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1968 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 - In From The Cold

Longtime Owner and Built for Fun!

Michael Yamada May 16, 2012
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Frank D’Aquanno lists his vocation as race car mechanic. In a flash, that could encompass a great many things and a great many duties peculiar to keeping a competition vehicle in the best possible state of tune at all times. That’s the backstory. The reality is much different.

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In 1973, Frank was a high school junior. He was just about crazy for a cool car so he did what he had to do, pumping gas and washing dishes and saving enough beans to buy one. A year later, he plucked a ’68 Z/28 from a local who’d bought it off a Monterey car lot, who’d taken it from a soldier originally from Southern California, who was stationed nearby at Fort Ord. Concurrently, Frank was the resident mechanic at Pacific Grove High School, working on the principal’s and teachers’ cars.

Doubtless, the administrators would have rapped his knuckles had they known, but the irrepressible Frank saw this as a great opportunity to experiment, trying out different intake manifolds and carburetors, exhaust systems, suspension components, and tires on someone else’s ride (you could hear his hee-haws for blocks). It was also a platform of sorts for a sometime game of chance. He used these shanghaied modifieds to test his mechanical and driving skills at local autocross and backroad drag races.

He moved to Ontario, California, in 1977 to attend the Racecar Technology program at Chaffey College. In the parking lot, his Z/28 rubbed egos with Shelbys, ’Cudas, and other muscular cars. Later, he worked at the British School of Motor Racing at Ontario Motor Speedway. He spiked the Camaro on the big oval and played at solo events on the road course.

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“In 1983,” Frank says, “after working with Warren Automotive and Louie Unser, I was asked to relocate to Dallas to be the crew chief and engine builder for the Norwood-Walker Can-Am team [who raced wild V-8-powered, mid-engine, often-skirted, high-rise intake-scooped VDS 002 and 004 cars]. Realizing that this would be my home base for several years, I shipped the Z/28 to Texas, but was not able to enjoy it as a daily driver.”

A decade later brought Frank to a stark realization. He’d progressed to the end of tenure at Norwood. He and the forlorn Z/28 were inexorably drawn back home to the Monterey Peninsula. In Sand City, Frank established D’Motorsports (Tina D’Aquanno, Ben Watling, Shad Essex) and fastened all his accumulated knowledge, training, and desire to a car-building entity. And what of the Z/28? “Unfortunately, the car didn’t have the proper storage accommodations and stayed hidden in an enclosed trailer until just prior to the restoration.” Restoration? What restoration?

The restoration instigator was Terry Smith, president of Monterey Bay Trans-Am Racing Association. While Frank wasn’t looking, Terry took snaps of the Camaro and submitted them to a show. “Luckily,” Frank says, “the Z was not selected, and I was able to restore the car to my high workmanship standards while keeping it as original as possible.”

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Good call. His prescience turned true when the Camaro took a Sponsor’s Award at the 2010 Cherry’s Jubilee the first (and only) time it was ever displayed. The circle was completed when Michael Yamada shot the car within the sanctity of the now defunct Fort Ord. In from the cold at last.

Engine & Drivetrain

By the time Frank got on stage, the original DZ302 was long gone, shunted by a proletariat 327. Frank contracted Hi-Tech Engines in Spokane, Washington, to carry out the machine work on a 383 conversion. They Magnafluxed the parts, tapped the oil galley plugs, squared the block deck, align-honed the cylinders, and balanced the rotating assembly. Then, the cylinder case and entrails were sent to West Coast Engines in Reno, Nevada, for building and proofing. The 9.75:1 hypereutectic pistons and ring packs are Speed-Pro and attached to a Scat Pro Comp stroker crank via 4340 I-beam rods. They fixed the bottom end with a Melling oil pump and a standard 5-quart sump. West Coast set a COMP Cams 262 Xtreme hydraulic roller (0.462/0.477-inch lift; 218/224 degrees duration at 0.050-inch) to the block with COMP Magnum double-roller timing gear. They capped the short-block with iron 71cc combustion chamber cylinder heads that had competition-style valve seats and were port-matched and machined to the short depth. Cylinder head equipment includes Manley Street Flow valves, COMP valvesprings, Melling Long Slot rocker arms and chrome-moly pushrods, and Federal-Mogul small parts. An Edelbrock Performer dual-plane intake plate and sensibly sized Holley 670-cfm Street Avenger carburetor top it all off. A PerTronix billet Flame-Thrower system provides 10 degrees of timing at idle and a total of 34 degrees at 3,200 rpm. Spent gas is drawn by coated Hedman Elite headers, shorties that provide a 15/8-inch diameter primary pipe and 3-inch collector dumping into a 21/2-inch system plumbed with Flowmaster Delta Flows. The dynamometer read 420 lb-ft of torque at 5,400 rpm and 400 hp at 6,600 rpm. Mike at Standard Transmission in Sand City rebuilt the original Muncie M21, and Frank put it in the car preceded by a Sachs 10.5-inch single-disc clutch assembly. He stuck some high-strength U-joints on the driveshaft and hooked it to the D’Motorsports-massaged 12-bolt that sports a Positraction differential, 4.10:1 gears, new bearings, clutch pack, and seals.

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Wheels & Brakes

Those American Torq-Thrust D alloys measure a conservative 15x7 all around. While clearly outmoded by the furious 18x20 hoops/tire combinations inundating the landscape, they are modestly priced and fit the period like daddy-o’s flattop. The BFG Radial T/A 235/60 and 255/60 rubber is a bit more contemporary but still conservative and still period correct in appearance. The braking combination is original, an RPO J52 that afforded four-piston calipers on the disc brakes and 9.5x2.5-inch drums in the rear.

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Frank says: “All the body prep and restoration is credited to George Crivello’s 35 years of experience and uncompromising execution, and the teamwork of Rick Wilcoxson of Driving Performance in Seaside. The rear-wheel arch areas, rear window panel, and trunk panel were replaced. The doors were never removed; however, many hours were [spent] aligning and massaging the body panels. Awesome Crivello applied the LeMans Blue.


D’Motorsports fortified the Camaro’s belly with Global West components. Interlocking body mount bushings are all around. In front, tubular control arms are opposed by stock lowers fitted with Global’s patented Del-a-lum bushings, coil springs (11/2-inch drop), and 1-inch diameter antisway bar. Shocks are Koni adjustable. D’Motorsports retained the stock spindles and points them with a 12.7:1 ratio steering box. The back suspension teams Global 11/2-inch lowering leaves with Koni shocks. There is no antisway bar. D’Motorsports squared the chassis and then put the Camaro in the hands of Newton Brothers Tire Services on Del Monte Boulevard in Seaside for the critical alignment to Global specs. Frank says, these knowledgeable heads are nigh infallible when it comes to geometry.

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The scent of retro hangs heavy here. Obviously, Frank is not one to change something that works well, and that includes the oh-so-stock trappings in the Z/28. This “deconstruction” saves a lot for something more pertinent, more urgent to the build. The Camaro was released with hand-crank windows, Rally console and sawtooth gauges, a tic-toc-tac, and an rpm-counter with the clock situated in its middle. Rick’s Upholstery in Seaside worked the original seats with new foam and covers that coincided with the original Medium Blue interior. Clean is good. Frank graced the sanctum with few aftermarket items, a Grant Classic Nostalgia steering wheel and the decidedly modern stereo right where the AM blatt-box used to be. In the day, nobody would consider air conditioning (it wasn’t available in the Z/28 configuration anyway), but doubtless bopped heads to a monaural squawker. In Frank’s case, it streams mature from a decidedly modern RetroSound audio system that fits the dashboard immaculately. CHP



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