When necessity drives innovation, many good things can come from those with the ambition to create, design, produce and persevere their way into success. While the planet has been spinning in space for a few billion years, many of us have been fortunate to be here at a time bearing witness to a variety of great creations. As a TV-show jingle states, “Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall, we built the pyramids, math, science, history, it all,” like many creations, “started with a big bang.”
And while we missed out on the walls and the pyramids, we have seen our fair share of life-altering inventions come to be. From the automobile relieving horse and buggy, to the microchip relieving knowledge and strength from backbones and knuckles of the laborer, to an infinite number of uses originating at a computer keyboard instead. Within each grand invention forms a variety of sub creations to change, improve and progress with enhancements to meet current needs.
Many times, those in the beginning of change are able to continually create, design and build products from which so many will benefit. In the case of automobile power and acceleration, one of the pioneers of the industry, Bill Howell, has had an incredible effect on both the design of iconic automobile engines, and then later in life, wiring the fueling system that feeds them.
With an incredible history in engine design, then revolutionizing the electronic fuel injection within modern-day vehicles, the Howell name carries a long legacy of putting those tools, math, science and history, to very good use. Culminating with the expertise in his own company, Howell Engine Development, Bill Howell has had more influence on the cars we see on the road, and the racetrack, than many may know.
Mr. Howell’s fascination with automobiles began early in his life on the farm in Nebraska, unknowingly, as the spark to what would become a future legacy in the history of automobile and engine performance, design and manufacturing.
Throughout the 1940’s, Howell learned the basics of auto care and engine overhaul on his mother’s 1939 Plymouth. When it was finally his turn for ownership, Bill purchased his first car, a 1940 Oldsmobile six-cylinder that was financed by the man who sold it to him. “As I recall,” says Howell, “it cost a little over $300. My second car was a 1947 Chevy four-door sedan, which I hopped-up while living in the National Guard Armory in Laramie. I built a new 235 CID engine for it with all the latest California parts. That’s when I learned that everything wasn’t as advertised in the hot rod magazines. My next car was a new 1955 Chevy V8 convertible, with power pack and dual exhaust, purchased for $2400 in the fall of 1954, from a Chevy dealer in Cheyenne. It was my first experience with a long-term payment contract. I loved this car and enjoyed it as much as any I have owned. But I swapped it for a 1950 Chevy sedan in 1956 when I decided to save money for college. I sold the 1950 and bought a beauty of a 1949 Chevy fastback four-door, which I drove all through college. No more hot rods for a while!”
Then came a new 1961 Corvette purchased in May 1961 from the Chevy dealer in Laramie. It was maroon with a white convertible top. The dealer took a chance on Howell, having heard Bill would have a guaranteed job with Chevy in Detroit when he graduated college. “I paid $4500 for it and made monthly payments on it for the next three years until it was paid off,” says Bill. This would be Bill’s car until he received his first company car in his future career with Chevy in 1967.
Among other cars that the legendary engine man would own were a 1964 Corvair, a 1967 Camaro SS convertible, and the #6 1975 Cosworth Vega, bought from Chevy engineering.
Under his own self-analysis, Bill had determined there was a psychology to his early-life interest in racing and speed, related to the human experience during World War II. “With the minimum availability of gasoline,” says Bill of the times, “Mom never drove the old Plymouth over 35 mph. Consequently, anything over 40 mph seemed like we were flying! At 35, it took forever to go any place, but on the other hand, we really didn’t have any place to go. I first became interested in auto racing after going to a Saturday matinee movie in Torrington, Wyoming where I saw a midget-racing movie starring Mickey Rooney, The Big Wheel. It scared me to death!”
Bill says, his next experience was a race in Englewood, Colorado in the year 1948, followed by a midget race at Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver. “And I was hooked,” says Bill. “I spent a couple of weeks in Inglewood, at a time when street cars were still running in Denver. I could go to races via street car at Lakeside Speedway, located at the opposite end of Denver. After that they started racing 1934–37 coupe stock cars in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and I went to many of those races too. Mom was always ready to pick up and go to the races when we wanted to. In Cheyenne, about 1954 I began to get acquainted with Jack Hahn, the Wyoming sprint car champ at the time. I was just hanging around in his garage. He was building a Pikes Peak car powered by a Ford V8 with Ardun heads and when completed, I went with him to his first race up Pikes Peak in 1955 as a crew helper. Jack went on to win the BCRA championship several times and was inducted into the racing Hall of Fame at Lincoln, Nebraska in 2006. Jack and I remained good friends until his death, at home in Moran, Wyoming.”
Beyond tinkering with his friends’ and mother’s cars, a young Bill Howell also tried his hand at racing cars as well. It was 1955 when he and his local barber decided to race a stock car at the Cheyenne speedway. His barber had purchased a 1934 Ford coupe that was already a ‘race’ car. Bill was the driver and provided the mechanical work required. Howell says, “I was getting pretty well acquainted with it when I decided to take a week of vacation and go fly fishing in July at Afton, Wyoming. While I was away, a friend of mine took the racecar to the track and totaled it. So that was the end of my racing career as a driver, but certainly not as an enthusiast.”
Bill recalls of his early retirement, in 1989 TV personality, Don Johnson had an ocean-racing catamaran with 4 large MK IV supercharged engines that was having durability problems related to fuel starvation. “They developed 1100 BHP each, with 2×4 barrel carburetors on each engine,” says Bill, “and any loss of fuel pressure would cause detonation and a head gasket failure. They were built and maintained in Harold Grady’s shop in Ft. Lauderdale. Convention in those boats was to use two electric fuel pumps per engine. Holley carbs can stand only about 7 or 8 PSI fuel pressure at idle, or they will flood the engine with fuel. At speed, this fuel pressure goes down slightly with more fuel demand. This would give an occasional lean out if there was any problem in the system, or a pump malfunction. As a fix, I recommended they change to belt driven fuel pumps which would provide more fuel delivery as speed increased. This cured the problem. During this program I went to races at Marathon Key and Key West, Florida, and got to ride in the boat at a test on Lake X in Kissimmee, Florida at over 100 MPH.
people wanting to put Corvette engines into other cars. So I thought I would learn how to build wiring harnesses and maybe that’ll be a thing.”
Turns out the brilliant mind of Chevy big block development had a pretty good idea for his own endeavors as well, and Bill Howell sought out a new outlet to keep himself busy. Not only did Howell Engine Development begin in January of 1988, it did so with a substantial client intact for launch of the new business. “GM contracted us to build EFI wiring harnesses for the Buick V-6 powered Indy Light series cars. In addition to building the harnesses, we attended the race series to trouble-shoot and maintain the harnesses and ECM’s that were used.”
1993 Indy 500
“During this same period, GM paid me to follow the ASA series and promote first Pontiac, and then Chevy body styles. Buick was also actively promoting their V-6 engines and body styles. During this time, AC Delco was a major sponsor of the ASA, which was running exclusively V-6 engines: Buick, Chevy, and Ford,” says the new entrepreneur.
In 1998, Chevrolet proposed to ASA that they switch to the new Corvette LS-1 engine in basically stock configuration. They would be sealed engines with only a dry sump scavenge pump, cam change, and valve springs. ASA had been looking for an option to leave the V-6 engines, as they were getting more expensive. “We got the contract to build the wiring harnesses and service the systems at the race track. GM ran a test program throughout the 1999 season to develop the package and bulletproof it. They switched the series to the LS-1’s in 2000, and they proved to be easy to tech and bulletproof. We maintained the harnesses and provided tech support for the series until ASA sold it.”
Bill presenting Howell award money
“Also during this time period, we built and maintained the EFI wiring harnesses for the Oldsmobile based V-8 for the Indy car series when they split from CART. We worked with Ned Baker from the Chevy race group on this project.”
Bill with friend, Jack Hahn
And for the past 20 years since, Howell EFI has continued to become a household product in the name of refurb shops, conversion kits, the backyard mechanic, anyone seeking efficiencies in the motors previously listed above, and far beyond. From car rebuilds, to jeeps and off road, to powerboat performance, HOWELL EFI and harnesses not only provide custom-fitted design and harness layouts, but also customer service second to no one. Even more so, originating from an offshoot innovation forged from years of legendary history, development expertise and innovative design, Howell Engine Development is an ongoing salute to one of the pioneers of big block and performance design, immeasurable in the reach and ongoing innovations of automobile performance around the globe.
These days, one can find Bill in either his Michigan or Florida-based home, still involved in the operations at Howell Engine Development, and still providing his expertise to a variety of customers, relations and friendships he has built along the way. Hats off and limitless congratulations to Bill Howell and his son Matt for carrying on the legacy!
