FEATURED CAR: Well Worth The Wait

Car - 1994 Chevrolet Camaro

Paint - Victory Red

Engine - 572 C.I. Merlin Big Block

Transmission - Rossler TH 400 with trans brake

Rear - Narrowed Dana 60 with Richmond 4.10 gears on Moser axles

Tires - Mickey Thompson 33x21.5x15 out back on Weld Wheel Pro Stars

Weight - approx 3200lbs

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Our Featured Car this issue is a blast from the past, a "Pro Street" 1994 Chevy Camaro owned by none other than your diehard gearhead, tool-junkie editor. After sitting in my shop for a week or so, my daughter announced she had come up with the perfect name for our new, bright red family member with 572 cubic inches, enormous tires…and “Big Red” was officially named. Surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of our readers saw it on our Top 10 List and wanted to know more about it, so as awkward as this is going to be, let me tell you about my car.

If you read my Shop Talk column, you already know I was born into the world of motorsports and have been wrenching all of my life. For those of you who don't follow my column…you should! But let me briefly catch you up to date. My Dad was a natural-born genius/master craftsman. He did it all, from cars, fabricating, HVAC and wiring, to plumbing, carpentry, and even taxidermy. If it was broken, he could fix it. If there was not a part available, he could make it. On top of his genius skills was an anal approach to detail, which I am blessed to have impregnated into my DNA.

The Road To Addiction

Dad was extremely strict and demanded I watched him fix everything he was working on. Needless to say, he was working on something every single day, and I was not allowed to play with my friends until our project of the day was complete. I have to be honest with you, this absolutely sucked at the time, and I didn’t understand why I was the only kid on the block who worked everyday for no pay. At first my job was to watch and learn, and hand him any tools he needed. I got very good at holding a light for him and reading his mind, knowing exactly what tool was going to be needed next. Little did I know this was all part of his plan. I slowly graduated into actually doing the work, while he instructed me on every little detail. If he only knew my internal dialogue at the time! Eventually, he became so confident in my abilities that he would take me on HVAC jobs and have me do the work while he had coffee and talked with the customer. By that time, I really appreciated this responsibility, and I experienced a sense of pride that was very special to me.

Dad gave me my first car when I was 14 years old and helped me turn it into my first race car. Just before my 17th birthday my 1964 Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass was ready for take off. My older brother Mike, who was my Dad’s first protégé, added an 80s three-color Pro Street paint job to my car, and just like Dad, taught me along the way. I lived less than a mile from the famous Englishtown Raceway Park and took my car there every Wednesday night and every weekend I was wasn't playing football or racing motocross. I was addicted to drag racing and the Pro Street movement, so much so that pictures of Rick Dobbertin’s Chevy II hung on my wall instead of the then famous Farrah Fawcett poster.

Naturally, I needed to fund my need for speed, so I worked at tune up shops, gas stations and Firestone Service Centers. Eventually I moved to Maryland to work at a Cadillac dealership and live with my cousin, who was pounding the pavement with a gorgeous 67 Chevelle with a LS6 454. I bought a 1975 Vette for a steal, and, with the help of my dad, fixed it up to become my daily driver. I stopped motocross racing and turned my motocross rocket into an Enduro bike and entered races just for fun.

Somewhere in the middle of things, life started to happen, as it does for all of us, and I did what was necessary to forge ahead. For no other reason other than that, I dropped out of the motorsports world for many years. Eventually the Vette and the bike were gone, and I was just a normal dude driving a Ford Bronco II.

Release The Kraken

Fast forward twenty plus years, and I was living my gearhead life vicariously through car magazines, and TV shows like The Powerblock, Truck U, Car Fix, 2 Guys Garage, Overhaulin, Biker Build Off, and any NHRA event that was televised. I was always fixing something for someone in my shop, and that was just enough to keep my fingers dirty and my heart happy. Tinkering on my Harley and upgrading it every winter kept The Kraken in me busy and was my only source of speed for many years. (The Kraken is what I affectionately named my addiction to motorsports and wrenching.)

