BFG Promotional Cars

Origin of the BFG Tirebird Promotional Cars

sSix promotional/show cars were built by T/G Racing.  There were all new showroom cars bought from Royal Pontiac in Los Angeles. According to Doug Innes, T/G Racing bought the six Trans Ams and took them to their shop at 18422 Topham Street, Tarzana for conversion.  The cars were stripped of their interiors and insulation which was crated and stored.  The interiors were included with each car when they were sold once the 12 month promotion was completed. T/G Racing installed a race seat, fire extinguisher, a mock fuel cell cover in the trunk and a fuel filler on the quarter panel. Lightweight tubing was installed as a roll cage . Mini Light wheels were installed - obviously with BFG Radial T/A's were mounted on each mini light wheel.  Hood pins and rear window bracing was also installed . The HO 455 engine & M21 4 speed transmission were not touched other than valve covers and dress-up were items added. On completion, the cars were sent across the alley to T/G's other shop and Peter Dodge painted them all blue to match the #92 race car. The graphics were done all by hand based on a BFG design - which was brilliant . It is still one of the most recognized race cars ever! When complete, BFG picked up the cars and distributed them to their zones for promotional purposes.  Most cars were used by dealers on their showroom floors to attract customers.  At the conclusion of the racing season, the cars were either sold to the public or destroyed.  To date, only two cars are known to have been sold.  One car was sold in California to Tom Senter and is now owned by Bruce Johnson (shown above).  The other car was sold in Ohio to Jim Luikens, the well known Berger Chevrolet Parts manager.  Luikens sold his car after two years and it was totaled by a subsequent owner around 1977 and scrapped.  Only the California car is still known to exist and its history is fully documented (see below).

Conversion in the T/G Shop

Last Surviving Promotional Car

History of Last Surviving Promo Car

Tom Senter

Tom Senter,  a well known engine builder  and Dry Lakes Hall of Famer, purchased the promotional car from BF Goodrich in 1972. Tom paid $1,700 for it and knew it had a blown HO455.  With his connections as an editor for Popular Hot Rodding, he wanted to install the new Super Duty 455.  However, he was unable to obtain one so he decided to build the first pro-touring car by installing an LS6 454 from Berger Chevrolet and repaint it Ferrari Fly Yellow.  The car had only 16,000 miles when he purchased it. This swap was featured in several car magazines (see below).  Unfortunately, Tom passed away of cancer in the 1970's.   After Tom died, the Tirebird was briefly owned for a couple  of years by Tom's close friend before it was sold to a Fresno real estate agent  who took out the M21 and installed a Turbo 400 so his daughter could drive it to  high school. After a year or so, he sold the car to Fresno area almond farmer,  Tom Gejeian, in 1983 who drove it sparingly.  

John Motroni

In 2004, John Motroni saw the car advertised in Good Guys  magazine by Tom Gejeian.  The ad stated that a ’71 Trans Am with “L56” engine was for sale. Knowing that looked odd, John called only to find out it was in fact the  Tirebird with a Berger LS-6 engine (450 hp) that was featured in several car magazines and known as the Trans Rat. Gejeian was able to supply John with  copies of all the car’s magazine articles and other documents.   John mechanically rebuilt the engine, brakes and suspension.  He replaced the fading  and chipping 1972 yellow paint job with dark blue metallic and meticulously cared for and maintained the car selling it in 2017 to Bruce Johnson.

Bruce Johnson

In 2017, Bruce Johnson, a Trans Am enthusiast, was looking through online auctions and noticed a dark blue 1971 Trans Am for sale in California. The ad was so compelling and so well written that Bruce realized this had to be the car that he saw in car magazines as a kid.  He placed a high bid and won the car.  Subsequent discussions with John Motroni revealed the complete and documented history of the car and what kind of impact it had on so many people.  Bruce carefully collected all the information passed on by John and began contacting Doug Innes, Landspeed Louise, Guerin Senter, John Baeke, Rolf Fuhrer and Rick Titus to bring the car back to its original livery while maintaining its drivetrain heritage.

Interesting Facts

True magnesium mini lite wheels set off the Tirebird from other cars.