Not at all ready to sit back in the rocking chair of retirement and feeling he was still too young to sit around and do nothing else, Howell instead began looking ahead and observed the trends taking place around him. “I knew fuel injection was a coming thing. At that time, only the Corvette had port fuel injection – with eight injectors. There were
Howell followed the 1985 ASA series with Trickle and Miller. He did some development with Fischer engines for Miller on bore/stroke ratios, rod length, and crank overall weight. And Miller was unbeatable in most of the races. “We also did some promotion of a lower level ASA series called the ‘Grand Marquis’ series using a lesser-tuned 90 degree V-6, with lots of production parts, and Chevy Celebrity bodies. We were not able to get enough teams to participate, so it was a one-year series. Many more teams switched over to Camaro body style, as Pontiac had no participation in the series,” says the engine man.
Above: Mario Andretti test drove V-6 Corvette
Below: Line-up of Grand Marc Cars at Winchester
Below: Line-up of Grand Marc Cars at Winchester
Chevy also continued association with the Carson team in IMSA, but switched to V-8 powered Camaro in a different category with Jack Baldwin driving. “We were also developing a turbo V-6 application with Ryan Falconer for a rear engine Corvette in a category for IMSA called Prototype. That team ended up with Rick Hendricks running it. It was driven by ex-drag racer Danny Ongias and a South African driver,” says Bill.
“We also developed a Turbo V-6 Indy engine for Ongias at Indy, but ended up not racing it because of oiling problems and insufficient development time. We tested after Indy and ran 200 MPH with it. Plus Bob Frey won the sprint car division of the Copper World races with Neibel’s V-6 car in January.”
Above: Turbocharged V-6 Indy Engine Prototype
Below: Ryan Falconer at work on Turbo V-6
Chevy reentered Trans-Am racing in 1986. Bill says that, “Herb persuaded the team of Selix, Riley, and Pratt who had won several championships for Ford and Jack Roush to set up shop in Wixom, Michigan and build two V-8 Camaros for TA, with engines to be contracted from Dennis Fisher in California. Drivers were Wally Dallenbach and Jim Miller (financial backer). These cars were beautifully executed except for two features Riley carried over from Roush. The cooling system plumbing design was faulty and there was too much backpressure in the dry sump scavenge system. Both errors were pointed out to Riley before the cars were ever run, but he insisted that they worked at Roush and refused to change them. Both errors cost us race wins before the season was over. By mid year we had them build a 3rd car using V-6 power and it was introduced at the Detroit street race, driven by Greg Pickett. The V-6 car was so good that Dallenbach wanted his own before the season was over. All the engines from Fisher were outstanding.”
Dennis Fisher at his Dyno
Howell adds that as manager of the engine program, “Riley and Selix were a pain in the butt to work with.”
The 1987 Trans-Am program continued, but Howell had little to do with it. Also that year, Bob Frey won the first of four consecutive Little 500 races at Anderson, Indiana in Glen Neibel’s sprint car. Howell continued updating the editions of the Chevrolet Power catalog and attended the historic races in Laguna Seca, California.
As the mid to late 80’s set in, GM implemented a reduction in their staffing and overall workforce, and started eliminating jobs. When offered his early retirement exit from the Detroit behemoth, after 26 years of employment, Bill Howell retired from GM in September of 1987. “Chevrolet had a dynamite retirement party for me with friends from all over the US in attendance,” says the legendary engine man.
Retirement for Howell however, did not result in departing his engine expertise. Instead of tires on the ground, Bill was now helping props in the water. The following year,” says Bill, “Herb sent me to Ft. Lauderdale to look into an engine problem with a 7 liter hydroplane owned and driven by Steve David. He had recurring problems with his 465 CID MK IV engine, primarily oiling. His dry sump oiling system was improperly routed, with excessively long lines, and a terrible oil pan design too shallow due to constraints of the hull. Steve modified the hull and Herb had Pro-Motor Engr. (Chicago) build a new engine. With Reher-Morrison cylinder heads and a new oil pan, the engine was more than 150 BHP better. I also convinced Steve to run a rev-limiter to limit RPM when the boat jumped out of the water. At that time, most boat racers were afraid to use rev-limiters, as they were sure the boat would crash if it came back to the water with the activated rev-limiter. They were wrong. As part of this program, I went to hydro races at lake Wheeler, North Carolina, and Montreal, Canada helping prevent further engine failures.”
The introduction of a 229 CID Chevy V-6 in Chevelle and Monte Carlo, and a 231 CID V-6 became Buick’s only production built engine in 1978. “By design,” says Bill, “the Buick had an even firing order every 120 degrees of crank rotation. The Chevy was an Odd-fire design of 108 and 132 degrees of crank rotation. These firing orders were produced by splitting the rod journal and separating the 2 rods on it by 30 degrees (Buick) or 12 degrees (Chevy). This increased the difficulty in manufacturing a racing crankshaft and lowered the potential durability by narrowing the width of the rod bearings. Chevy had no interest in making a racing engine out of their V-6 and Buick had no choice. They no longer had a Buick V-8. In 1978 we also switched our performance engine development from McLaren Engines to a new source named Katech, started by two ex-McLaren employees John Kayl and Warren Friese, located ultimately in Clinton Township, Michigan. This gave us a more focused program which we could direct.”
Due to apparent oil shortages and major increases in the price of gasoline, GM started on a major downsizing of the fleet in 1979. “Our group started looking at performance options on V-6 engines. The 229 was not a viable candidate, but there was a 262 CID version under development (3/4 of a 350) that would be even-fire, so we started design on aluminum heads, and a box style, large plenum inlet manifold for the V-6 engines,” says Howell.
Ryan Falconer & Dyno
Buick was doing serious development on their V-6 as a turbocharged candidate for the 1980 Indy 500 race. Bill’s group began similar development with Ryan Falconer Engines in Salinas, California. Ryan had managed Indy engines for Galles racing at Indy. Hilborn did a fuel injection intake and system for the Chevy V-6, and a second team, Armstrong Mold out of Winchester, Indiana was also interested. IRL rules allowed 209 CID for the turbocharged version of stock block engines. These engines were too small for a full size Chevy V-8, but acceptable for a V-6.
Chevy checked into a major racing event in 1981 that had been run for several years, on the mile paved oval track at Phoenix, known as the Copper World Classic. The event consisted of 3 open wheel races, midget, sprint car, and Silver Crown cars, plus a late model stock car race. In the midget class any engine of six or less cylinders, no more than 200 cubic inches could be used. “This made our V-6 engine eligible for use,” says Bill. “Using a fuel injection manifold built for Indy turbo use, and a cast iron crank destroked to give us 200 CID, we had Katech build a suitable midget engine. Bob Higman built a new car for the engine, and entered it at Phoenix for the January race with Ken Schrader as driver. The car set a new track record, dominated and won the race, and was promptly outlawed for future Copper World races. But, we proved our point that the V-6 could be competitive and attracted the attention of Glen Neibel who ran a car in the sprint division. We then initiated a program with Neibel to equip a USAC legal sprint car with a larger (280+ CID) V-6 provided he could get a weight break from USAC, which he did. The car was entered into several events, driven by Larry Rice, with its most successful run as a second place finish in a 50-lap race on the mile dirt track at the Indy state fairgrounds. The advantage of the car was in the weight break, allowing higher turn speeds than the regular USAC cars.”
Neibel’s V-6 USAC Sprint Car
“During the year, we concentrated on development of the even fire 4.3 L V-6 for racing, focusing primarily on the cylinder head and intake manifold. We adopted the box plenum cross-ram design that was much easier to use than on a V-8, because the firing order alternates from side to side on the V-6. We also discovered that we could use the 4500 series Holley carb to advantage, along with the box manifold.”
“The Cavalier compact car was to be introduced in 1982, so we approached a stock car builder named Ray Dillon to see if he would build and campaign a Cavalier in the American Speed Association series. This would require ASA to agree to a 200 lb. weight break, which they did. We supplied a J-car body-in-white to Dillon, and Katech built the engines at 265 CID (4.3L),” says Bill. He continues that the car was competitive at several tracks, primarily ½ mile or less, winning one race at the Minnesota fair grounds, driven by Butch Lindley. The car was also driven several times by Pancho Carter. Ultimately, ASA decided not to let the V-6 continue beyond 1981, due to the extra cost to their owners to use both V-6 and V-8 engines. Plus, neither Ford nor Chrysler had a competitive V-6.
