The Wide Body Cars
by John Greenwood
The widebody or slab-side cars were the next evolution after our Greenwood team cars. The widebody car was first introduced at the Detroit car show in Cobo Hall in 1974. It was dubbed the Batmobile by the press and it would have been the next generation of BFG cars if that contract had continued. As it happened, it was destined to be a team car.
There are a lot of details about the 1974 car which might be interesting to various people but I think it is important to share a lot of the credit with some very special people. The flares were developed with a lot of help from Zora, Jerry Palmer and Randy Wittine. Zora was always eager to help with ideas and to explore new concepts. Randy Wittine did the aerodynamics and styling stuff. Jerry Palmer, who eventually became head of Styling, also worked on them. Randy was involved in most anything that happened. He did all kind of things and worked with Penske too. He even worked with people outside of GM who were doing prototypes. And, of course, this was when we started dealing with Bob Riley for help with chassis design.
The widebody had a very chiseled front end. The IMSA rules didnt say anything about the fender flares so we shaped them to add downforce and left the back ends open. It used 4-piston calipers and a tube-type roll cage for chassis stiffening. It had a belly pan with a wing built in at the ground-plane; I guess it was an early form of diffuser and would have generated ground effects. IMSA rules didnt allow it but that was OK because we knew it was going to be a sacrificial element in the rules game anyway. We did get away with the wheel wells being vented through the rear openings and that helped reduce lift. Zora got involved with us about that time and he got Styling involved. The wide fenders they designed swept up to add downforce by using the extra area necessary to cover wider wheels. We also added a lot of body rake to further add to the downforce. Our noses were so low because we dropped the body around the frame; everybody else who didnt buy our parts tried to do it through the suspension. That wasnt as good. Even today people try to figure out our horsepower and speed by using frontal area and they just dont get the right answers. The standard formulae dont apply; there was so much more to it than that.
Like I said, Bob Riley did some of the initial chassis work. We played with settings over the next two years but, you know, we eventually came back to just about what he had designed for the best dial-in. The cars debuted at Road Atlanta that year in a 10 lap winner take-all event. Our big competition was Bobby Allisions big block Camaro but we won with a twenty second advantage. We went on to run like a freight train that year, winning our class. We won the season finale with a two lap lead over the second place car.
After our wins in 1974, the Porsches and BMWs adopted our flared and open wheel well style but we still kept winning. We took class again in 1975. A lot of the older cars started to update to the wide body style and some bought our coil-over (rear) suspension. Some series required that the original springs be used but they didnt prohibit additional springs so we would use one leaf out of the original transverse layout and add the coil-over suspension to really do the work. It met the rules.
In a way, however, I felt bad about those cars. I was getting burned out by that time. I never really got as much into them as I should. They were really built for a continuation of the BFG program. They had cross-ram, Kinsler fuel injected all-aluminum big blocks putting out about 700 HP; we were going to win one way or the other. But we had been running 16-20 hour days for three years and I never got them sorted out as much as I would have liked. They were truly awesome cars for full-frame cars though -- probably the very last of the (competitive) full-frame cars. We sold quite a few of these cars to customers.
In this group of full frame cars the two stars were really the ones with the coil-over suspension at all four corners; these were the 1975 and 1976 Spirit of Sebring. We built two full-chassis coil-over cars plus a third chassis from parts. I think that Steve Goldin now owns the Spirit of Sebring 1976 car; he bought it from Paul Canary as I recall. The third chassis was sold minus body and it eventually ended up with Charles Hance in Anaheim, CA. That car was never raced but I understand that he plans to build it as an era-specific racer. I sold him the panels for that body style a couple of years ago.
The car that Paul Canary got was the second fastest of the three. They were really well done with 725 HP and absolutely well done as far as geometry was concerned. The fastest of these cars was definitely the first one built (CC#002). We ran this car a little bit in 1974 and it was the one which won the 1974 final at Daytona. I recall that I sold this car to an orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Juan Olivera) who was later killed in a motorcycle accident.
The one that Paul Canary bought and sold to Steve Goldin (the Sebring car) has two names on it -- Paul Newman and someone else. Then it went to T&R (Tico and René) Racing. Then to Paul Canary. This was a good car; it was being built for Rudy Braun in Canada, but the deal never got completed. Thats another story, however. That car won the 1975 Daytona final and was written up on the cover of Road & Track (1976) magazine; it was going to be Rudy Brauns car. It was then sold to a guy named Levitt, who had Mike Brockman race it. It was then sold to Mike Brook in 1976 and then to Paul Newman. I think that this was also the car I drove in the 1975 Daytona IMSA finale, as I recall.