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THE 1972 OLDS BANSHEE The Vic Hickey-Built Off-Road Racer Is Also A Part of Owner John Swift’s Family History By Dan Sanchez Photos by Dan Sanchez and Larry Saavedra Baja racing has always been a canvas for innovation, and the famous 1972 Olds Banshee race car is one of many examples of racing ingenuity that emerged from the sport. The car was built by Vic Hickey, the maker of another famous race car, the Baja Boot, and who later became GM’s off-road vehicle research and development engineer. The Banshee’s current owner is former Ford Rough Rider John Swift, who wanted the car because his father Ray Swift worked for Hickey as a mechanic. “I would go with my dad who worked the pits for Hickey during Baja races and helped with the efforts on the Baja Boot and the Banshee,” said Swift. “After James Garner raced the Banshee, my dad bought the car and raced it with Indy Car racer Wally Dallenbach. I was lucky enough to go watch them during the 1972 Baja 1000. That’s when I got hooked and would later get into racing, eventually ending up on the Rough Riders team.” Although the Banshee never had a huge winning streak, it did win the overall at the 1972 Riverside Grand Prix. Nevertheless, the history of the Banshee is surrounded by the excitement and innovations around Baja racing in the early Seventies, much of which was also aided by famous people and racers wanting to test their skills in Baja. “Actors such as James Garner and Steve McQueen brought a lot of attention to Baja racing at that time, as did racers including Wally Dallenbach and Parnelli Jones,” said Swift. “Combined with some vehicle innovators like Hickey, Bill Stroppe, and Mickey Thompson, the stuff being raced was so amazing at the time that everyone got hooked on Baja racing.” According to articles and news documents on the Banshee, the car was retired from racing in November of 1975 and was sold, later ending up on display in the Mendenhall Museum in Buellton, California. After a 30-year stint at the museum, Swift was able to purchase and restore it back to racing condition. “I was able to race the Banshee with my son in 2010 in some vintage off-road races,” he said. “It was great to have three generations of our family driving that car.” Guts And Ideas One of the most notable things about the Banshee is its resemblance to a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It’s the car’s signature body that catches the attention of everyone who thought only buggies and trucks made great off-road vehicles. “The car was built from a tube chassis, much like the Baja Boot,” said Swift. “In fact, if you take the body off the car, it looks a lot like the Boot, but it’s the custom fiberglass body that gives the car its distinction.” Hickey previously built an Oldsmobile Cutlass for Garner called the Goodyear Grabber, a full-sized car modified for off-road racing. “With the Banshee, Hickey didn’t want to use the standard Olds Cutlass wheelbase,” said Swift. “He wanted the car to be shorter and nimbler. With an odd-sized vehicle, Hickey needed a fiberglass body, so he hired the premiere fiberglass guy, George Barris, to create the body and make it look like an Oldsmobile.” Barris, who was already famous for building vehicles for shows and television, shortened the Cutlass body 14-inches but kept the original body lines so that it still looked like an Olds. “The body itself is an amazing work of art and is the only one in existence,” said Swift. According to Swift, Hickey also wanted to build the vehicle as a next-level up from the Baja Boot in performance. “Back then, 2WD vehicles were faster than 4WD vehicles like the Boot. Baja roads that were used on the race course were civilian dirt roads that weren’t torn up by big tires back then. Most race vehicles were buggies with air-cooled VW engines, so Hickey wanted big V8 power to reach higher speeds. The Banshee was all that in a custom tube chassis, but it was lighter than the Baja Boot and very well balanced.” The car uses a standard Short-Long-Arm front suspension with fabricated control arms and coil springs. The spindles are made from a 4WD El Dorado, as they were larger and stronger than other GM spindles of the time. The rear uses standard leaf springs. In total, the car has about 11-inches of wheel travel– Not much by today’s off-road race vehicle standards, but back then, it was a substantial upgrade from the norm. The engine was originally a 455 aluminum GM V8 designed by Oldsmobile engineer Dale Smith. It was built as a drag racing engine, but in the Banshee, it made 480 horsepower and was capable enough to get the car up to speed on Baja’s dirt courses. The car still has a GM V8 and TH400 automatic transmission. “Hickey moved the engine back 27-inches to prevent the car from nose-diving,” said Swift. “It’s really built like a modern SCORE Trophy Truck. The car is a blast to drive, but it’s a handful. For the time, it had more wheel travel than most other race vehicles and was very fast. In today’s Baja races, however, it probably wouldn’t hold up, but it’s still incredibly fun.” SJ

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