Nut Driver: The Long Journey Home (Part 3) | Quality Time With The “Other” Monte

Nut Driver: The Long Journey Home (Part 3) | Quality Time With The “Other” Monte

[“Nut Driver” features updates on Dave Nutting’s 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo]
To catch up on the other installments, click HERE

One of my goals for this year was to attend a full season of SCCA autocross, so as can be imagined the blown transmission in the Monte LS was a major setback. In March I had sorted the rear suspension out, but with the first points event less than a month away, not a single bolt turned in the bellhousing to remove the old transmission, and my terrible time management skills, I had pretty much written off racing at the first event, let alone racing the LS at the event.

Then, like a dusty, neglected, and slightly-oily brick, it hit me: I owned another one of these god-forsaken cars, and to top it off it actually MOVED UNDER ITS OWN POWER.

Back before the LS stole away my attention and the SS became something that I backed of the garage every Saturday in order to get the lawn mower, I had poured a lot of time and money into it. Hell, I even introduced the SS as a project car on the site, only to all but abandon those plans once the LS came into the picture.

The last time I had the SS out on an autocross course it continually stalled going around corners, which let me tell you is a ton of fun for both myself (As I frantically attempted to restart the car while going 40 MPH) and the corner workers that had to dive out of the path of 3600 pounds of steel death. I later diagnosed the problem as a clogged fuel filter, but by that point I was racing the LS and the rest was history. Well, with the LS doing its best to return to the Earth, now was the time to give the SS a second chance, starting with the first points event of the year, the Winter Tire Shakedown.

You know the drill by now, photos and captions.


Prior to the event I decided to grease the front suspension and give the car a once-over to check for anything amiss. Yes, the neighbors loved the sight of two G-bodies up on jack stands, why do you ask?


I think that bent sway bar endlink would qualify as “something amiss”.


Let’s take a closer look. Yeah, that’s bent.


As luck would have it, the local parts store had a number of different length endlinks in stock. After measuring the current ones and the lower control arm to sway bar with the car back on the ground and level, I decided to go a little shorter with 9.8119R, which measures in at 3 3/8″.


Guess which one is the bent one. No idea on the part number I had used previously, but my best guess was that lowering the car with the new springs and tall ball joints was a contributing factor as the links on both sides were bent.


With the new end links installed, it was time to rock and roll at the event.


Points Event #1: Skid City

With the sway bar links fixed and my stalling issues under control (Proven out with some “testing” at a local parking lot after hours), I thought I was on my way to a successful start to the season. Nevermind the dried out, almost 10 year old no-name Chinese tires, my less-than-stellar driving ability (Which was rusty after the winter to boot), or the fact that I was driving a car with a completely different suspension and over 100 horsepower more than the LS. All of those are minor details, so let’s rock.

So how’d it go? Well, TECHNICALLY I came in third out of five, but there’s more to the story. Let’s take a look at the final results:

Points Event1

Yup, the two guys below me DNF’d (Went off course) all six runs, and I managed to do the same for my first three runs.

Oh, and about those crappy tires:

You know how it’s always said that “tires matter”? Seriously, tires matter. My lack of ability to successfully recover from a skid aside, in each one of those spinouts the tires gave up the ghost mid-corner out of nowhere. While entertaining to watch, it really sucked as I was forced to slow down for the last three runs so as not to overdrive the tires.

On the plus side, even with my lack of a performance in terms of lap times, the SS was a blast to drive with the extra power and gearing over the LS (For those curious, it’s not much of a powerhouse at ~270 HP at the wheels, but that’s a big jump over the LS’s 150 HP at the crank), so that was a win at least.


Points Event #2: New tires

With the second points event about a month away, I knew that I had to rectify the tire situation, but with the LS tying up my car fund I had to do so on a budget.


Here’s where my packrat tendencies worked to my advantage: Along with G-bodies, I have a real obsession with mesh GTA wheels. These are a spare set that I picked up from my buddy Greg a few months earlier. At 16×8 they’re only good for mounting up to a 255 width tire, but they’re a better option than not running dedicated wheels at all.


