By huge numbers, baby boomers (those who are born between 1946 and 1964) represent an irrefutable bulge on government flow charts, as if a python had swallowed a pig. Brad Grainger boomed into this world in the final year of this epoch. He came by his car proclivities quite naturally at 4 years old. He can recall sitting on his dad’s lap in his Uncle Don’s ’66 SS Chevelle, the engine howling and Don furiously flat-shifting the Muncie into next Sunday.
“If I’d had a Blackberry in 1968 you can be assured I would be emailing buddies: OMG ... we are doing a wheelie, smokin’ tires, and simply hauling the mail across Southern Illinois roads … My fate is now secured everyone, I’m going to be a race car driver!”
In 1977, his eyes locked on a white ’67 Camaro with a For Sale sign on it. “It was instant love,” he says. “I bought it and [it] has been with me for more than 30 years.” For most of that time, the car stayed just as it was: tangerine nose stripe, Cragar SS hoops, 305 motor, and Powerglide transmission. As an aside, Brad and his family (including Camaro) had gone from Illinois to California, to Dayton, Ohio, to Chicago, and then settling in north Georgia. It might well have remained in stasis were it not for a very fortunate occurrence in the garage.
“In July 2008 my wife and I arrived home to find that our shelving had collapsed and fallen on the car. It had only minor scratches but this was the final straw that pushed me to rebuild it.” Before he had even found someone to shepherd the project, Brad was bug-eyed, sweaty, and busy dismantling his teen angel. A body-off resto is what he envisioned and what he craved. Not long after, he was at a YearOne show and was soon thoroughly entranced by the energy, passion, and talent of Rusty Grindle (who had recently opened Rusty’s Rod Shop in Cleveland, Georgia). Rusty got the job; certain phases were parceled out to Chequered Flag Automotive in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Now Brad’s sweetheart was to finally shed its adolescent innocence and become the Atomic Beast. Grindle finished the car in September 2009. Along with the visceral payback (“…our biggest joy is the whistle of the Magnuson supercharger”), there have been many psychic rewards as well (World of Wheels Outstanding in Class 2010, Autofest Diamond 5 Award 2009, Tremec Trick Stick Award 2009, Goodguys Nashville Muscle Pick 2010, among them).
Brad says, “My Uncle Don died many years ago, but I am sure he would have approved of my supercharged LS3 powerplant … thank you, Uncle Don, for the unforgettable ride.”
Though initially influenced by the roar of a big-block, lots of things have changed since the ’60s. Now, the astute seem to gravitate toward the LS engine and its myriad configurations. They are appreciated for their six-bolt main bearing caps, the tenacity of the factory bottom end (except for two instances, they are nodular or hypereutectic not forged), and for their uncanny response to even the slightest modification. Brad got on the horn to Southern Performance Systems in Norcross, Georgia, prolific purveyors of OE LS crate and modified crate engines. One of their favorite configurations is a supercharged version, in this case an LS3 anointed by a Magnuson MP 122 blower restricted to 6 psi of positive manifold pressure. Southern fixed it with a blower grind COMP cam/hardware and set the compression ratio at a nominal 8.9:1. Patriot cylinder heads, built specifically for this mission, complete the long-block. They buttoned up the bottom end with a Corvette oil sump, presumably for the added ground clearance it affords. Burned stuff pulses through Sanderson 13/4 3-inch aluminized ceramic-coated headers. Output from the 376ci engine is 546 lb-ft of torque and 500 hp. Cooling isn’t limited to the engine’s AutoRad engine support or the aluminum core within. As a fact of life in the autocross world, power steering requires a dedicated cooler, which has been mounted on the passenger-side framerail. Torque is transferred by an LS7 clutch assembly to the Tremec T56, then to a Mark Williams driveshaft. Terminus is a narrowed (2 inches) Chassisworks Fab9 axle chocked with Strange Engineering 31-spline axles, differential, and a 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion.
Scrubbing energy is a constant in the autocross course, so the Atomic Beast is outfitted for consistency as well as bite-down power. The program includes conservatively sized Wilwood discs front and rear. Friction comes from the unusual tire and rim combinations: Boze Mesh 17x8 and 18x11 rims wrapped with 255/40 and 335/30 BFGoodrich g-Force KDW 2 tires.
In the Seat
The goal was to replicate the original interior, but conform it with unobtrusive upgrades and tweaks. Ken Ferguson at Kenco Upholstery in Cleveland, Georgia, built bucket seats reminiscent of the originals. Rusty Grindle replaced the dried, crusty spaghetti of old with an American Autowire harness and filled those main clusters in front of the driver with a custom Classic Instruments tachometer and speedometer. The three-pack ancillary under the stereo holds Classic Instruments as well. Since the Atomic Beast is a hands-down driver, HVAC was mandatory and Vintage Air came to the rescue. Other items of note include the ubiquitous Hurst shifter and Budnik crackling black GTO steering wheel stationed on a Flaming River tilt column. The safety restraints are Morris Classic Concept three-points. Since Brad would not do without melodies, American Radio in Cumming, Georgia, planted a Pioneer head unit, and ARC Audio 10-inch subwoofers and speakers. John March at American then finished off the trunk trim.
In front, Grindle began with a Chassisworks Ultimate Touring subframe that includes rack steering, tubular control arms, aluminum spindles, and billet VariShock coilovers. At the business end, an Alston g-Bar in conjunction with a triangulated four-link system and VariShock coilovers position the narrowed FAB9 housing. Hellwig antisway bars work at both ends of the vehicle.
Rusty had his way with the body big time, infusing lots of details that perfect the whole but aren’t readily apparent to most of us. You have to know your car and give close inspection to feel the changes. The Rod Shop’s Mark Wingo headed the strike force. The team fabricated a ’10 Camaro vent in the header panel, smoothed the cowl vent panel, and adapted C5 Corvette exterior mirrors. Then, they raised the cowl of the fiberglass SS hood a 1/2 inch, welded the front fender extensions as one piece, smoothed and tucked in the bumpers, and extended the lower fenders to match the rocker panels. In the engine compartment they wiped the firewall clean, located the engine coil packs under the cowl, put in the DSE mini-tubs, and smoothed the inner fender panels and matched them to the subframe. Very slick work indeed. CHP