I had just recently turned 19 in 1988. I had built my 1977 Pontiac Firebird into a beast with a 1970 Oldsmobile W-30 455 punched 60 over with 10.5:1 compression a Comp 292 roller cam, 780 cfm annular discharge carb., 1 5/8” long tube headers Chevy 1.85:1 roller rockers, big valves, ported and polished, balanced and blueprinted. I spoke with Joe Mondello so regularly (and spent so much money with him) that he recognized my voice on the phone. It had a Built TH400 with a disc brake rear end out of a 1980 Turbo Trans Am with a factory 2.42 gear. With the updated valve train and the steel crank and rods all big block Oldsmobiles came with, I saw well over 7000 rpm regularly.

This is us the previous summer building the beast. I am the ugly kid behind the engine hoist.

I was out with my girlfriend and a band buddy and his girlfriend one weekend night late that summer. I hear her from the backseat say “I feel the need. The need for speed.” (Remember Top Gun?) My reputation preceded me apparently. I turned on to a long, straight, flat piece of highway with no entrances and no exits for miles in North Texas. I pull a handy calculator out of the center console and toss it to my band buddy and say “I’ll call out RPM, you multiply that number by <insert calculated multiplier here> to get m/h.”

I jam the car down in to first and roll into the throttle. With a live axle and well over 600hp you didn’t floor it unless you had a lot of open space ahead of you. The Rs built until about 6000 when I shifted into second around 65 m/h. Remember the 2.42 gears? Second came and went quickly as I shifted in to third about 6500 rpm and 135 if memory serves. I started calling off rpm about 5000 rpm. Rodney tapped on the calculator.

Somewhere around 165, everything gets really quiet. You could still hear the air howling through the carb and the exhaust rocketing out the back, but the wind noise was gone. Best I can figure, the air coming over the hood was getting pushed hard enough to not hit the cabin/windshield at all.

As Rodney called out 185, the steering wheel complete with my white knuckles just kind of flopped over to the left as if the bolts had fallen out of the steering column. I remember thinking that this was a distinct possibility in a car that was built by a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds the previous summer.

I straightened up the wheel and slowly eased out of the throttle. As we passed 185 going the other direction the front tires gave a chirp and the steering wheel shook a little. The front tires were off the ground for as many seconds as it took me to figure out what was going on and correct it before we all died in a fiery auto crash.

So I got two wheels off the ground. Don’t know if that counts for this, but in a car with just a couple/few inches of ground clearance (we’ll call it three) I wasn’t doing any Dukes style jumping. That was pretty much the straw the broke the camel’s back too. That car (maybe) never went into the triple digits again except on the drag strip. I’m even trying to figure out a way to adapt my EEC IV in the Batmobile to give me active aero based on speed, steering angle and brake inputs. Even with a 4.10 gear, that car should do well above 250 with enough push.

Just not with me in it.