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Top Shelf 1968 Pro Touring Camaro

“Who does not love a first-generation Camaro?”—Casey Clements

Ro McGonegal Oct 26, 2017
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Casey Clements is a mechanical engineer and a project manager for a global chemical company. His occupation requires bust-head planning and eyeball-flattening attention to detail—in other words, it’s great groundwork for surviving a custom car build.

Casey’s job takes him to backdrops in Saudi Arabia and China, often for extended stays, designing and building chemical/plastics facilities. Since he wasn’t home for months at a time, he was unable to minister to the car personally. But here’s the thing about Casey. He’s not so much thrilled by the idea of showing his car as he is by being able to put it to good use.

Though he built it to drive, his motives were also altruistic; he built it to expose his 11- and 9-year-old daughters to the idea of getting their hands dirty … and working on cars. His wife, Anna, is also a mechanical engineer and an unabashed gearhead “who always supported the build and motivated me to get it finished.” So at the dinner table, conversation could easily segue from home improvement to the improvement of the Camaro. Nice work, Casey, you’re obviously a blessed man. Don’t ever let that get away.

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So how did this car get built? To whom did Casey put all his trust? Tim Palazzolo and the crew at GAP Racing in Houston attacked it like a free lunch. “During one of my overseas assignments, I decided to find someone that could help me finish off the roller so I could drive it and enjoy it with my family. I didn’t want the Camaro to become one of those stories you read about a project that never gets finished. My love of all things mechanical is what helped me decide to become a mechanical engineer. The first-generation Camaro bug bit me about 10 years ago.

“I spoke with several shops out of state but never felt comfortable sending the car thousands of miles away to be worked on. When I first spoke to Tim, two things became very clear: Tim would treat the car as if it was his own and he understood my vision of Pro Touring. GAP is about an hour from my driveway, which gave me the opportunity to check out how things were developing when I wasn’t abroad.”

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He found the car on a forum and bought it sight unseen from a fellow board member. He did see it in pictures. It was in New York. “The seller was reputable and had built a Ridler winner so I felt comfortable with it,” he said. “A lot of the bodywork and sheetmetal replacement was done by the previous owners. It was a solid Camaro and much better than the many I looked at locally.”

Casey wanted frisky, trouble-free motoring so he decided against going the rampage route, got him an LS2 and had it tweaked a little. As most feral hot rodders did back in the day, GAP changed out the camshaft and streamlined the exhaust tract. To feed it, the boys picked a Top Street Performance isolated runner intake manifold and a 102mm throttle body to go with it.

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To soak up the grunt, GAP put a Monster Transmission 4L60E behind it. To soak up the road, they used JRi coilovers and a RideTech four-link. Rather than the usual 14-inch plates at each corner, the Camaro does nicely with 13-inch Baer rotors and four-piston calipers followed by 12-inch rotors and single-piston calipers. Rushforth hoops add contrast to the sparkling black exterior and are covered in compliant Pirelli P Zero 245/40 and 315/30 rubber.

So while the Camaro has all this mechanical finery, it’s finery you can hear but cannot see. Casey chose to cloak it with the most difficult color in the world to cover the shaved driprails, the naked front end, and other subtle areas of change with the absence of color. To bring it off, the body panels had to be straight and flawless. The true test is looking at the side of a black car when it’s illuminated by “sweet light” (those scant minutes just after the sun goes down). There’s nothing abrupt; it flows free of jags. The absence of a front bumper becomes a focal point and accentuates its appearance as well as its purpose. Accessories include JW Speaker LED headlights, anodized door handles and side mirrors, and Marquez Design digital taillights.

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But Casey doesn’t ride along out there on the fenders like a cowboy. He’s ensconced in his man-pit, reveling in cool air, butt snugged in the Corbeau bucket, held tight by Sparco four-point belts. GAP installed the American Autowire harness, Dynamat sound killer, MCI console, and the Essex cut pile rugs. Casey was a crack stereo installer back in the day so he wouldn’t do with anything less than the Pioneer/JL Audio ensemble. GAP, not Casey, did the install.

We asked: What would you have done differently? He answered: “My only regret is not having it done sooner so I could be out there driving it. If it tells you anything, I have already started my next project. I bought a 1968 short-wheelbase C10, and within a month of owning it, took it completely apart to install new front and rear suspension and swap in an LS engine.”

Casey the Blessed Man is happy. CHP

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Tech Check
Owner: Casey Clements, League City, Texas
Vehicle: 1968 Camaro

Engine
Type: LS2
Displacement: 364 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.9:1
Bore: 4.000 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: OE cathedral port, 2.00/1.55 valves
Rotating Assembly: OE nodular iron crankshaft, hypereutectic aluminum pistons, powdered metal connecting rods
Valvetrain: OE 1.7:1 rocker arms, Brian Tooley springs, OE retainers, Texas Speed & Performance 7.400-inch chrome-moly pushrods
Camshaft: Texas Speed (0.600/0.600-inch lift; 224/228-degree duration at 0.050) installed by GAP Racing (Houston, TX)
Ignition: OE coil packs, Taylor primary wires
Induction: Top Street Performance aluminum isolated runner manifold, 102mm throttle body, Custom Built Motors 92-to-102mm throttle body adapter, GAP Racing fabricated air intake tube and MAF closeout panel, Rick’s stainless tank w/ Walbro 255-lph pump
Exhaust: Dynatech headers, 1 3/4-inch primaries, Dynatech mufflers, GAP Racing 3-inch stainless system
Ancillaries: PRC electric fan and aluminum radiator, Wegner Motorsports water pump and accessory drive
Output (at crank): 450 hp at 6,000 rpm, 450 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
Machine Work: Chevrolet Performance
Built By: Chevrolet Performance

Drivetrain
Transmission: Monster Transmission 4L60E, Monster 2,800-stall torque converter
Rear Axle: Moser 12-bolt, 31-spline axleshafts, Truetrac differential, 3.73:1 gears, Precision Shaft Technologies aluminum driveshaft

Chassis
Front Suspension: Stock subframe and spindles, JRi coilovers, Detroit Speed antisway bar
Rear Suspension: RideTech four-link, JRi coilovers
Brakes: Baer 13-inch rotors, four-piston calipers, front; Baer 12-inch rotors, one-piston calipers rear; Baer master cylinder and proportioning valve, Detroit Speed booster

Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Rushforth Night Train 18x8 front, 18x11 rear
Tires: Pirelli P Zero 245/40 front, 315/30 rear

Interior
Upholstery: West Side Upholstery (Houston, TX), Marquez Designs door/all other panels
Material: Vinyl
Seats: Corbeau Sport, Sparco harnesses
Steering: Detroit Speed box, ididit column, Billet Specialties 14-inch Throttle wheel
Shifter: 2010 Camaro
Dash: Stock w/ dashpad
Instrumentation: Dakota Digital VHX
Audio: Pioneer Double DIN head unit, JL Audio amps, JL 6.50-inch front speakers, JL 6x9 rear speakers, installed by GAP Racing
HVAC: Vintage Air Streamline 3

Exterior
Bodywork: Shaved driprails, front bumper delete, custom lower valance w/ driving lights, welded lower fender seam, cowl vents smoothed
Paint: PPG Black
Hood: Goodmark steel cowl
Grille: Zoops billet
Bumpers: Stock, narrowed, and smoothed by GAP Racing

Photography by Grant Cox

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