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Nov 25, 2009

The name "Nickey" - spelled with a backwards "k,"-was synomous with high performance Chevrolet products. Established in 1925, the Chicago-based parent company Nickey Chevrolet backed some of the most famous names in motorsports, especially from the late 1950's throughout the 1960's. It started with the Harley Earl-designed 1957 Corvette "SR2" which Nickey purchased for road racing. That project led to the Bill Thomas engine "Purple People Eater" championship Corvette in 1958 driven by well known racer Jim Jeffords. Then, there was the Nickey sponsored Chevrolet stock car driven by Fred Lorenzen; the A.J. Foyt driven Nickey Chevrolet-sponsored American Challenge Cup 1963 Corvette road racer; Dick Harrell and Hayden Profitt's Nickey-sponsored Chevrolet Nova and Corvair-bodied "match race stockers," and Ron Colson's phenomenally successful "Nickey" Top Gas dragster. Nickey also had a presence in Cam Am racing sponsoring the Charlie Hayes-driven Nickey McLaren M1B and there were plenty of others. Suffice to say, Nickey Chevrolet's name was everywhere where GM's finest gathered in the name of speed!

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The alter ego to Nickey Chevrolet's racing programs were the dealer's lightning fast high performance Chevrolet street machines and the Nickey-Bill Thomas-engineered "Nickey 427 Super Camaro" project was the highest profile program of them all. Historically, Nickey and Bill Thomas were responsible-with Chevrolet Division's Vince Piggens blessing.-for the first big-block Chevrolet engine conversion into the all new 1967 Camaro introduced late 1966; developing an engine swap kit in the process. This hot rod-inspired technology enabled two dealerships, - one being Southgate, CA's DANA Chevrolet out on the west coast,- and Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago to produce "limited edition" big-block Camaro super cars*.

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Nickey Chevrolet's original plan was to build at least fifty of these 427 "L72" engine Super Camaro's to homologate them for AHRA Formula Stock, and NHRA Super Stock class racing. Both Bill Thomas Race Cars Anaheim, CA. factory and line mechanics at Nickey Chevrolet - led by High Performance Manager Don Swiatek and also included the likes of Nickey-sponsored drag racer Dick Harrell, - performed the conversions on small-block engine cars upgrading these early Camaro's to 427 power in "Stage 1, Stage II and Stage III trim with Stage III being the all-out race car. Of course, by the time the Nickey Super Camaro program truly got up to speed, Chevrolet Division had just introduced their "L35" - automatic, - and "L78" manual transmission Camaro "SS 396"big-block cars which no doubt technologically benefitted from Thomas-Nickey's initial engine swapping efforts.

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Unfortunately, after a serious financial re-structuring of Nickey Chevrolet that same year the Nickey 427 Super Camaro program was history with the swipe of an accountant's pen. Dick Harrell had also been terminated as a sponsored driver early in the 1967 racing season, and would take his services - and a Harrell version of Nickey's super car building program, - elsewhere, namely to Canonsburg, PA's Yenko Chevrolet. Nickey Chevrolet would eventually phase out of new car sales, but would continue to run its performance center under the "Nickey Chicago Speed Shop" banner until 1977 when tough economic times forced them to close their doors. But what's this? The "Nickey" name is back, and building high performance Camaro's once again?

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"I've spent most of my life in the retail automotive business," says Nickey Chicago CEO Stefano Bimbi." Prior to starting up Nickey Chicago, Inc. I was the director for a Fortune 100 company called "Auto Nation." I was also involved in a couple of "niche market business," one which was a muscle car sales organization known as "Bimbi's Car Craft" We established a reputation for finding our clients the finest muscle cars available, COPO's, Yenko's, Baldwin-Motion cars, and of course Nickey's. When I found out that the rights to the Nickey name were available, that provided me with the impetus to formally resign my position with Auto Nation, and set out to bring back the Nickey marquee!"

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"Of course, Nickey had a huge presence in the Chicago land market. When I was growing up in Chicago's Highland Park, the older "kids" in the neighborhood always talked about the Nickey cars as being THE cars to have. If you had a Nickey Chevrolet, - and there was a genuine Dick Harrell-built Nickey Super Camaro "living" in my hometown, - you stood head and shoulders amongst your peers!"

