“This is definitely an H-body house,” Mike Hvozda told me.
It started when Mike got his brother’s Sunbird. It continued with a series of H-bodies that he wrenched, raced, and cruised.
And it’s been solidified by Mike’s latest: this super clean, very stout, 1975 Oldsmobile Starfire.
Mike’s been hot rodding ever since he got his brother’s Sunbird. He grew up in Nuangola, Pennsylvania with Ansel, one of his best friends. “Ansel and I,” Mike told me, “grew up in a town where everybody worked on cars. We were always around guys who had cars. There was a guy down the street who had a V8 Vega with a tunnel ram and two fours.”
So when his brother decided he didn’t want his Sunbird coupe anymore and gave it to Mike, of course he and Ansel had to hot rod it. They took out the stock four banger and used a kit from Hooker Headers to put a small block Chevy in it. The transmission was swapped out in the driveway with the car sitting on ramps. “There was a lot of pain and learning,” Mike said, “but we figured it out.”
There were more H-bodies to come. A Skyhawk. Two Monzas. And then Mike said, “there was this big long pause where I didn’t have any of those and I was getting whatever car I could. I wanted another one back.
“I think the thing that really got me was my friend who said ‘How long are you going to wait?’ Here I am in my 40s. I always kept telling him that I wanted to get one and he’d say ‘What are you going to wait until you’re 60?’”
Ansel saw the Starfire on Craig’s List in 2017. Mike and his wife went to check it out on the way home from a family event. It was very solid, and a V8 had already been installed. Not wanting to wait any longer, Mike thought “Alright. I’m going to buy this thing.”
The Starfire was intended from Day 1 to be taken to the dragstrip. Mike and Ansel have been drag racing together for over 20 years. Ever since they were teens they’d go to Numidia Dragway, just a 40 minute drive from Nuangola. Together they started putting together a plan to get the Starfire ready to go racing.
The Oldsmobile had a 350 cubic inch Chevy small block and TurboHydramatic 350 transmission when Mike got it. One of the first changes Mike made was to swap out the TH350 for a 700R4 overdrive transmission with a 2800-stall Street Edge torque converter from Edge Racing Converters. Mike’s friend Pete worked over the valve bodies for better shifting. A B&M Stealth Pro ratchet shifter replaced the stock unit.
The 700R4 is significantly bigger than the TH350, and Mike said the swap wasn’t trivial. “In order to do that, there’s the torque arm that you have to take off, and you have to cut it, reweld it, and figure out a mounting mechanism for the front of it. That was kind of a pain in the butt.” But Mike drives his Starfire on the street as much as he races it, and says the overdrive makes a huge difference for being able to drive it on the highway.
Additional upgrades in 2019 included an MSD high vibration Blaster coil and a Summit rev limiter (“So I don’t blow it up,” Mike said), and a new mechanical fuel pump since the electric pump that was on it didn’t seem to be up to the demands of the drag strip.
“We did all these things to get it race ready,” Mike said. “We got it running and I think the best we did was a 14.68, which we thought was OK, but it was having issues. It was stumbling on itself, it would start sputtering halfway down the track. We did some stuff with the fuel line and took out the sending unit. We finally got it to where it was starting to act right and then it inexplicably started to slow down again.
“I was out driving it the day after the track, and I was trying to figure it out. It wasn’t shifting right. I stopped at a rest stop on the highway close to home, and I got on it. And right as I was pulling out at the exit ramp and got it up to speed, something let loose. Something broke.”
What broke was a piston. And it broke big time. This is how Mike described it on Instagram:
“The Starfire’s No. 4 piston shattered like Thor’s Hammer in cinematic fashion, and gravel-sized chunks traveled to every corner of the engine including the water jacket through the cylinder wall. I guess if you’re going to go, go in style.”
Mike told me, “The piston just exploded. It looked like someone dumped a can of peanuts into my engine.” The 350 was toast.
Ansel spotted a possible replacement engine on Craig’s List. It was a 327 Chevy advertised as having a roller cam, and roller lifters. It seemed promising, so Mike and Ansel went to check it out. Ansel brought a scope with him so they could look inside and they found out it did not have a roller cam. So they negotiated a lower price, and got a spare 327 block in the deal as well. They took it back to Nuangola and made plans to take it apart, just to check everything out.
Everything did not check out.
Due to the coronavirus, Mike was locked down in Maryland at work. Ansel got bored in Pennsylvania and started disassembling the engine. He called Mike and said “I’ve got some bad news.” The previous owner of the engine had wiped out one of the lobes on the cam when they broke it in, and that caused scarring in four of the cylinder walls.
Since the 327 had some strong components – forged pistons, a forged crank, and a good set of heads – Mike decided to fix it. He sent the block out for machining, including repairing the cylinder bores and squaring it up. Once that was done, he and Ansel set out to put it all back together.
The SBC has World Sportsman II angle plug cast iron heads. The ports are 200cc for the intake and 69cc at the exhaust. The intake valves measure 2.020″ and the exhaust are 1.600″. The heads hold an aluminum dual plane manifold and 600 cfm Holley 4-barrel carburetor, which was completely rebuilt by Mike and Ansel.
Mike told me, “We got a nice lumpy cam to put in there,” specifically an Erson HiFlow cam with solid lifters. It’s designed for high performance street use and E.T. bracket racing. The cam has an advertised duration of 294 and 510 lift for both intake and exhaust. It’s pushing 1.6:1 roller rocker arms. The 327 has a 9.67:1 compression ratio.
