An Interview With Herb Adams
By Bob Wicker
Photos from the Internet and Courtesy of Passion Motors
Tell us a little about your career at
I was there at the right time when Estes and Delorean and
those guys were running
HA: I built that
car right out of college in 1965 or 66. I had the hots to do it so I just
did it. I was working at
I built it as a design study and a show
car. I built the chassis, then designed the body. At the time there were about a
half a dozen English craftsmen that had moved to the
Herb Adams Vivant
The Vivant in 2009
HA: I did a lot of work and product planning on what became the first Trans Am in 69 and the second Trans Am in 70 1/2.
DeLorean was the head of
1969 Trans Am
We developed the racing engines and gave
the specs to the guys that were racing. Jerry Titus in the 69-70 season was trying to race
Firebirds and I didn't have a lot of experience with that kind of effort so it
was a learning curve. Unfortunately the team was trying to make money on the
deal and wouldn't spend what was needed to do the job right. The guy in charge
of engine development at that time, Russ Gee, allowed us to do engine
development on the dynamometer. The first 303
Titus/Godsall 1970 SCCA Trans AM
HA: We had gained a lot of knowledge especially about chassis development from the 70 SCCA season. They (Pontiac) would not give us any parts but at least by then we knew what to get. The car was a joke to them (the other race teams) until we were running in second place right up until the end, then we blew a head gasket. We were chasing down Donahue at the time. We did some things that they laughed at. Like, we ran big tires on the front because the car was nose heavy. It turned out that in the rain the car was really, really competitive. Bob Tulius was the driver. He had a lot of experience driving in the wet. So every time it rained we did really well. It was also competitive in the dry. We usually ran in the top five.
The Gray Ghost 1964 Tempest
HA: We found a wrecked Firebird in a junk yard. We applied what we learned with the Tempest and had a better starting point. That car was pretty competitive. We always ran well with it. We won one race and should have won three or four, but we had different problems. Milt Minter drove that car. It was funny. Sometimes he would amaze you with how good he was and other times you wondered if he was there or not. He had terrific talent and did real well with the car.
1972 SCCA Firebird
There was a guy
named Paul Lamar who was a kind of a genius. He was helping Jerry Titus and that
is where I met him. He said "Let's do a rear engine car." I said "All right".
And at that time
Rear Engine Firebird
Russ Gee, who was
running engine development said "You guys have learned about making power having
developed the 303 and the 366." The 366 was actually a much better engine than
the 303 as far as output. We got it up to about 575 horsepower. "Take that
knowledge that you've learned on the race engines and apply it to a street
engine." This was in 1971. When the GTO came out in 64 it was a world beater.
There was no other car like it. But by 69 everybody else had a (factory) hot rod
with Hemis and 396's and they were making more power than the
engine was based on good engineering but the missing link was the crankshaft.
They didn't want to spend money on a forged crank so we had to use a cast crank.
But we got good rods, good heads and a good camshaft and it turned out to be a
pretty strong engine. But, by the time all this happened at
had gone by then. He had supported us getting started on it. Jim McDonald came
in as the head of
1973 SD 455 Engine
HA: By the time that meeting occurred I had already given my two weeks notice and that happened to be the last day that I was there. I had a job offer elsewhere. Russ Gee, who was my boss at the time, said in light of the new politics, maybe you should go for it.
It was the same
bunch of guys who worked with the 72 Firebird effort and the same idea. The SCCA
basically abandoned the Trans Am series. I think they only ran four events that year.
So we decided that if we were going to continue racing, the SCCA is not the
place to be. At that time NASCAR was nowhere near as strong as it is now. It was
about as popular as the Trans Am series had been. So we decided to apply
the lessons we had learned in the SCCA to the NASCAR entry. That's when we built
(the 73 Grand Am). We only ran it a couple of times. We took it to
1973 NASCAR Grand Am
HA: We had a good friend at Oldsmobile,
Dale Smith, and he helped us do some racing by giving us parts and let us dyno
test. They had a series called the Kelly Girl series in IMSA. We ran a couple of
years there. We started with a Starfire and we ran the first modern version of
the Buick V6, before it was a good motor. Then we had a 77 Cutlass and we ran
that at Daytona in the 24 Hour, but we blew the tranny in the back
straightaway. Oldsmobile helped us and I think one of the Oldsmobile guys was
driving when the tranny blew. Then in 78 we raced a "hunchback" Cutlass.
1977 IMSA Cutlass
HA: We had a good friend at Oldsmobile, Dale Smith, and he helped us do some racing by giving us parts and let us dyno test. They had a series called the Kelly Girl series in IMSA. We ran a couple of years there. We started with a Starfire and we ran the first modern version of the Buick V6, before it was a good motor. Then we had a 77 Cutlass and we ran that at Daytona in the 24 Hour, but we blew the tranny in the back straightaway. Oldsmobile helped us and I think one of the Oldsmobile guys was driving when the tranny blew. Then in 78 we raced a "hunchback" Cutlass.
1977 IMSA Cutlass
Appliance Wheel had
just been bought by WR Grace. A guy named Tony Goodchild was put in charge of
Appliance Wheel and some other divisions of that company. He was able to twist
some arms at
SCCA Appliance Wheel Silverbird
Those were in
(late) 76 or 77. The guy that was behind those was John Schinella, who at the
IROC Trans Am Project
Yes. We asked
HA: John Schinella did.
Fire Am Graphics
(Schinella) had a GMC Motor home that he had tricked out and taken to quite a
few of the races. We were racing the Appliance Wheel car. And he would show up
with "Trans Am
Territory" and created a spot at the race track where the Firebird guys could
He (Schinella) had a GMC Motor home that he had tricked out and taken to quite a few of the races. We were racing the Appliance Wheel car. And he would show up with "Trans Am Territory" and created a spot at the race track where the Firebird guys could hang out.
