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CHP Lets Air Out of Camarillo Firm's Plans : Automobiles: An experiment to boost a patrol car's performance with a Paxton supercharger fizzles--after an optimistic press release.


The Granatellis may have won the Indianapolis 500, but winning over the California Highway Patrol is another thing.

Last summer, Paxton Products, now based in Camarillo and owned by the brothers of former Indy 500 racer and TuneUp Masters spokesman Andy Granatelli, installed one of its superchargers on a CHP Ford Crown Victoria. Superchargers, used on vehicles ranging from diesel big rigs to quarter-mile dragsters that can rocket from a dead rest to 300 m.p.h. in under 5 seconds, pack more power into engines and are sometimes used in mass production cars.

The idea was to see if Paxton's supercharger could dramatically boost the speed of the pokey CHP car.

If the experiment worked, said Joseph R. Granatelli Jr., vice president of Paxton's automotive division, Paxton would have charged the state $1 to modify each car. And, of course, Paxton would have had a marketing ploy to help sell its superchargers to the public.

But the CHP concluded the Paxton supercharger didn't make enough of a difference. "The improvement was hardly noticeable at all," trimming 2 1/2 seconds off the car's 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration, said Lt. Greg Manuel, commander of the CHP's office of public affairs. The agency informed Paxton in early November that it had decided to terminate the experiment.

The trouble was that Paxton, seeing the tie-in with the CHP might secure for the company a contract to do maintenance on what it hoped would be a CHP fleet of supercharged cars, couldn't resist issuing a press release in October on the project to car magazines. Addressing "all loyal street racers and lead-footed freeway kamikazes," the Paxton release said the CHP "liked it so much they decided to go into a full statewide evaluation."

The Highway Patrol was not amused when it learned that "news" of the test had been published--and that some people thought the superchargers were on the road. Jonathan S. Rothman, the CHP's general counsel, demanded that Paxton correct the "deception" and took to task Granatelli's "implausible suggestion that the single vehicle driven from Northern California to Southern California somehow constitutes a 'statewide evaluation.' "

Rothman said at least four car magazines have reported that a number of CHP Fords would be equipped or modified with Paxton superchargers.

A chagrined Granatelli said in an interview that the information he provided was based on conversations with CHP officials he had been dealing with, and that at some point the CHP changed its mind. "What I learned was you have to get a lot more stuff in writing," he said.

One car magazine, Mustang & Fords, stated in its November issue that Paxton "was contracted to outfit 250" CHP Crown Victorias with 351-cubic-inch engines "with its centrifugal blowers" and that the sedan's original 16.2-second 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration times had been cut "by more than 6 full seconds."

Jerry Pitt, editor of Mustang & Fords, said, "I will stand by what I was told, but somewhere along the way something was changed." Pitt explained that he spotted the CHP car at Paxton's shop--then located in Santa Monica--and because Paxton had been a credible source, he didn't confirm the information with the Highway Patrol. "Looking back, that's probably what I should have done."

Popular Hot Rodding said in its January issue that "there are some unmarked truck patrollers out there with Paxton blowers and it's only a matter of time until they supercharge the Mustangs." Scott Oldham, a Popular Hot Rodding feature editor, insisted, "Whatever information that was in my article was in the press release I got from Paxton."

Oldham and Pitt said retractions are planned and that, since the incident, the magazines' staffs have begun to do more double-checking. Granatelli, however, notes that the magazines made claims that went beyond what was in his press release.

"The Highway Patrol has no commercial ax to grind with anybody, but obviously, we don't like to be misrepresented," Rothman said. The attorney added the CHP has been monitoring Paxton efforts to clear up the misinformation, and once Paxton technicians remove the supercharger from the test car, will consider the matter closed.

A contrite Granatelli also wishes to put the mix-up behind him. "I formally apologize if I ever misled anyone," he said, adding that he's not the only one disappointed that a faster Highway Patrol car isn't in the cards.

"The local CHP guys got wind of the project and we had officers coming by to check it out," Granatelli said. "Everybody said these four-doors are absolute sleds."

The equipment-laden CHP Crown Victorias, Granatelli said, had a reputation with officers as being agonizingly slow. Paxton's supercharger kit was similar to those the company makes for owners of Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs.

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