Daniel Basukoski’s 1956 Chev has been a rare sight in recent years but a massive rebuild has now been completed and he is ready to go radial tyre drag racing in a (literally) big way.
Basukoski has only raced a handful of cars down the quarter mile and this Chev is the only one he calls serious.
“I had an LJ Torana street car with a nitrous 308 that I raced at street meets, running low 11s, but the ‘56 is my first proper race car,” he said. “I used to go to the Eastern Creek drags all the time as a young bloke. I watched the Wild Bunch cars and I knew some blokes who were into ‘57 Chevs at the time. I used to watch Victor Bray’s ‘57, Les Winter’s ‘55, my mate Peter Lovering who had a blue and white ‘55 street car at the time, Chris Simpson’s ‘56 street car. All of those were an inspiration.”
It was Simpson who gave Basukoski the heads up on the ‘56 you see in these pages, when it was still a street car with a mild big block running mid 12s. He was just 20 years old when he bought the big slice of American muscle in 1998. It was however a factory right hand drive car which made it pretty cool. Basukoski was doing an apprenticeship at the time and simply modified the car when and if he could afford it.
One of the first major changes was performing a Holden HQ-WB front graft, where the Chev’s chassis was chopped in front of the firewall and replaced with the Australian metal. The surgery is commonly performed by modifiers for power steering, disc brakes and more room for exhausts, particularly when installing a big block.
As Basukoski got more serious about going drag racing he had a four link put in to the rear end of the Chev in the late 2000s to provide for better launches, but the look of the car didn’t sit well with him.
“We had to lift the back of the car up to go racing and it used to shit me to tears,” he said. “I couldn’t walk into the garage without getting annoyed by it.
“I called Darren Mood at Mood Motorsports one day and said I have to fix this ASAP. He had a laugh and told me to bring the car over and we would make it happen.”
That was about five years ago and the build to turn the 56 Chev into what you now see began.
“We chopped everything out from behind the driver’s seat back; we scrapped the old four link and started from scratch.”
Underneath, most of the original chassis and the graft remains. The roll cage all ties into those points along with the new four link which features Jerry Bickel brackets and heavy duty sway bar, and all the ‘Pro Mod’ stuff.
“It has got the Strange full floater, hubs and everything, it’s the best shit we could buy at the time,” Basukoski said.
The Chev is no longer streetable per se, but it is very much in a Pro Street vein. One of the things to love about this car is the cues it takes from different areas of drag racing, from the Wild Bunch drivers that originally inspired Basukoski’s love of the sport to the modern day radial tyre scene it is built to compete in.
“It is still a proper car, it has glass windows and doors, I didn’t want to chop it up too much,” he said. “Bar the bonnet and the rear boot lid it is all steel and glass and it has the original steering column and wheel. I wanted as much original 56 Chevy in it as I could, with working headlights, winding windows and all the rest. I know it’s not the best for a drag car but it is what it is.”
Basukoski was planning on tubbing the car and putting in big 32 inch slicks when the rebuild started, until the performances of radial-tyre machines captured his attention.
“Darren had a radial Mustang and the radial stuff was really taking off,” he said. “This was before they had all the Pro Mod radial cars and the street cars were doing like 1.1s on the sixty. I thought if they can do it on a radial why can’t we?”
The decision was made to push the direction of the build into a dedicated radial car, which meant they couldn’t fit a bigger tyre even if they wanted to, according to Basukoski.
“We built the rear end to suit radials, we put more pinion angle into the diff and we fitted Menscer Motorsports shocks.”
Next Basukoski had to develop a motor package capable of pushing 3800 pounds of car and driver to the big speeds he wanted to see. In went a 572ci big block Chev running a Dart Big M block and Brodix heads. A list that includes a Crower billet crank, BME rods, JE pistons and Comp cams helped fill out the internal components. On to the outside went a Turbo 400 transmission and twin 94mm Precision turbos. The whole box and dice was originally controlled by a Big Stuff ECU, but the Federal Government’s leaded fuel ban threw a spanner in the works.
