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Better Red

Kevin Penna's Dicey Tomato

Ro McGonegal Aug 30, 2005

This thing looks downright organic. That Glassel 3-Stage process lavished Kevin Penna's Camaro with nine coats of red under three coats of clear that are so rich and deep you can almost taste them. Take a look at the rest of his piece and you know where Kevin's intentions lie. He has embraced the total vehicle, one that goes beyond the Pro Touring repertoire in terms of the upscale appointments and attention to the car as a whole. Every aspect, be it aesthetic or mechanical, flows to achieve a common goal.

That 3-Oh gear is a sure tip-off that Kevin doesn't frequent the drag strip, but he loves to run the poop out of his red car nonetheless. Well over 600 lb-ft churning out of that 496 wide-and-flat give the Camaro command of most situations. All its systems are overbuilt. No sense going into the jungle if your stuff isn't right and leaves you stranded and alone with bat-crazy cannibals. Kevin had Karl at Santa Margarita Transmission whipped on a 4L80-E, including a higher-stall speed converter. Although he gave no mileage claims or estimates, when it's cruising, Kevin's tomato has a dry-lake- like 2.10:1 final drive ratio, so the figure probably creeps up on 20 or so.

Most enthusiasts tend to the chassis and brakes before addressing creature comforts. Kevin's body-off restomod gave him opportunity to swap in tubular upper and lower control arms, large-diameter disc brakes all around, and a Currie Enterprises 9+ axle fitted with Strange axle shafts. Kevin successfully fought the urge to go with bling 20s and laid down some (18s) bigs and (17s) littles instead. He stayed conservative on the tire, too. And with that torque pig grunting in the engine bay, traction becomes a relative thing. Kevin discovered this during a chassis dyno session. At the 420hp mark, the tires began to spin on the rollers.

Kevin found his refugee in Auto Trader--no more than 10 miles from his house. It was 95-percent complete, had a dent in the right front fender, at least two cheapie paint jobs, torn seats, and was missing its headliner. When he finally blew the car apart, he did find some minor rust creeping in the rear window wells and the quarters. In other words, a piece that Camaro-noggins in the rest of the country would kill for. For starters, Kevin joined a new front clip with the original body shell.

Now, you gotta love this. The exterior of the Camaro was basically complete in 2001, but there was a minor problem with the transmission and Kevin drove the car to be fixed. "While driving on the freeway at 90, the hood came open and smashed against the windshield . . . but I managed to stop the car without causing an accident." He remembers, "When I got out of the car and saw the damage I nearly threw up. The hood was destroyed, the roof damaged, both fenders were damaged, and the firewall was caved in. The only way to fix this was to start over again."

"I love First-Gen Camaros," says Penna. "I built this car in my (home) garage. The engine was built and installed at my (Volvo repair) shop, though. I drive this car hard. It's very fast, handles well, and stops great, but my rear tires don't last long." Powerful, scary, brutal guts coexist perfectly with the influence of an inviting, well-executed interior. The cues, the appointments, and the liberally applied tan suede and leather temper that fiery red exterior, bring the excitement down a notch, and create a serious show-car-quality interior. It is meticulous but somewhat on the raw side, and against the red it becomes an excellent contrast.

What we like best about Kevin Penna's '68 Camaro is that it doesn't try to be anything more than it is. No cloning allowed, no harking back to the days of Kevin's youth (he's too young to have experienced the '68 when it was new), no overt threat to the Orange County motor society. Having spent a decade behind the Orange Curtain, we know how belligerent the Yuppie Scum can be. M3s, M5s, Turbo Porsches, and AMG Benzes are their instruments. Their store-bought brides combined with a snotty attitude founded on a stinky cloud of superiority makes them very easy targets. They see Kevin's cute red Chevy and that BS attitude ramps up, nostrils flair. But before they know it, they're watching that 600hp antique defile all that is holy in Oo-Lah Orange Land. In a big-inch roar. In a cloud of tire dust. Yeah, Better Red.

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