In the March 2002 issue, we busted out the world exclusive coverage of the engine development program behind General Motors' full-tilt attack on the SC Drag landscape. The engine we featured was destined for GM Racing's orange flamed Modified/Outlaw class Cavalier.
Development has continued and the second car has surfaced. It's a unibody Pontiac Sunfire built to compete in NHRA's Hot Rod class. As expected, Stephanie Reaves will pilot the Cav while Marty Ladwig will be at the controls of the Sunfire.
GM Racing had a press conference to officially let the media in on GM's plans. The detailed event included in-depth analysis of the Ecotec engine, both in stock and race trim. Much of the territory covered in the press conference was outlined in our March article. Then it was off to Shaver Specialty, the R&D arm of the engine program, where Steve Bothwell showed us where the magic happens. After a tour of the assembly room and a look at some of the hard parts we were treated to a dyno run of an Ecotec grunt engine.
Since our article GM Racing, Bothwell and Shaver have been moving forward and the 747 hp realized on the engine dyno in our story is now 764 to 772 hp and counting. On Shaver's engine dyno, the Ecotec was brought up to speed and we saw 772 on the screen, but since the dyno wasn't set to sample, there was no dyno sheet.
Moments later, the dyno was set to sample and the Ecotec pumped out a 764 hp graph. This engine had 20-plus pulls on it and spent a day in the car at the strip and the 764 run seemed effortless. This grunt engine will be converted to an eight-injector set-up in order to push the power into the 850- to 900-hp range.
Beyond the dyno cell, the big news was the Sunfire and the insight into the drivers. The Sunfire will compete in NHRA's Hot Rod class, but only run exhibition at its IDRC events due to its use of Methanol fuel, which is approved in NHRA but prohibited in the IDRC. The Pontiac is non-intercooled and slated to make only 600-650 hp. The approach used on the car outlines how a typical unibody racer would prepare a Sunfire for the 1320. The tranny is a Hydra-matic 4T65-E four-speed automatic.
Looking beyond the wheel (or wheels), we find Stephanie Reaves and Marty Ladwig at the controls of the General's FWD all stars. Reaves, 35, started drag racing in 1986 working the throttle of a motorcycle. In 1991, she went 9.5 at 135 mph, and in '97, finished in the top 10 in NHRA Pro Stock Bike.
Ladwig, 37, also got his start on two wheels. He was AMA/Prostar 600 national champion in 1999 and 2000 and has piloted turbo Civics and big-block Camaros down the strip.
The bottom line is GM is doing it right--developing the engine before pushing its cars in the spotlight of sport compact drag racing. The Blue Oval boys seemed to take the grassroots Honda racers' 10 years of engine development for granted and they (or more precisely, Focus racers) paid the price. GM is making all the right moves, but one has to wonder if enthusiasts will embrace a Cavalier or Sunfire as a performance platform. What would we do-import the Opel Astra? It has import appeal in the styling department. Like the Focus, it's European, which somehow distances it from being "domestic" and it runs the same Ecotec four that GM Racing and company have rocked 772 hp out of. Food for thought.