This article was originally featured in the June 1993 issue of Street Machine
FINALS day at the Nationals, Calder Park. The sun had just squeaked over the horizon, but D-Day dawned dark for Peter and John Sammut.
Their crew, fatigued from a night spent spinning spanners, trudged home for three hours' kip. The master plan was coming apart.
The Sammuts had brought to the Nationals a car so advanced, so stunningly effective it had even diehard drag racers shaking their heads. It wasn't a Keith Black big blocked Falcon, or a Hemi powered Chev. This was a Nissan 300ZX, twin turbocharged and six cylindered. Everything went against the drag racing norms and the fact that the car was whisper quiet and full of whiz-bang technology only added to the shock of the new.
After qualifying second in Super Stock and winning their first round elimination with an 8.34/144.55 - nearly three tenths under the record - Peter and John had decided to sit out Round Two. They were confident of advancing to the final.
But temptation gnawed, so they decided to fiddle with the race set-up. The result being that the Nissan/Aeroquip 300ZX laid down an 8.56/142.81. It was looking like the hissin' Nissan would crack the final the following night, so the Sammuts began to relax. And then it turned to poop.
A transmission seal had blown, leaving no alternative but to work through the night, something the team had been doing regularly since the crash in Adelaide.
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Back at the track, buggered but unbeaten, the crew prepared for Round Three.
Super Stock pitches cars from different classes based on their National ET record, using a handicap start system. The winner is the car closest to or under its class record by the largest margin. That's how 730 Nissan horsepower came to be squaring off against 2300 of Keith Black's finest gee-gees.
Puff the Magic Dragon messing with King Kong.
Both cars staged, revs rose - and you could barely hear the whooshing turbo’ed six over the Chev's sonic boom. At the greens they launched hard and clean, powering towards the black void at the end of the strip.
The timing clock blinked out a stunning message: the Nissan had run 8.145/166.54 - nearly five tenths under the class record of 8.60! Victor wasn't disgraced, turning in a 7.060/195.14, three tenths beneath his class record. Incredibly, the Sammuts were in the final, and waiting for them was their nemesis Peter Ridgeway in his 523 cubic inch Pontiac Trans Am.
Winning the Best Engineered Car award helped settle some Finals nerves, but even the squadron of cheque waving Foster’s promo girls had trouble extracting a smile from Peter Sammut. Okay, the guy is intense, but so would you be racing a turbo’ed Jap six before 40,000 screaming V8 fans. Brother John was beaming – the Sammuts were about to run their most important race.
The final was a fizzer. Hosed down when the flamboyant Ridgeway red lighted. It was the Sammuts' first national title, just reward for their single minded approach to drag racing with a difference. In a remarkable weekend, drag racing saw the arrival of a new force. We were keen to know more.
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It's a big capacity V8 world, but the Sammuts have bucked the system, preferring to innovate. Not imitate. Peter best explains why they chose a turbocharged six cylinder powerplant: "I have absolutely no interest in doing things the conventional way," he says.
"We could put in a Keith Black with a high helix supercharger and if it didn't make 1500hp there'd be something wrong. You're only asking for 3hp per cubic inch and it has ports the size of your fist! It's very easy to go out and buy a complete engine package. We do all our own engine development and that's the hard part."
The Zed's engine is a complicated technical masterpiece that started life as a 3.0 litre Nissan RB30 in-line six, with twin parallel turbochargers and mechanical fuel injection. In naturally aspirated form, that engine powers Nissan Patrol 4WDs! Not surprisingly, little remained of the original donk when the Sammuts had finished with it.
"There’s no clear advantage to using an in-line six instead of a V6 except space, which we've got plenty of," Peter says.
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"There aren't many people around the world making a lot of power from a straight six - that was the challenge. We had our engine running before the Group A Skyline GT-R arrived here making about 600hp.
"Our engine makes 730hp from 183 cubic inches, which is roughly equivalent to one bank of a conventional small block Chev. For a blown small block to compete against us it would have to make 1500hp, which is a tall order. We're making 4hp per cubic inch." When pushed for more information about modifications, Peter was a little evasive.
"The engine seems to be telling us it can make more power. How much more, we don't know. It's a custom built race engine and many of the parts are handmade.
It runs the genuine block and head but everything else is extensively modified, which is all I really want to say. We're happy with it. We have a different approach to building engines than most drag racers."
Peter also skilfully avoided telling us the compression ratio. "It varies with different boost settings. When people ask how much boost we run we just say enough to make 730hp. You see, if I know boost and compression ratio I can almost tell you what turbos you need, and since we've spent four years developing this engine I don't feel like giving away our figures!"
Technology is the key.
Turbo lag - the dead period where the turbo isn't spinning fast enough to force feed the cylinders – could be a problem off the line. Not with this car. The units are hybrid Garretts, set up to develop torque (and therefore power) instantly.
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That painstaking approach lead the Sammuts to invest heavily in electronics, from a two-way crew/driver intercom to a driveline monitoring system.
"The ignition is a multiple coil system by Ignition Components and Electronics, and in the cockpit we use a lot of Dedenbear products, including an electronic rpm shifting mechanism. We have on-board rpm, tailshaft rpm and front wheel rpm. It can also monitor time, speed, distance, acceleration and torque. And then there's boost and wastegate pressures, while 16 thermocouples read temperatures at different sites around the engine.
"The transmission is a two-speed Powerglide by Phil Soderstrom's RaceGlides. It has 10 plates in it, a special input shaft and lock-out reverse. You can hit a button and have neutral while you're reversing. The box is mated to a Dominator torque convertor by Autoflite Engineering and it marries two previously unheard of characteristics - high stall and high lock-up."
The differential is a conventional (which means missile-proof) Ford nine inch, running a Mark Williams 35-spline spool and axles. Large pinion Funny Car gears are employed and the Sammuts have four sets at their disposal, depending on how many revs they want to pull across the line.
Hugo's Race Car Components built the chrome moly four-link rear, while the 14-inch ventilated discs with JFZ four-spot calipers were knocked up by Taverna Brothers Machining. Recognise that name? The chassis was built by John Taverna Chassis and is made from a combination of chrome moly and Reynolds tubing, which is manganese moly.
That high-tech frame helps keep overall weight down to just over 907 kilos.
"The body is original except for the doors and hatch which are carbon fibre and Kevlar and made for us by Taylor FRP," says Peter.
"The windows are Lexan and we've kept the see-through T-top so people can see into the car."
The Nissan/Aeroquip 300ZX wouldn't be out of place at even the best show 'n' shine. From the tiny Momo F1 steering wheel to the hidden wiring, stunning paint by Glaz Body Refinishing and the fully Aeroquiped engine bay, it's in a class of its own. It brings to life the Sammut racing philosophy.
"Racing is more than just performance. It's organisation, reliability, driving and raceday psychology too. Our challenge is to go out there and race with this engine. The performance has amazed people worldwide, even in Japan. It's a credit to all involved that, from half the capacity, it's making as much power as a Texas Racing Engine."
It seems Peter and John Sammut are marching to their own beat - but will the (drag racing) world follow?