By 1982, ASA and other Midwest stock car circuits had begun limiting the compression ratio of their engines to 9:1, in an attempt to increase engine life. There was much concern that there was no foolproof way to verify the engine CR without disassembly of the engines. Howell says that, “In January, we got a call from the promoter at New Smyrna, Florida, wanting to borrow a device used by GM to measure compression ratio without engine disassembly. It induces air to the combustion chamber with the piston at top dead center, through the spark plug hole, and creates a sound that can be measured in frequency to determine the volume. GM was not willing to loan their device, but I was able to locate a cruder portable device that lab technician, Ken Sperry had developed. I arranged to send it to New Smyrna and went there during Daytona speed weeks to demonstrate it. Later, with demonstration in several engines of different CRs we proved the accuracy of the device. In the summer, Katech and I approached the ASA to see if they would finance development of a more sophisticated device that would be easier to use, and could be marketed as THE WHISTLER. This device has proved its utility and several hundred have been manufactured and sold to racing tracks and teams all across America.” At first NASCAR opposed the device, as they thought their competitors could probably cheat it, however, now they also use it.
“We also continued serious development at Katech on the 4.3L V-6,” says Bill. “While investigating a main bearing wear problem, we discovered an improvement in the transfer of oil flow from the main oil galleries to the connecting rods, via the main bearing oil supply. We relayed this information to the 2.8L V-6 engine group who used it to solve one of their problems, and it was also incorporated in the V-8 LS series of engines when they were designed.”
“We also discovered we could go to a complete odd-fire configuration on the 90 degree V-6, allowing us to run regular V-8 connecting rods side by side on a common rod journal. This gave us a firing sequence of 90-150 degrees allowing us to manufacture billet and steel forged crankshafts for increased performance and durability. Thanks to Moldex Crankshaft Co for this,” say Howell.
Bob Frey & Tom Steyer
“In 1982, we sponsored a team in the IMSA Kelly American series of road racing. The team was owned by Bob Carson and the car driven by Craig Carter. The car was a 1982 Camaro. Using Katech-built V-6 engines, we were able to capture the series championships for 3 consecutive years, 82-84. Also in ‘82, Bob Frey in Glen Neibel’s sprint car, won the sprint portion of the Copper World Classic in January.”
Howell says, “We solved a recurring cylinder head gasket leakage problem on the Small Block V-8 with a new head gasket incorporating a steel O-ring inside the armor around each cylinder bore opening. We cooperated with Fel-Pro Company on this, as they were the manufacturer of choice on the head gasket developed for the Oldsmobile diesel engine in 1980. This had been a major problem in NASCAR and other high load series. Acceptance of the new gasket was difficult until Wadell Wilson, DiGard’s engine builder chose to use it.”
Due to the NASCAR team’s reluctance to adopt the Monte Carlo body style, GM decided to design an aerodynamic nose for the car and a new nose configuration was designed and tested in the GM wind tunnel at full size in 1982. “Through an arrangement with DiGard, they built a car that could run either nose and we tested it at Talladega speedway,” says Howell. “The new nose was worth about 8 MPH in top speed, and it was decided to incorporate it as a Monte Carlo option in 1983. A build of 6,000 cars was scheduled with two body colors and one interior color. It was a great success on the racetrack and in the dealerships. Many more than 6,000 were sold. This sequence of events convinced GM management that brand image around racing was significant.
Turbo V-6 Corvette Prototype
In 1983, a number of NASCAR teams switched to Monte Carlo. “To my knowledge,” says Bill, “we were not supporting any of them with parts or money. We continued in road racing (Kelly series) and won the championship. Vince Piggins retired during the year, and Herb Fishel was moved from Buick back to Chevy to run the performance departments. We were doing some turbo V-6 for Corvette prototype racing, and naturally aspirated 2.8L V-6 development with Ryan Falconer for off road truck racing. I coordinated this on trips to California. We also started developing a turbo V-6 Indy engine at 209 CID with Ryan using new aluminum block and head castings.”
By the mid 80’s, the American Speed Association competitors had been using Pontiac Firebird body styles as their body of choice due to a lower and more streamlined nose configuration, even though they were all running Chevy engines. Herb contacted Dick Trickle in 1984, and Howell contacted Butch Miller teams to see if they would switch to Camaro body style if Chevy picked up their engine costs. They were agreeable. Trickle was using engines from a Chicago builder (Ron Neal, Prototype Engines), and Miller from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Howell says, “We switched Miller over to Dennis Fischer, from California. Needless to say, they both continued winning as before. Both teams ran ARTGO races as well as ASA. This gave us a familiarity with Fischer as a new builder. We also decided to support a 1984 Indy Car program with AJ Foyt to run a Falconer-built turbo V-6 209 CID engine at the Indy 500. We ran into ignition problems, and crankshaft unbalance problems that terminated our program before the first qualifying day. Johnny Rutherford was the selected driver. The crank problem turned out to be caused by the distribution of counterbalance weights on the V-6 crank, which had also been affecting our naturally aspirated race engines. By adding counterweights to the center throws of the crank, we cured a condition that overloaded the second and third main bearings in the engine at high speeds. Thanks to Moldex Crankshaft Co for this fix, he welded up a test crank to prove the principal. Sherman Armstrong in Winchester also attempted to run Indy with a turbo V-6 that they developed. Greg Leffler was their driver. We won the Kelly American series again, too.”
In 1968, Bill followed Trans-Am and Can-Am races. “We sold a number of pre-production aluminum 427 MK IV engines to several Cam-Am race teams. These cylinder blocks were cast using temporary pattern equipment that had formerly been used to cast the Chaparral engines by R&D,” says Bill. About this same time, Yunick had been working with Chevy R&D to develop a competitive Chevelle for use in NASCAR racing. “I don’t recall the details, but Curtis Turner drove it in at least one race, and it was destroyed in a wreck and never rebuilt.”
“In 1967, McLaren maintained their engines from Al Bartz’ shop in California. TRACO built and maintained the engines for Penske from California. The first TA race was the 24 Hours of Daytona. With primary driver Mark Donahue, we led the race off and on, but were hampered by slow brake pad changes and got behind the Fords. At 4:00 in the morning, we experienced overheating from a cracked cylinder head, which resulted in a 3-hour pit stop to change it. This had been a recurring failure, which we had not yet solved.”
Thereafter, Bill Howell was able to develop a successful vacuum assist to the braking system that solved the slow brake-change problems, which they put to the test during the Sebring 12-hour race in Florida. “We dominated the TA portion of the race, finishing first and second with Penske-entered Camaros. At all of these races, my job was to connect with other Chevrolet-based competitors to give advice and observe any component problems they may have had.”
The Yunick Camaro was entered and driven by Lloyd Ruby, but had a terminal engine problem after about 4 hours and was withdrawn.
“After the first regular TA race, Donahue felt that his Camaro could be improved in the handling department. We arranged for them to bring the car to the GM proving grounds at Milford, Michigan for a few days of testing,” Bill says. By setting up round and rectangular skid pads, Donahue and an instrumentation team from R&D were able to significantly improve the cornering performance and the Penske cars dominated the remainder of the ‘68 season, also winning the championship. “I attended most of the races to tune the carburetors and provide feedback on component durability and performance. One of the major difficulties in Trans-Am was the requirement to run the production oil pan. The Camaro’s oil pan had the major part of the sump in the rear, where oil would normally flow under acceleration.” Notably, the Ford Mustangs, due to chassis design had their sump toward the front of the engine and suffered oil starvation under acceleration, which caused them many engine failures.”
Using the new aluminum 427’s, McLaren dominated the Can-Am series. They developed their own engine hardware including the Lucas-based fuel injection, intake manifolds and dry sump oiling systems. The majority of Chevy-powered Can-Am competitors used similar systems. The only problem experienced by the new Al engines was confined to cylinder liners not being firmly seated when they were initially installed. During the winter of 1968, McLaren built a new engine facility in Livonia, Michigan named McLaren Engines, headed by George Boltoff, formerly a TRACO employee. It had a new Heenan & Freude dyno, and was state of the art for 1968 outside of the major auto manufacturer facilities.
1968 Tulsa TA, Donahue and Bill’s brother
“Also that same year,” says Howell, “the Chevy dealer in Colorado Springs contacted us seeking assistance in the stock car portion of the Pikes Peak hill climb event. We had Smokey Yunick build a performance 427 MK IV engine to loan him and we supplied a prototype slap shifter for the transmission. The entire hill climb event lasts about a week, with practice every morning from daylight to 8:00 AM. Vince sent me out to oversee the engine tuning. The car was fastest on qualification day, but the shifter broke during the hill climb, so it was not a complete success.”
Again using temporary pattern equipment the following year, a new Al MK IV cylinder block cast was produced that would allow larger bores and more engine displacement, or a shorter stroke at the same displacement (430 CID). “We supplied them to, and sold them to other Can-Am competitors. McLaren again dominated the series, winning the championship. The majority of engine builders were using fully machined connecting rods manufactured by Carillo Ind. Some of them were experiencing fatigue failure of the bolts. McLaren had tried several bolt sources without success, so they came to us for help. We arranged for Standard Pressed Steel (an aerospace source) to do two sample designs using H-11 tool steel and Multiphase 35 (an aerospace alloy).” Fatigue testing proved their design superior in either alloy, and the racing connecting rod industry has universally adopted MP-35 as the alloy of choice for rod bolts. The alloy has another catchy name or two attached to it now by the con rod makers.
