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1980 Chevrolet Camaro - Molotov Cocktail

Hate Rubber-Bumper Camaros? You Gotta Love This One!

Ro McGonegal Jul 25, 2007

Doug Nelson tells you true. What he says comes straight from the heart. No braggadocio. No mean spirit. No middle-finger salute. He could well be the incarnation of the archetypical Hot Rod soldier as envisioned by Editor Wally Parks and the magazine's fathers back in the '50s.

He took an absolute pile of crap and made it whole. He did the work. Some of it he didn't know even how to begin; he just made it happen. He hasn't got a whole lot of loot, but he's got the desire and the willingness to stand and persevere in a hail of potential failure. By the way, his '80 Camaro isn't a purpose-built racer. It's a street car. An 8-second street car, and has been since the first time he brought it out. It's a sled too, weighs more than 3,800 pounds with him in it. How does he do it? Turbochargers unleash manic power.

We love this stuff. Doug could have chosen some hackneyed bitch, something that's been done so many times it no longer piques interest or jacks up the fluid of emotion. It's a Camaro to be sure, but one rarely chosen for a laying-on of hands. Latter-day F-bodies are anathema to most-rubber bumpers, portly, no charisma-therefore they are cheap and plentiful (dig it, there were more Camaros built in '79 than any other production year), and especially so if they're a sheetmetal nightmare to begin with.

Wrenching on behemoths for a living has revealed at least one true fact: They build 'em to last. Doug adopted that creed without hesitation and based his bullet on some really tough parts. The main bearing caps, cylinder heads, and intake and exhaust manifolds are secured with ARP studs. A Dart Little M cylinder block with a 4.155-inch bore is fitted with JE pistons and Hellfire ring packs. The slugs are linked to Oliver 6.125-inch-long rods, thence to an Eagle 4340 crankshaft featuring a 3.500-inch stroke. That wicked little 380ci displacement runs on an 8.4:1 compression ratio, just about optimal for the 22-psi positive manifold pressure that those 76mm Turbonetics snails stuff it with. Intercooled air is cycled through a Spearco core. Doug says the Brodix 10X cylinder heads have a 23-degree angle for the stainless steel 2.125 intake and 1.625 exhaust valves. To quote ol' Dougie about cylinder head modifications before he was willing to use them: "Porting, flow test. More porting. Flow test. Testing. Flowing. Testing. I think you get the picture." He spec'd the Comp Cams solid roller with 250/255 degrees duration at 0.050 inch, 0.625/0.612 inch lift with Jesel 1.65/1.55:1 roller-shaft rocker arms, and a 115-degree lobe separation angle. Comp pushrods work the other side of the Manley valvesprings. Timing gear is also Comp stuff, and Doug put the bottom end to bed with a Melling high-volume pump and a Canton 6-quart steel oil pan. A GM/ Pontiac high-port intake manifold and Force throttle body receive the blow. Spark snakes from an MSD 7AL box, and the engine is directed by an ACCEL Gen 7 controller and an Innovative five-stage boost controller. To manage the small-block's prodigious torque, Doug and Ray Daughty assembled a stock-ratio Turbo 400 with a JW Ultra Bell case and a Neal Chance 10-inch converter. Transmission fluid op temp is checked by a B&M cooler. Torque jams the 3.55:1 gears through a PST driveshaft.

Our protagonist is a bus mechanic for the New York City Transit Authority, but not in the five boroughs. He hails from bucolic Wappingers Falls, about 75 miles north of Manhattan on the east side of the Hudson River. Doug is also single. If he had a family to support, he probably couldn't have done this car. His project appeals to us for more good reasons. He toils daily in the Land of the Giants, so how could some tiny little street car deter his resolve? He chose the duskier path. He chose to innovate rather than follow a lemming legion of others. Four years after the fact, he was hot-pedaling his passion down that road less traveled, two or three times a week as a matter of fact, weather permitting.

