Jim Lee is the founder and president of Lee Aerospace in Wichita, Kansas. His company specializes in the manufacture of windows, sheetmetal, and composite structures for aircraft. In other words, he makes pieces of the envelope for clients that include Bombardier Learjet, Beechcraft, Cessna Aircraft, Spirit AeroSystems, Honda, Cirrus Aircraft, and Gulfstream. OK, that’s the up-in-the-air part. Before Lee got pulled into tarmac-frying hot rods (this was almost by accident), he was a sucker for fast watercraft, beginning with his world championship-holding Big Thunder Marine. He went on, converting a particular 46-foot Big Thunder Skater into a high-performance poker runner more than 10 years ago, running as many as 10 events a year. He thrives on that kind of combat.
Some perspective about that from Eric Casperson, who operates Boyd’s Racing Engines (with Troy Green and Louis Boyd) in Norman, Oklahoma: “Building a drag race engine that will see 8,000-plus rpm for a few seconds has its own issues. A dirt track engine that goes from 4,500 to 8,500 rpm and back 40 times in a 20-minute race has a different set. Building a marine engine with big, heavy parts to run in excess of 6,000 rpm for an hour at a time is a whole different matter.”
Then he offered some insight into Mr. Lee. “Jim is a lot of fun to work with because he gives you a general direction and doesn’t try to micromanage the details. He would give us directions, make some changes, and always encourage us.
“I commented to him that we had a pile of engine parts that couldn’t be reused for the water and that if he ever wanted to build a car, we could put one together for not a lot of dough. Jim took that comment with his usual enthusiasm and said to find a car and get started. My buddy John Cook [who became project manager] found a Camaro on eBay that had a 9-inch axle, wheeltubs, and what appeared to be a decent body. I was going to build a ‘cheap’ engine out of the scrap bins and John was going to freshen the car.” Lee loved it. “Like so many projects, things started to snowball, since ‘this turned out so nice, then that needs to be nicer to match’ and for another $100 this could be so much better,” said Eric. “If we are going to make this much power, we need to upgrade that, and on and on.”
On the other hand, there was a huge pile of remnants. Eric unearthed a Big M block that needed a cylinder sleeve and Big Chief heads that had been ported and assembled; he found a Crower 4.500-inch stroke crank and a clutch of Oliver steel connecting rods to go with it. All the scrounge pistons were for blower motors so to complete the rotating assembly, they bought fresh Arias forgings. The COMP cam they stuck it with is a gnarly boat motor bumpstick straight from the used parts department.
Just down the street from Boyd’s, at the Color Works Body Shop, Joe Hall was getting ready to spiff the paint and found a very curious thing. He discovered that a blast from the compressed air nozzle would peel off patches of clearcoat as big as his hand. The more he stripped the more problems he found. In the end, though, Jim’s bullhead Camaro got a $10K paintjob.
CHP is primarily built on the Pro Touring discipline, but happily Lee’s Camaro doesn’t even whisper that. In all that chassis prep, big brakes, 30-series rubber, and the inevitable LS derivation of the politically correct Tourer, it’s a refreshing, skinny-front-tire heathen that harks back to the days of straight-line fever. Not one hour, not one dollar frittered away on a custom interior, fussy metalwork, or elaborate creature comforts — just the essence of badass. All the emphasis was on the back suspension and the monstrous 18-inch-wide tires it would have to hook. And since this car was liable to reach booster rocket speed, Eric and John thought that the brakes should be able to accommodate that. They fixed the front rotors at 14 inches and applied six-piston calipers but held the rear ones at 12 inches so that Jim could use 15-inch diameter wheels and conventional drag slicks.
In Lexington, Oklahoma, there’s a track called Thunder Valley Raceway Park, so a day before Eric and John signed off on the Camaro, they rolled out on that tarmac late in the afternoon. John lined up for an easy shakedown run. The lights descended as he brought up the revs and popped the transbrake. The Camaro pulled the front wheels about a foot-and-half and carried them past the 60-foot stripe. “She was charging hard,” whooped Eric, “so John just laid into it and let the motor eat. First and only pass ever, no spray, 9.81 at 143.”
Oh yeah. The dirty truth is that it’s just old-time rock and roll. Out here, the clocks all run backwards.
|Owner:||Jim Lee, Wichita, Kansas|
|Type:||Dart Big M cylinder block, billet main caps|
|Cylinder Heads:||Ported Dart 18-degree Big Chief, Victory 1 2.40-inch titanium/ 1.90-inch Inconel valves|
|Rotating Assembly:||Crower crankshaft, Oliver connecting rods, Arias pistons and ring packs|
|Valvetrain:||Crane shaft system rockers, PAC springs, Manton custom pushrods, Manley titanium retainers and locks, Xceldyne beltdrive timing gear|
|Camshaft:||COMP Cams (265/268-deg. duration at 0.050, 0.748/0.748-inch lift)|
|Induction:||Dart single-plane intake manifold, Quick Fuel 4500 carburetor, custom marine flame-arrester air cleaner, Induction Solutions single-stage nitrous system|
|Ignition:||MSD, 32 degrees total timing|
|Exhaust:||Lemons Headers, 2 1/4-inch primaries, 3-inch system|
|Output(dyno):||825 hp at 6,300 rpm, 748 lb-ft at 5,100 rpm (1,272 hp with nitrous oxide)|
|Machine Work/Assembly:||Boyd’s Racing Engines (Norman, OK)|
|Transmission:||Turbo 400 w/ TCI Auto transbrake, Hughes GM6 converter, built by King Transmission (Norman, OK)|
|Rear Axle:||Strange Engineering 9-inch, 35-spline axles, 3.73:1 ratio, limited-slip differential|
|Front Suspension:||OE spindles, control arms, and antisway bar, double-adjustable Competition Engineering shocks, OE coil springs|
|Rear Suspension:||Four-link by John Cook (Moore, OK), QA1 coilover shocks|
|Brakes:||Wilwood 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers front, 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers rear|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels:||Foose Five00 18x7 front, 15x20 rear|
|Tires:||Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R 26x8.00 front, 33x22 rear|
|Upholstery:||Owens Chassis (Moore, OK)|
|Seats:||Stock, Simpson five-point harness|
|Shifter:||B&M Stealth Pro Ratchet|
|Rollcage:||Six-point by John Cook|
|Bodywork:||Joe Hall (Norman, OK)|
|Paint by:||Joe Hall, Color Works Body Shop|
|Paint:||PPG Daytona Yellow|
|Hood:||Fiberglass 6-inch cowl|