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1968 Chevrolet Camaro - Evasive Maneuvers

We put a '68 Camaro g-machine to the test on a road course.

Jim Campisano Oct 14, 2013
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Is there anything better than rocketing down a straightaway in a modified first-gen Camaro with your foot buried to the floor? Perhaps one thing: turning at the end of it. Lift, brake, downshift, turn. g-forces press you into the side of a highly bolstered seat. Then it's back on the gas. Hard. We're having some fun now!

Conversely, is there anything worse than a car that has the look, but can't back it up with the performance? Like something with a giant hood scoop feeding an otherwise stock six-banger, there's something about pretenders that rubs us the wrong way. If you've got the Pro Street look with humongous rear tires and half your engine coming out of your hood, you better be able to show much of the motoring world your taillights in an acceleration contest.

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Same for Pro Touring. A lot of cars have the look. Carbon-fiber this and that, low stance, and wide wheels with low-profile tires. But can it really hang when the road of life starts throwing you curves? When we saw Bill Panouses' '68 Camaro at our National Collector Car Day Open House in Tampa, we were instantly drawn to the craftsmanship, the highly modified-but-tasteful red interior and the overall sinister look. We loved that he drove it to our office a fairly long distance, despite a dicey weather report that promised he could be spending days cleaning it up afterwards.

As we drooled over every inch and marveled at its numerous one-off touches, we gave him the old, "Boy, we'd love to drive this on a road course and test it for the magazine," to which Bill essentially replied, "Sure. When?" Gee, that didn't take much convincing. His only caveat was that he and builder Tom Argue (of Tom Argue Design, St. Petersburg, Florida) were not 100-percent happy with the fit and finish of the carbon-fiber hood. We gave them some time to get it 100-percent to their liking, then arranged for a track day and photo shoot on the road course at Auto Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Florida. We're happy to report that Bill's car performs as advertised. It's a g-machine that can pull some serious g's.

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Unlike most of the handling cars we've tested for Super Chevy, the suspension on Bill's '68 is a combination of systems from different manufacturers. The front clip is all Speedtech components, while the rear is from Chris Alston Chassisworks. While this seems contradictory at first, it's also quite common in the hobby, whether you're building a street car, drag car or corner carver. In this case, it was born out of necessity.

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I was doing the build on a budget and wanted to do something different.

"At the time, I followed a lot of threads about Pro Touring-type builds on the internet," explained Bill, who works in the automobile finance industry, and has been building and enjoying classic Chevys since he was a teenager. "I was doing the build on a budget and wanted to do something different. Speedtech's front clip and suspension fit my budget, but they didn't have rear suspension components yet.

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"Tom recommended the Chassisworks system. It had just come out and, again, I wanted to try something different."

Evade represents Bill's finest hot rod. While he's done most of the work on all his previous builds, he knew the scope of this project was beyond his capabilities. That's why he enlisted Argue Designs to do the bulk of the work.

The Speedtech front clip uses a Unisteer rack and stock GM spindles with Speedtech tubular A-arms. QA1 coilover springs and adjustable shocks are aided by a Speedtech 1.25-inch sway bar. Brakes are Wilwood Dynapro 6 calipers and 12.19-inch rotors (front and rear). Bill chose Chassisworks' complete Camaro g-bar Canted 4-Bar Suspension System for the rear (PN 5804-F10). There are multiple adjustments available with this system, allowing you to tailor the suspension to your liking. Bill chose VariShock single adjustable coilovers and a 5/8-inch Chassisworks sway bar to round out the rear suspension. Everything was installed by Argue.

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Rolling stock consists of bold Forgeline VR3P wheels with grey centers, 18x8.5 front and 19x10 rear (5.90 inches of backspacing at all four corners). The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport 2s (245/40ZR18 and 275/35ZR19).

