Here’s one thing we’ll never get enough of: a light car fizzing with a fat Rat and a stick-shift transmission behind it. There’s nothing headier than dropping the clutch on a combo like that. Any way you look, it’s not going to be business as usual. You might bury the tires. Maybe you’d wind up sideways. It’s the essence of the old days and something that opens a geezer’s heart, like the memory of his first serious girlfriend.
Marty Begell went rogue with his 1968 Camaro, eschewed the popular fascination with the LS platform, took a chance, and slipped out of the safety net. For that we applaud him. Although he didn’t turn a wrench on the project, he was very specific about its execution “because I always wanted a classic muscle car.”
When Marty (who lives outside of San Francisco) found his witch about two years ago on the Internet, it was hundreds of miles to the north in Washington, but a friend in the area checked it out. “I was happy with the paint and interior,” said Marty. “But hated how it drove. About a month later, I called Zaccaro Hot Rods in Pleasant Hill, California, and spoke with owner Chris Zaccaro. We struck a pretty good understanding of what I wanted to do.” See, Marty thought he would start off at a crawl and just change the front suspension, but then the spiral began to spool up steadily. You know the deal.
“After much discussion, Chris convinced me to remove the engine, the subframe, and all the sheetmetal,” he said. “We were going to smooth the firewall, the engine block, cylinder heads, inner fenderwells and install the mini-tubs and powdercoat the subframe.” Zaccaro built the suspension around ATS forged spindles and Specialty Performance Company (Longmont, Colorado) adjustable control arms. Wheel damping is the province of SPC springs surrounding Koni adjustable shock absorbers and body lean is checked by a Hellwig tubular antisway bar (all of it came as a kit from Mark Savitski Classic and Custom in Hellertown, Pennsylvania). A Lee 670 steering box (along with pump and reservoir) keep the Camaro on a steady track. On the action end, Zaccaro used a narrowed Currie 9-inch (limited-slip, 3.70:1 gears) with Detroit Speed 3-inch drop multi-leaf springs and RideTech single-adjustable shocks. Burning off the energy produced by the fat Rat is left to Kore 3 C5 Corvette 13- and 12-inch discs monitored by a Wilwood master cylinder and a Hydratech booster. That same energy is applied to traction by Nutek 755 forgings (19x8, 19x11) encased in Nitto Invo 245/35 and 325/30 balonies.
For the intimidation factor, Marty wanted the plum … and the stem, as well. Chris Zaccaro retained the 502’s forged rotating assembly and the 9.5:1 compression ratio. Then he stuck it with a COMP Cams XM296HR stick phased for a 0.566-inch lift and 242 degrees of duration. He swapped in Edelbrock oval-port Performer RPM cylinder heads and on top of them he situated an Imagine Injection (Glendale, Arizona) intake manifold and its gnarly eight-stack EFI feeders. Unleaded 91 is sourced from a Rick’s 17-gallon stainless steel cell via a submerged Walbro pump and into Aeroquip Teflon lines. Directions come from a collaboration of FAST XFI controller and MSD equipment. Chris attached Moroso ignition wires, ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comp headers with 2-inch primaries and he plumbed the 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system with MagnaFlow muffs. He continued with March billet accessory brackets (A/C, alternator, and power steering) and installed a Griffin aluminum core and dual 11-inch SPAL fans to soothe the Rat’s hot head. At this writing, the engine hadn’t been proofed, but Chris modestly figures a return of at least 600/600 (the crate is rated at 502/567).
Torque management is the job of the 10.5-inch McLeod dual-disc clutch assembly and iron GM flywheel—a combination worthy of at least 800 hp. The Tremec TKO 600 five-speed provides the guff as well as the calming effect of the 0.82:1 top gear ratio. Oscillations shuttle rearward on a 3.5-inch diameter prop shaft from Hurst Driveline (West Sacramento, California).
The Camaro’s body was neither maimed nor cured; it received minor changes that simply facilitate operation. Chris put the Optima battery in the trunk and he finagled the billet gas filler in there as well. He massaged the steel GM ZL2 hood to enhance passage of incoming air to the eight-stack injection. He completed the body changes by installing the sideview mirrors from a second-gen Camaro. From there, Pat’s Auto Body got the sheetmetal in shape for the DuPont Tuxedo Black base and clear coats, and then signed off with the Metallic Black Z/28 stripe.
Ostensibly a Pro Touring minion, the Camaro is that in spades, but it also carries a fully developed interior and the creature comforts that accompany any modern car. The carbon-fiber dashboard panels (instrument, center, and glovebox), Auto Meter gauges, ducts for the Vintage Air HVAC, and American Autowire harness were all in place prior to the Camaro’s arrival at Mark’s Custom Auto Upholstery. There, the cut pile carpet, the door and side panels, and the console coverings were added. Then a touch of exotica: stock seats are a pairing of leather and ostrich hide. Marty wraps digits around the high-zoot Momo steering wheel and pushes that Hurst shifter into another dimension. All the while, his ears tuned to the Kenwood 7-inch LED head, Rockford Fosgate 600-watt amps, front and rear speakers, and 10-inch subwoofer … or maybe he just listens to the engine sing.
So Marty Begell got his champ, his classic muscle car, and a different way to see the landscape.