Minilite Wheels

True magnesium mini lite wheels set off the Tirebird from other cars. According to Steve Francis, "...the TireBird takes me back to how I got Minilite UK to put into production the aluminum version of the 15”x 8”T/A wheel. Back in the 1990's, I purchased a used set of four magnesium 15”x 8” Minilites from an eBay seller that owned one of the BFG TireBird show cars.  Along with the wheels, he included some BFG papers (complete with greasy fingers prints from prev owner) which I scanned and have attached to this email. At that time, I was already the primary North American Importer of Minilites and was not happy with Minilite’s 15”x 8” “Sport” style wheel.  So I asked the UK factory to consider a run of aluminum 15”x 8” T/A style in heat treated aluminum. They agreed but didn’t have the old blueprints so I shipped one of the magnesium wheels as a guide for new tooling. Once the tooling was finished, I got word that the factory “lost” the single mag wheel but they gave me a set of the alum version free of charge for the error. I ended up selling the other three mag wheels to one of the HTA guys, I think they ended up on the 2nd Gen Warren Agor Camaro.  So all the aluminum 15”x 8” wheels that are out there on the race track and the street owe a big thanks to that TireBird show car."

First Radial Tire

The Tirebird was the first production car to win a race using radial tires.  This program was successfully used to promote BF Goodrich's Radial T/A to the most widely used tire in the muscle car world.

Roger Bolliger

Roger Bolliger races vintage race car # 8, which is white in color at historic races. He dominates the series beating old Can-Am cars and Corvettes, etc. He personally owns 2 or 3 street Firebirds. If you You Tube his name there are lots of good videos of the car and there's a racing game that features his car. He runs a Butler built 496 cubic inch aluminum engine.  

Rolf Fuhrer - Switzerland

Rolf Fuhrer has built a replica of the #92 race car and lives in Switzerland.  

Memories

John Baeke - Neighbor of John Senter

As a young boy, I lived in suburban Kansas City. My family was extremely close to my aunt & uncle, Dr. & Mrs. Ben Klaumann (of North Hollywood, Calif). The Klaumanns' closest friends were Jack & Gail Senter (Tom¹s parents). Back in the '50s they lived side by side. As my family would typically visit the Klaumanns for summer and Christmas every year, naturally our family also developed a closeness with the Senters. The beauty of those years was the love these three couples had for each other was palpable. Everyone tremendously enjoyed the others' presence. We socialized a lot and had many many mutual interests. Dad and my uncle were both medical doctors. My mother and aunt were both professional musicians. We all (both the men and gals) loved carsŠ and had several.

As you likely know Jack was a hugely talented, self-taught man. He was a genius artist, designer, writer, inventor, etc. He is best known for being a director/set designer for the motion picture and television studios (look him up on IMDB.com). He was one of the few voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. As a young boy, it was always fun to hear his stories or go out to dinner and witness his popularity in the community. Throw into the mix, my mother¹s cousin (Ynovve Schaeffer Wood) who lived just a block away and was a costume designer, partnering w Edith Head in the motion picture industry. The stories never ended. We never had parties in the usual Hollywood sense with alcohol, music and arrogant talk. Rather, everyone would just sit around the pool, dining room table or sofas just enjoying each other¹s presence. All the families were quite humble and devoted Christians.

Eventually, Jack (actually his first name was John) and Gail moved to Studio City up in the hills, however, that did not diminish the bond.

My Uncle owned a little house (near Agnes and Huston in No. Hollywood) just 2 houses across the street from his home. He purchased it for his oldest daughter (my cousin, Bennie Sue) and her new husband to live.

Sometime later, they moved out and Uncle Ben rented the house to Tom and Marguerite Senter. That was when I first really got to know Tom. I was likely 13 or so, and extremely impressionable. I grew up with parents who dearly loved automobiles. Dad owned supercharged Cords and also loved Pontiacs. In fact, he bought me a new tri-power ¹57 Star Chief the day I was born! (still have it). So naturally it was easy for me to be interested in what was going on across the street at Tom¹s.

