Milt Schornack's 1970 GTO Judge Race Car

 

Interview with Milt Schornack, the Real "Ace" of Royal Oak Pontiac

Interview by Jeff Randall of the Bay State Tigers GTO Association
 

JR:  Milt, tell us about your younger days growing up in the Detroit area.   When did you first start tinkering with cars?

MS:  I first started tinkering on cars when I was about 13.  At 16 I overhauled my first engine. Needless to say it was a Pontiac! Straight 6 to be exact.  I also put together a Studebaker with a Pontiac engine while everyone else put Olds or Caddy's in them.  Afterwards I took over tuning and wrenching  on a friends 55 Chevy. It was a 283 bored & stroked to a 352 Cubic Inch with ported heads, Roller camshaft & Carbs. I ran c/gas at the N.H.R.A. nationals at Detroit. It had a 4 speed with 5:57 axle but we couldn't afford slicks. I was able to get to the semi finals and set a national record. Not to bad for our first outing! After breaking several crankshaft's we decided to call it quits with the Chevy. It was at this time we had a chance to buy a 59 Catalina with the 425 A motor. The problem with this car was the weight. It tipped the scales at 4380 lb.. We thought that we may have some fun on the street I pulled the motor and began overhauling it. It wound up with almost 480 C.I. We purchased a set of 61 SD heads, a Pontiac dual Quad manifold, and a McKeller camshaft. In 62  Pontiac released another SD cylinder head so we purchased them also. We went to the drag strip now and then to dial it in. It was then that I met Dick Jesse. (Royal's car salesman) We actually beat their car on a Saturday night running  SS/SA. Dick invited me to Royal to see the service manager on Monday morning about a job. Dick turned out to be a great friend to me and I credit him with my involvement with Royal.


JR:  So it's 1962 and you start working for Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac.  Was the service department already involved in high performance tuning prior to your arrival?  

MS:  Actually, It was 63 that I went to work at Royal. Believe it or not my first job was to rebuild Royal's 63 S.D. station wagon. There were two mechanics who did the Bobcat treatments at that time. One for the engine and one for the transmission beef up. They were doing about three Bobcat packages a week and didn't want to share anything with me. The first Bobcat package I did was a Tempest 326 4 BBL HO. I remember it very well because it was a 4 speed with a 3:90 axle. This car ran exceptionally well on Woodward Ave.   At Stoplite Speedway it handled stock GTO's with ease.  At the drag strip it ran Mid 13's with cheater slicks. The owner was overjoyed and he sent me a lot of customers.


JR:  Let's imagine it's the fall of 1963.  I'm a young man anxious to make a reputation on Woodward Avenue as having the baddest set of wheels in town.  I sit down with Dick Jesse and plunk down my hard earned cash for a new 1964 LeMans GTO.   What boxes will be checked off on the order form and what can Milt Schornack do for me? 

MS:  Dick Jesse was a very smart and very knowledgeable salesman. He knew the product very well. He would quiz the customers as to what exactly  the person wanted and how he was going to use the car. In most cases for example the car was ordered without power steering, power brakes, and power windows. Any accessory that added weight was omitted. It also was ordered with the Tri-power, and 4 speed. If the car was a daily driver the axle was a 3:90 with positraction. The 4:33 gear  was ordered only if the customer wanted a race car.  If a 4:33 was street driven the spin of the tires was unbearable. Dick would also omit the sound deadner to save weight. This package would save about 100 lb. The results of the weight loss was about a car length at the strip. In the price of the car Dick would add a Bobcat package. If the car was local we would insist that the car be driven about 1000 miles to make sure that there wasn't any problems with the car such as oil leaks, using oil, or anything that would be blamed on the Bob-cat package. Once the owner was familiar with how to drive the car the reports trickled back to us at the dealership. They were beating the 409 Chevys, the 406 Fords, and also the big Mopar's. People quickly learned that if they saw the Royal frame and those Bob-cat emblems to back off!


JR:  What modifications were included with the Bobcat Package and how many "tenths" was it good for?

MS:  The Bob-cat package was good for 3-6 tenth's in a quarter mile.  the increase varied from car to car, or driver to driver.  We did several magazine tests in which most cases, I drove the car.  I had a lot of experience prior to Royal of driving high H.P. cars with street tires, you've heard of Woodward Avenue, and it paid off at the dragstrip.  The Bob-cat package had the following parts installed:  thin head gaskets, blocked heat riser gaskets, valley pan and rocker cover gaskets,
Champion J-10-Y spark plugs, carburation jetting package (Tri-power & 4 barrel), adjustable locknuts for rocker arms and a distributor package which was calibrated for your car.  In the package was a set of H.D. points and condenser, a set of weights and spring's along with an instruction sheet.  The last thing was a pair of Bob-cat emblems.  We tried to tell customers where to place these emblems depending on the year, make and model of car.  If the package was installed at our shop, we also milled the cylinder heads .030.  This raised the compression ratio to almost 11:1!

JR:  Tell us about the '64 GTO you prepped for the infamous Car and Driver comparison test. 

MS:   I am sorry to say that I did not have any involvement with the famous 64 Car and Driver GTO. It was set up before I started at Royal. There was deliberate attempts to keep me and everyone else from looking under the hood of that car. I spotted a couple of markings one day that gave away the secret. I wanted to keep my job so I kept quiet about it. Later when I was asked to tune the car is when I became involved with it. After the first trip the car had a linkage problem. I tried several adjustments to fix the problem but to no avail. I was then offered the opportunity to drive the car to evaluate the problem. I had no problems shifting the car and I ran 1.5 tenths faster than anyone else. That's how I became a builder, tuner, and a driver. There was talk of running this car against other bobcats, but  I refused. I didn't feel it was right to beat our customers at the drag strip. We wound up running match races with cars from our area. We never lost a race that year!