Competitive tires in the 245/50/16 range are unfortunately slim pickings these days, and with the 200 treadwear limit for the Classic American Muscle class I couldn’t run Hoosiers. Here’s where the BFGoodrich Sport Comp 2 tires come in. With a 320 TW they weren’t super sticky, but I’d heard good things and they fit my budget at a hair over $500 shipped. The question is, would the improvement be noticeable?


I decided to paint the wheels gold for two reasons: 1) It was the factory color and 2) Lohnes hated the idea


Think what you will about the color, but I think they came out looking pretty decent for a few hours work including prep and paint.


You know how Subaru and Toyota brag about the BRZ/FR-S twins being able to fit track day tires in the back seat? Old news, my friends.


Lined up and ready to go. As shown here, the car wash was optional and skipped by me.


Quick shot to show the tread before my first set of runs. The tires will never look this nice again.


While I’ll admit that I was a bit apprehensive going into the first run of the day, the car felt completely different with capable rubber underneath it. Even though only an “ultra high performance summer tire” and not an “extreme performance summer tire” like the 200 TW and softer options, they made a huge difference in my confidence, even if it didn’t show in my lap times thanks to a hit cone on my final run:

Points Event #2

The top three guys were all running 200 TW tires of 265 or above width, which goes to show that stickier tires are typically beat by wider, even more sticky tires (And better drivers, to be fair to those guys and their skill). The “FR-S” was actually a 2015 Chevy SS.

Below is a video of that sixth run, which shows that I needed to be more aggressive and stay in the throttle now that I had tires that could take the abuse. Yeah, I got a little profane and dropped the audio at the end; listen, my mom reads these, ok? Seriously though, there’s nothing more frustrating than giving it your all during a run and gain half a second only to clip a cone in the process.


By the end of the event I had done a number on the tires. Yep, I’d say they’re broken in.


I also had a new problem to worry about, namely rubbing on the inner wheelwell, as shown in this photo and the one below it.


I initially thought this was rubber, but upon closer examination it looked to be mostly melted plastic. Looks like the 2 1/2 inches that I had lowered the front of the car was more form over function. Crap.


SCCA Tire Rack Nationals

Having missed the third points event due to Memorial Day weekend, the next event was the SCCA Tire Rack Nationals, a two day event in June.

Leading up to the event, I had two goals:

1. Raise the ride height to address the rubbing issue

2. Try to improve my lap times as I knew the car could be driven harder



Here’s a before shot of the car showing the ride-height as-is, which was accomplished with Detroit Speed Engineering 2″ drop springs and tall upper and lower ball joints (The 1/2″ taller lower ball joints effectively lower the car an additional 1/2″).


The above suspension combination worked out to ~25″ at the fender.


Not wanting to swap out springs, scouring the internet turned up these universal spring spacers from Energy Suspension, part number 9.6120G. They spec’d out at 5/8″ thick, which would add the extra 1/2″ or so I was looking for. At $20 shipped and a few hour’s labor, they were worth a shot at least.


The springs came out easily enough after loosening the upper ball joint with a BFH and using a floor jack to lower the control arm.


The aforementioned DSE springs, which spec out at 2″ of drop and 575#.


The idea here is to place the isolator on top of the spring.


Which is then all shoved up into the rusty maw that is the upper spring pocket. Note the “fingers” that are there to keep the spring in place. I had to bend a number of these back to get everything to fit.


As “universal fitment” is code for “universally won’t fit”, I had to cut the spacers so that they could widen to fit around the fingers in the spring pocket. Other than that, they fit like a glove. Honestly, I was shocked.


A few butt-puckering moments later with the cheap “I will break at any moment and hit you like you owe me money” parts store internal spring compressor, both sides were reassembled with the spacers in place. Seriously, those spring compressors should come with a letter of condolence for your next of kin or something.


Straight off the jack, here was the new ride height, which if you can’t tell was a BIT more than the 5/8″ I was expecting, as it now measured at closer to 27″. At this point I may have silently panicked, only to reassure myself, “It’s ok, maybe people will think it’s a 4×4 swap”.


Luckily for my sanity, a quick drive to settle the suspension brought the height back down to 26″.