My friend Scott, who’s car is #1 on our Top 10 List, is the Parts Manager at a local shop and an avid drag racer. Every time I went to his shop, we would talk about his Chevelle and his most recent racing news. He invited me and my daughter to spend a day at the track with him and his family. Well that was like giving heroin to an ex-junkie. My mind went crazy that day. My heart was pounding so hard, and I was so excited that I was actually sweating. On the way home my daughter asked why I stopped drag racing. After listening to my story of working hard to build our business and house, and taking care of our family, in a way that only an eight-year old girl can, she replied, "Dad, you should get back into it because you love it so much. You always tell me that God takes delight in making us happy, so maybe this is God’s way of making you happy." I told my wife about our little talk, and she immediately agreed with our daughter. It hit me like a ton of bricks! There was nothing holding me back at this point. My girls were on board and gave me permission to release The Kraken!

A Difficult Decision

I told everyone I knew to keep an eye out for an old Nova, Chevelle, or Camaro. All I needed was a good roller, as I had plans for everything else. After looking at numerous cars, and nearly buying a 1964 Nova, I decided to shift gears, buy a 2010 Camaro and build my own COPO replica. I looked at over forty 5th gens and even had one of my buddies, who’s the GM at a Chevrolet dealership, look at his auctions for me. After months of research, I narrowed it down to five top picks and was ready to release the trans brake to buy one. The very next day, I went to the Super Chevy show with my family to help Scott at the track and hang out with his family for the weekend. I took a ride with Scott's uncle in the golf cart and looked at every car on the property.

We passed this 94 Camaro that was already back halved and had enormous 33x21.5 inch wide tires on the back. I slammed on the brakes as my 80s Pro Street passion took over. The interior was in poor condition and the paint and overall detail needed a lot of attention. The engine barely ran and had a horrible miss or two in it, not to mention there was hardly any fuel pressure getting to the carb. Uncle Brad and I took a second pass around the complex and took a closer look at a dozen or so cars that were for sale that weekend, but I kept going back to those huge tires on that Camaro. A week after the Super Chevy show I aborted my very detailed plans to build a 2010 COPO replica and purchased that 1994 Camaro. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Making Of Big Red

The Camaro went under a complete metamorphosis once it was at home in my shop. I completely gutted the interior and ripped out a butcher-job wiring nightmare. I do so many wiring jobs for customers, and I pour my heart and soul into making sure everything is perfect for them. It was now time to do my own car, and I demanded the same level of detail from myself.

I uncovered multiple fire hazards and wiring no-nos along the way, reminding me that wiring should be left to a specialist like me (shameless plug) and not something owners should cut corners on if they want to protect their huge investment. A painless switch panel took care of all of the vitals for the Camaro and was meticulously fabricated into the dash where the A/C controls used to be.

The dash, door panels, and carpet were redone and made new again. My wife sanded and painted the ten-point roll cage to match the Victory Red exterior. A matching pair of red G-Force five-point cam lock safety harnesses were installed over the aluminum Kirkey racing seats. A complete set of Autometer gauges and shift lights were installed to monitor all of the data coming from under the hood and chassis.

The entire ignition system was replaced with all MSD components. An MSD billet distributor, crab style cap and rotor are connected to MSD 8.5mm spiral core wires covered in DEI thermal heat sleeves to protect them from the massive headers. A Digital 6-AL2 was installed to a HVC Blaster Coil that provides the giant spark needed to combust the 13.5:1 compression. The 6-AL2 also gives me control over the rev limiter and 2-step rev limit for the trans brake launches.

The fuel system was the next to get a complete overhaul. The fuel cell was removed and flushed out. Someone never cleaned the cell out after drilling holes for the sending unit and sent shards of metal into the pump and regulator.

There were also chunks of the wrong silicone in the fuel cell that was used to seal the sending unit. This answered why there was no fuel pressure. I was able to rebuild the electric Edelbrock fuel pump, install a fuel filter, run all of the fuel lines in a Vulcan thermal sleeve, and replaced the regulator and plumbed it so it returns back to the fuel cell. The fuel cell was painted and the sending unit was replaced with the proper sealant. I forgot to mention that one of the brass screws that secures the sending unit to the fuel cell was also removed from the cell when we flushed it out. A special thanks to my cousin Wayne for his help with the fuel system while he was visiting for the weekend. A smile still comes across my face thinking of him trying to siphon that race gas out of the tank.

