People Places & Racing News

SEMA Heritage: Chevy Small-Block and Traco Engineering

SEMA News—May 2013

By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive

Chevy’s Little Giant

 Jim Travers (right) and Frank Coon, founders of Traco Engineering
It’s December 1967, and the men about to fire that Chevy small-block on the engine dyno are Jim Travers (right) and Frank Coon, founders of Traco Engineering. Commanding their attention is a Trans-Am race engine—possibly destined for one of Roger Penske’s Sunoco Z/28 Camaros—and Car Craft magazine’s Bob Swaim is chronicling “Traco’s magic touch” to see how the legendary engine builders squeeze more than 400 hp from “a basically stock 301ci engine with the Z/28 options.” Swaim’s story, “Chevy’s Little ‘301’ Giant,” appeared in the magazine’s March 1968 issue.

Traco (a contraction of Travers’ and Coon’s last names) was founded in 1957 after the pair served as mechanics for Bill Vukovich during his Indy 500 wins in 1953 and 1954. Their customer list read like the proverbial who’s who of racing legends of the day, including Bruce McLaren, A.J. Foyt, Lance Reventlow, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Dan Gurney. Penske first worked with Traco when he was racing Corvettes at Daytona and Sebring, and he used Traco engines in the Sunoco Trans-Am Camaros as well as his later Trans-Am Javelins.

“Jim, Frank and Traco enjoy a reputation as being among the foremost builders of Chevy engines in the realm of high performance today, and a look at the record tells why,” Swaim wrote. “During the past [1967] season, Traco-powered Camaros terrorized the Trans-American sedan racing circuit, taking home all the marbles at Kent, Washington, Marlboro, Virginia and Las Vegas.”

So, how did Travers and Coon make all that power out of the little Chevy engine? Swaim’s highly detailed story ran six pages, getting into minute detail about the 327 block’s prep, the various components that went into the engine (ForgedTrue pistons, Perfect Circle rings, Engle cam and pushrods, Hedman headers, a Holley carb on the stock intake, plus Traco’s own parts), and the care Traco’s mechanics took in assembling the engine.

“Jim Travers maintains that the most important factor in building a competition engine is straightforward careful workmanship,” wrote Swaim. “This means that every tolerance and clearance is checked and double checked to ensure that it is correct. An engine is only as reliable as the parts that go into it, so all stock components are Magnafluxed and checked for quality before they ever go into a Traco engine.”