The Starfire’s current headers have 1⅝” primary tubes and Mike’s planning to switch over to Hooker Super Comp headers to increase that to 1¾”. But those bigger headers are quite a chore to fit into the Olds’ small engine compartment. Mike said they come in three pieces, with one piece going through the fender well, and the another wrapping around the steering column. Plus the motor mounts have to be moved forward. But that’s what he and Ansel installed on the Sunbird back in the day, so he’s confident they can do it again.
Mike says the exhaust is “weird” and I won’t disagree. When he got it, the Starfire had a set of Flowmaster mufflers bolted to the headers. That’s all. The exhaust came out directly under the passenger compartment. “When you were at a stop light,” Mike said, “you were dying from exhaust fumes.” And it was really loud.
Mike lives in a nice residential community, and he suspected his neighbors didn’t really care for the excessive noise, so he set out to make it a little quieter, and less dangerous to his respiratory system.
His current setup has a set of mufflers after the header with the exhaust exiting the muffler on the same side it goes in. Then it does a 180 degree turn again before leaving just in front of the rear wheel.
Mike estimates the 327 is putting out about 350 horsepower. Aside from the torque arm modifications that were necessary to fit the 700R4 transmission, the Starfire’s suspension and chassis are stock, and he feels that they’re capable of handling that power. The previous owner did cut a couple of coils out of the springs to make it sit a little lower, and the Olds has a great stance.
The brakes are front disk and rear drum. The front brakes have been upgraded to Chevy S-10 calipers, which are larger than the Starfire units. And this presented master cylinder problems for Mike. “That was another pain in the butt,” he said.
The modified engine wasn’t producing enough vacuum for the stock power booster. First Mike tried adding a vacuum can. That helped, but it still wasn’t great. Then he tried switching to a Starfire manual master cylinder. That never quite worked right because he couldn’t get the brakes to bleed properly.
Doing some research, Mike found an article on Hemmings Motor News that talked about master cylinders. They recommended using a larger Corvette master cylinder. Problem solved. “As soon as we put on that Corvette one,” Mike said, “I instantly had brakes again. It was crazy. We were so excited.”
There’s a set of Oldsmobile Super Stock wheels on all four corners. On the street, Mike’s using 14” wheels, but he has tracked down a set of 15” wheels, which he currently is using just for his racing slicks. Mike says it was hard to find the larger wheels at a decent price. “Everyone thinks they’re worth a million dollars,” he said. “I found a guy who had a set for $150.”
The Starfire’s interior is pretty much factory stock, except for the minor modifications Mike had to make to the center console to fit the B&M shifter, and the oil and temperature gauges he’s added. There is one crack in the dash pad, but that pad has the Oldsmobile logo molded into it, and Mike can’t bring himself to get rid of it. The only other interior change Mike made was to the “weird swirly brown dash inserts”, which he has painted black and silver. “I couldn’t keep looking at that,” he said.
Mike loves the way his Starfire looks on the outside. The Volkswagen graphite gray color gives the older car a modern look. He gets lots of comments on it, including questions like “Is that a Barracuda?” and “Is it a foreign car?”
The exterior is not completely original. The front facia is from a Chevy Monza, and Starfires did not come with a rear spoiler. Although he’s on the lookout for a Starfire front end, he’s not planning to remove the spoiler. “I’m not a purist to that extent,” he said. “I think it would be nice to have the original the way it was, but I’m not going to lose much sleep over it at this point.”
The Starfire build has been documented quite thoroughly on Instagram, thanks in large part to the encouragement from Mike’s co-worker Kurt. Mike and Kurt have worked together at the Coast Guard for seven years, and Kurt convinced him to start posting. “I really kind of like it,” Mike said about Instagram. “I use it to keep track of everything I’m doing.”
When Kurt heard Mike talking about the Starfire, he got the hot rodding itch too and went out and bought a 1967 Firebird that he’s rebuilding. You can follow Kurt’s Firebird build on Instagram via his @67dirtybird account.
And earlier this month, Mike’s Starfire got some online love, placing third in the photo contest put on by the ‘H Body Heaven’ account, thanks to some great racing pictures (shown below) from Bob Reed (@bob_reed_photos on Instagram).
Mike’s plans for the near future include a new rear end, likely a Ford 9-inch, with steeper gears to help his quarter-mile times. Longer term, Mike wants to build a new engine, something in the 500 horsepower range, and that will likely require some additional changes like subframe connectors. But he expects to be running the 327 for a few more years.
And it runs really well. Mike’s had a good year at the drag strip. He’s had his best reaction time, cutting a fantastic .026 light; his best 60-foot time at 1.970; and his best elapsed time, a strong 13.62 at 97 mph. Mike also managed to break 100 mph with a 13.68, 100 mph pass. Most importantly for bracket racing, the Starfire runs very consistently, hooking up really well with the Hoosier drag slicks he’s running.
The numbers are great, but a big part of what Mike enjoys about going to Numedia are the people he hangs out with. “We have a nice group of folks that we meet up down there. We’re all good friends. It’s good camaraderie to go down there. When you can leave five to six hundred dollars worth of tools laying out in the grass and nobody messes with it, that’s pretty good.”
It was always intended for the drag strip, but Mike still drives the Starfire on the street as well. “I didn’t want to have to put it on a trailer,” he said. “I really enjoy being able to take it out.”
And he loves working on it with his long-time friend Ansel. “It’s fun to be finally doing it, racing and driving it and working on it. It’s not fun to work on the car you need for work, but it’s fun to work on the car that you race. Now I get to go racing with my best friend and I share stories with the guy I work with.”
Racing, driving, and working with your friends.
Those are the best parts of hot rodding.
Photos courtesy of Mike Hvozva and Bob Reed Photos
Click here for more pictures of Mike’s Oldsmobile
You follow Mike on Instagram at @75starfire