In the early days of hot rodding—we’re talking about the ’50s and ’60s. The auto-related magazines possessed the power to influence the market by merely informing their readers what they felt was “hot” in the automotive industry. If a respected journalist of a well-known publication such as Hot Rod, Car Craft, or Motor Trend stated a certain car or product was the greatest “new thing,” the readers responded by heading out to purchase said product.
Jerry Noonan and his son Michael just so happened to be thumbing through the pages of a 2002 issue of Super Chevy magazine when they came upon a fourth-generation Berger SS Camaro car feature. It was white with red stripes, polished five-spoke wheels, and a performance package that gave it a horsepower rating of around 380.
Now, Jerry’s been a muscle car enthusiast since he can remember, but there was something about this late-model F-body that piqued his interest. So his son, who was just 17 at the time, emailed Dennis Barker over at Berger Chevrolet to inquire about getting his hands on one of these Phase I Berger Camaros. Dennis informed him this car was a limited edition run and there were only 13 cars left out of 43 for the 2002 series. A few days went by and Jerry sort of put the idea on the proverbial back burner. But for some reason he just couldn’t shake the images of that badass Camaro he had seen in the magazine. At this point he’s convinced he needs one of these rides. Jerry called Dennis Barker himself to see about purchasing a Phase I Berger Camaro. Dennis informed him there were no longer 13 cars left, only 9. After some discussion about the cars, Dennis thought it would be a good idea for Jerry to get the complete lowdown from Matt Murphy over at GMMG Inc. in Marietta, Georgia. After all, Matt’s the one handling the upgrades on these monster fourth-gens.
Matt and Jerry spoke at length over the phone about the upgrades that went into these cars. Jerry couldn’t help but notice Matt’s heightened passion when speaking about the cars. That enthusiasm was the dealmaker. Suffice it to say, Jerry ended up taking delivery of a Silver Phase I Berger SS Convertible soon after.
Jerry began hitting car shows with his new fourth-gen to get a feel for what the Bow Tie community was all about—especially the Camaro crowd. He decided to go to Atlanta for what was his first trip to the F-body Gathering. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to set aside the time needed to drive his new convertible to the show, so he and his son flew down from New Jersey to check it out.
They couldn’t believe the number of Camaros that flooded the event’s grounds.
Even more impressive was their meeting with Matt Murphy. After a day at the event, Matt invited the two for a shop tour of GMMG that evening. It was there that Jerry became more aware of the entire dealer-optioned Camaros available.
Now, Jerry really started to develop a taste for these late-model muscle cars, so after the F-body Gathering he set aside time for he and his son to drive the convertible from New Jersey to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the 2002 Berger Chevrolet All Chevy Show. While walking through the event Jerry again couldn’t help but notice all of the production upgrades available on the Berger SS Camaros.
He then came upon a red Berger SS Camaro hardtop that really got his attention. One thing he really wanted was a hardtop, which was not one of the nine originally left to choose from. This car was a Phase II package and was the only red hardtop available of 43 to be modified in 2002. Seems the gentleman that owned the car was dealing with some health issues and needed to dump the rare Phase II upgrade. To make a long story short, Jerry headed home that weekend in a 1 of 1 hardtop Berger SS/GMMG Camaro.
A year later at the same Berger show Jerry was once again talking with Dennis Barker and Matt Murphy about what upgrade packages would be available later in the year. Nothing was solidified, but there was talk of a new widebody upgrade.
Once Jerry learned Berger Chevrolet had bought up the 30 remaining 2002 Camaros left in all of America, plus rumblings of the widebody, that’s all Jerry needed to hear. He put down a deposit right there. Only this time it would be under the stipulation that he could pick out his own color and a few other options.
After discussing the possibility of building a production version of GM Performance Division’s widebody Camaro with John Heinricy of GMPD, Matt Murphy got the green light to build the widebody Camaros, but only if GMMG built them exactly like the GMPD car.
We asked Matt where the Dick Harrell Edition name came from, since GM’s Camaro was a Roger Penske Tribute car. Murphy explained. “A while ago I had talked to Valerie Harrell about the possibility of building a project car in honor of her dad, the famous ’60s and early ’70s Chevy drag racer.” Murphy goes on, “The idea made perfect sense, as Dick was responsible for producing and building the very first 427 engine swaps into Camaros back in late 1966 for Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago, Illinois, and for Yenko Chevrolet in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania in 1967.”
Jerry’s previous Berger/GMMG Camaros were purchased already completed, so he and his son discussed what they could do to put their own signature on the yet-to-be-built car. Michael came up with car number 6 out of the available 30. Why six? That just so happens to be the number on the door of the blue 2002 GM Wide Body Sunoco tribute car to the 1968 Trans-Am Series Camaro originally driven by Mark Donohue.
Jerry put his two-cents in and suggested the car be painted 2003 Corvette Electron Blue because, as Jerry says. “It’s one of the nicest GM blues out there.”
We caught up with Jerry and his stunning Camaro after a track day a few years back and his excitement about driving the car was infectious. “This was the most memorable experience I’ve had with this car,” said Jerry. “To be able to drive it around a track was unbeatable. The car has spectacular handling characteristics, and with tons of horsepower, getting out of the corners is truly an amazing ride!”
During this interview with Jerry, we also learned he’s in possession of six other Berger/GMMG Camaros.
A sickness? Nah. An addiction? Absolutely. But more than anything this is a person’s passion for uniquely built, fast cars. But as Jerry says, “The opportunity of spending quality time with my son and the camaraderie among other Camaro enthusiasts is what makes this hobby so great.”
For more on the history of Dick Harrell, visit dickharrell.com.
|Vehicle:||2002 Berger/GMMG Dick Harrell Edition Wide Body|
|Heads:||LS6, ported and polished by TEA, 2.05/1.60 valves|
|Rotating Assembly:||Callies forged crankshaft, Oliver rods, JE forged pistons and rings|
|Valvetrain:||Stock 1.7:1 ratio rocker arms, Comp Cams Hi-Tech 7.400-inch pushrods|
|Camshaft:||Comp Cams hydraulic roller, 244/248-deg. duration at 0.050, 0.612/0.615-inch lift|
|Induction:||Stock, ported throttle body by GMMG; 36 lb/hr Accel fuel injectors|
|Ignition:||Stock / NGK TR55 spark plugs|
|Engine Management:||Stock, tuned by Mike Carnahan at GMMG|
|Exhaust:||Kooks 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers, high-flow cats, 3-inch Y-pipe and GMMG cat-back with electric cutouts|
|Transmission:||Tremec T-56, SPEC 4 clutch and flywheel|
|Rearend:||Strange 12-bolt, 33-spline axles, 4.10 gear, posi|
|Driveshaft:||3-inch chrome moly|
|Front Suspension:||Eibach springs, Koni shocks, GMMG sway bar|
|Rear Suspension:||Eibach springs, Koni shocks|
|Brakes:||Corvette front, stock rear|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels:||Corvette front, stock rear|
|Tires:||Michelin Pilot 295/35 front, 335/30 rear|
|Paint:||Corvette Electron Blue|