Tommy Parker's been at this stuff for most of his life, except for that one long stretch when he voluntarily gave up hot rods and show cars for mini-vans and the PTA. "In my late teens and early twenties, I owned and built several Camaros along with helping to build several show-winning vehicles," said the resident of Dallas, Georgia. "I have always been hooked on this stuff, so my 15-year hiatus seemed like it never happened." Once he decided to get back into hot rods, it was like he'd never been away, but the whole take on the sport had new priorities. "Now I was looking to build a car with a Pro Touring theme, one that looked as original as possible."
This time he would be in the project with his 14-year-old son, Payden. It would be the kid's car. "First-gen Camaros were out of the question, and the third and fourth issues didn't appeal to me in the way a chrome-bumper second-gen always did. We searched the Auto Trader, eBay, and so forth, but I actually found this '73 RS in local rag. Payden and I drove up to Blue Ridge, Georgia, and took a look."
They should have taken a closer one. The car was complete minus the engine, which was fine, but it had been left to the elements way too long. After Tommy and Payden removed the front clip and the interior, horror quietly commenced. "Although the floors looked solid from underneath, when we pulled out the carpet underlayment, the floors came along with it, rusted away from the inside out."
Tommy welded in new floorpans from firewall to trunk. Then he and Payden removed the subframe and axlehousing, put the shell on a rotisserie, and sent it to the sandblaster. They scoured the doors and sub-frame at home and added to the growing list of replacement body parts. Back from the sand torture, the Camaro revealed that a left quarter was full of Bondo holes and that there had been no fewer than five exterior colors. The metal between the taillights was clean but also quite in shreds.
At this point the father-son dreadnaught took a torpedo in the nuts. Payden decided it was too much work and that he'd rather have a 4x4. Tommy set him up...and since the fever had taken hold once again, the project became Tommy's alone. He sent the whole mess to C. Hopkins Installation Center, where it got a left quarter, a partial one on the right, trunk drop-offs, and door skins. The reconstructive surgery wasn't over yet.
Tommy laid in the fresh subframe and the suspension with polygraphite bushings, modified spindles, and a hopped-up factory 10-bolt. It was time for final body prep and paint at Thunder Valley Customs. TVC deemed the decklid, hood, and fenders unfit for human consumption and put on some new stuff straightaway. Said happy ol' Tom: "They did an absolutely beautiful job on the finish."
It was time to enact the Pro Touring schedules for the front and rear suspension and the brakes and to introduce lots of little modern comforts and conveniences. Then he'd sling a GM Performance Parts Fast Burn 385 in the engine compartment and hook it up with an overdrive automatic. He worked hard at making the interior appear original. A GM tilt column, power windows and door locks, a power trunk release from an '81 Camaro, and a keyless entry system are only the rudimentary additions. Georgia summers will gag you, and it gets chilly enough to snow, hence the perfect-fit HVAC system. So let's hear it loud for a sensible, modern interpretation of a vintage performer. Henry "Mistah '73" D got to love this stuff.
For the mission intended, Tommy got himself a low-maintenance 350, GMPP's Fast Burn 385 (385 hp at 5,600; 385 lb-ft of torque at 4,000) and tended it with a GM intake manifold (PN 12366573), an Edelbrock AVS carburetor, and a K&N air filter. A complete DUI ignition system yields 16 degrees base timing and tops out at 32. Since he would actually be driving this thing (Year One Experience, Daytona Turkey Run, World Wide Camaro Club Winternationals), he put a windage tray between block and sump and capped it with the stock 5-quart pan. The exhaust design begins with Stan's Headers (Auburn, Washington) Tri-Y ceramic coated pipes (13/4-inch primaries) and includes an H-pipe. Stainless steel tubing with a 21/2-inch outside diameter sticks out of Magnaflow muffs. All the accessories are captured neatly by a single serpentine belt. If you intend serious miles, you must have at least one overdriven top gear. Tommy's 700R4 is a great candidate then, as it has had some internal upgrades and runs with a 2,000-stall converter. Rather than the oil cooler being separate, it has been incorporated into a custom aluminum radiator core with dual Spal fans. An Inland Empire aluminum prop shaft transfers grunt to a 10-bolt axle spinning 3.42s on an Eaton carrier that's cinched with a T/A Performance screw-cover.
To recap: new floors, quarters, tail pan, door skins, hood, trunklid, and fenders. Thunder Valley Custom in White, Georgia (population 729), prepped the body and applied the PPG base/clearcoat Mineral Grey and single-stage Z28 stripes ("because I like 'em," said Tommy).
You can never go wrong with the vintage five-spoke American style from which all such custom rims evolved, and nobody makes a nicer knock-off than Vintage Wheelworks. Here we have V-45s, sized 17x8 and 17x9.5, fitted with 245/45 and 275/40 nasty Nitto 555 Extremes. Those wheels hug Baer 13-inch brakes in front and 12-inch rotors in back. To maintain the system, Tommy installed a Hydratech HydroBoost and laughed all the way home.
*First Place Custom Trailered '70-73; 995 points out of a possible 1,000; Worldwide Camaro Club Winter Nationals (Kissimmee, FL)
*Road Atlanta: 160 mph.
Tommy wisely chose not to overpower his Camaro. He means to drive the car and to be both safe and a dare-devil if that's what needs to be. To that end he provided his car with a saintly measure of active avoidance-if he can't power away from danger, he might be able to handle his way out of it. Beginning with poly subframe bushings, he added Hotchkis drop springs and antisway bars all around. More polyurethane for the suspension attachment points and the offset upper control arm shafts. Edelbrock IAS shock absorbers complete the roundup. To prove the assembly, Tommy got a '70 Z28 quick-ratio steering box (21/2 turns lock-to-lock). As planned, the suspension won't rupture a kidney, but it will keep the shiny side up with minimal effort and return long-haul comfort.
American Autowire provided a specially modified Factory Fit harness to support Tommy's comfort and convenience jones. Besides what we mentioned in the main text, he also needed heated front seats, a Dakota Digital rearview mirror with a thermometer and a compass, and delayed-action wipers from a '77 Camaro. He added a correct '73 Z28 tachometer and a U14 gauge cluster. The auto shifter looks stock but has been modified for the 700R4 with Shiftworks components. HVAC is handled via Classic Auto Air. Aural gratification alternately strolls and stomps from an Alpine CDA-9856 head, a 450-watt amp, and Infinity Kappa component speakers. Sirius satellite and iPod are connected. For the sign-off, Tommy took his body hog to Sam Freeman in Dallas, Georgia, for the repro headliner and Comfort Weave upholstery. To be sure, the only thing that doesn't look stock is that LeCarra MK9 steering wheel.