Mark Greenisen’s 1974 Gremlin might have started out as the cliché “little old lady’s car,” but it’s highly unlikely that little old lady would recognize it if she saw it on the street today.
We spotted Mark’s Gremlin at last year’s Car Craft Summer Nationals, where the Slinger, Wisconsin, native was tossing the bright-green missile around the autocross course we had set up inside the Milwaukee Mile at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. The Gremlin has come a long way from the plain-Jane, straight-six automatic Mark loaded onto his trailer in South Carolina in 2008. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the Gremlin, so it sat around collecting dust until Jeff Schwartz convinced him to drag it down to his shop in Woodstock, Illinois.
Schwartz, a pioneer in the G-machine trend, has been making a living stuffing full frames underneath old unibody muscle cars. Schwartz’s frames transform even the sloppiest freeway flier into an autocross missile. Mark has been a SCCA regular for years, and more recently, he has been competing in spec Miata, battling it out on tracks across the Midwest. As his kids have gotten older, he wanted something that wasn’t as time-intensive, and when he decided to start autocrossing again, the Gremlin seemed like the perfect pocket rocket.
Since the Gremlin isn’t your average mainstream hot rod, Schwartz didn’t have a ready-made frame hanging on his wall, but that wasn’t going to slow down Mark. After crawling around underneath the car with a tape measure for a couple of hours, they decided that with a few modifications they’d be able to make one of Jeff’s Camaro frames fit the Gremlin.
Once they’d settled on the frame, they were off to the races. It wasn’t long before the Gremlin’s stock suspension was sitting on the scrap pile, replaced by a Schwartz G-Machine setup, with a triangulated four-link in the back. With the new frame underneath the Gremlin, they set the car back on the ground, and that’s when they hit the biggest snag of the entire build. At the ride height Mark wanted, it was impossible to turn the front wheels. Getting creative, Mark and Jeff chopped up the front fenderwells and moved them up inside the body. They used a set of junkyard front fenders to get a matching effect in the back.
A mild 360 is under the hood, although Mark admitted it wasn’t originally part of the plan. He’d wanted to drop in an LS engine he squirreled away in the corner of his garage, but Schwartz convinced him it wouldn’t be an AMC without an AMC under the hood. Mark’s mill might not have a lot of trick parts, but it doesn’t have any problem hauling the mail, making a dyno-proven 505 hp at 5,750 rpm.
After stripping off the bumpers to clean up the body lines, Mark hauled the Gremlin up to Butler Auto Body in Butler, Wisconsin, where 30 years of door dings were erased and the car was painted in Green Fusion (a Hyundai color) with rainbow flake added to really make the car pop. Baer brakes with massive six-piston calipers keep the car stopping on the proverbial dime, and a set of custom mini-tubs in the back keep the 18-inch XXRs wheels nicely tucked inside the rear fenders.
Inside, almost everything is exactly the way it left Kenosha, Wisconsin, many moons ago, with the exception of a set of C4 Corvette bucket seats Mark had reupholstered to match the rest of the tan interior. A harness bar and a set of five-point belts keep Mark and a passenger stuffed deep inside those Corvette seats. Auto Meter gauges stuffed into the stock dash monitor the engine’s vital signs, and just out of sight is a Halon fire-suppression system—just in case.
As clean as Mark’s Gremlin is, make no mistake: it’s no trailer queen. Right after putting the finishing touches on it, Mark didn’t hesitate to head straight for North Carolina to compete in RideTech’s Cars and Cones event, a weeklong driving tour that includes daily autocross challenges. Since then he’s been driving the wheels off the little Gremmie, driving it to work as often as he can, and competing in autocross events on the weekend.
Who: Mark Greenisen
What: 1974 AMC Gremlin
Where: Slinger, KS, home of the Slinger Super Speedway, which bills itself as the world’s fastest quarter-mile paved oval.
Engine: The 360 AMC in Mark’s Gremlin relies on a tried-and-true recipe for big, streetable power. The bottom end is all stock AMC, with an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and cylinder heads up top. The cam is a fairly mild grind, while a set of Hedman headers lets everything breathe easily. Even though it’s nothing fancy, the combo really moves, delivering 505 hp at 5,750 rpm and 518 ft-lb of torque at 5,100 rpm, which is good enough for 12.30 at 112 mph in the quarter-mile.
