Take something that’s as plain as the nose on your face and make it look like no other of its kind. That’s the trick of hot rodding, but one that rarely occurs. Surely, we’ve seen just about every imaginable treatment of the first-gen Camaro, yet Morgan Duffy’s patently unusual drop-top easily eludes the fateful “seen that-done that” form. By incorporating seldom-used props and an infusion of uncommon ideas, Morgan’s 1968 SS stands out in the sea of usual suspects.
We asked him if there was a special or unique reason to build the car. “I bought the car with my paper route money,” said Morgan. Fair enough. Maybe we should get a paper route, too. We asked how much time the project consumed. “Seven years,” he said. That’s on par for out of control project cars. As for what he thought made his car unique, he replied, “The extent of the custom fabrication. There are so many small details. The engine is set back 4 inches and the front wheels have been pushed out 2 inches, thus lending the perfect 50/50 weight bias. Pete Bachand at Kustom & Restoration Specialties (Marlborough, Massachusetts) also took the time to bead-roll factory-like indents in the handmade floorpans. Though invisible when the flat hood is closed, I’d say the faithful rendition of the old cowl-induction would be another. I get tons of people asking about the rollcage and how functional it is in a subframe car. Then I tell them it’s a full-frame car and wait through their blank stare as that fact sinks in.”
His most memorable experience with the topless dancer? (Morgan, was it that after-hours joint in Roxbury?) “Having my 4-year-old son Hayden ask to take it to the local cruise nights. Just he and I go and we have a really good time.” As far as what he’d do differently if he were to build the car again, he crooned true: “Nothing. Not a thing. It might sound like a crock but this car turned out to be everything I ever dreamed it would be.” Enough said. Let’s see what happened during the last seven years.
Morgan lives in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, a model of the typical New England town sheltering more than 31,000 souls, close enough to big-city culture but far enough from the distraction and madness that is Boston. Three-hundred-year-old Shrewsbury is best known for the Hebert Candy Mansion, the place where white chocolate was invented. Via the Way Back Machine, we find ourselves with a young entrepreneur at the very beginning of this sublime tale. “I bought the car when I was 15 with my paper route money,” he crowed. “I’d saved $800.”
Since eBay wasn’t even a whim back then, Morgan began combing the want ads for a first-gen Camaro and found this one. He and his car-savvy cousin went to have a look. “It was sitting outside under a blue tarp, full of water and parts and was just plain in terrible shape … so we bought it. Once it was in the garage at home, I started working on it, which at 15 consisted mostly of sitting in it with my friend Kyle and pretending to drive while making the most accurate four-barrel noises I could without choking.” Ah, the idylls of misspent youth.
Morgan was far piece from his ideal. In high school, he did the best he knew how and put together a 283 and a ‘Glide with the original 10-bolt. “I didn’t know much about engines back then so my 283 with 78cc combustion chamber heads wasn’t exactly a compression monster, and the ‘Glide and 2.54 gears made it even worse. But I loved it and was learning as I went. My friends always remind me of when I was out cruising town in December, top down, wearing as much clothes as I could — and it was snowing.
“Things seemed to be coming together, but I just didn’t have the money for a new rear and those gears were really holding the car back. Then it hit me. I didn’t have enough money to do it the way I wanted. I stuck it away wherever I could find cheap storage. I must have moved it five or six times. My friends called it ‘The Wheelbarrow’ because we picked it up by the framerails and moved it around.”
This regimen continued while Morgan took courses at Wyoming Tech. He graduated and became a line technician at a Jaguar store. He quit that and did four years at college. The Camaro didn’t stand a chance. He graduated and went to work. All the while, he could feel the Chevy’s vibes and when the now-35 Morgan and wife, Erin, bought their first real house in 2000, the project got a big, fat syringe dripping with speed.
The project was spurred by a few select people. Pete Bachand was one of them. He did everything at his KRS shop except the interior and the engine. “I have to give him credit,” said Morgan. “Anything I could think up he could make. I wanted a lower valance that looked like the one on a ’69 but had driving lights instead of direction signals and wire mesh in the opening around the lights. He made it. I wanted a flat hood that would work with a replica of a ’68 cold-air induction system. He made it. I wanted a console with a place for my iPod and cup holders because you gotta have coffee on the Power Tour. He made that for me, too.
“Even when I had an idea and wasn’t sure how to make it live, he was right there. The stripes are a good example of that. He broke out a book with Gran Sport Corvettes and Cobras and suggested we create some stripes modeled after them. Bingo!” The body is painted R-M Diamont ’68 Camaro British Green (Code ZZ), the only year that shade was ever offered. The theme was carried to the underbody, coated with SEM 40641 Pro-Tex truck bed liner that was tinted British Green. Bachand had already installed the YearOne factory grille, removed the front bumper, narrowed the rear bumper to fit tighter to the body and painted it body color.
Jonathan Chase at Skin & Bones (Marlborough, Massachusetts) was responsible for the interior and the seldom seen green canvas top. He began with the custom-made carpeting, a fierce black underlay to highlight the 2002 Camaro bucket seats covered in YearOne black-and-white houndstooth. Chase finished up the office with Auto Meter gauges neatly ensconced in a Covan’s Classics instrument panel. Morgan found the original factory walnut steering wheel in his uncle’s garage. Aural bliss was mandatory. Morgan paid no less attention to the audio portion of the program, insinuating an Alpine CDA-9835 head teamed with a Rockford Fosgate Punch Series amp, Boston Acoustics SL60 6 1/2-inch speakers (front), and two 10-inch Rockford Punch Series subwoofers.
Unique to this car, KRS built a full square-stock and tubing frame and stiffened it with crossbraces and dual driveshaft loops, thus creating a sound footing for the six-point rollcage. All of this intensity became a rigid platform, a place that would ensure correct steering geometry through its entire arc and heartily resist deflection.
The frame incorporates a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks clip replete with tubular control arms, rack steering, and QA1 coilover shock absorbers. Morgan is opposed to blatant shininess, thus the 17x8 machine/matte-finish American Torq-Thrust II hoops fitted with 235/45-ZR17 Yokohama AVS rubber. Yeah, but Yoko doesn’t put redlines on its rubber. Morgan sent them to Diamondback Tire to have the sidewalls smoothed and the red walls vulcanized for posterity.
Behind this combination Wilwood six-piston calipers squeeze Corvette 13-inch rotors. At the other end of the car, KRS laid in a brace of Global West leaf springs fitted with Del-a-lum bushings and more QA1 adjustable shock absorbers. Back rubber is Yokohama 315/35-ZR17 on custom-cut 17x11 Americans. More Wilwood hard parts here, too, four-piston calipers on 11 3/4-inch rotors.
For the motive sector, Morgan skipped a few feet over the New Hampshire border to Chad Golen’s Engine Service in Nashua. One of Chad’s signature 383s produces 502 hp at 5,900 rpm and 395 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm, and this does not account for the NOS Top Shot 150hp system that KRS integrated with the air cleaner. KRS also made the equal-length primary-pipe headers, an X-pipe, and stabbed the 2 1/2-inch exhaust pipes through raspy mufflers.
So, there’s plenty of grunt at a respectful rpm and the flexibility of a Tremec six-speed to ensure that the topless dancer will always be a willing and eager participant. A Centerforce clutch assembly passes torque to it, thence to a custom-built driveshaft to the Currie 9+ sporting 3.89:1 gears and a Detroit SoftLocker differential.
There are many disciplines evident in Morgan’s ragtop: old days, new days, road-race vibe, custom metalwork, and complete fabrication, all of it an indelible cross-pollination of themes in one unforgettable package.