aluminum parts, and cast-iron brake master-cylinder. Undercarriage as well.

Eastwood Carb Renew II Bronze does a beautiful job of replicating the factory original zinc chromate (gold cad) plating, plus offers a Fuel-Resistant formula. Notice the Alternator has been renewed with Aluma Blast.

It isn’t necessary to disassemble carburetors to spray Carb Renew II Bronze onto the carburetor. Although disassembly produces more professional results. Note the triple Rochester 2GC cast-iron carburetor bases have been restored using 12 oz. aerosol Spray Gray acrylic lacquer.

Ray used Eastwood’s special coatings to ensure proper engine and cooling system performance. Radiator Black dries quick, resists heat to 300-degrees, and will not clog radiator cooling fins as heavier bodied paints tend to do.

Brake Gray resists damage from brake fluid which is a quality that not all paint finishes can claim.

Spray Gray, and Aluma Blast provided the Pontiac factory installed Corvette 4-speed with a show-quality appearance. Notice the car’s underside was treated to Rubberized Undercoating.

Unlike heavily petroleum tar based undercoatings Eastwood Rubberized Undercoating can be top-coated with spray paint and achieve flawless results without oily bleed through.

The Poncho’s stunningly clean appearing undercarriage was painted with 2K Ceramic Chassis Black. Again thanks to being a two component product the finish far exceeds the durability of common single component spray paints.

Superior to bias-ply Coker American Classic whitewall radials are mounted on the original 8-lug Pontiac factory mags. Gas-charged shocks complete the upgrade.

Pontiac utilized the ’60 Corvette console with a Pontiac ashtray supplanting the chrome knob Corvette ashtray.

Every model of 1960 Pontiac trunk mats were trimmed in red. A ’61 blue style pattern was custom made in a ’60 pattern to fit Bob’s trunk.

Bonneville emblems adorn the wood accented dash with grab bar and rear optional speaker. Power windows, but no power brakes, Bob didn’t like the wide PB pedal.

The Longpre Grand Prix is the only 1960 Catalina ever fitted with a Bonneville interior.

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