Maybe you remember like it was yesterday: lighting the fuse on your first cherry bomb but fumbling it before you could launch it toward the enemy, the first time you dropped the hammer at the dragstrip, maybe your first kiss. Or your first cap gun or your first pair of blue suede Thom McAn Snap-Jacks. Or maybe you were 16, the day you finally got your ticket to the kingdom and couldn’t go back home until you’d driven the wheels off your first damn car.
Certainly, Gary Popolizio has his own take on this. “My first car was a 1967 Camaro that I purchased from the original owner. I reworked the body, engine, and finished it with a new coat of paint. The car actually looked good … so good that someone else apparently liked it, too, and it ended up disappearing. It broke my heart and I always said if I could get another one I would.”
Real life became his life and it steamrolled right on down the line without regard for Gary or anyone else. His children grew up, got married, and set off on their own. He cracked the empty-nest syndrome. He took a chance. He wanted to revisit a first-gen. He found someone else’s pile on the Internet. It was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Soon, he and a buddy drove the 24 hours up and back from Pennsylvania. He had the crate shipped to Pennsy where the transition, or evolution, as Gary calls it, began. So then, Evolution the car would grow the guise of Pro Touring and was slated for completion in 2017 to correspond with the anniversary of the Camaro’s 50-year run.
The F-body in Grand Rapids had a 427 backed by a Muncie. “It was being converted to a Yenko clone,” said Gary. “It had the power but all its bones were six-cylinder stuff.” Gary drove it diligently; he learned how the car felt beneath him and then used that interpretation as a guide for the car’s next chapters.
“That big-block just didn’t work as well as I would have liked with suspension intended for a lighter engine. This started me on the path that led to a frame-off restoration,” he opined. He surveyed the custom-car crews in proximity and then “partnered” with Justin Brunner and Bent Metal Customs in nearby Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Bent Metal handled all the mechanicals as well as the paintwork, but the magic bullet and the upholstery were farmed out.
When it came to the big picture, Gary’s background and training as a forensic engineer undoubtedly gave him a leg up. His working life is rife with details as it is his responsibility to investigate materials, products, structures, or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, often causing personal injury or property damage. In other words, eyes are on him. If anyone would have a bulletproof floor plan, it would be Popolizio.
For this big adventure, he was of a mind to incorporate some of the best systems in the world. Bent Metal supported both ends of the car with Detroit Speed (DSE) suspension and cinched the structures with subframe connectors. Damping comes from adjustable coilover assemblies, directional duties from the rack steering, and positive traction from a DSE 9-inch axle prepped with a Truetrac differential and Moser 35-spline axles.
The poets at Mast Motorsports supplied the latent power with a 427 that nets more than 600 horsepower at the tires. Its cross-ram induction is an exciter. To highlight the red horns, Bent Metal did an exemplary job on finishing off the engine compartment. The hand-hewn panels they made are coolly distinctive and don’t diminish the glory of the engine one bit.
There were the usual trials and tribulations to assume but what sticks out in Gary’s mind like flashing neon is this: “The day we realized that the intake manifold wouldn’t fit under a standard hood or cowl.” They had crafted mounts that would position the engine lower and a tad farther back in the chassis but that didn’t solve the issue so they did some hot rodding and built a bonnet from scratch. “In hindsight, I think [the hood] ultimately proved to be an asset providing one of the best features on the car, setting it apart in looks and style without going too overboard.” As mandated by the PPG Black, Bent Metal crafted the bodywork absolutely straight and highlighted the whole, tucking the front bumper, adding Dapper Lighting headlamps and Digi-Tails LED rear lights, and Speed Source door mirrors.
For the inside job, the Camaro went up to Gillin Custom Design in Middletown, New York, that brought all its expertise to bear with Mercedes carpet and Mercedes leather for the Procar seats and in all that black, the red of the Cipher Auto five-point harnesses. The safety umbrella is a four-point 1026 DOM rollbar. Since this is a true Pro Touring build that demands creature comforts known to reduce stress and fatigue over the long haul, it maintains a potent collection of audio equipment as well as a modern HVAC system.
“I think the evolution from the initial design and concept to the final product provided just what we were looking for,” Gary signs off with. “And best of all, I now gain the benefit of driving a one-of-a-kind custom-built car. Life doesn’t get much better!” CHP Photos by Robert McGaffin
Owner: Gary Popolizio, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania
Vehicle: 1967 Camaro
Displacement: 427 ci
Compression Ratio: 11.4:1
Bore: 4.125 inches
Stroke: 4.000 inches
Cylinder Heads: Mast Motorsports Black Label 285cc
Rotating Assembly: Callies crankshaft and H-beam rods, Mahle pistons
Valvetrain: Mast premium valvesprings, pushrods, LS7 lifters
Camshaft: Mast hydraulic (specs proprietary)
Induction: Performance Design cross-ram manifold, billet 6061-T6 aluminum base/carbon-fiber plenum chambers and isolated runners, dual 90mm throttle bodies, Rick’s Stainless fuel tank
Exhaust: DSE headers, 1 7/8-inch primaries, Borla XR-1 mufflers, 3-inch stainless steel system
Ancillaries: Billet Specialties Tru Trac accessory drive, Ron Davis Racing aluminum radiator, SPAL fan
Output (at the wheels): 633 hp, 689 lb-ft
Machine Work: Mast Motorsports
Built By: Mast Motorsports
Transmission: TREMEC T-56; McLeod flywheel, pressure plate, and dual discs
Rear Axle: DSE 9-inch housing, 3.73:1 gears, Truetrac differential, Moser 35-spline axles, custom driveshaft
Front Suspension: DSE hydroformed subframe and antisway bar; C6 spindles; JRi adjustable coilovers
Rear Suspension: DSE QUADRALink, subframe connectors, and antisway bar; JRi coilovers
Brakes: Baer 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front and rear, Baer master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline VR3P 18x8 front, 19x12 rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 245/35 front, 325/30 rear
Upholstery: Gillin Custom Design (Middletown, NY)
Material: Mercedes-Benz leather
Seats: Procar, Cipher Auto safety harnesses
Steering: Rack-and-pinion, ididit column, Momo wheel
Dash: Factory with custom insert
Instrumentation: AutoMeter Spek-Pro
Audio: Kenwood DNX773S head unit, Rockford Fosgate 4x6 speakers, front; Rockford Fosgate 6x9 speakers, rear; Rockford Fosgate 10-inch subwoofer
HVAC: Restomod Air
Bodywork: Bent Metal Customs (Lansdale, PA), custom metalwork by Justin Miller and Karolyn Callahan (door locks and window trim removed, seams deleted)
Paint By: Bent Metal
Paint: PPG Black
Hood: Custom built by Bent Metal
Bumpers: Stock front, tucked; stock, rear
Photos by Robert McGaffin