Yes, he had help, from "a very, very long list of friends," but on the main, Doug shirked nothing. He built the motor, installed the rollcage, did the body over, applied the paint, and pieced the suspension together. A real Renaissance man, Doug is. And of course there were failures, expensive ones, but he turned them into learning experiences, because without that kind of stuff messing up your life there can be no real success. The engine in the car is the third one he's ever built.

"I did all the work, setting all the bearing clearances, picking the rod length, piston-to-valve clearances, choosing the deck height, and so on. The first motor I put in this car lasted three weeks. Then it ate the mains," he says. On the spec sheet he filled out for this story, in the space for body details, Doug has, "I need a lot more paper than this, but here's the short version." In fact, he had originally put his faith in a "professional" who turned out to be a lot less talented than Doug imagined. When he couldn't bear looking at the left rear quarter the guy had stuck on the Camaro, he got cutters, torches, and a welder. He learned the basics, applied what could only be considered innate talent, and put a new one on himself. In the fracas, he woke to the fact that he was on a roll and continued with new door skins, a front fender, front and rear bumpers, and a new hood. For all its sheetmetal inconsistencies, the Camaro's main floor and trunk section were in remarkably good shape.

Doug did his prep work with Competition Engineering frame connectors, firmed things up considerably with a custom-built rollcage, and made his own upper control arms. Koni adjustable shock absorbers check the movement of those slinky-like Moroso drag-race coil springs. Steering and spindles are stock. Doug pirated a 9-inch axle from "an old Ford truck," narrowed it 2 inches, and slipped it underneath his Camaro with solid aluminum front bushings on the Landrum multileaf springs, those indispensable CalTracs bars, and QA1 adjustables. A gearset twirls around a spool "differential" that always makes both tires burn hard and evenly.

Wheels And Brakes
Wilwood Dynalite drag-race discs are at every corner, fitting discreetly beneath a Weld Racing/Mickey Thompson ensemble: 15x5 and 15x10 Draglites host M/T 26.0/4.5 ET Fronts and P295R65 ET Street Radials, respectively.

Check out that regimentation beneath the cowl. Why a turbo motor? They produce hideous power at much lower rpm than a nitrous air-sucker and are much kinder to the engine. Doug put in all the pipe, built the exhaust manifolds/turbo stands, and segued the discharge ducting. Those salami-sized 311/42-inch exhaust pipes are remarkably linear, made possible by simply removing the inner fenderwells. You know, it's not like Doug pedals this thing in the rain. The other thing that captivates us is the configuration of the rear suspension. Beaucoup power but no four-link, no coilovers. A simple bundle of leaves, adjustable shock absorbers, traction bars, and tall, sticky tires launch the Camaro to consistent 1.40 short times.

Doug produced paper from Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, as well as from Memphis Motorsports Park, where he ran the Hot Rod Magazine Pump Gas Drags last year. Seems his car is as consistent as day following night, no matter what the barometer, humidity, track conditions, or where he flattens the pedal. Now, if this sucker only had air conditioning...

What, you expected a chewed-out rat hole? This is a street car, so it must at least have such an appearance. A custom wiring harness is in there. Plush, full interior is justly foiled by a stark aluminum dash panel filled with Auto Meter gauges and a wink light in the periphery. Mr. Nelson directs the orchestra from Kirkey aluminum seats, a Grant steering wheel, and a Hurst Quarter Stick ratchet shifter. No air conditioning...yet.

Since we've already outlined the major hits, suffice that Doug came to the rescue in every capacity. He installed all the new stuff, planed and prepped the sheetmetal, and executed the House of Kolor Candy Tangerine and the ghost flames all over the cowl hood. That smooth shell looks even slicker since it isn't blemished by a single decal. It's a street car, remember?

Pay Off
On the engine dynamometer, the twin turbo 380 amasses 780 lb-ft of torque at 6,800 rpm and produces a conservative 1,140 hp at 7,200 rpm. In the real world, hauling 3,800 pounds, the rubber-bumper wonder cranks consistent 8.9s at 162 mph. Nice street ride, Doug.



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