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1985 Huffaker Pontiac #53

Current Owner/Driver:
John F Watkins

Car: Huffaker Pontiac
Year: 1985
Make: GM
Model: Pontiac

Chassis Builder: Huffaker
Driver: Bill Doyle
Sponsors: Peterson Caterpillar
Series: TransAm & IMSA

The story of the #53 Huffaker Pontiac...written by John F. Watkins.
I first heard about car number 53, a 1985 Huffaker built Pontiac Firebird, in the summer of 2007.  Richard Stark was promoting his GT-Thunder group, and I was thinking of purchasing an eighties TransAm car.  He said he knew of a couple for sale, and then put me in touch with Keith Delaney from Corvalis, Oregon, who had owned car #53 since 1986.  Keith emailed me some information and photos of the car, and I did nothing for one year.  At Portland in 2008, Ron Tribble got a bunch of these cars together and put on a great show at the Historics that year.  Ron let me run with them in my 1970 IMSA Mustang, but cautioned me that for future events I needed a car that would meet the IMSA/TransAm group’s requirements.  I was stoked!

A week or so later I called Keith to see if he still had the car.  He did, and better yet, he was offering a half off sale.  Sold!

Soon Scott Rubin of McGee’s Motorsports and I were driving up Interstate 5 to pick up the car and pieces.  The car was complete, but the motor was not in it.  Keith said the motor was newly rebuilt, but our first decision was to give it to Tony Oddo for nspection.  Keith is an engine builder and ran the car with both 310 ci. and 355 ci.  The engine he gave us for the car was the original motor.  The block was stamped HE 85-10, indicating it was the tenth motor Huffaker Engineering made in 1985.  Keith also explained that the cam in the engine was designed so that it produced power between 7000 and 8500 RPM.  Running at these RPMs required rebuilding the engine every 10 hours.  We decided to go with the 355 and keep the revs down.  Running with the original heads Pontiac provided, and block, with the rev limit set at 7500 rpm we’re getting about 625 horsepower and should get 40 hours on the motor.

Scott did a thorough examination of the chassis, brakes, transmission, spindles and so on.  This inspection period and the engine rebuild took about 6 months.  And then we decided to paint it!

Another 6 weeks or so passed by and finally we took it up to Thunderhill for a test drive.  It tested fine and two weeks later ran flawlessly at Wine Country.  I think the moral of this story is despite everything you are told at the time of sale, and despite the appearance of the car, it is best to hold off trying to drive a new car until everything has been checked out.  It’s a bummer to show up for an event and have mechanical problems and safety is paramount at the speeds these cars are capable of.  Furthermore, expect everything to take twice as long and cost twice as much as expected.  My ‘turn-key’ purchase required an additional $50,000.00 to get it ready for competition.

Although I haven’t met him yet, I have talked with Bill Doyle, the original purchaser and driver of car #53.  He was fifty-three when he ordered his first car from Huffaker Engineering in 1983.  And although he was 55 when he took delivery of this car in 1985, he stuck with car number 53.