Air/Fuel: A Carter 650-cfm carb, combined with a stock mechanical fuel pump, are fed by a 10-gallon fuel cell out back.
Transmission: A highly sought-after AMC TH350 (yes, they made those) with an ATI converter and a shift kit keep Mark running through the gears.
Rearend: A Moser full-floater 9-inch stuffed with 31-spline axles and a 3:50 ring-and-pinion gear.
Suspension: The Gremlin’s entire build started with the suspension, and the custom Schwartz Performance G-Machine chassis underneath is the lynchpin of the entire build. Jeff Schwartz’s innovative design cuts the mustard in a way that would have been impossible with the factory design. Schwartz didn’t have an off-the-shelf chassis for the Gremlin, but was able to modify an existing Camaro design to fit. The improved front-suspension geometry, combined with the trick multilink rear suspension, are what keeps Mark at the top of his class on the autocross course.
Wheels/Tires: Muscle cars are all about stance, and the meaty 18-inch XXR 962s wrapped in massive BFGoodrich Rivals are the perfect pair.
Paint/Body: Schwartz Performance handled the custom bodywork required to fit the huge meats, sectioning the front fenders 3-1/2 inches and installing a set of mini-tubs in the rear. To make everything look just right, they chopped up a set of junkyard fenders to make the front and rear wheel flares match perfectly. Tom, Kenny, and Elliott at Butler Auto Body squirted on the Hyundai Green Fusion, adding just enough custom rainbow flake to really make the Gremlin sparkle.
Like most wives, Tracy started questioning why her husband, Harold, had so many project cars lying around the house. Like most husbands, Harold resorted to the oldest trick in the book by offering to build Tracy a project car of her own. The plan worked beautifully, and the end product is a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible that rides low and rocks a 975hp supercharged LSX. Just like it somehow looks traditional and contemporary at the same time, the Caddy hides its modern luxuries behind a mirage of vintage charm.
Right from the get-go, the direction of Tracy’s Cadillac build deviated from most project cars that husbands supposedly build for their wives. Husbands typically build whatever they want, however they want, then claim that their wives actually own the car. Tracy wasn’t having any of that, and played a very active role throughout the entire build process. After years and years of dutifully accompanying Harold at shows and on countless cruises, she wanted to enjoy the hobby on her own terms this time around.
All it took was one rather uncomfortable road trip to seal the deal. “We did the Goodguys Road Tour with the top down in Harold’s 1933 Ford roadster a few years ago. Half the time we were freezing, and half the time we were sweating,” Tracy recalls. “I told Harold that if we did the tour again, we were going to do it in comfort. My first car was a 1970 Mach 1 Mustang, so I’ve always liked fast cars. I saw a white Cadillac convertible with a blue top at a show years several back, and I fell in love with it. When I suggested building a more comfortable car for the Road Tour, Harold was all over it.”
After researching vintage Cadillacs online, Tracy decided that a 1949 Series 62 had to be in her future. “I really liked the lines, the curves, and the chrome on the 1949 body style. I was adamant about building a car with white paint, a blue top, wire wheels, and whitewalls,” she recalls. Eventually, Harold and Tracy found a suitable restoration candidate. It was black with a worn-out top and ragged interior, but otherwise the car was in great shape. Fortunately for Tracy, her husband just happened to own Customs and Hot Rods of Andice (CHRA), the same shop responsible for Billy Thomas’ Ridler-winning 1939 Olds.
Needless to say, the Caddy was in very good hands. Tracy, Harold, and the CHRA crew immediately collaborated to set a direction for the build. “We needed to give the car some attitude, so we talked Tracy into slamming it, putting it on 18-inch Dayton wheels, and stretching the wheelbase to put the front wheels in the right location after lowering it. I wouldn’t budge on those three things,” Michael Kaiser of CHRA recounts. “Tracy gave us a lot of flexibility with the build, and Harold let us go nuts with the fit and finish. The goal was to build a car that looked original, but with coach-built quality.”
