Profile Photo
Drew Hierwarter
2 articles

1981 Pontiac LeMans NASCAR race car

January 8, 2021 · in Automotive · · 8 · 4.7K

The Car

For the 1981 Winston Cup racing season had mandated a new 110” wheelbase car, down from 115” of the previous years. Most teams were reporting that these smaller cars were unstable at high speeds and, in fact, the team owned by Harry Ranier and his crew chief Waddell Wilson had tried a new Grand Prix and Buick Regal during pre-Daytona testing and had serious issues with both. Ranier knew they had to make a change. A check of NASCAR's technical notes revealed that the Pontiac , with it's more sloped rear window and sleeker nose than the other GM cars, was legal and the decision was made to build one.

The construction of the car was done mostly in secret and when the circuit arrived in Daytona in early February, the Ranier team was the only one with a LeMans. The car proved their idea was correct and it was fast right away. Driver Bobby Allison was a half second faster per lap than second fastest Darrell Waltrip's Buick Regal. In qualifying, Allison put the car on the pole and then went on to win his 125 mile heat race on the Thursday before the 500. And he wasn't just faster. The car's better aerodynamics made it more stable at the 194 MPH speeds they were running.

In the 500, Allison led 117 of the 200 laps and would've won going away but for a strategy call by the team of Richard Petty on the last pit stop of the race. Most all of the teams took on gas and fresh tires for the last 25 laps, but Petty was getting exceptional tire wear and took only one can of gas and no new tires and got out of the pits before everybody else. Allison charged but couldn't catch the distant 43 car of Petty and had to settle for second place.

After the race NASCAR officials took a longer look at Allison's controversial car and, after lots of discussion, decided that for future races the LeMans would have to run with a spoiler only 1-1/2 inches tall while all of the other cars would retain their 4” spoiler.

The Model

The basic kit is from Salvinos JR. Their earlier kits have received a lot of well-deserved criticism for inaccuracies but this particular Pontiac LeMans is, in my opinion, their best effort. They have acquired the molds for the chassis and engine from the original issue of Monogram stock cars of the ‘80's and that's what is under this model. A great improvement over what they had been using. For this model I used their “generic” version of the car that comes without decals at a slightly better price.

The body did require some minor correction. Mainly I shortened the front end by taking out a 3/32” section in between the front wheel opening and the bumper. This required shortening the hood by the same amount which I simply trimmed from the back where it meets the windshield. I also thinned and reshaped the C pillar to a slightly narrower profile to more closely match the prototype LeMans.

Paint is all acrylics. Testor's Model Master Gloss Gull Gray over the entire chassis, interior, and inside the body. Tamiya X-1 Gloss Back and XF-16 Flat Aluminum, all covered in X-22 Clear on the body. The rest of the detail painting was done with various appropriate colors. Decals are by Powerslide, are printed by Cartograph of Italy and are excellent.

Overall I'm happy with the result and welcome any critique or comments.

Reader reactions:
15  Awesome

4 additional images. Click to enlarge.

8 responses

  1. I like this one. The last of the real stock cars!

  2. Looks like a fine quality job to me, Drew.
    Excellent model!
    Happy New Year!

  3. Very nice clean build. A good looking livery on a pretty rare car.

  4. 🙂 ... Greetings ... 🙂 :
    Very nice work Drew.
    Salvinos JR. models have improved a lot.

  5. I grew up in Daytona. I remember when they changed to these cars very well... I think this car was one of the deciding factors when Petty changed over to Pontiac after years of driving Dodge and Plymouth's. Well done... and I miss NASCAR of old. Back in the day it was real racing. Now it's a bunch of ultra expensive high tech cars that are just painted differently...

  6. This is really interesting, Drew, and you've put in a lot of work to make an accurate model of this important car. Definitely liked.

  7. Nicely done drew, looks good, interesting story.

Leave a Reply