Trans Am Territory
HA: Basically we just took what we were doing for the Fire Am and made a Chevy version of it. It had the same suspension, but with different graphics.
HA: The partnership was really good. Dave Draper and Dick Chrysler were there at the time. They were developing their convertible packages. They liked what he had. The problem was that in order to make the program economically feasible, GM would have had to deliver the cars directly to Cars and Concepts instead of the dealers, but GM wanted nothing to do with it. They (Cars and Concepts) built a few prototypes but I know there was no volume.
HA: Probably less than 10. We had a great package and good publicity. All the magazines were behind it and the car really ran good and looked good, but GM said "We don't care." They were big enough then that they didn't need you.
HA: We took the same Fire Am suspension and put it in that car. We had to have a roll cage so we installed a chrome plated roll cage. Everybody got a big kick out of that. It was a street legal car and we first ran it at a couple of SCCA events just to shake it down. It had a Pontiac Super Duty engine in it. The first race we did on our own, We had no support of any kind. But we qualified. In those days the attrition was very high in a 24 hour race. Most of the exotic cars couldn't go more than 3 or 4 hours. But we just kept running. I remember waking up in the morning, the sun was coming up and the car was still running. We were in 10th place in GT when the crank shaft broke. The same piece we wished we would have had in the Super Duty but never got, the forged crank, got us. The end broke off the front of the crank.
The second year we again ran a street tire, Goodyear Wingfoots, because they were part of the Fire Am street package. And we ran them in the race. But that year we went through three or four transmissions in the 24 hour race. They were (aftermarket) transmissions but they weren't as good as the factory transmitions we ran the year before.
1979 Fire Am Street Legal Racer
The third year we went down there with a Cheverra, a yellow one. We got a lot of resistance. They didn't like the whale tail. We again went down there with street tires. Initially they said we had to be within 10 percent as fast as the fastest qualifier (in class) in order to qualify. Then they changed the rules and said we had to run within 7 percent of that time in order to qualify. We couldn't do it with the street tires so we put a set of race tires on. I qualified and Jerry Thompson who was a co-driver went out and blew a right front tire and hit the wall.
We sold that car after that event. It showed up on ebay a few months ago and we bought it back. It had not only been neglected it had been abused. But my son decided that we should restore it. It was a Hot Rod cover car. So we are doing that now. We'll have it done in the Spring, I think. Finding that car was like meeting your old girlfriend.
1981 Cheverra Racer
HA: We had a good sponsor, Escort. They funded a couple of wild cars that we built. The only car we built that didn't run competitively was the Pontoon car. We put the engine way over on one side and the driver way over on the other.
PO: That was Cam Am race series car, right?
HA: Yes. We just never had enough time or money to develop that car. It had a lot of down force, but we couldn't balance it front to rear. And we couldn't find anyone who wanted to drive the car. In a typical race car you sit in the middle of the car. But when you put the driver way over on one side, and the car moves around, the driver moves quite a bit as well. So the drivers never felt comfortable pushing it. Too much stress on the drivers' body.
HA: About the time I quit racing my son (Matt) came along and wanted to race. So he ran a 90 or 91 Firebird that we called a Fire Am. And we also turned that in to a tuner type package.
1980's SCCA Fire Ams
HA: At the time people were in to the kit car thing. It was based on the VW Rabbit. You could buy one (a Rabbit) and take all of the parts off of the donor car. It was very light weight, like 1500 pounds. And the engine was 170 horsepower. It was great car. If you drove down a mountain road I don't care what you were driving, you wouldn't be able to keep up with it. It was front wheel drive. We sold about 25 of those. We started going to the kit car shootouts and we would be the third or fourth fastest car against much more powerful Cobras because of the power to weight ratio. The trouble was that everybody wanted a Cobra. Everybody said the car was "cute" but guys don't want a "cute" car. We still have one of them. It's a fun car to drive.
HA: My son, Matt built those. At that time there were over 30 companies involved in building Cobra kit cars. We designed a backbone chassis which was far superior to any of the others. They had a kit car shootout that they ran every year. We went there and we won "top dog" five times. The last year that (Matt) went he was five seconds faster than the next Cobra. During that time we were able to refine our chassis and we sold some cars. (That market) was really competitive. Some of the competitors would advertise that they would sell you a "car" for twelve thousand dollars, but all you got was a box of parts. We had to get 50 or 60 grand to sell you a whole car.
HA: It is an evolution of our (VSE) Cobra chassis. It has an independent rear suspension. It is a stretched chassis with the same basic design. I designed the body 20 years ago. We have two (completed prototypes). One is a street car with a nicely finished interior and we have one that is set up for the race track. We are really pleased with how well they handle and how fast they are. It weighs 2500 ponds with the 502 GM crate motor which has an iron block. We are working on one with an LS7 engine which should be 100 pounds lighter and 100 horsepower more. So with that package we'll be at under 2500 pounds with 650 horsepower.
HA: Yes sir.
HA: Yes. We did several shows last Summer and we have some pending orders now.
HA: The street car has the 502 crate engine, but we can basically do any engine you want. The LS7 is also a really good package. One customer wants one with an LS9 also.
rides really well. It has a lot of wheel travel and soft springs. It handles
really well. We've done a lot of testing on the track and we have a really good
package. This car is what the Trans Am would be today if I were still at
Motors web site:
Passion Motors web site:
HA: Back when we were in that business, we sold suspension components for the F cars and the A cars. When we set up this business to sell Contessa, Matt suggested that we sell the suspension parts again. We already had the designs and tooling and everything so we could build them. There is some interest in those parts.
VSE Parts link:
HA: Matt has a few orders for those now. When he gets enough orders we will make them.
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