Smart shopping meant that the Caddy required only minimal rust repair before diving into the fun stuff. “It was already a gorgeous car that only needed one new outer rocker, and patch repairs on the floor and tail panel. I don’t mind cutting a car up under the right circumstances, but this car looks so good straight from the factory that we just wanted to enhance what’s already there, as if GM made a coach-built car back in 1949,” Kaiser explains.
The body modifications aren’t dramatic, but they most certainly clean up the Caddy’s overall appearance. “To sharpen and tighten up the lines, we reshaped the rear fenders to create a crisp parting line. The front and rear bumpers have been narrowed and pulled closer to the car,” Kaiser says. “We also reshaped the bumperettes and the license plate recess. Tracy didn’t like how the exhaust hung down, so we built a custom aluminum belly pan and routed the tailpipes through the bumper.”
Beneath the Caddy’s streamlined yet traditional skin is an engine combo, driveline, and chassis that’s strays dramatically from convention. Power comes from a 454ci Don Hardy Race Cars supercharged LSX that kicks out 975 hp. The combo utilizes a Chevrolet Performance block, crank, and rods matched with custom DHRC forged pistons and a custom hydraulic roller cam. A Magnuson 2300 blower squeezes air through Dart LS3 cylinder heads, and exhaust exits through custom CHRA–built 321 stainless steel headers and dual 3-inch Borla mufflers. The big, bad LSX sends its 913 lb-ft of torque back to a Bowler 4L80E automatic and a Strange 9-inch rearend.
All that power combined with nearly 4,900 pounds of mass can be quite a handful to harness, so CHRA turned to the Roadster Shop for a custom chassis. It boasts beefy A-arms up front, a four-link out back, and a pair of sway bars to keep the big Caddy flat in corners. RideTech ShockWave air springs and shocks allow adjusting the ride height at will while keeping the ride quality comfy. Bringing it all to a halt on demand are six-piston Wilwood brakes clamping down on 14-inch rotors.
Somewhat surprisingly, none of the modern hardware is at odds with the Caddy’s old-school vibe. “We made a lot of changes to make the car look more period correct. Greening Auto CNC machined a set of custom valve covers that copy the shape of the originals and also hide the coil packs,” Kaiser explains. “The raised ribs and Cadillac script are a perfect match to the original valve covers. The carbon-fiber jackshaft on the blower really bugged us because it clashed with the era the car is from. Since simply painting the shaft would still show the texture of the carbon fiber, we came up with the idea of building a blower cover. It’s press-formed from 0.063-inch aluminum to mimic the waffle pattern of the blower. We finished the motor off with a custom CNC air inlet.”
Since a stock engine compartment isn’t worthy of an LSX this pretty, CHRA surrounded it in an equally stunning cocoon. Believe it or not, the cool recesses stamped into the radiator cover look very similar to stock. CHRA drew inspiration from the factory design, smoothed it out a bit, and created the cleaner, better-fitting piece. “We carried the stamped, recessed look over into the inner fenders and firewall. The idea was to keep a cohesive theme throughout the engine compartment to make it look like it could have been built that way from the factory.”
Granted there are many talented hot rod shops that can stuff a big motor into a Caddy and drop it down on airbags, where CHRA’s creations stand out are their painstaking fit, finish, and attention to detail. “Since we were building this Cadillac and the Ridler car at the same time, it was hard to ‘turn it off’ sometimes,” Kaiser admits. “We machined a custom motorized door for the center of the dash that flips down to hide the backup camera display, A/C controls, stereo head unit, and seat heater switches. The A/C bezels, power window switches, and trim rings are also custom-machined one-offs. The side glass frame has been cut to fit better, and the steering column and underdash covers are custom as well. We even custom-machined the trans dipstick to look more period correct.”
Not surprisingly, achieving monumental levels of fit and finish requires a monumental effort. “To get the car to the level it’s at now, we had to mess with every single panel and piece of trim. It goes from an elegant car to ‘Oh my goodness, look at that,’” Kaiser remarks. “Our fabrication team did a great job on the metalwork, Jay Schluter did a great job on the custom interior work, and our body shop brought the car home. It was a great team effort all around.”
