It's interesting how these things sometimes happen. A couple years ago, Clayton Romie was driving home from a day of visiting his customers. He pulled up alongside this beat-up '71 Camaro and came up with an idea. Clayton followed the guy off the freeway, rolled down his window, and shouted "Hey, you wanna sell your car?" At first, the guy was scared, but Clayton flashed some cash and a deal was struck for less than a grand.
Remember, this car was in BAD shape. Not long after, Clayton drove the car to a friend's house so they could fit-check some 17-inch wheels and tires that were borrowed from a '70 Camaro, as well as talk about suspension, brakes, and engine options. After he saw the car for the first time, wearing 17x11-inch wheels and 315/35-17 rubber, Clayton was hooked and construction began shortly thereafter.
That's also when the difficulty of building a car reared its ugly head, and didn't let up for a year and a half. About that same time, we had just finished one of Danger Mouse's best engine combinations (Part 6, Test 15) where we installed GMPP's Vortec heads, a COMP Cams Xtreme Energy hydraulic cam and rockers, an Edelbrock Performance RPM Air Gap intake, and a Demon 750 carb. DM made great power with this combo, and told Clayton it would be the perfect way to motivate the Camaro he was putting together that affectionately become known as "Zilla." But Clayton admitted he wasn't comfortable building his own engine, so he had a copy of DM built. That turned out to be the easy part, and Zilla's new engine made over 420 hp and a monstrous 450 lb-ft of torque. Then it graced Super Chevy's cover in Aug. '03 with a follow-up story in the Jan. '04 issue detailing the entire buildup and test. Once installed in Zilla, Clayton trucked it over to Westech Performance Group for a day of riding on their Superflow chassis dyno. The power results were typical. Zilla lost an average 21 percent through its 700-R4 automatic and 3.08-equipped 12-bolt drivetrain on its way toward making 326 rear-wheel horsepower and 398 lb-ft of rear wheel torque. Note: We would like to take this moment to correct a mistake we made in reporting Zilla's engine story back then. It was erroneously listed as having a stroke of 3.76-inch, when it's actually 3.48-inch, just like every other 350-cid Chevy ever built.
Any of you out there who have ever tried to paint a car black can understand this next part. Black is unlike any other color. In fact, black is the only color that has EVERY other color in it, except for white, and even sometimes that may be mixed in, too! When you look at a black car, everything shows--every minute detail, every scratch, every pit, every ripple; that's what caused the problem. Clayton couldn't find a painter in SoCal who was capable of delivering the kind of seamless, smooth black paint job that he wanted Zilla to wear. The fact that he also wanted things like the door handles and drip moldings shaved, all door/edge gaps measured and equalized, and every single exterior piece of the car painted black, did not minimize from the problem, either.
Basically, Zilla was shifted from one body shop to another as each tried their best to meet the demanding standards set forth by its owner. It's not completely Clayton's fault, either. One body shop was so bad at managing their affairs that they went out of business with Zilla sitting on their floor in a hundred pieces. Clayton had to collect the car in boxes and try to reassemble it, only to find lots of stuff missing and no one to answer for it. Finally, he found the man that could finish the job. Scott's Customs in Chatsworth, California, took Zilla under its wing and its crew spent many long nights sanding and prepping for what would become the incredibly deep, smooth, glossy black coat of armor Zilla now wears. Scott's is also in charge of detailing Zilla before a show and keeping the car spotless from heel to toe.
SHOWING THE BEAST
Although Zilla started out as a driver, and still sees the street from time to time, Clayton decided he'd do better in a show. When the people gather around as he pulls into a spot, the comments are always the same: The paint job is the ticket. Sure, it looks good under the hood and inside the cockpit, but people can't stop gawking at the incredible paint. Since Zilla was completed over two years ago, Clayton has ventured on and totally restored a '71 Camaro, which his wife drives to car shows. Currently, he's also working on his third F-body--a '73, which he swears will be put to the test. It's going to have the exact same suspension/brake system as Zilla, but an even more powerful small-block that he plans to wring out at the track. While we'd like to see Clayton take Zilla out for a few laps around the road course and test out the very trick Baer Brakes and fiberglass mono-leaf suspension design--including a Vette-style transverse-mounted fiberglass mono-leaf front suspension with adjustable Bilstein shocks--we understand if the only thing he ever does is show it off.