Smokey’s engine in 1968 Pikes Peak, Chevy Dealer in Colorado Springs
In 1969 Roger Penske’s team with Mark Donahue as primary driver, again dominated the Trans-Am. “In cooperation with TRACO we were able to refine their rebuild procedures and gain additional power through the season,” says Bill. “Typical TA engine power level by the end of season was about 450 BHP from 302 CID small block. We authorized Gene White Firestone to build and maintain another Camaro for the series, headquartered out of Atlanta, driven by NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton, and maintained by Jim Ruggles. It raced in a Daytona preliminary race in February (driven by Lloyd Ruby) in competition with a factory mustang driven by Parnelli Jones. It was competitive, however not successful during the TA season.”
Ford introduced their BOSS 302 engine in ‘69 and it had significantly more top end power, but with their cross-ram intake design, Chevy had a better torque curve, allowing them to be competitive. “Our driver, Donahue, made the difference,” exclaims Howell. “Again in 1969, I attended most of the races, and tuned the engines when no TRACO personnel were there. In 1969 or 70, our group was relocated to the R&D area of Chevrolet Engineering, as they were no longer involved in the Chapparal program. This gave us access to our own machining facilities and additional personnel. I also spent some time at Chris-Craft boats in Ft. Lauderdale, assisting them in adapting a performance 302 V8 engine to one of their 18 foot runabouts.”
Due to impending nationwide emission regulations, the 1970’s began with all GM facilities involved in reduced emission engine and vehicle development and Howell’s group had to step aside, losing access to their dynamometer facilities. “For performance engine development we were now forced to contract our work outside the GM Corp. Initially, we used McLaren Engines in Livonia, as we had verified the accuracy of their equipment.” Bruce McLaren was killed in a Can-Am vehicle-testing program in England, in the Spring. In addition to Can-Am, McLaren was now competing successfully in Indy car racing using turbocharged Offenhauser engines.
McLaren again dominated Can-Am racing with drivers Dennis Hulme, Peter Revson, and occasionally Dan Gurney. By now most teams were running at 494 CID and Chevy personnel were developing castings and pistons for use of A390 aluminum alloy. “These engines could run without cylinder liners or sleeves,” says Bill, “and promised greater durability at large displacements. I followed development of this and the sale and distribution of parts to the race teams. A390 aluminum alloy was scheduled to be used in production of the soon-to-be introduced Vega small car, and using it in Can-Am was to advertise its ability.”
The Penske Trans-Am program opted to switch to American Motors and run Javelins in 1970. “We contracted Jim Hall of Midland, Texas to run TA with 2 of the new 1970 Camaros. They built their own race engines. Hall drove one car, and Ed Leslie the second car. The rules for 1970 required the use of NASCAR style, 11 gallon, fuel dump cans which slowed down pit stops and allowed time for tire changes. Because of this, I developed a system to glue the lug nuts to the new wheels using 3M rubber cement. This eliminated physically handling the lug nuts individually and greatly quickened tire changes. We kept this system secret for most of the season, but it was later adopted by NASCAR, universally decreasing pit stop delays. (First used by Mario Rossi and the DiGard team). Our TA season was less than successful due to team expertise and some engine failures.” 1970 also marked the introduction of power steering to the TA. Ford won the championship with Parnelli Jones and George Fulmer driving. This was the last year of factory Chevy participation in TA.
Bill says, “once the corporation decided that maybe racing wasn’t all bad and it wasn’t going to cost them all their profits, Chevrolet decided that they wanted to keep their heavy-duty performance parts in the catalog after all, so consumers could buy from a dealer.”
Also about this same time, Smokey Yunick embarked on a project to run a carbureted twin-turbo small block Chevy at Indianapolis in the 500. “Herb Fishel in our group, followed that program,” claims Bill. “It was not successful due to the high g-forces on the low-pressure fuel in the carburetor.”
With the success of the Monte Carlo, other NASCAR teams switched to that design in 1973, but Johnson’s was the only Chevrolet supported team. Cale Yarborough drove their Monte to second place in the season standings. Chevy then became interested in NASCAR engine development and returned to their high performance programs, keeping much abreast of the sport and the goings on.
With the coming advent of the Vega, GM had contracted Cosworth Engineering of England to develop a 2 liter racing version using a Cosworth-designed cylinder head, and the Vega cylinder block in hopes it might be competitive in Formula 2 European racing and US midget car racing. “As part of the contract, they were to deliver three complete, race ready engines to us,” says Bill of his return to racing duties. “My job was to investigate the performance at McLaren, seek a competitive user in the US, and evaluate the potential for success in this country. The engines were dry sump with a Lucas-based, timed fuel injection, twin cam with four valves per cylinder. Cosworth designed the oil pan, oil pump, cylinder head, fuel injection (Lucas) and internal parts, including gas filled o-ring seals between head and cylinder block.”
“Through a friend in Dayton, Ohio (Marion Tucker), I was able to contact the Shannon Brothers, who owned a Buick dealership, and fielded a competitive USAC midget race car. Their mechanic and car builder was Bob Higman in Lafayette, Indiana. We were able to install a Cosworth built engine in their car and race it in a special race in Pocono, Pennsylvania and at the Thanksgiving race at Los Angeles. With John Rutherford driving, the engine and car were competitive, and we also learned that magnesium and methanol are not compatible. It ate holes in the oil pan on the way back from LA,” says Bill. “As development continued, we gradually replaced all Cosworth designed parts with US designs to make the engine practical in the US. Working with another car owner from the St. Louis area, Gene Hamilton, we continued development and won some races with Kenny Schrader driving. In the end the engine turned out too expensive for USAC midget racing and never sold well.”
The Cosworth Vega (US version) was scheduled to debut in 1974, but was delayed in production until 1975. It was a pleasant combination of performance and handling, all with 4-speed manual transmissions. Each one had a dash plate with its production number on it. Total production was about 3600 units. Howell provided a write-up on
build instructions and special parts for the Cosworth, and it was featured on the cover of the first official publication of the Chevrolet Power catalog introduced in 1974. Bill’s group continued various experiments on the Vega, to ultimately determine that it was not too impressive. Cale Yarborough won the NASCAR championship in Jr. Johnson’s Monte Carlo.
When the production version of Cosworth Vega was introduced in 1975, Howell had a turbocharged version in their group. “This was prior to wastegated versions, and digital electronic, but it was impressive in its operations nonetheless,” says Bill.
NASCAR restricted big block engines to the point that most competitors chose to switch to 358 CID small blocks. “Though we had done some 350 development in NASCAR trim at McLaren’s,” says Bill, “we were not aware of any particular shortcomings. I attended the 1975 Daytona 500 with Vince Piggins, to see the state of performance and development. Our performance was okay, but at least seven Chevy-powered cars had engine failures in the race. Upon return, we immediately started investigating components in this environment. We ultimately decided to prepare six complete engines that we would loan out to competitors in 1976 and learn first-hand what needed to be changed. The Ford teams had a box type intake manifold with a large plenum that appeared to have more power than the Chevrolets. Jr. Johnson lobbied NASCAR to let him design and have manufactured a similar intake for Chevy, on the condition that any Chevy team could buy one from him. Intake manifold design was virtually unregulated at that time. We purchased six units from Johnson for our 1976 development and durability engines. Along with the intakes, the carbs were free (limited to a maximum bore size at the mounting flange). Through our testing of various combinations, we determined that fuel and air mixture distribution was going to be a problem, so we developed various modifications to the carb that looked acceptable on the dyno.”
“In 1976, we loaned our NASCAR durability engines to Jr. Johnson, AJ Foyt, DiGard Racing, CooCoo Marlin and James Hylton before Daytona in February,” says Bill. “At Daytona, it became apparent that the centrifugal force in the turns was altering the mixture distribution seriously and only a couple engines were included in the race. Returning to McLaren, we mounted a development engine at a 45-degree angle on the dyno, simulating 1g cornering forces. We were then able to correct the mixture problem with grooves and dams in the manifold. As an added benefit, we discovered that the stock floats in the Holley carb were restricting fuel flow at cornering loads. I was able to alter the float shape to correct the problem, and this change was adopted by Holley as a float option in their parts list. As the 1976 NASCAR season progressed, we were able to tear down and evaluate engines with enough miles on them, to sort out several durability improvements. One of significance was the size of the water cooling line from the engine to the radiator top tank. The car builders had been using a #16 Aeroquip hose for this purpose, and it was restricting water flow enough that the rear four pistons in the engines were showing cracks on teardown. This was discovered on our DiGard durability test engine. We continued to do all of our development testing at McLaren
Engines in Livonia. Most NASCAR teams were now running the current model Monte Carlo on shorter tracks and Chevelles at Daytona on longer tracks.”