Immediately after finishing the car, Harold and Tracy drove it from Colorado to Kentucky on the Goodguys Road Tour. Factoring in the drive to and from the event from their home in Texas, the trip tallied over 3,000 miles. Just as Tracy had hoped for, the car ran without a hitch, and just as importantly, she cruised in comfort. “The car has so much power that you can do whatever you want in traffic. It’s a lot of fun, and I love driving it,” Tracy gushes.
Ultimately, there’s a good chance that those too smart or too proud to fall for the oldest trick in the book don’t have 975 hp worth of slammed, stretched, and supercharged 1949 Cadillac sitting in the driveway. So who’s the sucker now?
Sometimes dreams really do come true. For Nicholas Benoit, a diesel mechanic living in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, it happened in a convenience store! As far back as he could remember, Nick always dreamed of owning a classic truck like this. He and his wife, Rachel, were traveling to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to look at several classic trucks that they found on the Internet, but the results were disappointing. On the way home however, a quick stop in a local convenience store changed everything. Rachel picked up a truck sales paper and saw a picture of this orange 1953 F-100. Although it looked too good to be true, they took a chance, spoke to the owner in Michigan, closed the deal, and were thrilled when their new truck arrived at their home in Louisiana.
Although the truck needed some upgrades, most of them were already on Nick’s to-do list, so it worked out perfectly. Nothing ensures quality like a firm foundation, so improvements began with chassis mods, boxing the rails, and adding a new Heidts Super Ride II frontend with 2-inch drop spindles, power steering, and a Classic Performance Products disc brake conversion package. The original parallel leaf springs combine with modern coilovers to stabilize the narrowed 8.8 rear, running 3.73 gears and a Heidts disc brake conversion. Nick smiles when he says “A four-link is already on the short list.” The original gas tank was replaced with an 18-gallon fuel cell, now located between the rear framerails. Transforming the chassis into a roller are the 15-inch Center Line Warrior Drag Series rims, fitted with P225/70R15 Hoosier rubber up front and fat, 31×18.5×15 Hoosiers in the rear.
The truck already had a strong 390 FE V-8 installed but if lots of power is good, more is even better, so Nick had the motor rebuilt, boring it 0.040 over and upgrading the rotating assembly with Keith Black 9:1 pistons and a Ford FE crank from Eagle Specialty Products. A COMP Cam works the three angle-cut valves in the Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads. Nick chose a 4160 Classic 750-cfm Holley four-barrel carb with a “bird catcher” scoop for the air/fuel mix, along with a PerTronix Flame-Thrower II distributor and coil that fires the spark through MSD wires. Sanderson FF427 ceramic-coated headers feed a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system with a Pypes crossover and Gibson MWA mufflers (Mufflers with Attitude). The side-exiting pipes dump through tips cut into the running boards and create a serious performance rumble. Keeping the big engine cool was a priority, beginning with an Edelbrock Victor series 8835 water pump and three-row, Champion aluminum radiator running a Flex-a-lite fan. A Flex-a-lite oil cooler and TCI Automatic transmission cooler protect the rest of the fluids while the billet aluminum V-Belt pulley kit powers the Tuff Stuff 100-amp alternator. Wayne Myer from Harahan Auto Parts in Harahan, Louisiana, was in charge of the engine build. The potent package sends 450 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque to the TCI Street three-speed automatic controlled by a B&M Slap Shifter.
Once the essential powertrain upgrades were in place, body mods were next. When the truck arrived, it had a Mid Fifty fiberglass Tilt Dog House front end along with their headlights, taillights, window glass, and sideview mirrors. New rear fenders and tailgate were added but the rest of the bed is original. Inside the bed, the rich-looking Oak planks are separated by polished stainless steel strips and mini-tubs were added to provide clearance for the 18.5-inch-wide rear tires. A louvered rear pan and repro Ford taillights wrap up the rear. Up front, the original grille was re-chromed and an aftermarket bumper added. The truck retains its original cowl vent as a nostalgic touch. The distinctive Prowler Orange metallic paint with Pearl ghost flames was shot by Doug Haselet from Cassopolis, Michigan.
