EVERYONE knows how tough an event Street Machine Drag Challenge is. Just finishing is a victory in itself. Imagine then, what it takes to win your class every time you’ve competed. Actually, don’t bother imagining it, this bloke has done it. Since 2015, Alon Vella has competed and won the Radial Aspirated class at every Drag Challenge and Drag Challenge Weekend in his small-block powered ’71 Capri.
This article was first published in Street Machine's Outlaws magazine. Photos: Matthew Everingham
Okay, when I say small-block, I mean a really, really big small-block. How big? Four hundred and sixty cubes big. Which, if you can remember back to the smog-infested 70s, is as big as a Ford big-block ever got. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Al runs a fairly modest 15x8.5 rim on the street and track, although he swaps to these beadlocked versions of the Convo Pro fitted with 275 Radial Pros to go racing. For the street, a set of 265/60/15s go on
“I bought the car in 2012 and took it straight to Sydney to race,” Al says. “It ran 11.1@121mph. It had a 351 Clevo in it and we raced that for a while, but it wasn’t fast enough, so BG Engines built me a pump gas 454ci SBF. Steve Micallef from Shift Right built me one of the best C4 transmissions going around and it went 9.37@145mph on BP Ultimate 98. We were over the moon with that, so in 2015 I got the chance to enter Drag Challenge and we were hooked.”
To win the class at his first DC, Al had to knock off Tristan Triccas in his notorious RO4RY Capri, so he had his work cut out for him. At the end of the week, with their cumulative times calculated, there was just over half a second separating Al in first and Tricky in second. I guess Al figured that wasn’t enough of a gap, so it was back on the phone to Damian Baker at BG Engines to work out a plan.
For racing, Al swaps the street scoop for this much larger version that is sealed to the carbs, but the front wheels and tyres stay put. No need to swap to front runners when running radials on the rear
“Al said: ‘I want to go faster, what can you offer?’” Damo recalls. “I said: ‘I can make you win, but you need to fulfil your end of the deal and prepare the car, do what I say, and drive it how I need you to drive it.’ We just kept clicking and here we are today; we’re good family friends, we go out for dinner, get on well, it just works. I’ve got a personal, financial and business interest in the car now, so it’s a bit of a team thing.
“I wanted to see how far I could go with a small-block, how fast we could get it and how long we could get it to go and all that sort of stuff. So I put plenty of time and effort into it.”
Surviving the drive is the toughest part of DC, and when you’re running aspirated, it’s all about keeping the valvetrain alive.
“The camshaft is big, but we also run a big rocker ratio,” Damian reveals. “When you’re nearly in 2:1 rocker ratios, it’s crazy. Al wanted to win, so he wanted to have this big banger engine, but there was no way an engine like that could do the miles. That’s why I put little rockers on to drive it. I change rockers twice a day on Drag Challenge. So we had 1.5:1 ratio rockers made by T&D and they laughed at us. They rang me twice and asked: ‘That type of cylinder head with that rocker ratio? Are you sure?’ So I explained why.”
Yep, it’s a street car with a ’chute and wheelie bars. Both are absolute necessities for this car, which easily picks up the front tyres and carries them past the 60-foot beams before crossing the finish line at 160mph!
You’d think such a massive change in the rocker ratio would kill power, but on the little rockers the motor made about 950hp.
“There was one day on Drag Challenge where we’d lost a couple of lifters and we were doing it pretty tough, we were tired and we decided to just run it with the little rockers, and we blasted off an 8.90,” says Damo.
Even taking all those precautions, it’s still tough on parts, reckons Al. “We’ve munched through some lifters. We’ve just changed to a set of Bam lifters and we’re going to see how good they really are at DCW in a few weeks.”
Al gives the mighty 460-cube small-block a loving look. After all, who doesn’t love a naturally aspirated motor that can punch out over 1000hp at the crank?
The Bam lifters have a steel DLC-coated bushed bearing, the DLC bit referring to a “Diamond Like Coating”. One thing’s for sure, they will be tested to the limit.
All the camshaft and rocker ratio in the world isn’t going to help if the heads can’t get the air in and out, so for that Al and Damo reached straight for the top shelf.
Based around a Dart block, it’s been stroked and bored to measure up at 460 cubes and topped with a set of Edelbrock SC1 Pro-Port heads machined by BG Engines
“We bought Edelbrock SC1 Pro-Port heads,” Damian says. “They’re basically a blank cylinder head and then we put our own program through them. We built a cylinder head that was trying to cater to the DC format. It’s basically an all-out drag racing cylinder head but the intake manifold we manufactured is more suited for making power at lower RPMs, around 9000.”
