Argonaut Greek Hero; someone/something you look- up to that is always steady and there to help you reach your objectives.

Words and photos by Matt Strong

I have been doing car features for many years in magazines such as Hot Rod, Car Craft, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, etc., etc. Yet, this is the first time I have found a car so deserving of this feature - the owner’s first real ride, but not to go to school and work.

What is a Ride? A ride is anything “High Performance” that can be made to go really fast. It can also become a friend and supporter if you keep it long enough and treat it with love. It wasn't his first vehicle, but second and he has kept it 20 years. Jason Masi of New Windsor, NY, actually started with two argonauts, Raylene his Mom and Ray, his father. Dad is the man that introduced him to Hi-Po cars and helped him find his first real car, this really sweet street legal1970 Nova. It is stuffed with a +0.030” 454CI engine, runs 10.0’s and is street legal in every way. (Including; insurance, registration, state inspection {25-year rule}, lights, flashers, instruments, seat belts {5 point}, glass, etc.) Although this looks like a brand new car, Jason bought it when it was running in the NHRA bracket class wars with a weak 396 - 20 years ago.  

He has raced this car all those years and to be honest it is more racecar than street car, but it will drive into local shows on it’s own power. What made him buy it? There were just two ways to get the drag car he wanted. Buy a street car and convert it or buy a racecar and make it street legal. Ray and he looked this car over and saw it had a complete chassis / frame welded into the unibody, 10-point mild steel roll cage, heating and A/C removed, a delete plate covered the firewall. It already had mini-tubs welded in and it had never been out in the cold or rain. Rust is a big worry when you are buying a car 22 years old, but in this case racing had saved the vehicle.

Jason wanted a real car, a muscle car to race as well as be streetable. And, although he was looking for a used Camaro or Malibu, that wasn't too worn out to be converted to a racecar when he started looking, luck shined upon him, buying a used racecar instead of going the used street beater route. He paid $6,000 and put it back into stock sheep’s clothing again, one-step and one-dollar at a time. Smart guy this Jason.

That might sound like a lot of cash, but the car was super clean. It had originally been a 6 cylinder, automatic, and that powertrain probably stayed in the car about as long as a $50 bill will on the steps to a high school. The owner had that 6 out and a big block going in faster than you can say Dixie. If you buy right and get a good rolling chassis with all the hard and expensive chassis work done, you can save thousands overall. If it includes a racing transmission, engine and differential you can save thousands more. This is what Jason did and although the 396 was a little tired; it could be brought back to life for not too much. Keep in mind that this was an 18-year old high school senior who earned his own money and saved enough to buy and start making the correct changes in the correct order.

One of the things that made all this possible was his father; yes a bonding experience for both. Ray has been a Street Rod freak since the late 1960’s and although Jason wanted a muscle car, Ray was just as excited as Jason when the car arrived home. 

The main modifications made through the years have been getting rid of old school parts that didn’t work, and revamping the existing rear suspension, differential and of course the transmission. He even freshened up that tired 396” and raced with it for a few years. (Solid -11.50’s.)

He removed the differential housing, with spool and 10 spline “Henry’s‘ axles, by installing a brand new Strange12-bolt housing and adding 4.56:1 Motive Gears and spool and axles by Moser engineering. The housing is fitted with large bearing “Oldsmobile” housing ends, eliminating dangerous “C-clips” from the performance envelope. The housing ends determined the drum brakes that are more than capable of stopping this car at speed by themselves. Total housing width, flange-to-flange is 47”

The steel driveshaft was still fine so he installed new forged chromemolly steel yokes that accept big Spicer 1350 U-joints without a grease fitting. Note: Greaseable U-joints are weaker because they have hollowed holes running between the joint points that take the grease to the bearing cups.   

ABOVE: This is a standard Chevy 1977 Big Block – 454CI block, it is bored 0.030” oversize and uses the stock 4” stroke. John Gunn Automotive in Lagrangeville, NY did the machining. The Callies crank, Manley rods and SRP small dome pistons are all forged and just the right parts for a bulletproof bottom end. Jason used Speed “file-to-fit” rings. John Gunn did all machining, balancing and torque plate boring and honing. The heads are Word Products “Merlin Pro that have been breathed-on to deliver exactly 119 cc and 12.8 :1 compression by Lorenzo’s Fast Flow in Hulmerville, Pa. This includes a multi angle valve job and clean-up work in the ports and the bowls.
The only question to be answered is does this combination work? The answer is 100% effective at getting the car hooked as the wrinkle wall Phoenix slicks are wrinkled and the stock front suspension is in the air. He had dialed-in at 10.10 and ran 10.001 during his first pre-race pass. He lowered that number and went three rounds in a 5 round race.