Chevrolet did not sponsor teams beyond the Jr. Johnson team, as it was not necessary due to Chevy product performance, and the fact that they were already winning the championship.
In addition to performance engine work, Howell was responsible for all the engine instructions and most of the part numbers in the rewrites of the Chevrolet Power catalog, revised every other year or so. Bill says, “I also fielded phone calls from many of the racing engine builders around the country who specialized in Chevrolet engines whether circle track or road race, but not many drag racers. Ron Sperry, in our group, catered to the drag racers.”
Drivers meeting ASA
In the mid to late 1970’s, Chevy began to pay attention to the smaller organizations running organized short track racing such as ASA, ARCA, ARTGO in the Midwest, and ACT, in the New England area, as they were primary users of Chevy’s heavy duty performance parts. “Since ASA was the most predominant in the Midwest,” says Bill, “In 1977 I contacted Rex Robbins, who headed the organization, in an attempt to become familiar with their series and competitors. They and most of the other series had recently restricted their engine compression ratios to 9.5:1, and were struggling to find a foolproof inspection method to prevent cheating on CR. This began a long relationship between various GM divisions and ASA with component and brand sponsorships that helped maintain GM as the predominant brand in short track racing. We maintained contact in various ways until ASA was sold after 2002. We were also requested by Chevy Truck to look into off-road and truck racing in the Western US, so I took a trip to California to visit the off-road manufacturers and watch an event at Riverside. This familiarized us with their requirements. This put us in contact with Joe McPherson Chevy and Ron Shaver engines on the West coast. We were already acquainted with the Champion Dyno facility in Long Beach through TRACO Engineering. Over the years, I met and visited the majority of engine builders and shops in California.”
Above: Jack Ingraham
Below: Darrel Waltrip and sportsman V6 car
GM downsized all its intermediate cars in 1978. The Monte Carlo was now a boxy shape, and the Chevelle had a flat nose on it. NASCAR extended the eligibility of the older Monte Carlo’s for a couple of years, but most GM oriented teams switched to either Buick or Oldsmobile sheet metal to gain a more sloped nose with better down force. “Since Chevrolet was not investing a great amount of money in NASCAR racing,” says Bill, “we had no clout with the race teams. Buick however, was now helping Jr. Johnson and a couple of other teams to get their sheet metal out front and improve their performance image.”
Bill continued basic development and routine testing of the MK II components for their performance and durability as provided by the various designers at Chevy.
Due to deficiencies in the basic design of the MK II, a second, slightly different design came along, designated the MK IV. The Mark II’s originally had the same crankshaft, main- and rod-bearing diameters of the 409 engines. They also had 2 bolt main bearing caps in all positions and you couldn’t swap heads from side-to-side since they were designed with a right and a left orientation. All the MK II engines also had a 4 5/16” bore, including the 396’s. The 427 MK IV’s all have 4 ¼” bores, and the 396’s have a smaller bore with the same stroke length as the 427’s. They also have a larger main and rod journal diameters with 4 bolt main bearing caps for better torsional strength. Howell found that due to the different bore/stroke designs, the MK II’s had less internal friction than the MK IV’s and slightly better power with similar accessories.
Test car garage, Wendover UT 1964
Howell and his team started MK IV testing in late 1963, into early 1964. While testing was being done with lower-performance passenger car designs by other test engineers, Howell provided testing for all the mechanical lifter designs, both racing and street versions, and developing their components. He also did testing on oil pans and exhaust systems specifically for adapting the MK IV to the Corvette chassis, to be debuted in 1965.
1964 Stock Car on ½ mi dirt track
“In my off-hours,” says Howell, “I and four other employees at Chevy decided to build and field a short track car at the local ½ mile dirt track in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. It was based around a ‘57 Chevy sedan body with a small block engine. We hired a driver and paid him a percentage of the winnings. We competed for two years, and then sold the car to the driver. It was a great learning experience.”
As well as MK IV testing, he was assigned various short term responsibility for cold room tests, high ambient tests on a rolling dyno on a Corvair adaptation, various oil economy testing, and valve train tests on the original version of the Optron.
In the history of engine analysis and development, Bill says one of the many things he enjoyed in his career was working with the first samples of the Optron. With the Optron machine, engineers and mechanics now had the ability to view the motion of a valve at high speed. At the time, with only a strobe light to evaluate characteristics of camshafts and valve-springs, it was very difficult to accurately study more than the valve bounce.
1964 Stock car gang
Howell explains that “an Optron reflects light off of a polished edge – like on a valve spring cap. You don’t have to have a running engine, and you can cut away part of the head and actually watch the edge of the valve. It transfers that motion onto an oscilloscope. With this, you can watch the electronic trace on an oscilloscope to see the valve profile. It should follow the camshaft profile up and down, but as soon as you get to higher speeds it quits following the camshaft perfectly and starts bouncing when it seats or lifts off the lobe when it goes over the nose of the camshaft.”
Bill says that “I ran the very first Optron that ever came to Chevrolet engineering back in the early 60’s, and the room had to be absolutely dark. The thing was set up on a surveyor’s tripod, and if you bumped it, you lost a half a day’s work trying to get it lined up again. We made the set up a lot better as years went by. They may have something that’s beyond the Optron now, I don’t know what it is because I kinda lost track of it. But that was a magical instrument in those days.”
In 1965, Bill was assigned as primary test engineer for a prototype 6-cylinder diesel engine under design and development. “I attended a 1-week diesel school in Hartford, Connecticut on the Roosa-Master FI system,” he says. The diesel 6-banger was not developed to completion however, and was cancelled by the GM corporate executives. In the mid 60’s Howell continued development on MK IV designs, while the high performance aficionados gathered feedback on testing completed under contract by Smokey Yunick in his shop in Daytona, Florida, primarily on the MK IV engine. Howell recalls, “That’s when we tried replacing the Holley sourced 4 barrel carb with the GM Rochester designed Quadrajet carb, but due to its unique design, it was inferior, so we stayed with the Holley.”
While Bill continued routine development on performance engines, primarily intake manifolds with various carb combinations, Corvette began wanting a 3X2 barrel carb design. Howell mentions this design did not perform any better than a Holley 4 barrel, but looked like it did. The interest also spurred Howell’s development for a large plenum 2X4 carb intake manifold for the MK IV, but there was no immediate application for it.
Bill was also involved with the RPO L-88 427 CID engine released in 1966 as one of the most popular big-block engines in Chevrolet’s history. While the aluminum-headed 427 was only offered in production vehicles between 1967 and 1969, it remains a highly sought after design incorporating best components developed to that time.
Graham Hill, winner of 1966 Indy
1967 Trans-Am rules required a single 4 barrel carb, but Chevy staff knew that next year 2×4 barrel designs were going to be allowed so the MK IV team donated their 2×4 barrel, cross-ram intake manifold carb design for use on the high-performance version of the 302 CID V-8. Chevy also started development on their 454 CID MK IV with open chamber aluminum cylinder heads, finally reaching 600 BHP on their development engine.
Bill says, “We had good performance engines sitting on the shelves, because we had been doing this development. We started sticking them in Chevelles, Corvettes, and whatever else, as soon as we could.”
In July 1967, Bill’s career moved him out of the test lab when he was promoted to the Chevrolet Product Performance group, the unofficial racing arm of Chevy, under direction of Vince Piggins (a.k.a. the father of the Z/28). “My primary job was taking telephone calls from individuals seeking information on Chevy performance engine products,” says Bill. “I also moved into helping and advising magazine writers on the subjects they were writing about, and produced information pamphlets on performance parts and how to use them. I also received a company car when my job in the field became interfacing with the Camaro Trans-am team of Roger Penske and Mark Donahue to see how we could help them in the engine department. I visited TRACO Engineering in Culver City, California to familiarize myself with their procedures.”
During the 1967 SCCA Trans-am season, Chevy’s Camaros were plagued with brake and chassis problems that limited them to one win during the season. Howell was sent to Daytona in September to get familiar with Yunick’s operation and help him finish preparing two small-block 302 V-8 and two 396 big block engines. They would be used in two Camaros for record speed trials at the Bonneville, Utah salt flats to be run a month later, October 15th to 27th. Howell states that, “In all, we ended up with 266 records in Class C (183-305 CID) and class B (305-488 CID). These runs were supervised by USAC, and run on both 10 mile straight away and 12-mile oval courses laid out by USAC. Drivers
were Curtis Turner, Mickey Thompson, and Bunkie Blackburn. I attended the week of tests to evaluate component performance and durability and assist with engine maintenance. In later years when Yunick wrote his autobiography, I was referred to as a “pain in the ass from Detroit.”