The Camaro barely had enough brakes to hold the car still at idle, so a complete makeover was in need. A new Wilwood master cylinder started the process and was connected to Wilwood discs out back and Aerospace Components discs up front. A cheap line lock system was replaced with the top of the line Hurst Roll Control system. I even connected the line lock to an Autometer brake pressure gauge to help make holding the car in the water box a no brainer.

The narrowed Dana 60 was the next to get some attention as it was moaning and groaning while pushing it in my shop. A set of Moser axles got connected to Richmond 4:10 gears. New bearings and seals took care of the moaning and a fresh bath of Royal Purple gear oil helped keep everything working properly. The Dana 60 is connected to a pair of Koni coil-overs and a fully adjustable 4 link and Z bar. The front end also saw some love and was replaced with a complete QA-1 tubular system and K member. Fully adjustable QA-1 coil-overs out front help keep things under control.

My next task was to go over and freshen up the 572 Merlin Big Block and make sure she was tight and right. The engine was originally built with a Scat crank and rods got that are connected to Diamond pistons completing a rock solid rotating assembly pushing 13.5:1 compression. A pair of Brodix heads, Crower cam, and Harland Sharpe rockers, make sure Big Red is breathing properly. A Holley 1050 cfm Dominator sits on top of a Brodix intake and sends the 112 octane race gas into its fiery demise. Guy at Spectre Performance is not only a great dude, but a genius as well. He custom designed a dual plenum cold air induction system for me and we are plumbing a DEI Cry02 air and fuel chiller system enabling me to drop the incoming air temperature 50 degrees before it hits the carburetor. DEI got my attention with a simple sentence. "Gain back the power the heat takes." This will prove itself very helpful during the hot and humid days of summer.

Special thanks to Spectre Performance and DEI for all of their help designing this new induction system. I am looking forward to completing this install this month and sharing that data with all of you at the end of the season in an upcoming Tech Corner Column.

The 572 power plant exhales through a pair of custom built headers that barely manage to fit inside a 4th gen Camaro engine bay with a big block. The headers are connected to a giant 3 1/2 inch exhaust and a pair of Doug's cut outs which eventually make their way tucked very neatly through the body in front of the rear tires. The Doug's cut-outs make this registered and insured street car come alive whenever I need to let Big red breath.

A Hurst Quarter Stick is connected to a custom built Rossler Turbo 400 transmission which sends all of that muscle to a pair of enormous Mickey Thompson 33x21.5x15 Sportsman Pro Radials that were responsible for re-sparking my passion for the Pro Street movement at first sight. The tires are mounted on Weld Wheel Pro Stars helping to complete the Pro-Street look.

The paint on the car was absolutely horrible, but with the upgrade budget in negative territory, I had to get creative as project Big Red was on hold. If you’ve read my Shop Talk article entitled "The Art Of Bartering," you know how I ended up solving the paint problem. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to check out our archives and learn what a master detailer can do to a horrible paint job. Long story short, my friend Zak was able to bring the paint back to life and saved me a ton of money in the process. His incredible work enabled me to unveil Big Red to the public and frequent the car show and cruise circuit I love so much.

The Dream Becomes A Reality

I’m thrilled to be able to say that at 50 years old, I finally have the Pro-Street car I dreamed of back in the 80s. Big Red was certainly worth the wait! Call me crazy, but all I have to do is sit inside that roll cage, hold the steering wheel and a giant smile comes across my face. The process of bringing this dream to a reality was something I will never forget. I was able to spend many hours teaching my daughter the very same things my Dad shared with me over 40 years ago. I was even able to spend quality garage time with my wife, who has supported this project and my gearhead addiction with all of her heart.

I’m looking forward to the first trip to our local ice cream parlor this summer. My girls are going to have to take turns, because Big Red only has two seats…my way of getting ice cream twice in the same day! Our new "family" car has filled a huge void in my heart that was buried for too many years. Every now and then I open the door to my shop just make sure it is not a dream. I would like to thank everyone who has had a hand in bringing this dream to life. I am eternally grateful and pray that you get blessed one hundred fold in return.

I’d like to close this story with a little tribute to my Mom, who thankfully was able to see Big Red before she passed last November. Despite living a very modest life, she always helped finance my gearhead addiction and loved how happy fixing something in my shop made me feel. Even after she passed, she still found a way to help by leaving me the money to purchase and customize a used car hauler. Thanks Mom, your legacy will live forever in my passion. The Kraken has been officially released!

Until next time,

JT

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