The Ambrosini name is a well known one around the Midwest, thanks in large part to family patriarch Brian Ambrosini’s annual gravity-defying performances (and occasional crashes) at Byron Dragway’s world-famous Power Wheelstanding Championships. After years of standing behind his father’s racecars and supporting his acrobatic efforts, Dominick Ambrosini is now charting his own racing career — and while his sleek 1974 AMC Gremlin may put on a show, he has no visions of carrying on the family’s wheels-up tradition with his finely-crafted new machine.
Following five years of tireless efforts — each and every moment of which is evident in the craftsmanship of this car — Dominick debuted his new Gremlin at Great Lakes Dragaway, not far from his Kenosha, Wisconsin home.
The Ambrosinis’ operate a body shop that’s located directly across the street from the site of the former Kenosha Engine plant, which, among other historic automotive namesakes, was owned and operated by the American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1987. Dominick’s grandparents worked at the plant building AMC vehicles and engines, and Brian’s first car was a Gremlin, so the Ambrosini’s have always been AMC loyalists — so much so that Dominick chose AMC power for his project, rather than turn to a more tested and proven combination.
“Five years ago some guy came in and had a Gremlin for sale that he said came out of Texas,” Dominick explains. “I was looking for a project at the time anyway, so we paid him, I think it was $500 for it. We were going to use it for a parts car, because we can’t have enough of those, and as we started pulling it apart, it was just too good of a car not to build something out of it. It was rough and all the panels were beat up, but it wasn’t rusty, so that was a good thing.”
Intended originally to be a street/strip car, Dominick only had visions of putting an 8.50-cert cage in it with a stock-block AMC engine and a single turbo, but as he admits, “it just escalated from there.”
Friends Nathan and Shane Windsor built the roll cage, and Brian Metzenheim completed much of the turbo fabrication and layout under the hood. Dominick and Brian then handled all of the assembly, wiring, bodywork, and paint.
The power comes via a 489 cubic-inch AMC powerplant, utilizing a cast aluminum block and cylinder heads and an intake from Indy Cylinder Heads. Because of the rarity of the AMC engines in race form, Brian had already helped in developing a Bullet camshaft and a Jesel belt-drive and valvetrain setup for the engines, which Dominick was then able to apply to his new mill. A K1 crankshaft and Callies rods are part of the rotating assembly. TNT Race Engines assembled the engine.
Precision 7675 turbos were mounted into the custom bumper, and route between the two front seats to a rear-mounted intercooler. With VP Q16 in the tank, Dominick can reliably drive his prized ride around town.
The power is transferred through a Turbo 400 transmission and converter by ATD to a fabricated 9-inch rearend, outfitted with a Strange Engineering center section and 40-spline axles, with 3.90 gears. Dominick retained the factory leaf spring setup but gave it a modern touch, using Calvert CalTrac bars and Gap brackets from Mid America Kustomz, with PRS shocks. Strange struts are placed up front. VFN fiberglass doors and hood were added to reduce weight, and Dominick hand-crafted his own custom fiberglass front bumper.
A BigStuff3 Gen4 Pro Xtreme ECU controls all facets of the car.
“The whole car is special, and it’s all one-off,” Dominick says. “Other than what my dad and I have here, there’s not another car like it.”
Dominick will race the car in 28/275 no-prep events around the Midwest, doing so on Mickey Thompson 275 Pro Drag Radial tires. At 97-inches in wheelbase, it’s certainly primed to keep Dominick busy on a no-prep track. Chassis dyno numbers were inconclusive, and in its only outing thus far, the timing system was turned off for the clocks-off no-prep competition; nevertheless, Dominick says he’s aiming for 4.50s to the 1/8-mile when all is said and done.
“It’s definitely different,” he says of the build and its driving characteristics. “I’ve got 10 passes on this car, and that’s all I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve worked on a lot of cars, but this is my first real racecar.”