View Full Version : Behind the Wheel with Martin Van Weerlee Powered by Optima Batteries

10-24-2016, 06:28 AM

If you’ve been around pro-touring or Optima events in the fall, you’ve no doubt met Martin van Weerlee. Even if you don’t seek him out, he will likely find you and greet you with a huge smile, a hearty handshake and several words about your thread on Pro-touring. As Martin excitedly goes into his interest in your car, you’re probably not saying a thing because A) it’s surprising how much he knows about you and, B) his accent takes a few minutes to decipher as English is not his first language – Martin actually speaks Dutch primarily. But, here’s the thing: language barrier or not, Martin has looked forward to meeting or seeing you all year and his excitement is contagious; you will immediately want to be friends with Martin.


My first real conversation with Martin (I had been in group chats with him at OUSCI but never actually spoken one-on-one) was at SEMA last year while working the booth for the Big Red Edition Camaro. The friendly greeting and hearty handshake was quickly followed by a hug and insistence that I eat a cookie. (A delicious cookie that I like to think he carried all those hours, just for me.) This is the kind of guy Martin is, so eager to give back and be a friend.


Now, before I go on about his car, I want to point out some things that will give you some perspective into what it’s like to be a part of the American Pro-Touring community from a foreign country. Firstly, Martin is generally on P-T.com when you’re eating lunch; if he has a question, you’re not likely going to answer until he’s gone to bed because Martin lives in Voorhout, The Netherlands. For those of you schooled in the U.S. here’s where that is on a map:


About 40 minutes from Amsterdam, a boat ride from London and about 20 hours of flights to the Western U.S. (at least).

That’s a LONG way from Jeggs, Speedway, Summit and Craigslist.

Martin makes the trek from the Netherlands to the U.S. each year to attend SEMA and volunteer at the OUSCI, as well as hitting a Goodguys event or two; he takes volunteerism to a whole new level. When I asked Martin why he takes off from his day-job as an Instrument Designer/Engineer in the (Petro) Chemical industry to work his butt off at OUSCI, he responded:

[I]“Because a lot of people I meet online are there and since it's the closest I can get to participating in the event (for now....hope I can someday drive my own car there but that will be a big and expensive deal). I've met even more people and made new friends, better than just watching from the side lines.”

In the Netherlands, car speed events are similar to the US with drag racing, some smaller auto-x events and open track days but they differ in experience. When asked about the differences he said:

“Well, let’s just say that the kind of events in the US, are non-existent here in the Netherlands. I attended some Auto-x events set up during the yearly meeting of the Ford Mustang club in the Netherlands, they have a track day and they usually invite our little club of Pro-touring guys to get some more action on the track. We do have some nice US car meetings or cruises, but since I visited a GoodGuys event I’m spoiled. The car scene here is nowhere near as big as it is in the US. This is why I love coming to the US and visiting shops, car shows and events.”


Martin first purchased a 1971 Camaro (RS) back in 1998. If you know anything about finding parts for a second gen Camaro before the mid 2000’s you’ll know that finding parts in the US was nearly impossible, imagine finding parts from the Netherlands! The aftermarket was focused on first generation Camaros, Chevelles and Novas and the second gen really hadn’t been given much attention. Even to this day there are only a handful of manufacturers building quality pro-touring parts for the second gen.
“I started with the idea of fixing it [Camaro] up a bit. Then, I bought a US car magazine back in ’98 which featured an orange Chevelle Convertible (think a 70 model?) and it was what we now know as Pro-Touring, labeled “Canyon Carver”. This got me thinking about handling, brakes etc. I started searching more info online, mind you this was dial-in with a few kB per minute internet, and found Larry’s forum and I joined in. Maybe just 30 members back then. From there on, it sort of got out of hand. I’ve spent more time and money than I ever thought I would on the Camaro but I don’t regret a bit.”

In addition to the higher costs for parts, Martin has to pay up to $10 per gallon of gas. So while some might think that a guy in the Netherlands can’t possibly be as creative and knowledgeable about American motors as we are, think about converting your big block from gas to Liquid Propane Gas [LPG].

“I run my car on LPG (Liquid Propane Gas) due to the price of gasoline over here. LPG is about 2.5 times cheaper. I use a Technocarb propane carburetor and an OMVL vaporizer.”

“I built the engine using Eagle crank/rods/dished pistons and stock cast iron 76cc Corvette heads with 2.02-1.6 valves and roller tip rockers. This gives me around 9.5:1 compression so I am able to run regular fuel. The cam is a street/strip type, and with the Edelbrock Performer RPM and open K&N air filter on top it really comes alive around 2500rpm.
The Patriot shorty headers are coupled to a 2.5” Flowmaster exhaust system with the transverse muffler behind the rear axle. Ignition is a Mallory Unilite system combined with an Omex soft cut rev limiter with shift light.”


When asked about the perceptions of fellow racers about the American cars, Martin was quick to point out:
“The common thought is that US cars can only go fast in a straight line. Although my car doesn't have that much power I can keep up with most in the corners. I'm not the fastest driver out there but I have a lot of fun at my own pace. I always keep in mind I have to drive home from the track too.”
So, it seems that the concern about driving home is no different in pro-touring regardless of what country you live in.


Fast-forward a dozen years and Martin is now neck-deep in the build of a 1962 Chevy II (Nova) and is approaching this car differently (for now). Martin hopes to build in a ‘pro-touring light’ fashion building the car with his son to be a cruiser with his son by his side, helping and learning.

“I bought my Nova just of some pictures a local car import shop had….I think I fell in love with it and saw its potential. When I finally got it, I started cleaning it out and found some papers in the trunk and started reading. It turned out to be a full police report on the previous owner. He had been in a car chase with it and I guess with his middle name being “shotgun” he was not a real nice guy.”


Last but not least, I wanted to know who Martin would credit for getting him into cars and he said: “I think I have my mom to thank for getting me into the hobby…..she took me to US car meetings when I was a kid (and air shows or races at the track, she always tried to find cool things to do).

I would also like to thank my wife for supporting me, she doesn’t really care much for old cars but she does understand my passion for my hobby and what it means to me. Actually she was the one that gave me the last push to visit SEMA and OUSCI back in 2012.”

We would like to thank your wife as well Martin, we are fortunate to have you visit us and help with the OUSCI. Maybe your wife should ride along on the autocross with a few of us ladies and she might get the bug to build that Nova into a complete autocross beast!


10-24-2016, 12:28 PM
Whow I am really proud Martin is one of my buddy's!!
Go Martin!!
Talk to you soon.

10-24-2016, 09:38 PM
Great family Martin! Sorry I'll miss you at SEMA this year :-(

David Pozzi
10-28-2016, 10:54 PM
He's great! I've met him several times at SEMA, so if you get the chance, go up and say Hi to him!