Interview with John Paige and his Streetfighter 2nd Gen Bird!

My man Mr Paige has been dropping bits of knowledge on our favorite sites and for some time now.
I naturally gravitated to his post for its merit coming from experience on and off the track.
Check out what is his take on the Streetfighter style, and his personal bruiser also..

1. Do you think your car is a Streetfighter?

Yes, I never really thought about what “type” of car mine was, until Johnny Hunkins called it a G-machine when he was shooting it for PHR during a NMCA drag race I was running the car at. Since my car isn’t really an all out effort to achieve “maximum” handling I’d never considered it a G machine. However, since he wanted to do a feature on the car for the magazine I figured he could call it whatever he wanted to, and it would be OK with me!!! My car is not Pro-Touring either in my opinion, since I don’t consider it to be built to a “Professional” level of craftsmanship. A couple threads popped up on the Lat-G and Pro-Touring forums discussing the Streetfighter type of cars and I think that’s where my car fits in best if I had to catagorize the car. It’s sort of a race car that still gets driven on the street. It gets drag raced, used on road race tracks and used for Land Speed Racing while still getting driven on the street.

2. What do you think a Streetfighter(car) is?

At the core, I think of a race car/driver combination that’s street driven. I think that what makes a Streetfighter has a lot to do with the personality of the owner, and that the car becomes an extension of the owners personality over time, in much the same way as the clothes we wear or haircut we have. Even if that part of the persons personality only comes out around the car. A multimillionaire can have a Twin Turbo Lambo Streetfighter just as easily as a high school guy with a primered Fox body Mustang. It’s a combination of car AND driver that makes a true Streetfighter. The driver of a Streetfighter car has a certain familiarity and relaxed comfortable attitude when behind the wheel. You won’t see a true Streetfighter driver anxiously checking his (or her) gauges every 2 seconds at a stoplight fearing something will go wrong without even moving. He won’t immediately open the hood at a destination just to make sure everything’s OK. The car is dependable and the driver is confident in its abilities and durability. If you put a regular (non car lover) type of person in an awesome Streetfighter car do you have a Streetfighter? No, it’s a cool car with a very nervous driver that can’t use the car to its limits.The combo couldn’t put up a “fight” against another car in its class with a streetfighter “driver” behind the wheel.

My perception of a Streetfighter “car” is that it is a car which is first and most importantly driven on the streets. Not just to get to a race, or other event, but for the enjoyment of driving the car. It’s the kind of car you can’t wait to get into just because of the exhilarating feeling you get driving or riding in it. It’s the kind of car that has an “attitude” of some kind. Whether it be a totally stock looking car with a brutally fast drivetrain, a car that is a barely street legal race car with license plates, a car that can handle much better that it did stock, or a Q-ship land yacht with a 250 shot. It’s a car that can release the adrenaline! The kind of car that makes people say “That thing is bad ass!” even if they would never want to own it themselves.

3. How long have you been interested in the Streetfighter style build?

I guess always. My first street car was a 68 Camaro I bought when I turned 16 in 1974. The first thing I did was put 4 fat tires on so it would handle better, instant attitude adjustment! LOL. That began the transformation that was guided by my personality. Although I do own completely stock original cars I prefer the ones that I’ve modified a lot and drive on tracks as well as on the street..

4. What do you think the point to a Streetfighter build should be?

I don’t really like the term “build” and I think there’s waaay to many people disassembling cars for “builds” that never get finished. Unless someone has a lot of disposable income I recommend the evolution way of guiding the changes to a car and keeping the car usable as modifications are made, with reasonable down time for upgrades. Most (although certainly not all) people have dreams that are bigger than their time and money will allow when it comes to “builds” and many people end up with very expensive outdated garage art that “would have been great” if only they had more time and money to finish the project, or they end up so deep in the hole financially they can’t afford to take the car to a track never mind insure it and drive it on the streets. Meanwhile they’re cheating themselves out of the fun they could have been having using the car instead of just visiting it briefly in the garage or driveway while walking by it for years. So what if it doesn’t have the engine of the week, or suspension of the week, or power adder of the week, or an 8 speed? You get the idea.