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Back in those days there was a lot of street racing activity in the Chicago land area. I remember I would sneak out at about two o'clock in the morning and ride my Schwinn bicycle over to where they would race for money. That Nickey 427 Super Camaro I previously spoke about was one of the big (money) winners. You might say the "Nickey Mystique" was all around me!" Intertwining the past with the present has been an interesting journey. Steve Bimbi continued.

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"I've always been a Camaro "fan," it's my all time favorite car. Needless to say, I was very upset when GM ceased production on these cars, so I ordered one of GMMG's 2002 "ZL1" Camaro's. My deal with the builder was that if I was going to spend all that money, I wanted to commemorate my favorite Chevy Camaro dealer which was Nickey Chevrolet. It was agreed that if I could get permission from the Stefani family, - the last owners of the original Nickey Chevrolet empire, we would build this car as a Commorative edition "Nickey" super car!" The long and short of it is that not only was Steve Bimbi able to secure permission to build his 2002 Camaro it also opened up the door for future negotiations - in a roundabout sort of way, - to resurrect the "Nickey" brand name.

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"At Chevy Vettefest 2002, my Nickey Camaro generated so much excitement that I came to the realization that there was indeed a market for these cars. At that event, I would also discover that the rights to the Nickey name were actually owned by a gentleman named "Dean Klein" CEO of "Little Detroit Collectibles. After seeing the Nickey Commorative ZL1 Camaro, Dean looked at me and said, 'You can use the Nickey name,' but it's going to cost you! My heart sunk into my stomach. I'm thinking this is going to be a BIG problem. Then Dean says 'I want you to meet my brother. He has a standard licensing agreement with him. We're going to modify it to suit your needs, and we'll let you know what it's going to cost you!"

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Bimbi openly admits that at that point, he felt like he was between a rock and a hard place not knowing what this whole thing was going to cost him. "As we're walking to meet his brother, Dean turns to me, and says, 'You got a buck on you?' I'm thinking he wanted to buy a can of soda or something, so I reached into my pocket and handed him a buck. Then he looks at me and says, 'I'm going to grant you the licensing agreement for ONE DOLLAR!"

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Of course, that initial dollar was for licensing Bimbi's one-off 2002 Nickey Super Camaro. Getting Nickey Chicago up and running proved to be a bit more complicated, and a lot more expensive!

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"After Dean saw the kind of reception my 2002 was getting, he came to the realization that there was indeed a niche market for these cars. He approached Bill Thomas III whom Dean had dealt with through doing his die cast model car project, and proposed that they build a run of GEN IV Nickey? Bill Thomas 427 Camaro Commorative cars. Then Bill Thomas SR. got involved and said 'let's build a 35th Anniversary Commorative Camaro that will blow everybody away. Let's build a turbo-charged 427 car!'

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Bimbi went on to relate that through his extensive connections at General Motors, Bill Thomas Sr. was able to secure a LS7-based 427 C5R race motor. "One prototype got built, and Chicago land collector Mike Guarise ended up buying both it, and the rights to the "NICKEY" name. Now Mike is a good friend of mine, and knowing that he had the rights to the Nickey name, I approached him and put together a business plan to resurrect the Nickey marquee. Once we had all the X's and o's crossed, I resigned my position with Auto Nation, and jumped in head first!"

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In 2004, Nickey Chicago, Inc. opened its doors not far from the original Nickey dealership @ 1930 Dean Street, St. Charles, ILL. 60174 and pretty much picked up where Bimbi's Car Craft had left off. "I was confident that the Camaro was going to come back," said Steve. "Exactly when was another story. Finally in 2006, GM leaked the advance photos of the new GEN V Camaro to an eagerly awaiting public, and I knew we had ourselves a winner!"

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With the actual release date set for 2010, Nickey Chicago started laying the groundwork for their GEN V 2010 Nickey 427 Camaro SS project. "These cars are true supercars in the Nickey Chevrolet tradition, and just like the originals, are available in "Stage I, Stage II, and Stage III"configurations, In fact, we actually used one of Nickey's original ads and plugged in all the modern components, and it just fit right!"

