It was the first week of June and, after many long hours of work, the Keisler Maximum Overdrive '65 Corvette was ready for the Hot Rod Power Tour. Of course, like any project, we were down to the wire and needed more time to finish a few things. The car ran well and the A/C was blowing cold, which was a good thing since we were going into the heartland in the summer.
Late into the project, we were informed the Keisler-engineered Tremec five-speed overdrive transmission installed previously would be swapped with the original Muncie four-speed. The idea was to record fuel mileage on the first half of the Power Tour with the old unit, then reinstall the Tremec for the final half. We had to install the body and interior, and finish the cold-air hood and intake plenum for the GMPP Ram-Jet electronic-fuel-injected engine in record time.
We hoped to leave with a mini-caravan for Arlington, Texas, on Thursday morning, but were still assembling the interior and wrapping up the A/C installation Wednesday afternoon. We wouldn't be ready for a Thursday departure, and Friday would be a stretch.
At times, it seemed the easy way would be to cut corners and get on the road. But each segment of a major project takes considerable time, and rushing through usually bites you in the end. Spending the time up front makes the trip more enjoyable and prevents downtime chasing parts and tools.
Sometime after dinner Thursday night, we realized an all-night sprint was necessary in order to leave Friday at anytime. My wife, Hope, and daughters, Stacy and Stephanie, stayed with me into the wee hours. My son-in-law, Steve, worked on the brakes and underside while the rest of us finished the interior chores.
We set up the car with the Keisler-modified Tremec five-speed overdrive transmission; we had the speedo certified earlier. Now we had to replace the transmission with the Muncie four-speed for speedo certification. The five-speed Tremec was removed around 2 a.m. Friday. As the four-speed and pieces were readied for installation, we realized we didn't have the correct clutch disc.
Our only option was to wait until 8 a.m. for a clutch disc and make preparations for a speedy transmission installation. Hope kept up the pace, smoothing the cold-air-intake plenum box while I finished the interior. She stayed with me until the sun came up, and worked hard on the cold-air intake. As we watched the sun come through the open garage bay door, we realized we would make it to the Power Tour.
We found the correct clutch disc, and within a short while, the transmission was in and the '65 was ready for a ride to the speedo shop for certification. I quickly realized I should have no problem staying awake on the run to Texas because of the roar from the factory side pipes at 75 mph and 4,000 rpm. Spike, a friend who was part of the caravan, stayed behind for moral support and any help he could provide. He loaded the car while I got ready for the trip. We headed out at 3 p.m. At that point, the car had been driven approximately 30 miles since the total transformation.
Spike jumped in my '90 Corvette convertible and we headed toward Tallahassee, Florida. We made it west of Pensacola on Friday night. The roar from the '65 side pipes was deafening, and fatigue won.
The next morning, we checked the fluids and were on our way by 7 a.m. To vary engine speed during engine break-in, we ran between 2,500 and 4,000 rpm.
We decided a jog north on some secondary roads would break the monotony. We found an Ultimate Carwash and Quick lube facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for an early oil change on the fresh engine. The manager, Louis, let us go into the pit to look for leaks or anything that needed attention. We found a slight oil leak at the valve-cover push-in breather grommets. The power-steering fluid was also leaking slightly from the fill cap.
Louis and the guys at the facility helped us find some tight grommets and a seal for the power-steering reservoir. After 650 miles, there were only a few minor concerns and within an hour we were on the road again.
We hoped to be there by sundown Saturday, but that was wishful thinking. First, the rains came on I-20 in east Texas, then a jackknifed 18-wheeler caused more delay. The '65 windshield seal was leaking massive amounts of water in the car. While we waited for the 18-wheeler to be moved off the Interstate, the floorboards and carpet were getting soaked.
Once we were underway, we had to find a rest stop and bail the water. Ironically, we had just put all the missing plugs in the floorboards before the new carpet went in. No wonder the plugs were removed.
We made it into Arlington a little after midnight on Sunday, and were up at 7 a.m. for the first leg of the Power Tour. For this kind of driving, the GMPP Ram-Jet crate engine was impressive, but the four-speed Muncie was pure agony. After we left Mississippi, we were traveling steadily at 75-80 mph and 4,000 rpm. At first my ears became bloody from the constant roar, followed by a trance-like state from the noise.
Constantly stopping and paying for fuel was another aggravation. The '90 Corvette convertible was getting almost double the fuel mileage. The '65 averaged 16 mpg with most of the miles driven on the Interstate. I absolutely loved the '65 in city driving and hated every minute of Interstate driving with the car set up like it was.
We gladly handed the keys to Shafi Keisler knowing the car would be driven each leg of the first half of the Power Tour with the four-speed in place. Almost immediately, Shafi called and said the throttle wasn't working. The cable end had broken off the cable at the throttle body.
A fellow HRPT participant had a wire terminal that could be crimped onto the cable for a temporary repair. Shafi was back on the way enjoying the first leg with his '65 coupe. During each leg, the car was driven and fuel mileage was calculated. The first half netted 15.5 average miles per gallon.
The Keisler-modified five-speed Tremec overdrive transmission was installed at the Gateway International Raceway facility in St. Louis for the final half of the fuel mileage run. The installation took about five hours in difficult conditions, but we had the advantage of prior Tremec five-speed installations, which moved things along. The job wasn't too difficult with the correct tools and equipment.
What a spectacular difference! The engine speed was down to 2,400 rpm at 80 mph and the driveline sound level was low enough to have a conversation with a passenger. Now we could run with the Interstate crowd without constantly redlining our engine. Best of all, the fuel mileage was averaging 26 mpg.
We had a great time driving the '65 on our return. We brought the coupe up to Interstate speed, slipped the overdrive transmission into Fifth gear, and let it roll. We could hear the radio, but could hear the wind noise leaks as well. We brought the car back to Sanford, Florida, to reseal all the windows and water leaks.
We logged 4,500 miles from Sanford to Arlington to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and back to Sanford. The GMPP Ram-Jet crate engine, Keisler modified five-speed Tremec overdrive transmission, Vintage Air Frontrunner accessory drive kit, and Vintage Air A/C installation kit made the '65 drive and feel like a late-model Corvette.