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Power comes from a 6.0-liter LS2 with a set of Livernois Motorsports Stage 2-ported LS6 heads. The cam is also from Livernois, with 0.595-inch lift (intake and exhaust) and 232-degree duration, and the rockers from Jesel. A FAST 92mm intake and throttle body are in charge of induction, while a Walbro GSS340 electric pump and 42-pound injectors supply the dyno juice. Exhaust is handled by Stainlessworks 1-3/4-inch stainless headers and 3-inch exhaust. A Vintage Air black anodized LS front-runner drive system turns the accessories. Evade made 450 rwhp with this mild combination.

The trans is a Tremec T56 six-speed with a Centerforce DYAD dual-disc clutch. We found it to be an ideal combination. We never came close to missing a gear on the track and the clutch itself had good feel, but was not too heavy.

The cockpit is nothing short of a work of art. The headliner is black suede. Bill added Torch Red C4 Corvette seats and a super-trick custom console built by Argue and John Sanborn that employs carbon-fiber bits, as well as pieces from a late-model GTO. This put all the power window switches in one location on the console (not to mention it added a pair of cupholders). There's a booming stereo from Pioneer (Avic 7010) and JL Audio speakers, amp and subwoofer. The steering column and wheel are Flaming River parts and Auto Meter was tapped for the gauges. The only thing missing was a shoulder harness, which really detracted from our road course performance. With this much grip, it was all I could do to stay in the seat.

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When someone's as generous as Bill and let's you take his one-of-a-kind toy for a flogging, you take a couple of laps go get acquainted. We knew right away we were in for a good time. The car ran perfectly, accelerated smoothly and stopped well. As noted before, the trans shifted beautifully. As the fluids came up to temp, we let the Camaro eat. The LS2 planted me hard in the seat. I shifted at 6,200 rpm into Second and Third. Everything was going well, but when it came time to slow after the longest straight, the pedal went to the floor and I overshot the corner. Fortunately, this came at a spot on the track that had plenty of paved runoff.

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As I drove around, the brakes worked fine, but if I tried to use them after putting the spurs to the LS2 for a long period of time, they wouldn't respond. According to Wilwood, this could have been due to piston knockback in the calipers. My technique became simple: Drive like hell, but in the track's two longest straights, I would lift early. This gave me enough brakes to slow down and turn, but not achieve my best times.

The road course at Auto Plus Raceway is known for its unusual curves. All are off-camber, and a few are 180 degrees or more. Once we got our driving technique down with the brakes, we were really able to enjoy ourselves. The first thing we noticed was the aggressive way the car turned in. The steering was direct, responsive, and the tires just bit into the pavement. The car would go exactly where you pointed it, and the rear dutifully followed along. The entire package was remarkable neutral. Upon corner exit, you could really put the throttle down and the fat Michelins would plant themselves.

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Oh, there were a couple of complaints. While we love the look of the pedals from Clayton Machine Works, heel-and-toe driving was just not possible. The brake and throttle were in different zip codes. The lack of shoulder harnesses and seat bolstering really worked against me when the car was doing its job properly. Still, the lap times were very good. We ran a best of 1.08.53, squarely in fifth-gen Camaro SS territory, and if the brakes were functioning normally, we'd have been able to knock at 2-3 seconds a lap from our times. As it was, we were losing a ton in the big straights, and more time in some of the faster corners, as we were being extra cautious, lest we mangle someone else's car. Bill reports that since our track day, he's driven Evade on the street, and the brakes are working perfectly. Go figure.

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Franky, while this combination of parts was chosen in part because of what was available from the aftermarket at the time of the car's construction, it couldn't have worked much better. Everything performed in perfect harmony. We especially liked the steering, which was OE quality.

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Add all this performance in a package that's walked away with some serious show awards, and you've got an amazing combination. The car debuted in Speedtech's SEMA booth in 2009 to much acclaim. In 2011, it won the ISCA award at the National Street Rod Association's Southeast Street Rod Nationals, and the Chip Foose award at the 2012 Downtown Disney Car Masters Weekend. When he's not displaying it, Bill says he "drives it like I stole it." He's put thousands of miles on the Camaro, though he's so fastidious about its maintenance that you'd never know it.



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