"Stage I is Nickey Chicago, Inc's entry level package, and consists of our distinctive Nickey L88 type hood, graphics and emblem package, along with a bolt on cold air induction system feeding a F.A.S.T. intake, a custom tune, and custom exhaust. The factory 376-cid, LS3 engine is power rated at 426 HP, while out Stage I is rated at 500!"

"Our Stage II package consists of all the previously mentioned upgrades along with CNC LS3 cylinder heads, a Nickey spec cam ground for us by Competition Cams, and an F.A.S.T intake, and exhaust system. That car is power rated at 600 HP!"

"Or, we can get there with power adders like the addition of an either a Pro Charger or Magnusen supercharger to the factory 376-cid LS3 engine, aka "Stage IIS." We are also currently in the process of developing a turbocharged package with our strategic partners from Naperville, Ill's Finish Line Performance (FLP) which will be known as the Stage II-T!"

"Of course, we're most excited about the Stage III, "Nickey 427 Super Camaro SS" which is powered by 707 HP (@ 6800 RPM) Carl Wegner Motorsports--Markesan, Wisconsin, - prepared GM LS7 engine, the same engine as used in the Corvette "Z06." Carl Wegner is reknown for building NASCAR "spec" engines, and we felt that he was the right guy to do the job. Once Carl works his magic, this engine is capable of producing 595 lb/ft. of torque @ 5600 RPM!"

Internally GM's modern day big-block - p/n 17802397, -features a cast-aluminum block with steel six-bolt-main bearing caps and a Calles forged-steel crank. Bore size is 4.125-inches and the stroke is 4.00-inches. The Nickey 427 Camaro SS also makes use of a set of Howard's connecting rods, - a division of Howard's Cams - while a set of 11.0:1 compression Wegner Motorsports-designed JE pistons forged-aluminum are used. A proprietary grind Competition Cams roller cam is also an integral part of this combination.

The LS7's Wegner/CNC-ported "specific pattern "cylinder heads feature 70 c.c. combustion chambers with 2.20-inch diameter Del West titanium intake and 1.61-inch diameter Del West titanium exhaust valves. The valve train on these engines consists of CHR 1.75-ratio roller rocker arms, Manley Performance springs and keepers, and a set of CNC billet-aluminum "NICKEY CHICAGO" valve covers complete with Nickey coil pack "stands."

"We were fortunate to have worked with Fuel Air Spark Technologies, aka. "F.A.S.T." on the development of their soon-to-be-released LS7-based LSX composite intake and F.A.S.T. 90mm drive by wire electronic throttle body," says Steve. "The exhaust system was also specifically manufactured for Nickey Chicago by American Racing Headers!"

At this writing, it should also be noted that Nickey Chicago is currently in the developmental stages of both a supercharger and turbocharger option for the 427 Stage III. Estimated HP will be in the neighborhood of 1,000 HP! Holy Cow! Backing up Nickey Chicago's prototype -#001, - is a "Viper Style" Finish Line Performance (FLP) Blueprinted 6000-Series Borg-Warner/Tremec T-56 six speed Hurst shifted transmission utilizing a Ram Automotive dual-disc clutch. A high performance six-speed-automatic version is also available and in the development process.

Rear end gearing in the 2010 Nickey 427 Super Camaro SS fully independent coil-over strut rear suspension is the stock 3.45:1 stick, or 3.42:1 automatic although with the 427 engine plans call for the substitution of a set of 4.10:1's.

And speaking of suspensions, a special Pedders-Nickey coil-over strut high performance suspension system is another one of the much desired 2010 Nickey options. Those "Nickey Specific" 20x10-inch front/20x11-inch rear five-spoke wheels are from MHT Wheels -complete with "NICKEY CHICAGO" wheel caps, - are reminiscent of the American Racing/Cragar SS wheels used on the original 1967 Nickey cars. Tires come in the form of a set of 275/40x20-inch front, and 305/35x20-inch rear Nitto INVO high performance radials.