5. Streetfighter and pro-touring… similarities?, differences?

To me the term “Pro” gives the implication of a very high level of professional craftsmanship of all aspects of the car. The term “Touring” implies the actual use of the car for touring. “Street” implies the use of the car on the street while “Fighter” implies the ability of the car to do battle with others should the need or want arise. While all pro touring cars could possibly be Streetfighters not all Streetfighters are eligible to be considered Pro-Touring cars. Also Pro-touring cars are usually expected to be American muscle cars by most people. There is also a whole group of unused or barely driven Pro-touring type cars I refer to as Show-Touring which don’t I don’t feel qualify as Pro touring or Streetfighters, although some are amazing, very cool cars. With this line of thought there are, (or could be) Pro-Streetfighter cars? A professional level of craftsmanship on all aspects of a car with an “attitude” that’s street driven.

While Pro-Touring seems to be loosely defined as a modernized American muscle cars which have had modifications to enhance the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and maneuver I always thought that was basic hot rodding. It seems to me that cars are now categorized as pro-touring cars by what types of parts they have and what modifications have been done to them, with a much higher emphasis being placed on creature comforts and appearance besides the performance enhancements. At the same time a lot of pro touring cars have become supersized like everything else. More power than you can actually use, more brakes than gets used, more suspension equipment than gets used, more wheel and tire etc. They’re evolving into caricatures of the type of cars they started out as, much in the same manner that Pro-street cars did.

Streetfighters to me are the leaner, meaner cars which are modified to the point of being “race ready” for one or more types of competitive events. The car does not necessarily need to be a musclecar, it can be any year make or model that’s “race ready” and yet still routinely gets driven on the street. It doesn’t ever have to put one tire on a track as long as it’s ready to do battle at any given point. It also doesn’t need to be comfortable for “touring”, it might be, but doesn’t need to be. If a Streetfighter driver has a certain amount of money to spend on something car related at a particular time, it’s a lot more likely to get spent on a day at the track or a performance enhancer than something plush or shiny for the car that doesn’t make it perform any better. That’s not to say we don’t buy and install creature comforts, or pretty things, but if moneys tight, the money’s going toward driving or increasing performance rather than creature comfort and appearance items.

6. The essential modifications visual and functional?

I don’t think there’s modifications or items in particular that I feel is essential to a cars Streetfighter status, it just has to have the ability to “fight” if need be in some type of contest of speed or agility with cars in it’s own class. It doesn’t need to have certain products, a certain power to weight ratio, a certain elapsed time, or a certain lateral G capability. But… simply looking like a fighter isn’t enough. To me the overall “feeling” a Streetfighter car gives is of a car that is primarily function first and very durable. That doesn’t mean it can’t also be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, far from it. The nicest streetfighters are ones that make you stare at them for one reason or another and you can’t figure out why you don’t want to turn away.

7. Do Streetfighter builds only apply to the lowbuck or are there Highdollar fighters?

My opinion is that Streetfighters can range from very low dollar cars to megabucks cars. I’ve got a magazine on my desk right now (Grassroots Motorsports April 2010) with an awesome looking VW bug/streetrod looking creation on the cover that ran an autocross, was judged as a show car, and ran a 10.8 at the strip on a $2000.00 budget. With a couple small changes it could be registered in many states. The first thing I thought when I saw the cover pic on the magazine in the mailbox was “That thing is bad ass!” On the opposite end of the spectrum I was running in a Land Speed Race down here in So FL a couple months ago and there were some incredible, highly modified Lambos, Ferraris, Porsches, and Ford GT’s that were driven to the track and ripping off passes at 200 MPH! There was a guy running a AMG Mercedes behind me in staging that ran 190 MPH!! These guys drive the cars on the street all the time! I consider them Streetfighters.

8. Do you think a Streetfighter build is restricted to American cars or others?

Nope, every car ever built could be transformed into a Streetfighter. Some would be ugly to most people and some would be considered slow to most people but they’d still be Streetfighters in their own right.

9. When they say “street” what type of conduct do you think applies to these cars on the street?

I love hearing the sound of a small block winding up to 7 grand banging through the gears with open headers on a highway on ramp off in the distance breaking the silence of a quiet evening for a few moments. On the other hand I don’t drive my car with loud sidepipes through the open air restaurant section of my town at dinnertime. It’s not polite. There’s a time and place for different types of behavior with a car. If you think you might be annoying someone with your car or actions, you probably are. We’re car people. Most people aren’t.

As far as driving goes I think common sense should apply. Real high speeds should only be done in controlled environments like at a track. Endangering the health or lives of others in any way without their consent crosses the line. If you want to risk a ticket and your own health doing 150 MPH alone in the car on a empty highway where a deer could dart out it’s all on you, but passing others at much higher than normal street speeds should not even be considered. Likewise a passenger egging you on to “smoke um up” on a deserted back road is OK too because they wanted you to do it, but trying to scare an unwilling passenger by driving at the limits is not acceptable. There’s a time and place for everything without putting anyone who doesn’t want to be at risk. Any time a topic like this comes up there’s always a “gray” area. My advice would be that if you think the actions in question would fall into the gray area, don’t do it.

