Patrick Darling doesn’t give a hoot about how fast or how quick his car rips up a straight line. In his head he couldn’t abide a ham-fist 1,000-horsepower poleaxe; rather he liked a tool with a lot more control, like a scalpel, because his sentiments lay with the autocross discipline, rotating the back end just so and then standing on it—over and over again on that frantic closed-course tarmac.
How’d this happen? He says he wasn’t particularly interested in cars or hot rodding until one 1986 morning when some upper classman wheeled his 1978 Trans Am into the parking lot. “Right then and there,” Patrick hooted, “the hobby sunk its claws into me and as time has gone by those claws have only sunk deeper. I’ve always wanted to have a classic car with a modern drivetrain and certain conveniences as a car I autocross and drive daily into work.”
In the day, our street cars were also the ones we pounded on at the track and, obviously, there were concessions to abide. But it wasn’t dead serious. The reality was it was all in fun, maybe lining up with your pal and stomping it when no one else was around.
“So there I was fat, dumb, and happy in the fall of 2012 when a friend with a 1999 Z28 called saying that it hadn’t started in a year and that he wanted it gone so he could move to something newer,” Patrick said. He forked the cash and dragged it home. The woe was idiotically simple: a corroded battery cable. When he tried to sell it back, the owner had parted mentally with his charge and would not be moved so the Z28 more or less became Patrick’s parts bin.
“Continuing on this fat, dumb, and happy life, I mentioned to another friend that what I really wanted was a classic body to drop the drivetrain from the ’99 into. He knew where there was a cobwebbed ’68 Camaro that had squatted for more than 10 years and needed some TLC.” It needed a lot more than that but Patrick’s gut told him it was perfect (remember the dumb from fat and happy part?) “So it sat in my garage until June 2013 when my pals Brad, Kirk, and Jeremy came over to build a fire and get this project going.
“By October, we had it driving around the block but I knew the car would require the service of a professional shop.” He made a contract with the Restomod Store in May 2015 and retrieved it in February 2017. Along the way, he’d decided that a stouter LS3 would be the perfect upgrade from the long-ago LS1. And there’s a neat little tale in itself. By simply swapping out the production LS3 stick (0.551/0.522-inch lift; 204/211-deg. duration), the Chevrolet Performance Hot Cam (PN 88958753) enhanced the profile (0.525/0.525-inch lift and 219/228-deg. duration) and realized a 14 percent increase in torque and horsepower. The Restomod Store handled all the mechanical issues, including the installation of the hopped-up LS3, the TREMEC six-speed, and the Speedway 9-inch axle.
Since handling is its avatar, the Camaro’s suspension gets lots of attention from Patrick’s consorts Lance Hamilton, Keith Lemming, and Ron Sutton. They set up the car with 450 lb/in front springs and 500 lb/in rear coils (from Draco, the largest custom spring manufacturer in the world), large diameter bars, and adjustable shock damping. In lieu of the usual four-link setup, the Camaro is fitted with the more fluid, less binding properties of a torque arm suspension from Speedtech Performance. The end “users” of all this mighty suspension calibration are monster 315/30 Rival S tires all around that wrap de rigueur 18x11 Forgeline wheels. Viewed from head-on, the car is intimidating if not downright frightening. Imagine it clinging unshakable, like a school of piranha gnashing at your tail. Sure, you can run but then what?
“I daily drive the car as often as I can, that’s for sure,” said Patrick. “Even with the 4.10 gear, the T-56 from the ’99 Camaro keeps the revs down for easy driving on the highway. The shocks are adjustable, and on the softest setting the ride is not harsh at all. But where is the fun in setting the shocks so that the car feels like a ’77 Cadillac, especially when you want to show someone that your car can really pull away from them on the twisties. Most of the time you don’t notice the [suspension], but over really crappy roads it can feel like my dad’s ’62 GMC half-ton.”
Rather than employing high spring rates (as was typical of factory policy) to control the dynamics, the suspension in Patrick’s car revolves around the philosophy of a soft spring/big antisway bar setup. He’s adamant about driving the car every weather-permitting day. “Keeping the car in race mode setup means when I autocross it there is no having to get used to the car again; I’ve already gotten a feel for how it’s going to react. In reality, the car is very easy to drive,” he said.
After four years of planning, building, and waiting, Patrick’s fat, dumb, and happy mindset no longer applies. Now he’s fat, fast and happy. CHP
Owner: Patrick Darling, Grain Valley, Missouri
Vehicle: 1968 Camaro
Type: Chevrolet Performance LS376/480 crate
Displacement: 376 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
Bore: 4.065 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: L92 style ports, as cast 68cc combustion chambers, 2.165/1.590 valves
Rotating Assembly: Nodular iron crankshaft, powdered metal connecting rods, hypereutectic pistons
Valvetrain: Investment cast 1.7:1 rocker arms, OE pushrods, OE lifters
Camshaft: Hot Cam hydraulic roller (0.525/0.525-inch lift; 219/228-deg. duration at 0.050)
Induction: OE intake manifold, injectors and throttle body, Chevrolet Performance Controller Kit (including electronic throttle pedal), Spectre air cleaner, 18-gallon Tanks, Inc. EFI fuel tank, Walbro submersible pump
Ignition: OE coil-near-plug, Taylor primary wires
Exhaust: Ultimate Headers 1 7/8-inch primaries, 3-inch stainless system, MagnaFlow mufflers
Ancillaries: LS1 accessory drive, Painless wiring, Chevrolet Performance Muscle Car oil pan kit, Chris Alston’s Chassisworks four-point rollbar
Output (at the crank): 495 hp at 6,200 rpm, 473 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm
Transmission: TREMEC T-56, LS7 flywheel and clutch assembly, GM hydraulic linkage
Rear Axle: Speedway 9-inch Ford full-floater, 31-spline axleshafts, 4.10:1 gears, Eaton Truetrac limited-slip differential
Front Suspension: Speedtech Performance ExtReme subframe, forged tall spindles, tubular control arms, triple-adjustable JRi coilovers with Draco 450 lb/in springs, 1 1/4-inch Speedway splined antisway bar
Rear Suspension: Speedtech torque arm system, triple-adjustable JRi shocks with Draco 500 lb/in springs, 7/8-inch Speedway antisway bar
Brakes: Wilwood 14.25-inch rotors, six-piston calipers, front; Wilwood 12.88-inch rotors, four-piston calipers, rear; Wilwood master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline GA3R 18x11 front & rear
Tires: BFGoodrich g-Force Rival S 315/30 front & rear
Upholstery: Restomod Store (Independence, MO)
Material: Houndstooth cloth
Seats: 1999 Camaro, Simpson harnesses
Steering: ididit tilt column, Sweet Manufacturing rack-and-pinion, Grant wheel
Dash: Reproduction w/ gauge insert
Instrumentation: New Vintage USA
Audio: Pioneer AVH-4200NEX head unit, Hifonics front speakers, Hertz rear speakers, installed by Restomod Store
HVAC: Vintage Air
Bodywork: Restomod Store
Paint By: Restomod Store
Paint: PPG Torch Red
Hood: AMD aluminum
Grille: Stock RS
Photos by Grant Cox