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.