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.