With the ride-height situation squared away, it was time to head back to Ayer MA for two days of autocross. While this sounds like a ton of action, due to the format and number of cars each day would consist of three runs, with the course run in one direction on Saturday and in reverse on Sunday. The pink towel in that tub was to protect my back seat when carrying my tires and was the only one available, I swear.


The CAM class in the New England region for some reason doesn’t have much of a following, which meant that there were only three cars running in the class for the event: My Monte, this 2014 Mustang GT, complete with a Strano Performance suspension,


And this 2015 Chevy SS, which is quite the mean machine, especially considering the weight.


Listen, those windshield decals are harder to put on straight than you realize…


Tire Rack standings

In terms of final results, I ended up behind the other two guys, but to be honest this is to be expected as they have been battling for First in the region all year and a newfound determination wasn’t going to magically find me 5+ seconds. Still, this was a huge improvement over where I was at the beginning of the year, with the tires being a major contributing factor.


Here are videos from my best runs from Saturday and Sunday. Notice how the course is run in reverse from one day to the next. Sunday’s third run was my best overall of the event at 78.540.

Coming into the event I decided to work on being more aggressive with the car, which to be honest is easier to tell yourself than it is to actually do. I’m learning and relearning each event that while the car isn’t perfect, I’m more of a limiting factor than the car itself, as each time I watch the above videos I see elements where I could have stayed in the throttle longer, turned in differently, or just plain driven harder. The beauty (And curse) of autocross is that each event is different and you only get so many looks at a course to figure things out. However, skills like looking ahead and feeling the limits of the car will apply each and every time.

While the goal is to get the LS back on the road (Which I will have more updates on soon, I promise), in a way I’m almost glad that it has taken this long as it’s allowed me to have that quality time with the SS I needed in order to appreciate the car again.

In fact, I’m enjoying it so much that I’m going for a moonshot this coming August with the car in the form of the CAM Challenge East: This coming August I’m going to be driving my SS 1800 miles round-trip to attend the CAM Challenge East SCCA event in Peru, Indiana. Running from August 7th to August 9th, it’s a three day event with some of the biggest names in Pro-Touring attending, and I’d love to see some of you BangShifters there with your cars. At $75 for the weekend it’s a steal. Here is the link to sign up: SIGNUP PAGE

For more information on the series, CLICK HERE


‘Til next time!






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7 thoughts on “Nut Driver: The Long Journey Home (Part 3) | Quality Time With The “Other” Monte

  1. Nick D.

    “Serious though, there’s nothing more frustrating than giving it your all during a run and gain half a second only to clip a cone in the process.”

    Yup, been there. Was racing my Miata in STS and was at Cherry Valley Motorsports Park. Tracked wide (Trying to use all the course, as the one Pro driver had been chastising me about) and punted a cone for some serious distance. After I got out and made sure I didn’t damage the better bumper I had just put on, then I got mad when I saw how much faster the lap had been

  2. mooseface

    I’m happy to see the SS is out and about, getting some much-deserved love. There’s just something special about putting a favorite project through its paces after a long dormancy.
    I’m looking forward to your eventual update on the LS, Dave, I always enjoy your misadventures with it and I’m eager to see what that new rear axle buys you.

  3. TheSilverBuick

    “I decided to paint the wheels gold for two reasons: 1) It was the factory color and 2) Lohnes hated the idea”


    The spring spacers seem to double their thickness when installed, or so was my experience when I accidently gasser stanced my Skylark when installing a set.

    I would like to get my car out on an Autocross despite how horrible it would seriously do.

  4. Scott Liggett

    Dave, I can tell you that tires mean everything. I did all those upgrades on my suspension, but had to wait for the stickier tires. My old Radial T/A’s negated anything I did.

  5. fast Ed

    Tires would probably have been even better if you ran them on the street for a 100 or so miles to get the mold release compound off them!!

    Good to see you out enjoying the SS, and a yes vote from here for the gold mesh wheels … tell Brian to piss off. LOL

  6. blue ss

    i dont see you signed up this weekend dave, you should come to some of the other groups at devens.

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