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1970 Chevy El Camino SS - That Old Feeling

64-Year-Old Ex-Funny Car Jockey Finds Joy In A Streetbound El Camino

Ro McGonegal Feb 1, 2009

Hal Sullivan is an old hand at this hot rodding stuff, so his El Camino gives me, another old hand who shares the same birth year, a feeling of relief. It tells me that an ex-Funny Car racer is still car-crazy at heart. Hal came out of a drag racing era (mid-'60s to early '70s) that was more or less pristine and not encumbered by corporate schmucks. Surely it was a microcosm: pure, raw, unabridged, and unapologetic. Camaraderie (read: partying) and brotherhood were the backstory. Sully has retained his good sense and has not forgotten where he came from.

"Cars have been my thing for a long time, he said. "I drove Chevy stockers [A and B; e.g., big-blocks] and then two Funny Cars with '69 and '70 Camaro bodies. When Dickey Harrell and Les Ritchie got killed and Gas Ronda and Jeff Tyree got burned, I rethought the whole race scene...and got out. I regret that decision to this day."

When it came to his current rage, he didn't incorporate any tricks that he learned while laying with a flopper, no. It was pure, youthful excitement that drove him forward. "This journey began in December 2005. I was having breakfast with my son Mike in San Luis Obispo. As we sat outside watching cars go by, my son asked what car I would like to have regardless of cost. I told him an SS El Camino so I could carry my mountain bike and kayak. Leaving there, we drove to see a Corvette he wanted me to look at for him. On the way, we passed Scott's Automotive in SLO, and there in the driveway was my El Camino, 'For Sale.'"

A quick testdrive and the car was Hal's. "I felt like I was 17 all over again," he gushed. The Camino turned out to be average but a solid driver nonetheless. Hal was happy with his find, but a couple dark moments lay ahead. He was at a dog park at the beach when someone implanted their Rabbit square in the nose of his Elky. Before he could make the repairs to the hood and grille, another laidback Southern California type dumped about a five-year supply of sugar in the unlocked fuel tank. Had those gaffes not occurred, he would certainly have driven the piece in its as-found condition for a whole lot longer. Now he had an excuse to make it a hot rod.

"That began the quest," said Hal. "It was time to attack the car from the suspension up. Since it was a numbers-matching Daytona Yellow car, I walked a fine line regarding its pedigree." The only major changes were to the drivetrain, but first Hal catalogued everything he removed and stuck it in a corner should someone want to make it stock all over again. As a driver, Hal would settle for nothing less than the utmost in reliability, ease of maintenance, and a semblance of fuel economy too. In the scheme, he made the mechanical changes with rather large, readily available bolt-on items.

He sought Robin McGhie of McGhie Motors in nearby Lake Forest to tend to the swap. Though perceived as a direct bolt-in, the GMPP Ram Jet 502 required at least four modifications before it would fit. McGhie modified the header flanges to clear the head bolts, notched the oil pan to clear the crossmember, sank a sump in the fuel tank, and put some clearance in the cold-air hood to clear the high-steppin' EFI plenum.

So Hal has crossed the threshold of the modern hot rod world, electronic fuel injection and overdrive automatic in a pin-neat, no-garbage utility vehicle of his own device. Utility vehicle? Yeah. "I built a rack that lies flat in the bed to hold the kayak."


Motor & Drivetrain
The carbureted ZZ502 makes 2 lb-ft more torque than the EFI Ram Jet, but Hal wanted modern stuff under the hood. As the plan provided, the engine needed no further enhancement at this point, and although the throttle body is located relatively high, the engine offers a swell foundation for a power-adder. Fuel delivery is by an Aeromotive pump and adjustable fuel regulator. The key is its all-forged rotating assembly and an amiable 9.6:1 compression ratio, which means it would appreciate another big-bolt-on in the form of nitrous oxide, a supercharger, or even turbochargers. The oval-port cylinder heads comply with 2.25/1.88-inch valves and 110cc combustion chambers. Other than the ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comp headers (2-inch primaries, 3.5-inch collectors, 3-inch system with Hooker turbo-style mufflers) and a K&N element, the engine is out of the crate. Hal proofed the combo on Westech's rollers: 477 lb-ft of torque at 3,937 rpm (565 at 3,200-flywheel) and 410 hp at 4,853 rpm (505 at 5,100-flywheel). To put this in perspective for the street, Hal backed up the motor with an Art Carr California Performance Transmission 200-4R and a 10-inch converter with a sensible 2,600-stall speed. He posted a Setrab fluid cooler and fit the driveshaft with solid HD1350 U-joints. The original 12-bolt was rebuilt and fitted with 3.36:1 gears. At cruise rpm the final drive is a Bonneville-like 2.21:1. Drivelines Incorporated in Mission Viejo did the conversion. No quarter-mile times yet, but those slicks on the back end should help the 3,800-pounder to clip off high-11s at 118 or so.


Since Hal wanted this car for street driving and little else, he removed all the old stuff and repopulated the chassis with N.O.S. suspension members, springs, and antisway bars and introduced the necessary wheel control offered by Bilstein shock absorbers. Hal jumped nostalgialike with Air Lift bags inside the back coils (a hot item in the flaming '60s).


Wheels & Brakes
About the time Hal was doing his thing back in the day, Cragar S/S rims were the cat's pajamas. When Cragar licensed its steel wheel production and design to Carlisle Tire & Wheels in 1999, it included a 17-inch series S/S hoop. Hal put 17x8s with 225/50 Hankooks up front and 17x9s with 275/40 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radials on the live end. Brakes in back are stock drum, but in front Hal used 12-inch Power Slot rotors and inserted Hawk ferro-carbon brake pads in the stock calipers.


Like Hal said, the Camino was about average and included some scabby stuff in the bed. Larry Cerny's Auto Painting in Orange, California, peeled off the chrome and continued with the hood, bumpers, doors, and tailgate. Cerny's welded new floor panels in the bed, sanded the body form and panels with 80-grit, and applied the House of Kolor Daytona Yellow and accompanying black stripes.

There's nothing outrageous here, only a neat and tidy inner sanctum that complements the neat, creased body panels. OPG got the nod for the black vinyl, and Kenny's Auto Upholstery in Mission Viejo, California, got the contract. Auto Meter gauges assume responsibility, and the air conditioning system is original. The AM squawk box had to go. Hal supplanted it with a Pioneer Super Tuner and a CD player, all he needs to make the "cars and coffee" scene every weekend up in Irvine.



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