Rick Bottom is a 52-year-old Illinois boy who likes to build project vehicles. We hear ya Rick: Nothing like spending lazy weekends around the shop with a wrench in one hand, and a beer in the other. (Or two beers in both hands, amirite?)
Okay, let me clarify: Rick specializes in building SEMA project vehicles—which happens to be way different wrenchin’ than what most of us do. He’s one of those guys who, in around a month’s time, completely transforms a factory car into a work of art. A guy who, since 1996, has hardly slept in October—for the sole purpose of dropping jaws at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And he’s someone who, with the completion of the retina-razing 2013 Camaro Convertible seen here, has done it an astounding 39 times. If you do the math, you realize that he’s averaged almost 2.5 builds every year, for the past 16 years.
Rick owns Rick Bottom Designs in Mendota, IL. Because his shop churns out SEMA projects at a prolific rate, you might guess that it’s an enormous building stuffed with lots of employees.
“Not exactly,” Rick starts. “My shop is only around 4,000 square feet, with basically, well, me working there. My friend Cory Stewart helps around the place, bending and shaping parts. Another friend, Dennis, sprayed the paint. He’s a couple blocks away.” At this point, you’re probably wondering just how he pulls all of these projects together in a matter of weeks. Because we sure as hell were.
We’ll get to that in a bit—now, there’s a Camaro story to be told.
“Okay, so I’ve been able to work directly with GM in the past,” Bottom says. “I’d done a 2010 Camaro two years prior (featured in the first Camaro Now, 2010), and the previous year I did a Chevy Cruze.
“The [Camaro] convertible came out and I thought, ‘I wonder if they’d let me do a convertible, it’s very different than a coupe.’ So I submitted a proposal to GM for the 2013 Camaro convertible, and it got approved.”
Of course, the general idea for a show project is to make it better in every way—aesthetically, and from a performance standpoint. But Rick doesn’t like change just for the sake of change. And since he’d recently done a fifth-gen project—as did many other builders—he put a lot of thought into how this convertible could stand out.
“It’s the looks that pull people into the display, and gets them to want to know more about the car,” he explains. “Camaros are so popular, almost everything’s been done to them now. Because it’s a convertible, we knew the interior would be on full display. So we decided that the best way to make this one stand out was to focus on the interior, and do things that hadn’t been done before.”
Time is often tight with SEMA builds, and this one was no different. Bottom devised a plan that would get the mechanical mods done at other shops first, so his team could then focus on the body and interior in the last weeks leading up to SEMA. He took delivery of the convertible on September 3, 2012—with less than two months until the show.
The muscle car made tracks to Raymond’s Performance in Plainfield, IN for a Pedders suspension install. Bruce Raymond’s expert team had done two Pedders projects for Rick in the past, and they quickly bolted up the Supercar coilovers, bushings, and swaybars. Afterward, the Camaro got a precision alignment.
Then, the surefooted fifth-gen pointed its shapely nose East, toward Waterbury, CT and Jannetty Racing Enterprises. Again, Rick was taking his ASAP project to a trusted partner for modifications.
“I first learned about Ted Jannetty a few years ago, when I was working on my 2010 Camaro project,” Bottom explains. “I was on the forums, and I wanted to get one of his blower cams that work well with Vortechs. We talked a bit, and I told him about the SEMA project I was working on. Ted said, ‘I’ve heard of you before. Why don’t you let us do the whole build? We’d like to have our name on the car for SEMA.’ So I drove the 426-horse Camaro there. Ten days later, I drove it home; it had 806 horsepower and absolutely zero problems.”
Ted Jannetty is a former Master Technician and Corvette specialist who, 27 years ago, opened Jannetty Racing Enterprises. “I come from the old school mechanic mindset,” Ted says. “If something is broken, I have to understand how it works, then find a way to repair it. Our team is passionate and meticulous—that’s how we can do a huge amount of work in a short time, with no issues.”
Once the ’13 Camaro rolled into JRE’s 9,000-foot shop, the team had 10 days to install a bunch of parts. They put a JRE blower cam and Injector Dynamics injectors into the otherwise stock LS3, and installed ARH headers, an LPE fuel system, a Centerforce clutch, and a DSS driveshaft and axles.
JRE beefed up the factory diff as well: by re-stacking and adding posi clutches (from 3 to 5 on each side) and adding a preload spring, the posi was ready to deal with what was coming. JRE billet caps were added to strengthen the diff as well.
The LS3 was treated to a Vortech V-3 supercharger with aftercooler, along with JRE’s Vortech Upgrade Package. This package lets the Vortech fit on 2013s with the new electric power steering, and includes items like a larger air filter and an additional bypass valve to avoid compressor surge and drop blower temps. Along with a smaller blower pulley, it also moves the tensioner down so the blower can match the increased airflow of the JRE cam. And because JRE runs the belt underneath the idler pulley, there’s less belt slippage.
Rick’s 2013 LS3 was one of the first ones released, and Ted found an additional layer of security in the Camaro’s ECM that caused problems. It took hours to force one SCT tune in, and as it sat on JRE’s SuperFlow dyno, Rick was anxiously waiting to take it home. A not-quite-perfect tune installed, it still made 680 to the tire. (Once the ’13 software was figured out, it got a new tune and 700-plus rwhp.) Rick again enjoyed a problem-free ride home.
Back in Illinois, Rick Bottom Designs had two major projects—and only six weeks—left: bodywork and paint, and the interior. It was time to turn this all-American performer into one of the finest Camaros in the world.