The final effort was making a few changes to an already beautiful interior, complete with tan leather Mustang bucket seats with a center armrest. Using the same Oak found in the bed and the cup holder on top of the center armrest, the Oak center console holds the aggressive-looking B&M shifter. For a nostalgic touch, the original Ford heater is still in place and warms the cab on chilly mornings. Monitoring all the critical elements of the high-performance motor and looking like a piece of dashboard jewelry is the distinctive, silver and gold Ford Masterpiece five-piece gauge cluster. The final upgrades were a steering column from ididit holding a Billet Specialties wheel. There is one more important addition to the interior. After these photos were taken, a local artist created a memorial to Nick’s mother on the passenger side of the dashboard. Suzie was born the same year as the truck in 1953. She was in poor health but always talked about riding in the truck. Unfortunately she died before it was complete. The dashboard tribute is a reminder to Nick that she is still with him in spirit.
The trophy-winning F-100 took about six years of part-time work and there’s more to come. Future plans include an Art Morrison chassis and air suspension along with some upgrades to the powertrain. While the truck is complete, it’s safe to say that this one may never be finished! (And, of course, that’s just the way we like ’em.)
1953 Ford F-100
Frame: Reinforced rails
Rearend / Ratio: Ford 8.8 with 3.73 gears.
Rear suspension: Ford leaf springs with modern coilovers
Rear brakes: Heidts disc
Front suspension: Heidts Super Ride II frontend with 2-inch drop spindles
Front brakes: Classic Performance Products disc brake conversion package
Steering box: Heidts power steering
Front wheels: 15-inch Center Line Warrior Drag Series
Rear wheels: 15-inch Center Line Warrior Drag Series
Front tires: P225/70R15 Hoosier
Rear tires: 31×18.5×15 Hoosiers
Gas tank: 18-gallon fuel cell mounted between the rear chassis members
Engine: Ford 390 FE V-8
Heads: Edelbrock aluminum
Valve covers: Ford Racing
Manifold / Induction: Edelbrock and 750-cfm Holley four-barrel
Ignition: PerTronix Flame-Thrower II
Exhaust / Mufflers: 3-inch stainless steel with Gibson mufflers
Transmission: TCI Auto Street three-speed automatic
Shifter: B&M Slap Shifter in a custom center console
Modifications: Mid Fifty side glass
Fenders front / rear: Mid Fifty fiberglass Tilt Dog House front end, aftermarket rear fenders
Grille: re-chromed original
Bed: oak planks, stainless steel strips, mini-tubs, louvered rear pan
Bodywork and paint by: Doug Haselet from Cassopolis, MI
Paint type / Color: Prowler Orange metallic paint with Pearl ghost flames
Headlights / Taillights: Mid Fifty headlights, Ford reproduction taillights
Outside mirrors: Mid Fifty
Bumpers: Aftermarket front bumper, rear bumper deleted
Dashboard: Painted to match
Gauges: Silver and gold Ford Masterpiece five-piece gauge cluster
Air conditioning: no
Stereo: motor music sounds best!
Steering wheel: Billet Specialties
Steering column: ididit
Seats: Mustang buckets with oak center armrest and cup holders, oak custom center console
Upholstery by: previous owner
Material / Color: tan leather
Carpet: tan cotton
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Electronics wise, the Performance Automatic 4L70E’s Simple Shift transmission controller was mounted (beneath the bench seat, where we’ve got plenty of room for all sorts of goodies), harnesses routed, and connections integrated with the Chevy Performance LS harness. The final bits and pieces of the chassis wiring, such as the instrument gauge leads, cooling fan, etc. were strung and connected. And while Jason was busy building the AirRaid 4-inch universal air intake and installing the brand-new Speedway Muscle Car shifter (from Lokar), fitted and floor-mounted in the cab, the Speedway crew themselves put the finishing touches on installing and fitting the front sheetmetal clip and hood, front and rear bumpers, and dressing up the doors appropriately (see photos).
So, what’s left now? Well, throwing a driveshaft in, topping off all the fluids, making sure everything’s good and tight, and the most important job of all: firing the LS3 truck up for the first time, hearing the Hooker/Speedway exhaust (in the process of being installed) roar, and making her go!
We’ve got the remainder of the day to accomplish all that and more, so stay tuned and see how the final hours play out on the Speedway Motors Week to Wicked 1952 Chevy. www.speedwaymotors.com/featured/wicked