"This is a very street able package," says Bimbi. "The Nickey 427 Stage III has that throaty muscle car idle, and you can operate it on SUPREME UNLEADED pump gas, and you can drive it to the grocery store just as easily as you can to the race track. Once fully developed, the 2010 Nickey 427 Super Camaro SS will truly become a bonfide ten second street machine.

The interiors inside the 2010 Nickey 427 Super Camaro SS are also indicative to the breed. Nickey Super Camaro #001 happens to feature yellow leather inserts and specially embroidered "NICKEY" insignia leather headrests and special "NICKEY" embroidered floor mats.

Of course, the exteriors of these Nickey Super Cars also look the part with their distinctive "Nickey" stripe graphics, Corvette-style "Stinger" composite hoods, and 20-inch wheel & tire package.

At this writing all three stages of the 2010 Nickey Super Camaro SS are available in ten factory colors, Ralleye Yellow, Black, Silver Ice Metallic, Imperial Blue Metallic, Aqua Blue Metallic, Victory Red, Inferno Orange Metallic, Cyber Gray Metallic, Red Jewell Tint coat, and Summit White. However, special "retro colors" are available through Nickey Chicago's official licensed conversion depot, Bill Jelinek's New Lenox, Ill-based Route 66 Motorsports. Each 2010 GEN V Nickey 427 Super Camaro SS is built utilizing the latest technology combined with the knowledge of the Nickey Chicago team, and each and every 2010 Nickey Camaro will be serialized, and entered in the Nickey Registry as an official certified Nickey Super Camaro.

"One of the coolest aspects about this project is that we actually have key people in our organization that originally helped create the Nickey legend. Don Swiatek was the one and only High Performance Manager for the original Nickey Chevrolet. He and his team of master technicians were responsible for all the Nickey conversion cars. We also have Ronnie Kaplan from RKE Engineering fame. Ronnie was hired to manage our road racing programs, and currently works with Nickey Chicago, Inc. as a hands-on consultant!"

"Through our contacts in the industry, we've established a network of approximately ten dealerships, and we have even more calling us wanting to become involved with this program as we speak! As far as a marketing program is concerned, we're pretty much copying the blueprint laid out by Don Yenko back in the day. Those original Yenko Chevrolet Supercar dealers who are still in business understood EXACTLY what it was we were trying to do with these cars. Take for example Ed Schoenthaler who currently owns West Chicago's Crossroads Chevrolet. "Mr. Ed" probably sold more high performance COPO cars than anyone else in the business when he worked for Chicago's Brigance Chevrolet and later on when he was the GM at Chicago's Fencl-Tuffo Chevrolet. In fact, Ed is so onboard with this project that he said that he would make available his allocation of 2010 Camaro's to my customers for Nickey conversions."

"Our National Sales Manager Denny Barker currently he3lps us manage these relationships. Moline, Illinois Moline Chevrolet, - one of the only Yenko Supercar dealers still in business, - is also another Chevrolet dealer on board with this program. We also have Bill Stacek Chevrolet in Wheeling, Illinois, and Hudsonville, Michigan's Todd Wentzel Chevrolet on board with this program which seems to really be gathering momentum!"

And what might you expect to pay for one of these GEN V 2010 Nickey 427 Stage III Super Camaro's complete with all the whistles and bells? They start somewhere in the neighborhood of around @12,000 for a Stage I and can run up to $40K-$60K for the 427 model above and beyond the $32,730 price tag being commanded for the actual 2010 Camaro RS/SS package itself. Of course, it wouldn't be kosher if we didn't mention the fact that, "THESE CARS ARE SOLD FOR OFF ROAD USE ONLY!" You can contact Nickey Chicago directly by telephoning either Stefano Bimbi @ (630) 377-1222, or Nickey Chicago National Sales Manager Dennis Barker @ (616) 204-6066, Recently, SUPER CHEVY magazine Editor Jim Campisano drag tested the new 2010 GEN V Nickey 427 Camaro SS and here were his findings......

Other companies like Canonsburg, PA's Yenko Sportscars, Inc, Baldwin, Long Island, New York's Baldwin-Motion Performance and Grand Rapids, Michigan's Berger Chevrolet would also start building these big-block Camaro hybrids in 1967 as well.



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