A half a century ago, a young man in his early 20’s named Joe Horvath opened a small business known as Revmaster in the rodding-rich area of Riverside, California, and until the late 1960’s, was the primary remanufacturing source of Volkswagen engines for Sears, Montgomery Ward, and auto shops across the nation. In the years and the decades that have followed, Horvath has virtually written the book on Volkswagen performance and paved the way for a long list of individuals who have both raced alongside him or gleaned from his years of knowledge and experience. Since 1968, Revmaster has been well-regarded as the leader in VW-type aircraft engines – a platform that Horvath pioneered on the dragstrip.
In the 1970’s, Horveth owned and sponsored the original “Scorpion” dragster that was campaigned around Southern California, sharing crew and work space with the legendary “Inch Pincher” ’56 Beetle, driven by Dan Gurney in sports car events and Dean Lowry on the quarter mile. The Scorpion was motivated by a 2100cc engine with a supercharger, producing enough power to record 9-second elapsed times. It was during this period that both Revmaster and EMPI, the manufacturer behind the Inch Pincher, were purchased together by Filter Dynamics, and in the midst of the transaction, the original Scorpion was lost and never seen again.
In addition to his drag racing exploits, Horvath has been involved in a number of other racing arenas, including the construction of several cars for the Baja 500 offroad races. At one time, Horvath had as many as nine different cars competing in the Baja event. And the list of drivers he’s been associated with is a who’s-who in racing annals, including Gurney, Lowry, Steve McQueen, Parneli Jones, and a host of others. Along the way, his Revmaster shop has forged ahead in the VW market, producing castings and forgings for complete flat-four engines and aftermarket parts for Volkswagen and various V8 engines.
Some 40 years after the Scorpion was lost forever, Horvath, Revmaster, and the Scorpion name are set to make a return to the quarter mile with a pair of Californians in two very unique new race cars to compete in NHRA Competition Eliminator – a class that simply reeks of uniqueness.
Los Angeles area natives Chad Blackshire and Mike Ballard are preparing a rear engine dragster and a front-engined Volkswagen Sedan Oval Window Choptop to debut during the 2012 season. Horvath and Revmaster been instrumental in the duo reaching this point, and both cars will carry the Revmaster livery.
“About five years ago I was introduced to Joe by a friend while I was looking for a powerplant for a show car that I was building,” explains Ballard. “This was around the time the first R3000 engines were finishing their testing in the dyno cell and in boats and I really wanted to get my hands on one. Joe was like, forget about it kid, I dont want anything to do with a show car, but if you want to go racing we can talk.”
Ballard headed back to his shop and began drawing up the plans for the Sedan and quickly began fabricating the body and chassis. A year later, he showed up at Horvath’s shop with a complete car, minus a bellhousing. The car is a typical doorslammer, with a full tube chassis, four-link rear suspension, and a strut front end with components from Strange Engineering.
The Sedan features a Revmaster R2500 engine, measuring 155 cubic inches, that sports a crank-driven ProCharger. Horvath and Ballard engineered a supercharger drive unit to accept D, P, and F series head units and is fully integrated into the Revmaster engine cases. Like its larger cubic inch counterparts, the Sedan, known as Scorpion 2, transfers power through a Jerico DR4 transmission with a DZE dual-disc, six-inch slipper clutch, and utilizes Electromotive’s Tec3R engine management system and fuel injection. Ballard estimates the machine should deliver in the area of 650 horsepower, which will tide the classic Beetle over until a larger R3000 (180 cubic inch) powerplant, capable of some 900 horsepower, can be completed.
During the same time period that Ballard was turning his drawings into reality with the Sedan, he met and befriended Bruce Dyda of Dyda Race Engineering, who Ballard describes as a truly gifted race car builder. Dyda happened to have a rear engine dragster in the back of his shop that caught Ballard’s interest each time he visited the shop. It had a Toyota 2JZ engine between the framerails and was virtually brand new underneath the dust it had collected.
“One day he finally said, why don’t buy that thing and put a VW motor in it, and so that’s what I did,” explains Ballard. “He’d built it for Toyota or something, perhaps for the NOPI series, but it never debuted. It had an 8 3/4-inch Mopar rear end with 40-spline Mark Williams axles, SPE rack and spindles and all the best stuff; plus, Bruce built it, and I really wanted one of his cars.”
Ballard chose to put a naturally-aspirated mill and a Powerglide in it and go have some fun, but the car ended up sitting around his shop for a year before Ballard met Blackshire, a fellow VW enthusiast. After some time, an agreement was made between the two that if Blackshire committed the time to finishing the dragster project, Ballard would put him behind the wheel.
“Chad’s a professional welder and well, I’m not, so he’s been a crucial part of making that car come alive. And since all the welding has been completed, Chad now helps us in the machine room making spare parts to go out and break,” says Ballard.
The dragster, naturally known as Scorpion 3, is powered by a 3-litre Volkswagen flat-four, with a 90mm crankshaft and 4.03-inch Chevrolet pistons. The 155 cubic inch, alcohol-burning engine is transmitted through the aforementioned Powerglide and Mark Williams Chrysler rear end housing. the naturally-aspirated engine is expected to produce around 350 horsepower.
Ballard will campaign the Sedan in the BB/A classification within Competition Eliminator on the 7.96 index, which he indicates is likely to be a stretch given the size of the engine. Destroked to the 155-inch limit, Blackshire’s dragster will run in G/D on a 9.64 index.
“It should be exciting to see a couple VW’s in Comp,” Ballard states. “Win or lose, we’re going out to have a good time and be a part of the NHRA, which is where it all started for our mentor and sponsor, Joe Horvath. It’s been one hell of a journey working and learning with a legend.”