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1970 Chevy El Camino - Freight Train Outta Control!

Ro McGonegal Feb 16, 2010

Rafael always admired vehicles that were a well-weighted amalgam of blatant aggressiveness and utilitarian fact. Witness his roster of unlikely suspects: a Porsche Cayenne and nefariously underpowered "sport utility" vehicles before there were such things. While a light-duty truck might have sufficed, it has little charisma compared to an El Camino, regardless of vintage. An El Camino's really a crazy two-seat Chevelle with a big trunk and an interior in the image of a coupe or sedan.


The original forms were B-body-derived, big cars, those (let's be kind here) curious bat-winged wonders of 1959 and '60. They quietly putted off into oblivion ... but returned as sinewy, sleek, and powerful in 1964 as based on the succinct, sexy A-body Chevelle.

The ones most coveted, of course, are those aligned with the muscle car era, and often those produced from '70-72. They used to run at the drags nose high, tailgate down and usually did well despite their front-biased weight dispersal. Though the '70 El Camino came off the line a year before Rafael was born, his favorite vision was always the 454 SS, the most powerful Chevrolet (450 hp) production sport utility ever allowed in public. As Director of Media Communications & Motorsports at Pirelli North America, he is a man much in demand and one who views free time as an absolute luxury.

In this epic, he is juxtaposed with contemporary Rob Phillips who presides over Phillips & Co. Hotrods, Inc., in Long Beach, California. Rob had been aligned with Chip Foose as the project manager for Overhaulin', overseeing the completion of more than 40 cars in the last three years. With the seasons wrapped up and all the sweat run out of him, Rob recently formed Phillips & Co. and set about building his own portfolio.

Navarro was the protagonist. He set the trap. He wanted to present 16-year-old Rafael the Younger with the outlines of a special car, which was actually the starting point of no return. Though neither father nor son realized it at the time, they were beginning an irreversible journey that would tunnel down and explode like a thing gone mad, but they could not put the torch down.

There was a plan, of course, and working with Rob and Chip they found a candidate online just outside of Tucson about four years ago. Though it was straight and without rust, the Camino had been relegated to parts-donor status, but Rafael envisioned giving it a once-over, cleaning it up, and refurbishing the complete powertrain with daily-driver reliability but certainly not to its present condition. When Foose saw the car he exclaimed, "We gotta get that small-block outta there, and I have just the thing for you." It was a GMPP 454 short-block.


The backstory was product-driven. Pirelli wants a piece of the street machine/hot rod market. Rafael had worked for a major competitor in this arena, so when he signed on at Pirelli he knew the whole fantastic routine. Hence, the El Camino becomes the lamb and the mild resto became the snowball that became a glacier.

"I saw all this stuff available for the A-body cars and got behind all that. Before I knew it, the thing had a life of its own. It was clearly out of control. One thing led to the next and before I knew it, I'd put about $100,000 in the project." But the sled turned out so well that it was exhibited at the 2009 SEMA show.

So Rafael, any regrets? "I was hesitant about my kid and the big-block together, but he's got years of kart racing behind him. Then I relaxed about the driving dynamics and testosterone thing. I know he can handle it." Young Rafael is up against it now. The old man really likes what has happened to the El Camino, but it's a vehicle that is no longer a mule or daily driver for a teenager.

Rafael, best not to smoke the PZeros in front of him.

Engine & Drivetrain
Phillips & Co. began with the Foose-donated GM Performance Parts 454 short-block filled with an all-forged rotating assembly and took it from there. L&R Engine in Santa Fe Springs, California, did the balancing and machine work. Phillips raided the Edelbrock inventory, seizing a 2264 hydraulic roller (248/256 degrees duration at 0.050, 0.632/0.648-inch lift), lifters, valvesprings, pushrods, and roller rockers. He put the cam to engine with Comp timing gear. He put stainless valves in from-the-box Victor 24 rectangular-port cylinder heads and mated them to an RPM Air-Gap intake manifold. On top of it, a Holley 830-cfm HP carburetor capped by a repro Chevy air cleaner assembly. On the bottom, a GMPP oil pan and a Melling high-volume pump. An MSD Digital 6 Plus box and Pro Billet distributor disperse the fire; Hedman 1 7/8-inch primaries kick the hydrocarbons into a 3-inch system featuring (mild-until-stomped-on) MagnaFlow mufflers. Every last fastener is from ARP. Since driving on the street is Rafael's pleasure, the drivetrain reflects some crafty innovation. The elephantine Turbo 400 was built by SW Performance Transmission in Huntington Beach. It operates off a 2,800-stall converter and ends with a bulletproof Gear Vendors Overdrive unit. Wade King at Drivelines, Inc., in Mission Viejo put up a custom 3-inch prop shaft that spins torque to the Currie 9 axle. Accompaniments include Detroit Truetrac differential and 3.73:1 gears. Credit goes to Greg who polished all the stainless stuff.


Wheels & Brakes
Flash Foose Fishtails, 19x8 and 20x10, wear high-zoot Pirelli PZero 35-series rubber commensurately sized at 245 and 295. Though a tad bright for some, the Fishtails really pop that dark pigment live. Not hiding very well at all behind this tire/rim combo, formidable 14-inch Baer brakes clamped by 6P six-piston calipers. The iron grip of the Pirellis and the energy-burning force of the six-piston calipers could easily detach a retina or two.


Phillips: "We kept the solid, straight, rust-free body basically stock but removed the reverse lights and emblems from the tailgate, the side marker lights, door locks, and antenna, then smoothed out the bumpers by removing the bolts and front license plate notch." Indeed, the omission of the plate recess virtually changes the look of the El Camino. Five Axis Design in Huntington Beach applied the BASF 90 Glasurit Line/Foose signature color Huntington Pearl and the Titanium Silver. Many miles from the Beach, noted flame expert and graphics guide Dennis Ricklefs laid down the subtle pinstripes at DR Design in Murietta, California.


Behind it all, is an M&H wiring harness, rubbing shoulders with Classic Auto Air HVAC system. Dipping his head below the Lecarra Mark IV steering wheel, freelancer Joseph Weitz began the audio package from the floorboard up with custom kick panels and subwoofer enclosures with a Stealth amp rack. The system proper is composed of an Alpine IDA-X305 head unit; Kicker equipment is nestled everywhere else: RS 6.5-inch component speakers, 10-inch L7 subwoofer, ZX1000.1 subwoofer amp, and a ZX850.4 multi-channel amp. Thanks go to Chad at subesports.com, who provided the seats and harnesses. A&M Upholstery in Norwalk worked over the Cobra Misano carbon-fiber seats, installed the stock Super Sport dash arrangement. Redline Gauge Works in Santa Clarita brought the decidedly different silver-faced Super Sport meters to the build. The shifter is a gennie GM Horseshoe.


Chassis And Suspension
Rob began by stripping the chassis and powdercoating it semi-gloss black. Then he hyped the details with cadmium-plated fasteners in white. A 12:1 quick-ratio steering box guides the stock spindles, while complete Hotchkis front and rear suspension assemblies (upper and lower control arms, springs, anti-sway bars, adjustable top and tubular bottom links) dictated the valving characteristics of the specific Bilstein shock absorbers. The Currie axle that these parts support was narrowed two inches to maintain the integrity of the package as well as afford the proper wheel-space visual.




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