10. The Streetfighter type people you have met along the way, what are they like?

Streetfighter personalities tend to find each other no matter who or where you are. Nationalities, social status, and income level have no bearing on the comradery of Streetfighters. I’ve seen guys who I know are well educated, with high social status, and have cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars develop friendships with other Streetfighters on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. Streetfighters come from all walks of life.

I ran into a guy at a gas station a while back around 9 PM while I was out driving around in my Firebird with no destination or agenda. We would never have run into each other in regular social circles. He is a Tex-Mex (his word) with a thick accent and I’m a white guy from New England (insert favorite New England saying or WASP here). I was getting accustomed to driving my car with a new full cage and full containment seats with 6 point harnesses when I stopped for gas. He was driving a 1st gen Camaro, just out driving for the fun of it. His car was a sort of old school style car with long shackles on the leaf springs, Torque Thrust wheels all around, and it was little raw and rough around the edges. There was nothing wrong with the car, it just wasn’t the type of car that looked like it had all the newest bells and whistles and had just rolled out of a detail shop headed to a show.

We started chatting at the pumps and decided since we were both just driving around aimlessly we’d search at some spots in the vicinity where he knew they held cruise nights so we’d have something to do. As we maneuvered through the city streets and on and off highways whenever there was no traffic he was winding it up and chirping through the gears. I was being more respectable since I had race #’s all over the car. After a couple hours with no success it had gotten so late that any cruises would have long been over, but really, neither of us cared, it was just something to do while we were driving. We stopped in a parking lot and I was about to tell him I was going to head toward home because I had about a 45 minute drive ahead of me still and it was past midnightwhen he asked if I wanted to grab a bite to eat. Since I hadn’t eaten I said sure and followed him to an all night outdoor Mexican place he knew of.

Over dinner I learned that his wife had bought him the car because he’d sold his old one long before to buy her a new (used) car at one point when their finances were low. He had gone without a hot rod for years and then one day she surprised him with the Camaro. He just loved to go out and drive the car, banging through the gears on a nice night whenever he could and he also took it to the dragstrip every once in a while when time allowed. He didn’t care about shows and cruise nights he just loved to drive the car, banging through the gears. He is a Streetfighter, a low profile Streetfighter (unlike some of us) but a Streetfighter none the less. If someone were to throw down the gauntlet at a stoplight with no traffic ahead, I have no doubt he’d lay into the throttle, right to the very limit of traction, even if he knew he was gonna get smoked… Oh, he now owns a multimillion dollar company, and can afford to change anything on the car he wants but chooses to keep it close to the way it appeared when his wife bought it for him. He’s slowly been doing performance upgrades himself because he likes to work on the car and suspension upgrades are next. It’s not about having the newest coolest widget or paint, it’s an attitude.

He was like many Streetfighters I’ve met. They’re really nice people, who, beyond the often loud, bold, raw, over the top, or “in your face” appearance of their car or personal attire etc. are very mellow, thoughtfull, ambitious, skilled, and creative, if not downright artistic types. Most downplay the abilities of their car or significance of the designs and work they’ve put into the modifications they’ve done to their vehicles.

11. To those who are afraid of this type of build style(ie: because of chipping their paint) what would you say?

I have a pretty big chip in my front spoiler from a 2 X 4 block that kicked up from under a truck on a highway just south of New Orleans (pre hurricane). I was on the way back to the hotel after getting a ride in a Big Block Chevy powered airboat in the swamps. I’d driven the car on vacation from CT for the trip. That’s a waaaay better story than “some jackass chipped my car with his camera at a show”.

I have also have some chemical damage to the paint on the hood of my car that looks like water spots that I can’t buff out. An Alfa Romeo lost an engine on the back straight of the new Palm Beach International road track this past Summer during a NASA HPDE track session. I was just about to pass the Alfa after receiving a “point by” when it appeared to me like he’d blown a cooling hose so I backed off to get out of the spray. It probably wouldn’t have been a problem to get off the paint if I’d taken care of it right away but I spent the time before the next track session talking to David Wallens from Grassroots Motorsports magazine thinking it was just water from the radiator. Apparently there was something else besides water that got on my car. That’s a waaaay better story than “someone spilled something on my car at a show and I didn’t notice until it was too late”.