Toward the year’s end of ’67, the Penske team conducted a 24-hour durability test at the Daytona speedway with cars and drivers supplied by Penske and Yunick in preparation for the annual 24 hour Daytona race to be run in January 1968. “In 1968, the 24 hour event was included in the Trans-Am series by the SCCA,” says Bill. “This was the first vehicle testing of the 2X4 cross-ram intake manifold under race conditions, and I was there to tune and adjust it. As I remember, top speeds were in the 165 MPH range. The Penske tests were successful for 24 hrs. Yunick’s car destroyed its exhaust system due to its design and that testing was terminated.”
“In the fall of 1967, Bruce McLaren and other principals of his team came to Chevrolet at our invitation, to discuss their future with Chevrolet in the SCCA CAN-AM series, run in the fall of each year in the USA. They had won the series championship in ‘67 with small block Chevy engines in their cars and had been solicited by Ford to change to Ford supplied engines. We offered to supply them with the 427 CID aluminum MK IV engines similar to those being used by the Chapparal team from Midland, Texas. Chevrolet R&D supported Jim Hall and Chapparal on a separate program not under our control. I believe our support was engines only. My responsibility was to liaison with McLaren and follow the hardware for their support.”
“The Chaparral stuff was done in what we called R&D, and they were behind locked doors. They did run their stuff on the same dynamometer as we did, so we were a little aware of what they were doing. Although the general public, the news media, and the trade magazines were not.”
With his short-lived racing career in the past as well as a pending divorce from his first wife, whom he met while living in Laramie and married in 1953, Bill decided he didn’t want a desk job with the state of Wyoming for the rest of his life. He decided he needed to change careers. He knew he liked being a mechanic better than anything else, but he didn’t want to lie on his back under a dirty old car for a career. Bill ‘deductively’ decided a mechanical engineer must be a high-class mechanic, and that was the right choice for him. “I determined I had to go to college,” says Bill. “I traded off my new car, took a semester of advanced algebra at the local high school to qualify, and started putting money in the bank for tuition. At that time I was paying $30 per month for a furnished room, and $2 per day for food. I was taking home about $300 per month, so I could save about $150 per month.”
Bill was serving with the Wyoming National Guard at the time but would not be able to rise above the rank of Master Sergeant in his current role. In 1957 he quit his job with the Adjutant General, so he could be promoted to second Lieutenant and go to artillery school before college. “I was now an officer and assigned with my high school friend, Jim Hawk, to a new artillery unit in Cheyenne. We attended the artillery school together, and I graduated in the top 5 of my class, and second in Gunnery, which was the toughest phase. I was very proud of this accomplishment, as many Wyoming guardsmen before me had failed Gunnery.”
In addition to Howell’s interest in cars, he also grew fond of firearms and weaponry during his tenure in the National Guard. “In my lifetime, I have fired a variety of rifles, pistols and cannons,” says Bill. Starting with his Daisy BB gun, on to a 22 rifle, 30-30 Winchester carbine, 30.06 army rifle, 30 caliber carbine, 35 Remington automatic, several 12-gauge shotguns, several pistols including a 45 caliber automatic, 50 caliber machine gun, as well as the 75mm, 105mm and 155mm howitzers, both trailed and self-propelled. In 1956 Howell was selected along with six others to represent the Wyoming National Guard at the national pistol matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. “I didn’t get selected for my skill, but instead, because I was available and I had a blast learning to shoot a 45 automatic pistol. While there, I took a ferry boat across Lake Erie to Leamington, Canada and had the opportunity to go to a USAC sprint car race at new Bremen, Ohio. It’s a trip I have never forgotten,” says Bill.
In 1957, with $2000 in his savings account, Bill moved back to Laramie to go to the University of Wyoming, and lived with Ken and Arvilla Shappell, his ex in-laws. During his college studies, Bill was also looking ahead to future employment opportunities and seeking jobs while in college. Among his outreach he had sent resumes to several automotive companies, ironically none to Ford or Chrysler. He received a favorable reply from Chevy Engineering in Warren, Michigan. Both John Deere (Dubuque, Iowa) and Chevrolet (Detroit, Michigan) flew Bill to their HQ locations for personal interviews. As a fairly obvious choice, when Chevy offered Howell the job, he accepted immediately, choosing cars over tractors.
“The trip to Dubuque was my first experience with commercial flying, and I flew to Chicago via a DC-6 with four propeller engines. It was noisy and took forever; nothing like current jet travel. This all occurred in November and December 1960, providing me the assurance of a job by the year’s end.”
During his years in college, Howell learned to arc and gas weld, run basic machine tools and a lathe, and as a senior classman, he completed his power lab project on an engine dynamometer. “It was an old flat head Ford V-8 hooked to an electric Dyno,” says Howell of his senior project, “comparing gasoline vs. methanol fuels. I suggested the project to my advisor, also head of the Mechanical Engineering department, Professor Bob Sutherland. He made me agree to submit a paper to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers describing the project before he would approve it.” The mandate turned out to be a beneficial move for the college senior, because not only did Bill get an A on the project, he also won the ASME paper contest at UW. He presented the paper at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which he also won and thereby received an all expenses paid trip to LA in June 1961, to present his paper there as well.
“Since the Chevy dealer in Laramie had let me take possession of my new Corvette at the time, Professor Sutherland and I took it to LA for the ASME contest, and we had a great time. We hit Las Vegas at 4 o’clock in the morning and were awestruck by the lights. As we approached, we could see the Vegas brightness popping out of the desert surroundings, from at least 50 miles away. We also went to Disneyland, which was fairly new then. This was my first exposure to smog in LA, which was horrible at the time. It dimmed the sun, almost like a cloudy condition, and burned your eyes and nose. Coming down the hill into San Bernardino from Las Vegas, the whole valley that was Los Angeles and now the inland empire, looked like it was in a fog bank. On the return trip through the hot desert, with no air-conditioning, we learned that cold watermelon was a better thirst quencher than water or soda,” says Howell.
After graduating mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming in 1961, Bill kicked off his automotive influence as a novice engineer at Chevrolet. His legendary tenure spanned from 1961 to 1987, operating as one of the core team members in the development of the new big block Chevy motor (replacing the 409). Literally, in this case, a design with 8 cylinders of unique layout formed in the minds of designers and engineers at General Motors creating a big block engine that would produce more muscle in the cars coming off the line in Detroit. Bill was knee-deep in the history-making endeavors to do so. “Because of my intense interest in these types of engines, I was able to do a good job, and my whole time spent as a test engineer was in high-performance engine development.”
Bill Howell began his career at General Motors as an apprentice for Chevrolet Engineering on the dynamometer, where he learned all of the products from one end to the other via GM testing and development. “From July of 1961 to July 62, I apprenticed in the engine dyno cells, at a salary of $500 per month” says Howell, of his startup with the company. “I started by learning the standard GM engine tests and getting acquainted with all the various Chevrolet engines and test facilities, in both development and durability. We had 21 dyno cells at Chevy, with durability dyno cells typically running 3 shifts, 24 hours a day and on Saturday. Development ran one or two shifts depending on the urgency of development.”
And while GM had officially exited racing development in 1957, much of the influence from NASCAR played into their schema for design and horsepower fitting the engine into Corvettes and Camaros and full sized cars. Bill says that at the time, “The Mark I 409 was running a Carter AFB, the biggest carburetor that Carter made in a 4-barrel. The engine made about 425 horsepower,” (as measured on the dyno back in 1961, which would be less by today’s standards). Built originally as a truck motor, Chevy’s 409 didn’t adapt well as a passenger or performance engine.
After only one year working in the dyno cells, Chevy needed a test engineer for the newly designed V-8 engine, and they promoted Howell to test engineer. “It was a dream job that I could not have anticipated,” says the Chevy newbie, at the time.
Bill explains that the test engineer wrote up the instructions for the engine test to be performed, analyzed the data, and then determined what to test next, in coordination with the wishes of the design engineer. “This was a job from heaven, as all the early development on the engine was as a racing variant, and mechanical lifter 427 CID that would be eligible to race in NASCAR if the ‘big wheels’ in management decided to.”
Assigned to oversee development of their next big block engine, designated the MK II, Howell was entrenched in the urgent Chevy program running two shifts and Saturdays. “Initial concept for the engine was maximum power,” says Howell, “designed to be legal under current NASCAR rules. This program introduced Holley carburetors, high-performance mechanical lifters, tuned exhaust with 4 pipes to a collector on each bank, fresh air from vehicle cowl, and high overlap camshafts, plus an increase to 12:1 compression ratio and 427 cubic inches of displacement. In all, we gained 125 BHP and 400 RPM increase in the operating range.”
