No Fixed Abode: Whoa, Black Betty

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode whoa black betty

Not every hero gets a statue, and not every brilliant accomplishment gets a plaque. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and many a spectacular occurrence is forgotten the moment after it happens.

This is the story of a sheetmetal worker who built a car to nearly unimaginable standards of precision and perfection … then decided to walk away from it for reasons that only he can understand.

I heard about Matt long before I met him. He was a shadowy figure in the central Ohio street racing community, a compact but muscular man who drove an ’89 RX-7 with an actual NASCAR V8 swapped in. He called it “the liter-bike killer.” When we finally crossed paths, I was surprised at just how articulate and thoughtful he was. Whatever your image of a sheetmetal worker might be, Matt wasn’t it. But then again, he wasn’t any ordinary sheetmetal worker. He built stainless steel sinks for surgical practices and major hospitals. It wasn’t the kind of environment where people worried about cost or time.

In 2002, Matt and I, along with several other people, created an informal trackday/race club out of the ashes of the street-race thing. We were goin’ legit, homie! When I started racing a Neon in NASA, Matt supervised the initial build. The cage that he put in my ’95 ACR probably saved my life, or at least my legs, when I was shoved into a wall at Mid-Ohio back in ’08. The car that he built with me afterwards ended up winning a few races, and it’s the same car that I led a race with earlier this year.

Meanwhile, he was building a second FC-generation RX-7, this one powered by a GM 3800 V6. I urge you to read the build thread and look at all the photos. All of the stack-o’-dimes welds, all the perfectly bent tubing, all the thought and effort that went into it. He wasn’t satisfied with “Black Betty” as a street car, so he turned her into a NASA racer, running it in Performance Touring D for several years. It always looked showroom-fresh and it always ran fast. Although Matt wasn’t interested in any of the conventional driver-training stuff, he was a very quick and aggressive self-taught racer who won plenty of weekends behind the wheel of car he’d built himself from a shell. That has to be satisfying, right?

The thrill didn’t last for Matt, however, and he decided to put Betty up for sale. I had a better idea. About two years ago, I came to Matt with that idea. He would prep Betty for the American Endurance Racing series, and I’d bankroll everything from fuel to meals to oil filters. I assembled a team that consisted of me, “Mental” Ward, my brother, Sam Smith, and Travis Okulski. Our debut was spectacular: I took the lead at the start of the 2015 NJMP race and held it for almost an hour.

But we didn’t finish that race, and we didn’t finish the race the next day, either. At Watkins Glen, we scored an eighth place courtesy of my wasting ten laps in a gravel pit and a DNF when an E30 spun and hit me hard enough to bend the tie rod. At Mid-Ohio, we took a fourth place overall and second in class. It was the last race we would finish.

At Watkins Glen this year, we retired the car both days for a variety of issues. Matt swore to fix everything, but when it was time to race at NJMP he decided to keep Betty at home. Ironically, the car we turned to — my Neon — had also been mostly built by Matt. But it couldn’t stay together either day. In the two months since that race, we’ve come up with a better and brighter idea, one I’ll share with you in the near future. But we missed Betty, and we missed having Matt on the team.

Black Betty is now for sale. Just $7,500. It’s the fastest and most meticulously built car you can get for that kind of money. We’d have bought her from Matt if we’d known he would sell — but it’s not too late for a member of the B&B to take a shot at it. Check out the ad here, on the AER page. You can see some 3-D video of the car on Ronnie’s YouTube page, too.

Betty is fast, and Betty can be a wicked handler. If you’re looking for something more interesting than the average E36 BMW or Porsche 944, it’s worth checking out. And make sure to say “Hi!” to Matt for us, and to wish him well. He’s done a lot of great things, and he’s capable of doing many more.

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2 of 21 comments
  • MissmySE-R MissmySE-R on Sep 30, 2016

    Forgive my ignorance, but why would a gentleman of Matt's abilities choose a 3800 V6 for this car? I get that it's likely more reliable than most and reasonably easy to fix, but it wouldn't ever occur to me to use one in a race car. Is the car so good that the engine is effectively secondary here?

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Sep 30, 2016

    Is it streetable?

  • Oberkanone The Chrysler - Plymouth - Dodge Neon's racing successes - SCCA and elsewhere ( racing.
  • Kwik_Shift My brother inherited his work travel 2013 Ford Escape 1.6L EcoBoost to be replaced with a 2019. It is now used as a beater vehicle primarily to take my mother out for shopping/appts, etc. Just right seat height for her to get in and out of.Right now it has 420,000 (HWY) kms still on original engine/turbo/transmission. Impressive, but doesn't mean I'd intentionally buy any Ford EB combination vehicle. I've heard lots of bad things as well.
  • Analoggrotto You forgot something.
  • MKizzy We can pretty much agree at this point that all Ford ecoboost engines regardless of displacement are of trash quality.
  • Jeff71960 once a fun fast little car (if you can find an unmolested one)... unfortunately boy racer types trashed most of them