I’d like to take this opportunity to get up on my soapbox.

Take your cars out and drive them!!!! If it doesn’t run, just get it together! It’s very hard to keep spending all of your spare time and money on something that doesn’t give you anything in return for months or years at a time. There are too many people taking usable cars apart to the frame (or unibody) with a dream of building the car to be what they consider the “perfect” car. The odds are against them. Life priorities and financial obligations can suck the wind out of a project in a flash. Meanwhile if they’d kept the car whole and did upgrades as time and money allowed they could enjoy the car and the upgrades as the project progressed. Even if the car never reached what they’d envisioned as “perfect” they still would have had a lot of fun with it. Yes it might take some extra time and money to reach the final goal but the benefits along the way are worth it.

Older guys fondly recall their high school car (many of which were Streetfighters) and all of the great memories associated with it. Most times it was a car they wished was more than it was, they spent all their extra cash to make it better. It didn’t have the nicest paint, it wasn’t the quickest , it didn’t handle like a slot car but it was their car and allowed them to create moments that will live in their memories forever. Take your cars out, create a memory!

The first time I took my Firebird out on a road track it still had the original 350 2 barrel. Did I care? Hell no ! I was driving on the famous Lime Rock Park race track! (since then I upgraded the engine)

The first time that same car was on a drag strip was at a track rental day with some buddies. It ran a blistering 16.4 smoking the right rear wheel because it didn’t have posi yet. Did I care? Hell no ! I had a great day with friends and made 20+ passes! (since then I bought DOT slicks and built a couple posi rears I use)

The first time I entered the same car at a Land Speed Race they told me I wasn’t allowed to go much over 135 MPH because I didn’t have the correct safety gear to go faster. Did I care? Hell no ! I happily made a dozen passes at 135+ MPH ! (since then I upgraded the safety equipment to allow me to run much faster)

I have the memories from each of those days and many, many, others because I kept the car usable while upgrading it. If I’d tried to “build” the “perfect” car out of the Firebird all at once, it still wouldn’t be driveable because of lifes bumps, turns, and stopsigns. I’ve been working on it almost 20 years now and it still doesn’t have things I’d like to have. However, in a way, it’s already “perfect”. To me the “perfect” car is the one you get the most enjoyment out of, and for me, it’s a STREETFIGHTER!

Currently running a ’74 400 with ’68 # 16 heads. 110 leaded race gas for track events,
cut 50% with 93 octane for street use
Speed Demon carb
Holley Blue pump
Performer intake
Canton Road Race pan
MSD Pro Billet distributor and MSD wires
MSD box and Blaster 3 coil
Flowkooler water pump
T 350 W/shift kit
B&M supercooler

Hotchkis springs
Hotchkis Swaybars
Hotchkis offset upper Control Arm Shafts
Bilstein shocks
Subframe connectors
Del-A-Lum control arm bushings
Energy Suspension Poly bodymounts
Driveshaft loop

10 bolt 3.73 for drag racing and short stuff
10 bolt 2.41 for high speed stuff, Built with moser Tapered bearing axles,
Tapered bearing housing ends welded on,
Axle tubes welded to center section,
Aluminum bearing support cover etc.

American Racing Torque Thrust II’s ( with Rad Capz of course!) Yokohama AO 32’s 275 40 17’s and 315 35 17’s
Centerlines with Mickey Thompson ET Streets and Mickey skinnys up front (drag race wheels)

B&M Quicksilver shifter
Hurst Roll control (line lock)
Schroth 6 point harnesses (Nascar style HANS compatable)
Full roll cage
Kirkey #63 full containment seats (NASCAR style heavily modified)
Shift light built into stock style tach in dash
Aftermarket gauges
Firefox 10 lb 4 nozzle engine and fuel system fire extinguisher system
Firefox 6.5 lb 3 nozzle passenger compartment system

Emblems removed
Trim shaved or blacked out
Halogen headlights with built in LED turn/park lights
Original park/turn light openings for brake cooling ducts
Tow hooks front and rear
Blacked out wipers
Painted door handles
Rear bumper bolts shaved

Owned since early 90’s and almost all work performed by owner. Internal transmission work, roll cage fabrication, and exhast tubing fabrication performed by shops. Body, paint, engine swaps, interior, suspension etc all performed by owner.

Posted by Mr. Vengeance on June 8, 2011 under Events,Interviews