In November of 1962, the Chevy collective spent three weeks testing at their 5-mile circle test track at GM’s desert proving grounds in Mesa, Arizona. Bill and Rex White’s team members dropped the new 427 in the modern-day NASCAR vehicle, a 1963 Impala, built and maintained by Rex White and crew. “From the 409 baseline of 157 MPH, we worked up to 173 MPH,” says Howell.
Along the way his team discovered a number of parameters that needed improvement such as mixture distribution, compression ratio, carburetor design, air filter design, etc. that kept them busy through the end of 1962.
Once the improvements were completed, they returned to the Desert PG in January of 1963, running durability testing to verify their work. “We were now at 177 MPH,” says Bill, “and we ran 430 miles at full speed before experiencing a valve train failure due to a defective chrome coating on an intake valve causing it to stick.”
In addition to the increased volume of the engine’s pistons, Bill says, “the basic difference from the 409 was that the decks were now at right angles to the bores. The cylinder heads had the valves arranged like the later Mark IV design, where they come in at two angles instead of just straight in and down into the bores.” Howell continues, “The Mark II’s originally had the same crankshaft, main and rod-bearing diameters as the 409 engine. Also, you couldn’t swap heads from side to side. They were designed with a right and a left orientation. We kept developing that engine right up into 1964, then we started development of the Mark IV.”
In 1963, team Chevy supplied engines to Ray Fox, Smokey Yunick, and Rex White for their Daytona Race cars. Howell says, “An engine also went to an independent competitor named Farr, one to Ford Motor Company, and two were used by Mickey Thompson in two special pre-production Corvettes for a preliminary Daytona race in early February. I was not involved in the race programs at this time, however, I paid my own way to Daytona to see the results. Only one car (Yunick’s) completed the race, and it was a lap down due to a minor spin out.” Howell continues, “There were probably 15 of our engines running in NASCAR over that summer. As people wore them out, Chevrolet was not allowed to provide additional engine parts. Junior Johnson (Ray Fox car) was the only one to complete the season in 1963, and won the championship with a Mark II. But that was pretty much the end of it until GM officially returned to NASCAR around 1972.”
Further supporting Chevy’s official exclusion from racing, corporate followed with a mandate in 1963 to focus on intermediate sized cars restricting engines to 400 CID maximum. Rumors were spreading that NASCAR was going to a 396 cubic-inch limit, and Chevy’s engine group started building the Mark II as a 396. “This put us at about the 515 BHP level. Yunick built a NASCAR spec prototype 1964 Chevelle and we tested it at Fort Stockton, Texas (Firestone test track) in the fall of 1963. It ran 178 MPH with Firestone contract Indy car driver, Chuck Hulse, driving.”
It’s more than a wave from the driver – It’s a way of life! Ask almost any of the Jeepers and they will tell you they have their own approach to their vehicles and the Jeep came along to fill that need! In its infancy, the off-road mode of military transportation helped win wars, but in modern day use from daily driver to off-road play toy, the Jeep has come to be one of the foremost, recognizable and certainly one of the most customizable vehicles on the road (road, trails, dirt, dunes, beaches, on and on!).
Just as Indianapolis houses the IRL industry, Charlotte houses NASCAR, Phoenix houses off road, including a cool lil refurb shop called The Jeep Farm, specifically for the Jeep enthusiast and refurb aficionados. Whether off road transformations, or remaining stock to the numbers, the Jeep Farm offers a variety of services from vintage restorations to modern-day custom builds.
As a former rock-crawler guy turned shop owner/operator, Drew Norman, claims, “I pretty much get hooked on anything with four tires and horsepower.” In his current projects, Norman has two vintage Baja Jeeps in the shop for restoration, and hopes to take a driver’s seat in the 2020 NORRA 1000, in his newly purchased vintage Baja Jeep. “This Jeep has won the 1000 ten times, among other accolades in it’s pedigree! I’m going to be a complete rookie, so I figured I would buy a 550hp classic that’s been raced by some of the biggest names out there. I’ll just jump right into the deep end!” jokes Norman.
The Jeep Farm is known for its restoration of 1986 and older, Jeeps, including the Grand Wagoneer up to final-year 1991 models. Drew claims he has 34 restoration projects currently on the books, 50+ Jeeps in the ‘yard,’ and currently booking projects into 2021. “We do pretty much whatever ya want,” says Drew. “We do complete nut-and-bolt back-to-stock restorations, we do resto-mods like our ‘88 Grand Wagoneer that will look all original exterior, but with a built 5.3 LS in it, 4-wheel disc brakes, full leather interior, heated seats, custom stereo and on and on. We just finished a 1970 Wagoneer resto-mod, with hidden stereo, 18” Detroit Steel wheels, etc. We do V8 conversions, local repairs, swaps, paint and bodywork, and pretty much anything that applies to a Jeep. Our customers are those that have a hard time finding qualified folks to work on their Jeep and they will ship theirs to me from around the globe.” The Jeep Farm currently has among others from around the USA, 2 Jeeps from Italy, and a Jeep from Germany.
“I love HOWELL EFI – Simple, works!”
Drew Norman of The Jeep Farm
“My mom says I came out of the womb making a motor noise,” laughs Drew. “My family has always been into cars and that’s how I grew up. My grandfather was president of a AAA motor club, and my dad and his brothers were also into cars. My uncles into Porsche and Mercedes, and my dad and I into Jeeps.”
At the age of six, Drew’s Jeep fascination began when his father came home in a new 79 Jeep Renegade. “The Jeep coming home that day with the orange renegade strips had me hooked,” says Drew. “Then I was always in it, as my dad’s daily driver. When I would be standing in line at school, I’d see all the kids parents show up in their station wagons, then my dad would pull around with those bright colors, the KC lights across the top, and I was jumping into something cool!”
Drew not only relished cool in the school line but then formed a successful career based on his passion for the 4×4 sensation. With a love for stock vehicles and building to spec for his customers, Drew also loves to push the boundaries and be creative with customizations as well. “I don’t own anything stock,” he says. “Original rebuilds are incredible, they are fun and I enjoy it, but there is not a single vehicle of mine that hasn’t been upgraded in horsepower, or new wheels and tires, and we are now working on a lot of projects hiding stereos and electronics so that it all looks original, but performs with modern improvements. I love customizing, but I’m not a customizer on hot rods only. Our niche is Jeep restoration, repair and ‘mild’ customization’ as a focused business expertise.
Included in his mild customizations, Drew relies on HOWELL EFI, for all of his fuel injection needs. Much like the Jeep Farm focus on Jeeps, Drew recognizes the focused expertise, and one-and-only focus on electronic fuel injection, by his long time supplier. In the beginning of his carb-to-injection jobs, over 10 years ago, Drew learned early on that other products provided more problems than solutions, and that’s when he started with HOWELL. “Simple works!” claims Drew, “and that’s what we get with HOWELL.”
Drew learned that with the abilities provided in touch screen setups and modifications, customers will mess things up, then he would have to fix them again. With many issues in other systems vs. the mass R/D that went into the GM systems for fuel injection, and the owner of HOWELL as the project leader in the GM development, the HOWELL systems provide an ease and reliability second to no one. “You can install these (HOWELL) systems and then not have to worry about them,” says Drew. “And that’s what I love about them!”
“A large majority of my restorations leave Arizona,” says the Jeep Farmer. “They get shipped here, I restore them and they go back to the owners wherever it may be; overseas, they go back east, they go to Texas, etc. And once they leave me, I’m not close enough to solve any follow up issues. And with the HOWELL systems, I can still put the factory air cleaner on it, the engine looks largely stock, I can install the EFI, put a couple test miles on it, and I’m comfortable enough to ship the vehicle back across the country knowing it will be perfectly fine. Plus, on the rare occasion something does happen, my customer won’t be down for weeks at a time for me to get back to them. I can send them, or they can run to the local parts store for a sensor or whatever it is and replace it within an afternoon.”
Norman also notes that sometimes customers just want cheap; that there are always going to be those that just want the lowest price without concern (or value) in quality and reliability. Unfortunately in a time of priorities based on penny-pinching and finding the lowest price on the internet, many will unknowingly spend more overall expense because the cheap purchases often do not include all the parts required for the job, rarely come from a reliable and knowledgeable source, require more hours, money and attempts to get the job done right. And while the statement “you get what you pay for” may hold true in a variety of products and services available, when you don’t pay much, with an equal return in performance in the automotive industry, that often results in being stranded on the road, or in a 4×4, perhaps on the other side of a mountain, unable to reach civilization for an instant repair. Conversely, Norman also recognizes the customer that knows, respects and understands the value in quality work and reliability, and knows there is a cost to achieve the same results, and these customers will make sure they purchase the quality and reliability available, without any hesitations at all.