“The car was built for Roo16 originally. I got finished building the car and I raced it once for a shakedown before the ban came into play. I had to redo all the EFI in it to switch to methanol and the Big Stuff only ran eight injectors on the petrol. If I sent my Big Stuff back to get it reflashed it was going to cost like five grand.
“I spoke to a few of the guys and they said Big Stuff was like the first iPhone, upgrading it would make it an iPhone 4, but meanwhile everyone else is on the iPhone 11. I decided to change to the FuelTech.
“I then had to buy eight more injectors, a bigger fuel pump, modified the manifold, redo the fuel tank, wire the FuelTech in and so on. By the time I was finished converting from petrol to alcohol it had probably cost me over $20,000.”
Basukoski simply wanted to push the loud pedal on the car he had put so many hours into, and nothing was going to stop him.
“The car was finished and I wanted to race it, so I had to bite the bullet. It was something I didn’t expect, like I had a water-to-air intercooler which I wouldn’t have built if I was running alcohol. A lot of blokes in the same boat as they have the unleaded alternative but you can’t make the power on it, they are all having to pull timing and boost. Alcohol was the only alternative.”
Getting the big Chev on to the track in its new configuration was an eye-opening experience for Basukoski. The biggest problem so far has been keeping the front wheels on the ground.
“I haven’t driven another car like this, so I don’t know what I am meant to expect and we haven’t done a whole lot of racing yet. Every time we tried to make a pass at the Kenda Series it kept wanting to lift the front end up.”
Basukoski believed the problem was related to a lot of modifications that removed weight from the engine bay adding up.
“We last scaled the car up six months ago and we had 53% on the front which is where you want to be for a radial car. The night after we scaled it we lost oil pressure and so we chopped the cross member out of the car at three in the morning to get the sump out and when we fixed it we plated the cross member and put a moly bar there, which probably took 10 to 15kg out of the front. “When we switched to methanol, the radiator came out along with the water pump, and all of the water weight itself. We were going to make a weight package for the front as it was in the back of our minds but it was just one of those things we missed.”
The wheelstands had the photographers’ cameras running hot but also Basukoski’s wallet.
“I tried to catch it but when it came down it bent the lower control arms and broke the front shocks, so they’re back at Menscer getting repaired and once all that comes back we will fix it all up and we can get it out there again.”
Despite the spectacular nature of his launches, Basukoski was sixty footing in the mid 1.2s and he expects the car to manage high 1.1s once it is sorted out.
“The early numbers are already promising for a car that heavy. We think it has around 2500-3000 horsepower, though we don’t know because the big corners make it hard to get on to a hub dyno.”
The Chev competed in Outlaw Radial at the Kenda Series and is also suitable for the Pro Radial 400 Thunder class rules. Basukoski realises that the three second passes we are currently seeing at the top are beyond his range, but it doesn’t matter so long as he is having a blast.
“To be honest it is probably the heaviest and most underpowered car out there,” he laughed. “It will never be competitive, but we take it seriously. If I wanted to be ‘serious serious’ I wouldn’t have used an old 56 Chev; that car is a part of me.
“We hope it will run in the 6.9/6.8 range over the quarter, at around 200mph. It is one thing getting the car down the quarter but you need to pull it up at the other end too, and I don’t know if I want to go much faster in an old car, it depends how it feels at the other end. We will try to go as fast as is safe, but on paper it should run high sixes all day.”
When Basukoski talks about his beloved Chev, it is clear there is a lot of sentimental value. When he looks at the car in his garage now he sees all the hours of effort behind it, and all the mates who have helped.
“I love this car and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think I have the best car at the track! It’s now at the point where I can look at it in the garage and say, ‘Yeah, that’s sick.’ I love seeing it sitting there.
“It’s not the prettiest thing close up, with scratches and dings, I haven’t touched the paint since I bought it. But there is nothing rough about the quality of the build, it has everything it needs safety wise, it just looks a little average on the outside because that is how we like it.”