How the Edelbrock ‘Smokey Ram’ Came About…

Over the many years we were friends, Smokey Yunick never wasted time getting to the point of a conversation, especially if he was the initiator.

“I’ve got this cross-ram manifold that I think Vic should build and sell.  Chevrolet ain’t gonna do it and it’s too good to get scrapped.  Besides, I might be able to make a few bucks in the process.”  Those three statements launched a project that was woven with interesting, humorous and sometimes perplexing situations.  Here’s how it unfolded.

Immediately after Smokey’s call, I shared its essence with Vic.  After years of sorting out the eccentricities of both Tunnel Ram and Cross-ram manifolds, we both knew how problematic they can be in terms of resolving cylinder-to-cylinder air and fuel distribution issues…especially the cross-rams.  But we also recognized the potential sales appeal of something Smokey had developed, so off I went to Daytona Beach and his shop for a closer look at the opportunity.

At the time, Smokey was and had been engaged in developing (under contract with Chevrolet) some 366 c.i.d. small-block engines for possible Trans-Am application.  Vince Piggins, then head of Chevrolet’s “Product Promotion” (read racing) group was dealing with the political side of getting these packages accepted by the sanctioning body while Smokey was applying his skills and experience to crafting the engines.  Despite problems inherent with cross-ram manifolds in general, Smokey recognized the value of a broad torque band these designs can provide.  I recall how my curiosity was peaked when I saw the “bubbled-up” clearance blisters required to run big-block rocker arms beneath small-block, stamped steel valve covers.  It didn’t take long to recognize these engines were more than potent.

Just visiting Smokey’s shop was an experience.  For years, all the windows had been painted black (from the inside) and entry was gained only with his permission, period.  Once inside, there were rows of shelves containing GM parts boxes with no parts numbers on them.  The dyno area was essentially positioned between two buildings in close proximity with a corrugated, fiberglass roof.  It was akin to a long hallway of about fifteen feet in width, open at one end where engine headers could aim exhaust gases out of the building.  I’d been there before and nothing had changed since my last trip a few years prior.

The way Smokey dyno tested was specific to his beliefs about heat stack in an engine when used on track.  Consequently, he’d begin taking w.o.t. power readings at the lowest test rpm, continue at specific rpm intervals to the peak point and then measure power going back down the rpm range, stopping at each point previously measured on the way up.  He’d then average the two readings at each interval for a final data plot.  In this way, he asserted, any power-influencing variables would be stabilized during the course of this procedure.  Who was I to argue with that?

Shortly after my arrival, I noticed his current dyno engine was one of the 366-inchers fitted with the new manifold.  In addition, I also saw two other versions of the manifold on a shelf, both with clear Plexiglas lids.  As it turned out, his objective was to compare what was then Edelbrock’s “Tarantula” single-plane, standard-flange design with the cross-ram…on an engine cammed and otherwise packaged to optimize the Yunick manifold.  It was one of his Trans-Am engines, tuned as a package.  I saw some problems ahead.