My impression of Tom as a 13 y/o may differ from others, but he was like a real life Fonzie. He wore jeans and white t-shirts, often w the sleeves rolled up. The wooden garage was small and faced my uncle¹s house. I could see the door open, lights on and tools on the floor... well after dinner. There was often other men in the garage. Tom had this awesome Trans Am, which was ever so un-Trans Am. For starters, the color was yellow. That seemed to say it all. A new Trans Am in something obviously not a Pontiac factory color screamed loudly, this is something far different than your neighbor¹s Firebird. In the dim of work lights, that car simply glowed yellow in the night. I wanted to go over and visit, but frankly was a bit intimidated by it all. Some evenings my uncle, other times my dad, sensed I was dying of curiosity and would walk over with me.

There Tom told us that this was a race car and was powered by a Chevrolet motor. I couldn¹t comprehend why he would remove a Pontiac TA motor.

Then he proceeded to open the hood, and their my eyes saw this whompin¹ pair of ARDUN heads. Now, as a 14 y/o I had never heard of ARDUN, let alone anything about Zora but that memory of seeing this brute motor with ARDUN emblazoned on each side left an impression which would never leave my mind. As Dad and Uncle Ben were hearing about all the technical specs of Tom¹s hot rod motor, I was walking all around the car with my hands sliding over the fenders and seats. It was as close to what I dreamed touching a naked woman¹s body could be like. This car was stunning.

Today, nearly 50 years later, I still remember her. I also remember, Tom telling Dad and Uncle Ben about Bonneville and other planed adventures.

As for me, unfortunately I wasn¹t paying as much attention to what Tom was saying, rather I was focused on what I was seeing and touching.

It wasn¹t many days later that inside the Klaumann home we all heard an extremely loud engine revving outside. There idling in front of their white picket fence was Tom with the yellow TA. He had come over for the expressed purpose to give me a ride. I recall him zooming down Riverside Drive back on Laurel Canyon. I don¹t think we were gone much longer than

10 minutes. Tom came back to the house to give Uncle Ben a ride. He was out back in the alley washing his Cadi. Tom quietly drove up the alley and surprised my uncle by revving the motor. The sound made all the grander in a narrow alley. My uncle is no longer alive to tell of his joy ride w Tom.

I always thought it was ironic that Tom had this phenomenal car which represented all that was great and powerful about GM; Pontiac Trans Am, Chevrolet motor, and ARDUN speed equipment... And Tom then worked for Ford. Years later, Ford recognized Tom¹s brilliance and contribution with the annual Tom Senter Memorial award at the Monterey Historic Races in Laguna Seca.

Anyway, I could talk on and on about other memories of the wonderful Senter family and Tom. As you know, Tom and Marguerite had a lovely family which made the news so sad when we learned that Tom had developed cancer.  No parent ever expects to have to bury a child. Tom¹s early death deeeeeply rocked Jack and Gail; and of course Marguerite. For years, Jack had safely tucked in his garage the Ford Fairmont Futura (or maybe it was a Granada?) which Ford had given Tom. Apparently Tom had been integral in the development of the line. I stayed in touch with Jack and Gail. Sadly, today my parents, my aunt & uncle, and Jack and Gail have all passed. They were all part of the Greatest Generation. In 2014 my family and I moved to Solvang, Calif. The timing was fortunate in that it allowed me the opportunity to see Jack prior to his death.

By strange coincidence, August, 2015, I was in Monterey w my family for the old car week. I went to meet a Cord buddy for dinner at an outside cafe. At our very same table, my friend introduces me to this very attractive young lady, named Alexis Senter. I was caught completely unprepared for that. I had not seen her since she was a child. I am sure I made a fool of myself, but being so impacted as a young boy by her father, seeing her made my eyes well with tears.

Anyway, somewhere tucked away in boxes of photos and other automobilia, I have photos of Tom and the yellow Pontiac. Next time I come on to them, I will make copies for you. I have also saved all my father¹s home movies from those years. There is a slight chance Dad captured the Pontiac on movie film. I also have an autographed copy of Tom on the cover of Hot Rod magazine.

Anyway, sorry to have gone on and on. You have a special car in more ways than one. Should you ever decide to part company with her, please keep me in mind.

Cordially,

John Baeke

Herb Adams Racer

Herb Adams campaigned a Trans Am in the 1972 where he tested and improved suspension and engine components.

Back Up Camaro

A back up car for the SCCA races was created using a Camaro and Smokey Yunnick built engine.  It was not successful in the only SCCA race it entered registering a DNF.