Horsepower can be fun, but dangerous as well. Horsepower for me is a package; sound, smell, sight, and feel. I like the throaty sound of the exhaust system, a wide open carb sucking in air, and the squeal of tires trying to bite at the asphalt; the smell of an over-rich exhaust/racing fuel, burning rubber; the sight of a big cloud of tire smoke and those telltale strips of black rubber; the feel of acceleration as you are pressed back into your seat. But sometimes things can go wrong.
Driving about on the rural roads of yesterday, I was cruising in my 1967 Olds Delta 88 in which I had installed my HP 409 engine and a TH-400. It was a 2dr fast back boat, but I like big cars. It was a southern car with clean body and interior. The 409CI made it move. I like to light the tires up whenever the opportunity arises - traffic lights, toll booths, tunnels, stop signs, and in the middle of nowhere. I pulled up to a 4-way intersection that had stop signs in all directions. Wide open intersection, no one around back in the day, and just me in the car.
One of the easiest ways to get your non-posi
single legger rear end to spin tires into oblivion is to make a right hand turn from a dead stop with the gas matted to the floor. This will even work with your dad's 1971 Pinto for a short squeal of tire. By making a right turn, you shift the weight of the car over to the left as the body rolls over. This lifts the weight off from the right side tire and it takes no effort to break the tire loose from the pavement and get it to spinning, squealing, smoking rubber, and leave a very impressive black strip of rubber for all to see when they arrive at the same intersection where you have done your deed. You know it was a good burnout when the black stripe is still there 6 months later.
This stunt is not so much a problem with stock numbers horsepower, but could be. Higher than stock horsepower, or really big horsepower, can prove to be a handful. The key is how tight you make the right hand turn. The less the right hand turn angle (the closer to straight), the more control you have. The closer you get to making a tight 90 degree turn, like at an intersection, the greater your chances are of losing control of the car during a big power burnout, because basically, after about 90 degrees, your getting ready to do a doughnut - or a complete 360 circle.
I nailed the gas to the floor, the dual fours opened up, tires lit up, and I turned the steering wheel to the right to make my turn. Had some good tire smoke going into my 90 and thought I would ride it out nicely around the right corner turn as one would on ice - done a lot of these burnouts in many cars of mine. But this time the big G-50 tire must have done what it was supposed to do when it gets real hot, it gets sticky, or maybe the melting asphalt was getting sticky. The tire must have grabbed traction amid its tire smoke spinning and threw the rear end of the car hard to the left as I was steering to the right. I found my self going past my 90 degree point and into a doughnut. Plenty of RPM's still left on the tack and not traveling very fast at this point, I kept my foot into the carbs. (Today it is called "drifting", back in my time it was called "power sliding." I am well experienced in doing this as being from Connecticut, I used to do this a lot in snow and ice when the opportunity arose and it was safe to do so. Learned to further this technique with big horsepower on dry and wet roads. Posi-traction worked best on wet roads.) So basically, you steer into the direction the back end is kicking out to bring it straight and ride it out. Except a big boat of a heavy car has a softer suspension and is "springier" which aides to body roll on the rebound. The back of the car is now over the centerline in the other lane as I get control of the slide. Takes a lot of steering wheel turn to ride it out......and then the body roll snaps the 2 ton car the other way and the rear end of the car kicks out just as quick under full acceleration to the right and it swings hard trying to go sideways. Nothing I have not experience before, and you have to feverishly spin that steering wheel the opposite direction as fast as humanly possible just to get it corrected. But you always seem to over correct to straighten it out, and the body roll quickly snaps to the other side, and you are now going back sideways in the other direction again which seemingly makes the ass end of your car act like a swinging pendulum.....and now your picking up speed plus losing straight line directional stability as physics begin to take over and apply itself against your well honed driving skills and desires.
By now I am well past my right hand turning point back at the intersection, tires still burning rubber, speed increasing exponentially, rear end still fishtailing, and me still wheeling the steering wheel, except now I am squarely planted in the opposite lane going the wrong direction with a Ford station wagon now heading for me. At this point I am not going to pull this stunt off as planned, so I let off the gas, gain control, whip in to my lane, and hope the other driver didn't get a good look at me or my plates and call the local cops. I was getting my alibi ready which is a quick ditch to the side of the road, throw the hood open, reach by the carb like making an adjustment, and if someone stops, exclaim that you just put the carb on and the return spring fell off and the carb stuck wide open. (This has worked). But nothing else came of the encounter and I got out of Dodge.
Lesson learned: Even though this can be great fun and usually no problem, a car is still a car and has a will of its own when big horsepower is applied to any car under even the best of conditions. The lesser the turn angle used to roll the body to get the weight of the car off the tire you want to set ablaze, the safer and more control you will experience. The greater the turn angle and the nearer that 90 degree turn you go, the more uncertain things can become and the quicker out of control your car can become -even if you are as good a driver as Steve McQueen himself. If you find yourself in a rear end pendulum swing, you can try to ride it out, but be ready for the reality that the car will win and you will lose control, spin out, or worse. Best bet is to let go of your ego and let off the gas to gain back your control as soon as you recognize the danger. Then go back and try it again, but with a little less throttle!