In 1976 I met Pete Klain and got involved with his racing efforts. He worked at GMC Truck and Bus Group at the time. He was building a 1969 Corvette as a Group I Trans Am car. My involvement with the car was confined to the graphics and paint, although I did travel with the team a few times and crewed on the car. The first version of the car had IMSA bodywork. The later version of the car was that it had IMSA front fenders and L88 rear fender flares which complied with SCCA rules and gave the car a very unique look. The graphics evolved over three seasons as the body work changed. The last version of the car is shown in this post.
I think this was at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. I was at the right place at the right time, and I got to ride with Ron on the victory lap holding the checkered flag. I was really excited.
The Lost Air Cleaner Cage Nut
You never know what the ramifications of an oversight might be. The Corvette had an L89 big block Chevy with aluminum heads built by George Delorean. I remember going over to Pete’s garage one day when they were working on the car. The Corvette had an L88 hood which had cold air induction at the back taking advantage of the high pressure area at the base of the windshield. The air cleaner element fit up into the hood, and the base of the air cleaner was attached to the carburetor captured by a small round screen and a cap held on by one small nut. I remember commenting that if that nut came loose and found its way into the engine, someone was going to have a very bad and expensive day.
Air cleaner cage on an L88/89 Corvette. The element is up in the hood. This car uses a wing nut. The race car only had a small nut that held the cage to the carburetor.
Ron Weaver in Pete Klain’s Corvette at Nelson Ledges, Ohio. Paint scheme by yours truly.
They were all busy attending to other more pressing matters. However, later I found out that the nut had indeed come loose and disappeared into the nether regions of that big V8. The engine started to run badly as a consequence, and it was determined on closer inspection that the nut had found its way to the number seven cylinder, damaged the valve and seat, and also damaged the piston.
To replace the valve seat on that aluminum head, the head had to be disassembled and heated so the steel seat could be replaced. The piston was also replaced. So that’s that. Or was it?
Number 10 Corvette outside of Pete’s shop.
I traveled with the crew to Mosport near Toronto, Canada. During practice, Ron came into the pits with oil everywhere. We got the car back to the garage to find a hole in the oil pan from some part that originated from the inside of the engine. We dropped the pan and behold—the skirt of number seven piston, the one that had been replaced, was missing a chunk of aluminum. That was the source of the shrapnel.
Pete had not traveled with the team to Mosport. He was still in Detroit. He was called (it was a Friday) and briefed on the situation. Somehow he found a .030 over piston and was able to get it on an airplane heading for Toronto. So the team dismantled the engine in anticipation of the new piston getting there late Friday night, and the engine got back together sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Like 4:00 a.m.
Number 10 Corvette outside of Pete’s shop. My paint scheme was cool, but hard to repair if the car was damaged. The car is being restored by the current owner, Mike Parks.
Ron made the grid the next morning. During the race he had a close encounter with a Porsche that put him out of the race. That was the last race of the season. So that winter I repaired and repainted the body, and the engine was taken out and gone through. Guess what. The second number seven piston, the one we replaced at Mosport, was found to have a cracked piston skirt.
What we later found out was that the engine builder had machined the skirts of all of the original pistons for additional crank throw clearance. Since the two replaced pistons were stock, they were kissing the crank and were eventually compromised. All of that because of a air cleaner cage nut.
Ron Weaver in Pete Klain’s Corvette at Nelson Ledges. Sam Klein is at the right rear tire.
Only three of the crew traveled to Brainard. Ron, the driver, myself, and another fellow whose name escapes me. We traveled in Pete’s van with a loose 55 gallon drum of racing fuel riding with us. Those were CB radio days, and Ron’s call sign was “This is racer man in the magic van towing the plastic fantastic.” I had to make up custom lettering for the front fenders for an amusement park sponsor that had a big blue ox out front. See if you can figure out the name of the park.
I also recall that the Holley carburetor was flooding and I was the only one that knew anything about how to fix the needle and seat that was hanging up. Another thing that happened was that first gear seized to the input shaft. Apparently it was normal practice to install needle bearings in an M22 4-speed intended for racing to prevent just such an occurrence, but that hadn’t happened. There was no way to fix the transmission without any parts. One of the competitors offered to torch the teeth off of first gear. Ron didn’t need first gear to win the race.
In 1978 I put together a book entitled Race Car Graphics—The Finishing Touch published by Steve Smith Autosports. It featured Pete’s Corvette and included a step-by-step masking sequence for the patterns. Its target audience was amateur racers that needed some help with graphics. The paint scheme on Pete’s Corvette perhaps was too complex for a team with a budget, but it stood out and was easily recognized. That helps get sponsors. It must be out of print because I stopped getting royalties a long time ago. The principles presented were sound, but the production techniques are outdated.