A quick look at the exterior is all it takes to draw you in; up close—when you see the sheer level of detail for yourself—you go from impressed to astounded. Unique touches are everywhere: The Show Stopper cowl hood wears billet cooling vents, and complements the 3dCarbon ground effects and spoiler. Vented front fenders from Gary’s Customz incorporate custom-engraved fender blades with “XTC800” logos. Mirrors and marker lights are LED; door handles wear billet.
A Carriage Works billet grille and lower bumper billet piece smooth out the nose, and a matching piece for the slot on the bumper was CNC machined. With the headlight covers, this ’13 has shades of a ’69 RS.
The Camaro looks wider than it is; credit the Corvette-type rear quarters and shaved quarter gills. Oh, and massive, 9-inch wide front and 11-inch rear Axiom rims and fat Pirellis might have something to do with it, too.
When it came time to paint this masterpiece, Rick tweaked a Sherwin Williams Planet Color hue until it became Screaming Yellow Pearl. Two coats of a yellow sealer were used to help the base color cover easier; then, three coats of base, three coats of pearl, and three coats of clear were sprayed. And there was a little color sanding done, too.
So now, we’re down to the Camaro’s interior. Which happens to be the most highly modified aspect of the entire car.
“We wanted this to be an almost Bentley-quality interior,” he exclaims. “We’re talking double-stitch diamond pattern, chrome around the cockpit quality.”
Chrome around the cockpit?
“Yeah. So when the stock car’s top is down, you have a black trim piece going all the way around the opening of the top of the door. We got some extruded aluminum with a nice shape to it, cut and bent it, and chrome plated it. Then we attached it with hidden 3M attachment tape. We did that around the door opening and down the A-pillar, which gave the car a cool retro flavor.”
That’s what Rick’s team did with a freakin’ trim piece. If you were reading Camaro Now: The Graphic Novel, we’d have space for similarly impressive explanations about the Roadwire leather, the Trent’s Trick Upholstery custom wrapping and stitching, Raymond’s Performance hydro-dipped wood grain, Craft Customs leather-wrapped wheel, Stitchcraft door panel inserts, DefenderWorkx billet door panel trim, Chrome Tech dash bezels…uh, Epic Garage-installed Metra Electronics navigation and dash installation kit…Center-console-mounted switch for the B&B dual-mode exhaust…But at this point, we think you get the point: this interior is sick.
And with that, the Camaro was finished on time, and headed out to the show. Okay Rick, we have to know: How do you manage to pull these builds off?
“Well, it comes down to a few things,” he reveals. “I’m pretty good at being able to conceptualize a project in my head, and know what the final product is going to look like before it exists. Then, you have to be flexible with these projects: just because you have a rendering, doesn’t mean anything in the real world.
“But let me tell you the real secret: Builds like this Camaro convertible go smoothly, because we always choose partners that come through for us. There’s an order for things: We need the brakes early because we need a template for the wheels, etc. So I use the best parts vendors in the world. Those ARH headers were here weeks in advance. That Centerforce clutch came right away, and fit perfectly with the right stack height and all that. All of the companies that I work with, I’ve worked with a lot. And I know I can count on them.”
And SEMA show-goers who counted on seeing a groundbreaking vehicle, Rick Bottom Designs didn’t disappoint. The Camaro was a massive hit—it even made some GM bigwigs take notice.
“At one point, over 30 GM executives came through and walked up to it. They looked it over and were speechless. They didn’t know that a Camaro could be so upscale.”
Rick’s creation stunned the SEMA crowd: those looks coupled with 806 horses, that’s big news. But the big story here is that the Camaro also pulls over 1g of lateral acceleration on DOT tires, gets 23mpg, and drives as smoothly as it rides. And Rick would know, he put nearly 1,000 miles on it in one day.
So, for one of the most impressive fifth-gen Camaros ever made: what’s next? “Well, usually I sell my finished projects to finance the next SEMA project, but I love this one so much. Plus, my 11- and 14-year-old daughters ask me to drive them to school in it; they say ‘Rev it up, dad!’ and a bunch of kids stop what they’re doing and check it out.”
If that’s not XTC, we don’t know what is.
Rick dedicates this Camaro build to his late stepdad and Rick Bottom Designs team member, Paul “Dake” Schmitz.
|Engine||LS3, 376 cid, supercharged, 10.7:1 compression, stock rotating assembly, LS3 cylinder heads, JRE “Rough Idle Blower Cam”|
|Power Adder||Vortech V-3, 11 psi, Jannetty Racing upgrade kit, Vortech air-to-air intercooler|
|Fuel System||Injector Dynamics ID-850 (81 lb/hr) injectors, Lingenfelter dual fuel pump system, CTS-V fuel pump controller|
|Engine Management||Stock ECM, wirelessly tuned with SCT iTSX app by Ted Jannetty|
|Exhaust System||American Racing Headers 1 7/8-inch headers, X-pipe, 3-inch B&B dual-mode ZL1 exhaust system with in-cabin switch|
|Driveline||Tremec TR6060, Centerforce DYAD twin-disc clutch and flywheel, 3.70 rear gears, The Driveshaft Shop one-piece aluminum driveshaft and Level 4 axles|
|Suspension||Pedders Supercar coilovers, bushings, and swaybars|
|Brakes||Brembo, 14-inch Granatelli drilled and slotted rotors|
|Wheels||Axiom AX-M01 22x9 front, 22x11 rear|
|Tires||Pirelli P Zero Nero 255/30/ZR22 front, 315/25/ZR22 rear|
|HP/TQ||806/730 (est. flywheel)|