JR:  Milt, I believe it was 1965 when The Royal Racing Team was created and began touring the country with a pair of super tuned GTO's.  What was your involvement with this drag racing road show?  Any interesting stories come to mind?

MS:  Actually the Royal Racing team was in existence before 1965 but there wasn't a lot of thought given to promoting it.  1964 started it moving with the  introduction of that Car & Driver story about the 1964 GTO.  I got involved with this car and started match racing it around the Detroit area.  We raced against a few Fords and also a dual quad 409 lightweight Chevy from a place called Shaker Engineering.  The mighty 1964 GTO never lost a match race.  In 1965 we campaigned two GTOs with Ram Air Pans and Bob-cat packages.  One car was white and the other was iris-mist with a black vinyl top.  The white car had an after market mild camshaft and was faster than the iris-mist car.  Between rounds of racing, I spent a lot of time talking to other owners and spectators about the GTOs.  I can remember making a tune up run with one of the cars and when I hammered 3rd gear I broke the shifter (I always drove these cars with full power shifts).  We frantically put out a call to someone with a GTO to borrow their shifter so we could finish the show.  Someone came forward and we removed his shifter then re-installed it after the show.  Needless to say we were very grateful.  It was the only time a shifter broke.  I might add that upon careful inspection the scar still remains on my hand after al those years.  The radio wasn't so lucky!  These were very hectic and exhausting times because I had to be back to work (Royal Pontiac) at 8:00a.m. Monday morning.  We sometimes had to drive 12-14 hours to get back home.  We didn't use trailers at that time - only tow bars and we flat towed these cars to all appearances.


JR:  In 1966 The Royal Racing Team ran a pair of black and gold GTO's.  How were these Tigers set up and tell us what a typical day at the track was like?  Could anyone with a driver's license take a run against the Mystery Driver?
 
MS:  In 1966 the Tiger cars were painted with 1 car black and gold, the other white and gold.  We toured these cars every weekend.  These cars were towed by Tiger Gold G.T.O. 4 speeds with 3:90 rear axles.  These cars were set up with Bobcat packages, headers and a few suspension mods.  On a decent track these cars were capable of 12:80 - 12:90 E.T. but I had to detune these cars to run around 13.50 E.T.'s.  One of the crew would dress up in a Tiger uniform and be the "Mystery Tiger".  Selection of people who would race against the Tiger were selected from a drawing from the ticket stubs.  Anyone who was lucky to be drawn had to be interviewed by myself and I had to decide whether they were qualified to drive one of our cars and they had a license.  Before I forget, I must say that the participant always got to choose which car they wanted to drive.  Once in a while we let some of the participants win.  At the end of the day, we would issue a challenge to anyone with a B/stock car.  After re-tuning the Geeto Tiger I would drive the car against a worthy opponent. There was a rumor that these cars had blueprinted  421 H.O. engines.  Those rumors were false.  They were 389 Ram Air XS engines with a Bobcat package.


JR:  What did you do when Royal closed itís doors?

MS:  Late in 69, Royal decided to abandon the high performance section of the dealership.  They sold everything to George DeLorean.  Dave Warren and I were offered jobs at George's shop.  After about 3 days we found that we disagreed on too many issues.  At that time I decided to open  Royal Automotive.  The first thing that I did at Royal Automotive was to field a race car.  It was a 70 Judge, automatic,  with a Ram Air IV engine.  It was a legal N.H.R.A. F/SA.   This was my most competitive  G.T.O. (I never heard or seen anything faster).  We ran  the competitive circuit in Division III.  If only I could have found a driver I believe that we could have won the championship.  In "71"  Pontiac approached me about running a Firebird.  The G.T.O. had to go.  I put it up for sale and was showing a prospective buyer how good it ran.  Just by a fluke I found out that I was driving the car wrong.  The car on that day went from 12.20's  to  11:8's!!  I had many thoughts of keeping the car but running a Firebird,  GTO,  and a business proved to be to much.  In early '72 the government got very strict on  businesses modifying cars. It was then that I decided to close Royal Automotive. I took a more secure job working as a automotive service manager at a new car dealership.


J.R.   If you could go back in time and buy a new GTO off the showroom floor, what model year would you choose?  How would it be optioned?

M.S.  I guess because I 've been involved in so many good GTO's  I do not have one particular favorite.  Whatever it was I would get the largest engine available!  And depending on the purpose street or strip, I would have a 3:55 axle in the one for the street and a 4:33 axle for the one that was for the strip.  For consistency I would use a automatic.  I would order power steering and power brakes because of my age.

J.R.  Finally, tell us a about your new venture, Schornack Racing. 

M.S. Through the efforts of my son Jim, and the world wide web Schornack Racing was established in 2001.  This first year has been incredible!! We have traveled from coast to coast talking to and meeting Pontiac people.  We started it partially because of our thirst for classic high performance cars.  We also have found out over the years that so many people that own these cars have had mechanic's working on them that usually do Mopar's or Chevy's.  The troubles that I have seen with many of these classic GTO's. Most cars, after 30 years, have a number of ineperienced people working on them.  I feel we can offer not only a better performing car but a original "Royal tune up"!  Schornack Racing is strictly a Classic Pontiac Performance business based off of my experience as a Pontiac mechanic/driver.  We offer expertise that is second to none!   By the way, there is a chance that we could have some performance packages for the new GTO.