1971 Chevrolet Camaro - Straight Outta San Marcos

Veteran hot rodder nails his first (and only) Camaro

Ro McGonegal Aug 11, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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Dick Martin is an old hand at this game. He’s seen it all and then seen it all come back again—more than once. And he doesn’t forget how all those coupes he wrangled in yesteryear felt beneath him. "I started building cars in 1950. My first was a ’40 Ford coupe that was on the cover of Hop Upmagazine in 1952. I had dry lakes, drag race, and Bonneville cars through 1958. All of my builds were 1929 through 1955 Fords, plus a ’62 and a ’63 Corvette," he said without as much as a wistful look.

He got married in 1955 and started up a contracting business and worked it hard. He didn’t get back into car crafting until 1974, and in all that time he never had a muscle car in his barn. He caught that bug big time after watching autocross events when the Goodguys came to town, and that’s exactly where he found this Camaro in 2012 when he was an indefatigable 77. The ’71 seemed an oddity to him. He was intrigued by its split-bumper face and the way it hunkered on its springs. Perhaps "streamlined" came to mind.

"This car had been partially redone—new paint, glass, upholstery, and a rebuilt engine. I paid $19,000 and [the owner] drove it to my house so I could put it on my hoist to look for rust or patch panels. It was solid underneath." As witness to every catastrophe known to the project automobile, he knew this platform was a gold mine and that he could extract its worth with minimal fuss and expense. Dick bopped around in his sacrificial lamb for the next month and then opened a vein for the next big step. He wouldn’t be doing the entire build this time, but he did want to keep his hand in the proceedings.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Side Barn 2/13

He drove the foundling to the celebrated Best of Show Coach Works in Escondido, California. Dick had decided that the car’s structural integrity and cosmetics were beyond reproach, so Coach Works would concentrate on finessing the major mechanical systems: the drivetrain, Detroit Speed front and rear suspension systems, brakes, and the rolling stock. Concurrently, Dick satisfied his penchant for thrift. He wisely recouped on the Camaro. He sold everything off the car except the body.

Beyond Coach Works, there were others in the backfield as well with help coming from Mike Hay for information on the engine, transmission, and computers. Andy Martin did some fabbing for the engine, trans, and rear axle installation. Best of Show acquired and installed everything. They did the final fabrication work, final welding, wiring, brakes, radiator, intake manifold, stainless steel brake and fuel lines, finessed the firewall, dashboard, gauges, and the shifter. In order to streamline the process, Coach Works assumed entirely integrated sub-assemblies, including the Turn Key Engine Supply 6.2L LS3 and the five-speed 4L70E automatic transmission.

Initial starts with the Camaro were less than stellar. He returned to the place he found it, the Del Mar Goodguys show. He didn’t do well. "I tried to race it, but had some problems that we’ll work out eventually," he said.

Despite the relatively abbreviated build time, the project still sucked up about a year of unraveling and reconstruction. When Dick’s in the driver’s seat, he isn’t wearing spurs or packing matched six-guns. He hasn’t got the race blood he once did, but this Camaro meets his criteria. No more; no less. He won’t be rampaging lower California. He’ll be cruising, smiling that knowing smile, reverently tooling his mild-mannered cruiser through chumps half his age.

Engine & Drivetrain

While he didn’t see the point in keeping a zillion pound-foot berserker under the lid, he did want the response and reliability that a modern all-aluminum small-block could afford. He wisely invested in a complete LS3 crate from Turn Key Engine Supply in nearby Oceanside, California. Coach Works powered the motor with a Howell Engine Developments wiring harness. And aside from the Stage 2 camshaft (a supposed 40hp increase), the dynamically balanced 376ci engine is otherwise stock. Coach Works fitted it with a 6-quart Holley engine-swap oil pan (stock pump) and coated Sanderson headers dumping into a 2-1/2-inch system replete with crossover pipe and stout 18-inch-long mufflers. They maintained the juice level with a 145-amp alternator and cooled the assembly with a Ron Davis Racing Products aluminum core. Estimated rear-wheel output from this combination is 431 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 409 lb-ft of torque at 5,400 rpm. For obvious reasons, Dick liked the idea of a clutch-less transmission. The tougher 4L70E offers nicely spaced ratios (including a 0.70:1 overdrive), five-pinion gearsets, heat-treated stator shaft splines, induction-hardened turbine shaft, seven-plate clutch, and specific valvebody calibration. Coach Works enabled the environment of the 4L70E with a Compushift transmission controller. The engine used a GM flexplate and a 2,400- to 2,800-stall converter. Torque coils down a custom prop shaft that couples with a Detroit Speed 9-inch axle equipped with a limited-slip differential and 3.50:1 gears (2.40:1 in High).

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Engine 3/13

Interior

Coach Works began the minimal interior rehab with American Autowire, fresh and pliable. They detailed the dashboard with ducts for the Vintage Air HVAC system and positioned the manual controls at hand level just to the left of the steering column in the shade of that chunky Grant Formula 1 steering wheel. It was the intention to retain pristine form, so the only visual departures are the Coach Works instrument panel insert hosting a raft of Auto Meter gauges and the small console that accommodates the Lokar shifter. The seats, interior panels, carpeting, and headliner are refurbished but as original. In the interest of structural rigidity and as an anchor for the Simpson safety webbing, Coach Works bestowed the second-gen with a four-point ’cage. Since Dick came up in the age of the transistor radio, any notion of silly comfort and convenience went right in his mental round file, overruled by the stock AM/FM tune box but no more. Dick likes what the engine has to say more than anything else.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Interior Simpson Seatbelts 4/13
1971 Chevrolet Camaro Steering Wheel Gauges 5/13
1971 Chevrolet Camaro Vintage Air Controls 6/13
Shifter 7/13

Body

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Front Side View 8/13
1971 Chevrolet Camaro Hood Latch 9/13

Since bodywork, paint, or a radically different interior wasn’t a consideration in his build budget, Dick could spend the moon on the mechanicals and roll away deliriously happy. To him, one of the Camaro’s main attractions was the successful and recent "blue-green" repaint (Chevrolet Code 24 Ascot Blue) on a body that didn’t require rubbing or any special attention. Detroit Speed mini-tubs ensure static clearance and accommodate a deeper wheel offset and make the room for tire growth.

Chassis

To further his cause and reduce the inevitable time lapse, Dick broke out the hot wrench and installed the Detroit Speed rear suspension. He discovered that the Detroit Speed QUADRALink assembly doesn’t just fall into place. "You have to split the frame to put in the four-link carriage and that took me about three months. I tack welded everything in place, then sent the car to Coach Works for all the finish work." The Camaro comports on a standard-issue Detroit Speed clip, complete with C6 spindles.

Wheels & Brakes

To help affect that unimpeachable stance, Dick used 18x9 and 19x10 Budnik G-Series Spyder Gray Ceramic hoops (outer rims polished) wrapped in suitably sized Michelin rubber. The ever-popular Wilwood braking system—14-inch rotors front and rear are commanded by six- and four-piston calipers. Pressure in the lines is generated by a Wilwood master cylinder underwritten by a Hydratech booster.

1971 Chevrolet Camaro Rear Side View 13/13

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