“Tried and true, eventually becomes the staple,” says Drew, “and we definitely live by that standard in our shop. HOWELL provides us two main appeals to support that. First, the HOWELL systems just work; without complication, complexity, or worries. Instead, they use parts and system design specific to each installation for an immeasurable success rate.”
“Second,” claims Drew, “Their customer service is outstanding. I can actually call and talk to someone. It’s an easy conversation and they can solve the problem with an ease and understanding to help me, help my customers that much better. They can sit on the phone if we need clarity in the On-board diagnostics, bending the paper clip in half, running the codes, or any other specific design and parts discussions needed.” Drew notes in the past with a different system for example, quite the opposite. He recollects that the HOWELL systems are a nice change from previous experiences. “We actually had a Jeep dead for three months while we continually had to send parts back and forth, troubleshooting errors. We eventually had to send back every single part of this other system, and that was how I found HOWELL. We then installed the HOWELL system instead, and I asked for my money back from the other system. That was my first experience with HOWELL many years ago. What I was using failed, and when I used HOWELL it saved me. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since. I won’t use anything else.”
“My customers want to turn the key and go. And that’s what HOWELL EFI offers.”
Drew Norman – The Jeep Farm
From playing in the yard motorizing his matchbox cars as a child and seeing his dad’s ’79 Jeep Renegade pull in the drive, to all the Jeeps currently in the shop, Drew Norman has always loved cars. For anyone that feels the same and looking for a great resource for your rebuild, feel free to hit him up and add yours to the list!
Around the age of three years old, the impression of cool cars was emblazoned in the mind of Nite Restorations’ Gordie Rutkowski. When he saw, even at a young age, his first car, he was engrossed in that special attraction, whatever it may be, to which all of us auto enthusiasts are drawn. While even as a baby, the attraction was so great, that the three-year-old remembers, decades later, his parents first ‘63 SS, then ‘67 Chevy Impala 4-door (As does this author from his infancy, remembering his parents’ big white boat, convertible, ‘65 Impala). “For a 4-door, I always thought the car had such clean lines,” says Rutkowski. “And when all the windows were rolled down, it was like an open cockpit under that hard top.”
From there, Gordie was hooked! Even playing with toy cars, he was taking them apart and putting them back together. If he saw his dad wrenching on something, then he wanted to follow suit. “My mom came downstairs one day and found me with the dryer all torn apart,” he chuckles. “I wanted to know how the drum went round and around!”
His first auto project was his first car, as a hand-me-down from his sister around the age of 14 years old. Until he was old enough to drive it himself, his dad drove the car as his daily driver back and forth to work at GM. Gordie recalls from back then that the car needed a heater core, and his dad told him to pull a couple parts and panels to prepare for the replacement. Gordie says that by the time his father got to the car, he had already removed the fenders, hood, and pretty much everything around the heater core. “My dad saw it all and he just shook his head,” says Gordie. “I guess this is gonna be a bigger project after all, said his father.”
To this day, the 1973 Plymouth Duster that Gordie and his dad worked on, is still Gordie’s prized possession, with a few more replacement projects having taken place along the way. Included in his many modifications have been changing out his chassis for a C6 corvette chassis, and trading the classic Mopar 440 for a modern LS2 engine with Howell EFI Harness and ECM.
After working on cars for most of the years of his life, Gordie converted from phone and cable installations as a trade, to mechanic and restoration work. He started in a shop working their needs, while working his own interests at home on his time off. In the early 2000’s Gordie launched Nite Restorations (Memphis, MI), eventually replacing the shop where he was working by day, and took over the customer base when the employer shop had closed.
“By using Howell EFI, I know it’s one less thing I have to worry about,”
Gordie Rutkowski of Nite Restorations
Nite Restorations operated as a one-man biz for many years, with Gordie building full restorations, custom fab work and modifications. Fast-forward and the Impala-inspired 3 yr. old has grown into his own thriving car business. Within his service offerings Gordie has always been a proponent of carburetor conversions to EFI. “I started using Howell stuff back in the 90’s” says Gordie. “I was doing a lot of Chevy TBI and Tuneports conversions for many years.”
When the LS motor swaps began, Gordie’s use of Howell EFI conversions quickly grew to the point that Howell awarded him dealership status. “Almost anytime I’m working with a swap I just tell them at Howell what I want to do with the motor, and what I want to switch and change with the EFI harness. They take care of all the modifications, send to me, I plug in the ECM and it’s golden. There’s never any problems down the road. When I know my customer doesn’t want to mess with it, and just wants the reliability and the durability for their vehicle, I just call Howell for the kit, and I know I, nor my customer has to worry about anything. I don’t think any of my cars have come back for even a sensor replacement. As far as I know, they are all still out there running great.”
Gordie also takes advantage of Howell benefits knowing not only that Howell EFI kits deliver everything needed for the conversion in one fell swoop to run reliably thereafter, but in the business of custom restorations, many modification and custom designs are the key to success. Changing out motors from one vehicle into a vehicle laid out for a completely different design can often require some very creative redesigns. All of which, Nite Restorations has encountered for years.
“When I did my Duster for example,” begins Gordie, “and even a recent ‘69 Camaro project too, in converting to almost a race-car chassis underneath, everything was going to be close to the motor. The great thing about Howell is that I can work with them to discuss my plans and my design. I’m able to completely customize my design specific to the car, and design my own harness needed. I can explain what leads I need at what lengths, where the ECM will mount, relay locations, where I want my fuse box, etc. I can literally just send them the specs I have designed and laid out for my build. Then I have folks taking pics because even the EFI harness looks nice,” he chuckles. “I love that Howell will work with me on the harness and move things to where I need it to be. Dealing with other manufactures, they think that its one size fits all. And it’s just not that way. Each individual project is different, regardless of the package they try to persuade others to buy.”
“By using Howell EFI, I know it’s one less thing I have to worry about,” states Gordie.
Even if Gordie is not doing the build himself he invites those wanting to do it themselves, to call him to place their order. “I can assist with the buying and purchasing they need for their build. If they may not know exactly what they need, I probably have a good idea what’s needed. As a dealer, I can sell them what works best for their project, because I have probably already been through the same issues prior.”
Today’s customer comes to Nite Restorations because they know the quality workmanship that they expect, will be delivered. They know that Gordie does not cut corners, and they know and trust the honesty that Gordie delivers. After his many successful years pursuing his automotive passions, Rutkowski still has his eyes on his next dream project. “I’ve completed the car I grew up with, my Duster, and I still have a ‘65 Dodge Coronet that my friend and I used to race on the streets,” says Gordie. “That’s sitting here and I’d really like to do a Corvette drivetrain/EFI conversion for this one too. It’s waiting in line with all of the other one’s. But I’ll always have my Duster. I look forward to the next decade of this and then shuttin’ it down, kicking back and enjoying all of my cars I’ve accumulated!”
City, MI (August 16, 2019) – Howell EFI, the conversion experts since 1988, is well known
for the company’s large number of Jeep TBI kits for off road, in addition to
kits for the 304, 360 and 401. Howell now offers Ford TBI kits for any classic carbureted inline 6 or V8 Ford application. The
Ford TBI kits are ideal for increasing drivability, and improving fuel mileage
and cold starting in older street-driven classics and 4-wheel drive vehicles.
TBI kit provides everything needed to convert an I6, V6 or V8 engine from carburetor to
throttle body fuel injection. Howell EFI Owner Matt Howell says, “For ignition
systems other than points, and regardless of the configuration, we are able to
develop a TBI kit that will do what you want it to do. If you don’t see the part number you are
looking for, give us a call. This is a simple system that you do not have to
Howell TBI kit features a remanufactured GM throttle body appropriate for the
engine size for both engines with, or without ECM controlled ignition including
all sensors, components, wiring harness, ECM and fuel pump. Every kit includes
custom calibration PROM and an ECM that installs under the dash.
The fuel pump installs into the main fuel line, and bypass
fuel is returned to the tank. The harnesses are equipped with a diagnostic connector that works similar to a 1987-92
ABOUT HOWELL EFI
At Howell EFI, we choose to sell only the best quality components and
all are covered by a money back guarantee. Some TBI kits come in a one size fits all offering. We
at Howell understand that one size does not fit all, and work closely with
every customer to be certain each aspect of their set up is discussed to ensure
kit components are a perfect fit. For
additional information visit Howellefi.com, or call 810-765-5100. Howell EFI is located
at 6201 Industrial Way, Marine City, MI 48039