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.
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.
“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.”
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.