BG Engines also supplied one of their Pro Billet tunnel rams that is topped by a pair of 1250cfm RayJE carbs. Amazingly, the Capri gets around 20-25L/100km towing a trailer
At this point I have to chuckle at the reference to 9000rpm being at the lower end of the scale, but Damian explains that with this level of engine, it’s not uncommon to run them into the late-nines. “In effect, it’s a mini Pro Stock engine,” he adds.
So, it’s pretty clear that BG held up their part of the deal, now Al had to make sure the rest of the car could handle the extra grunt, and, more importantly, make sure it could get it to the ground.
“We did the first DC with the suspension that came with the car when I bought it, but after we got back I took it to JB at Somoracz Race Cars and things have evolved from there,” says Al. Somoracz replaced the four-link that was in it with a better one and since then the car has been flogged for four years and covered some 6000km on the road. It’s recently been fitted with a wishbone-style track locator and ’moly sway bar, so it should hook up even better – if that’s even possible!
Another part of the recipe that allows this car to be so successful is the Gear Vendors overdrive unit. “When we race, we use the GV to make it a four-speed,” explains Al. “If you see the car race, you can hear me click into overdrive just before the line. At 100km/h it sits on about 2800rpm with 4.33 gears in the diff. I didn’t have the GV the first time we did DC and it was very painful; we sat on 80 the whole time!”
The interior is pretty basic but comfy enough for the long hauls between tracks during Drag Challenge thanks to the well padded Sparco EVO seats, carpet and sound deadening stuff
Amazingly, the car gets about 20L/100km towing a trailer, which isn’t too far off a large SUV. It’s even more amazing when you consider there are two 1250cfm carbs feeding the motor. But these are no ordinary carbs. They’re specially built by Ray Edwards and somehow manage to give the Capri decent road manners and 1018hp at the same time – plus, they allow Al to race the car off the foot brake. The man must be a certified wizard.
There’s more wizardry afoot with the torque converter from SDE, a 7200rpm unit that manages to work fine while towing a trailer down the highway. If that isn’t voodoo and black magic, I don’t know what is!
Al and Damo aren’t the types to rest on their laurels, and plans are afoot to do something even bigger, possibly something involving boost, but they’re keeping that on the downlow for now.
“We’re going to campaign this engine for a bit longer,” says Al. “It’s just been so good to us the past few years and we just have so much fun, especially on Drag Challenge.”
The stock dash remains but the factory gauges have been swapped out for a MoTeC C125 dash, although analogue gauges for oil pressure and fuel level remain
WHAT Al and Damo can make the Capri to do sans power adder has firmly established them among the Drag Challenge elite. They ran a new PB of 8.49@160mph at Drag Challenge last year while continuing their dominance in the Radial Aspirated class. As of this writing (prior to DCW ’20) the wheels-up green machine has seven class wins from seven events, aiming for eight. The car has been in the Overall Top 10 several times and finished a ridiculous 4.19 seconds ahead of everyone else in the class at DC 2019.
The fact that the Capri has been set up specifically to wreak havoc at Drag Challenge shows how much dedication and enthusiasm Al and Damo have for the event. In fact, if Street Machine does a DC on the moon, these guys will be there. And even with that near-zero atmosphere, the Capri will probably still win!
1971 FORD CAPRI
Paint: PPG Nissan Green
Type: 460ci Ford Clevor
Inlet: BG Engines
Carb: Twin 1250cfm RayJE carbs
Heads: Edelbrock SC1 Pro-Port/BG Engines
Cam: Comp Cams solid-roller, 985-thou lift, 290 deg @ .050
Exhaust: 1-7/8in stepped to 2in
’Box: Shift Right Transmissions C4
Converter: SDE, 7200rpm
Diff: 9in, 4.33:1 gears, 40-spline Mark Williams axles
Front end: Adjustable top-mount Afco shocks
Rear end: JB Race Cars 4-link, Afco shocks
Brakes: Wilwood (f), Strange (r)
Rims: Convo Pro; 15x6 (f), 15x8.5 (r)
Rubber: 205/50/15 (f), 265/50/15 (street) and M/T ET Street Radial Pro 275 (race) (r)
BG Engines; Shift Right Transmissions; M&K Trailers; Somoracz Race Cars; SDE Converters; ICE Ignition; Ricky’s Drive Shafts;
RAYJE Carbs; Sydney Suspension; VP Race Fuels; Image Conversions; my best mates Andrew Natoli and Damian Baker for all the
nights we spend in the shed. Finally, my lovely wife Linda for encouraging me to get the car where it is today
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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