The Gray Ghost Rides Again
M. M. “Mike” Matune, Jr.
Fans at last weekend’s Monterey Pre-Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca were treated to the impressive return of “The Gray Ghost” to competition. After an extended hibernation, the car’s new owner, John Hildebrand, honored the car’s rich historic motor racing legacy by putting the car where it rightfully deserved to be, on track.
To repeat an oft-told tale, in 1971 Pontiac engineer Herb Adams decided to convert wife’s 1964 Pontiac Tempest into an all-out Trans Am race car. Assisting him in this venture was a team of his fellow Pontiac engineers. Hardly a full factory effort, although some would think it were, the Trans Action car was the product of innovation, creativity and drive coupled with solid mechanical skills. They would succeed in doing the improbable and make it to the series inaugural event that year in Lime Rock, Connecticut.
With experienced race driver Bob Tullius, behind the wheel, the car was debuted into the arena amidst a torrential downpour. They would confound the racing world when the car challenged for the lead until small problems slowed the effort. But the racing world had taken note, this wasn’t an effort to be taken lightly.
At the conclusion of the Trans Action team’s efforts that season, the car began a journey typical of last year’s racecar. Adams sold it to a Cumberland, Maryland car dealer by the name of Lou Sporel who actively raced it in SCCA club races in the Mid-Atlantic area. After that, other than a few brief appearances, the car remained out of view in the family’s hands, until Hildebrand acquired it earlier this year.
What followed was a concerted effort to bring the car back into the public eye during this year’s car week in Monterey. Peterson Motorsports in Sonoma, CA handled the restorations while LJ Speed and Machine Shop build the engine. The effort culminated in several late nights, but the car was ready to turn a wheel in its first Saturday morning session.
Aided by a couple of original team members from the 1971 season, the car ran well over the weekend, despite the typical “new” race car bugs. Hildebrand is a long time vintage racer and plans to actively campaign the Gray Ghost in the future.