Here's the place where creativity meets chutzpah
Orlando Sentinel

GAINESVILLE -- I have seen some strange vehicles -- strange vehicles
-- in three years of judging the Grassroots Motorsports magazine
challenge, but this one is the strangest.

Stranger than the BMW 320i with the 500-cubic-inch Cadillac V-8; the
supercharged, propane-powered Triumph Spitfire that broke down
driving off the trailer; the Ford Festiva with the Taurus SHO engine
in the back seat; and the Chevrolet Corvair with a V-8, trimmed with
attractive wood paneling.

This was strange.

It began as a 1960s-era Volkswagen bus and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo
racing stock car. The builders, Dan Senecal and his crew from New
York, sawed off the bottom half of the bus, moved the V-8 engine in
the Monte Carlo to the middle and put the driver and controls up
front. They then bolted the half-a-bus body on top, painted it all
flat black with bat-wing taillights on top, and red bats on the
wheels, and -- well, you get the idea.

What were you thinking? I asked Senecal. He told me, but I don't
recall what he said.

Tragically, air in the cooling system fried the engine before the
competition began, so Senecal and crew had to push the -- thing --
around. We gave them a lot of points for creativity and muscle, but
they ended up 76th of 77 cars. To do well in last weekend's overall
competition, it was important that the vehicle actually, you know,

On the other end of the scale was Andy Nelson's similarly
black-primer-painted car, a homely 1977 Chevrolet Nova four-door.
Nelson and his crew are drag racers from Michigan, but it still was
surprising to see this creaking old Nova run the quarter-mile at the
Gainesville Raceway drag strip in 10.6 seconds. That's faster than a
Ferrari Enzo, which costs $652,000.

Which is about $650,000 more than Nelson spent on his Nova. The
Grassroots Motorsports Challenge limits competitors to spending no
more than whatever year it is -- in this case, $2,004. What these
people can do for two grand is astounding.

This is the fifth year for the challenge. It's the brainchild of Tim
Suddard, publisher of Grassroots, which is based in Ormond Beach.
Suddard, who is rich now, wasn't always, and he still appreciates
cheap cars that happen to be fast, and maybe even pretty. He asked
readers if they might be interested in seeing what they could build
on a budget, and then compete against each other in three
categories: drag racing; autocrossing (driving as fast as you can
around a set course in a big parking lot); and concours, which is a
beauty contest. I'm one of the four judges of that contest. Each of
the three parts of the competition counts, and at the end of the
two-day event, a winner gets a trophy. Homemade, Suddard says, just
as the cars.

This year was the best. In a nutshell, here's how you do it: Buy a
wrecked car that happens to have a good engine. Then buy an
un-wrecked car that has a blown-up engine. Remove the blown-up
engine, and transplant the good engine.

Then, on eBay, sell the parts that you don't need, and buy parts you
do need. That's how you can afford to build a 1965 Mustang that has
an entire undercarriage from a Toyota Celica Supra. Or last year's
winner, a Mazda Miata with a Ford Mustang V-8 engine. Or a Pontiac
Fiero with a supercharged engine from a Ford Thunderbird. Labor
doesn't count against the $2,004 budget. If it did, we'd have some
$50,000 cars. One of this year's entries was a gorgeous Opel GT that
had been totaled in a crash: It was rebuilt by the new owner, an
architect, who fabricated a new front end, body included, from sheet
metal. You had to see some of this stuff to believe it.

The winner's story is a typical one for the Challenge: Eric Lawson
of Minnesota bought a 1981 Nissan 280ZX with a bad engine, and
bought a 5.7-liter Chevrolet V-8 and automatic transmission out of a
pickup. He crammed the engine into the 280ZX, and made his first
appearance at the Challenge two years ago, where he was doing well
until the car's tired transmission puked it guts all over the drag

Lawson spent a year refining the car, brought it back for the $2,003
challenge, and finished third. One more year of refinement -- mostly
making sure things wouldn't break this year -- and he's the $2,004
champion. Due in part to a healthy dose of nitrous oxide, his yellow
280ZX ran the quarter-mile in 11.1 seconds -- faster than a $284,850
Lamborghini Murcielago -- and he was eighth fastest on the
autocross. Then we judged the car sixth in the concours, giving him
the combined overall win.

For attitude, though, it's that Volkswagen bus with the midengine
V-8.  Assuming mental-health professionals don't intervene, it'll
likely be back next year.

For additional information, check out the magazine's Web site at Plans are under way for the $2,005 challenge