Rick Lefever - Absolutely Unbelievable

By Jim Luikens

Not too many racers compete with a race car that is truly one-of-a-kind. Even fewer also use a one-of-a-kind power plant for their car and almost no one can claim that they built EVERYTHING on their car themselves. This is the story of Quarryville, Pennsylvania native Rick Lefever and his absolutely unbelievable quad turbocharged Mercedes-Benz 500 SL race car.

Rick’s father, Dick Lefever, raced sprint cars during the 50s and 60s. Rick likes to say that he was going to races with his mother and father even before he was born. After that early start he progressed through the normal stages of automotive adolescence racing hot wheels and building models before advancing to reading Hot Rod magazine.

His first real car was a street-driven Ford Model A that he started working on at age 14. Since Rick grew up only 15 minutes from Maple Grove Dragway it was only a matter of time before fuel injection was added to the Model A for strip duty. In 1977 he joined the industry full time as a fabricator at the renowned SRD race shop.

During the day he regularly worked on cars for SRD’s famous clientele, which included racers like Bill Jenkins, Frank Laconio and Richie Zul. After hours he could be found working on the Maryland-based Buick V6 powered race cars of the late Ron Cosner. At one time either he or Ron held every V6 NHRA national record with either the team’s Buick Regal or Fiat Topolino.

Rick says that many times they tested at the same drag strips that Bill Jenkins was using for his Chevrolet V6 development program. Needless to say that made for some intense competition and good natured ribbing between the two teams. Eventually Rick opened his own shop, RLF Race Cars, which he operated until he moved to California in 1991.

Like many racers this move was instigated by his urge to be closer to the hot bed of racing. In Rick’s case however, it wasn’t drag racing, but jet ski racing on the IJBSA tour that was the draw. The move proved to be worthwhile when he won the jet ski world championship three years in a row.

During this time he worked at Performance Jet Ski of Anaheim but once again drag racing crept into Rick’s after-hours life when he began doing welding for Roger Lamb. This led to work on several of the best west coast Pro/Stock cars of that era and eventually the SS/A Hemi Dart of Joe Faherty.

Through his work on the Faherty car he became familiar with Robin Pellisier. Robin had a SS/BA Hemi Belvedere and the desire to be a national record holder. The combination of a Ray Barton hemi and Rick’s chassis work allowed the record to be set and reset several times by the Pellisier car. The famous Pete Chapouris was a friend of Robin’s and their friendship caused him to become familiar with Rick’s welding capability.

Pete was sufficiently impressed to hire Rick for the SoCal Speed Shop where Rick worked on projects like the restoration of the SoCal Belly Tanker Bonneville car. Eventually Gale Banks saw Rick’s work at SoCal and hired him to be the head of racing development for his firm, Gale Banks Engineering, where Rick remains to this day.

With a background like this you might ask yourself, what can’t this guy do? In the case of his latest project the answer would have to be absolutely nothing! Rick has constructed what has to be one of the most unbelievable door slammers of all time. How about an 1800 pound Mercedes-Benz 500 SL with a 28 pound all carbon-kevlar composite body?

Construction on this project was started by buying all of the stock exterior body parts for the 500 SL. The only part not available was the removable hardtop that every 500 SL convertible features. While this might have been a deal breaker for some, Rick merely rolled his own roof and made his own pillars to overcome the problem.

Once Rick had all of the parts for the outer body he then chopped and stretched them as necessary to create the proper racing profile and a one-off shell was created. All seams were metal finished and no bondo was used in the creation of this shell. He then made the various molds, more than 20 in all, that were needed to create the carbon-kevlar body.

Rick is unable (or unwilling) to estimate the number of hours that he has in the creation of his body shell, only that it is thousands and thousands. Towards the end he has typically worked one hundred hours a week on this project. After completing the body he moved on to the chassis, which he also made, and then the rear end housing. He constructed the rear end housing, of his own design, from titanium.

In fact every part that can be unbolted from the chassis is made of titanium. He also made his own headers, intake manifold runners, fuel tank and dashboard. After several years of construction the goal of last year’s PRI trade show in Indianapolis was set as the car’s debut. Despite the years and years of construction the last month before the show was a real thrash as more than 500 hours were invested in the completion of the car.

One of the unusual aspects of the car is the paint job. Considering the magnitude of the entire job the car was painted in a relatively mild paint scheme by John Carambia using factory Mercedes colors. While Rick was in charge of building the car, Gale Banks assembled a quad turbocharged 526 cubic-inch big block Chevrolet-style engine with Alan Johnson cylinder heads.

Yet to be completed is some dyno time along with the assembly of one or more spare engines. At that point Rick Lefever’s ride will be ready to hit the strip. One of the big questions remaining is where, and in what class, this car will compete. Currently it is legal for IHRA’s Top Sportsman but the eventual goal is to race it as a Pro Mod.

As a veteran motorsports enthusiast of more than four decades, I would be hard pressed to believe Rick’s creation if I hadn’t seen it for myself. In fact, if someone were to tell me that they planned to undertake a project of this magnitude I would be willing to give long odds that it would never see the light of day.

But Rick Lefever has built it and I, for one, wish him all the best. I think what he has created can be best illustrated by this true fact. Despite never turning a wheel, Rick has received a legitimate offer of one million dollars for his car as a piece of art. He declined the offer but if he had chosen to accept it he would probably have lost money at that price.
Rick Lefever's
Mercedes Pro Mod