If the automotive hobby was solely a nuts-and-bolts affair, Ryan Buck would have long ago sold his high school Camaro and moved on to more mechanically modern pastures—perhaps even taken up stamp collecting. Of course, cars are a hobby rooted firmly in the intangible; flagrantly favoring passion over practicality. Needless to say, Buck still has his teenage trophy, the car that instilled a love of classics, serendipitously introduced him to his future wife, and has now taken on a whole new purpose: dodging cones and hunting corners.
If “Best in the Desert” wasn’t already claimed by some crazy off-road racers, the Super Chevy staff would have used that as the title for the 2017 Classic Industries Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge presented by Falken tires event. But it was, so they had to settle for unofficially calling it the “It was really freakin’ hot Challenge.” The temps topped out at 113 degrees for the annual track thrash, which Buck drove all the way from Minnesota to participate in.
Buck’s Camaro, a ’68 model, has been with him nearly all of his licensed-driver years. Acquired when he was 17, it’s been through several different engines, transmissions, and various levels of male maturity. “I’m 36 now, so I’ve had it over half my life,” said Buck. “I first saw the [Camaro] sticking out in a line of cars. When I saw that stripe running down the door I knew I wanted the car. It was a California car with no rust, and I drove it as a daily driver throughout school.”
That iteration of the car wasn’t quite the performer it is today. Under the hood was a tired 327ci small-block and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. Eventually, he swapped in a 350 to replace the aging original mill—which he still has—and that slightly bolstered the performance envelope. “It wasn’t much, but it was a heckuva lot better than that 327,” said Buck. But most importantly, the car needed to remain a reliable form of transportation. “I grew up with cars in the family,” said Buck. “But we were never really race car people. I did a lot of shows and cruises.”
Buck bought his first house, and with a mortgage to contend with the Camaro went into hibernation, albeit with the occasional dust-off and drive. It was on one of those drives, this time down a local strip near University Avenue, that the Camaro caught a feminine gaze. “I had some girls yelling at me out the window of their car,” said Buck. “Long story short, one of the three girls in that car is now my wife, Sarah.”
Years down the road, a side job found him back in the black and the driver’s seat, and the Camaro once again started getting some love. “About 10 years ago I did my very first autocross with a bone-stock suspension,” said Buck.” He was immediately hooked. In fact, he and Sarah became so interested in the sport they built a Chevy II for her to drive.
“I did an event called Cars and Cones in my wife’s Nova,” said Buck. It was there that Buck crossed paths with Jeff Schwartz, who chose him as a contest winner to receive one of his G-machine chassis, which he spec’d out for the Camaro. “That’s what led me to the [Muscle Car] Challenge,” said Buck.
Unlike conventional suspension, which relies on components bolted to the original subframes, Schwartz Performance’s G-Machine chassis adds a full frame to the underside of the Camaro, despite it originally being a unibody design. The frame drastically stiffens up the car and prevents deflection and twisting during hard cornering. Amazingly, the chassis is a bolt-on unit, requiring only a few spots of trimming on the original floor.
Over the last winter, the team at Schwartz Performance installed the chassis in the car in under 7 hours. With the car back in his garage, Buck then mini-tubbed the rear and made custom, removable front inner fenders to allow massive 315mm Falken tires on American Racing wheels to fit under the sheetmetal. The Schwartz chassis included a quartet of RideTech single-adjustable coilovers for shock/spring duty and Wilwood 13-inch brakes to help pull the reins on speed.
Under the hood, an ample 630 hp and 589 lb-ft of torque are delivered courtesy of a Dart-based 427ci small-block Chevy built by TPiS in Chaska, Minnesota. The engine is topped with AFR 210cc cylinder heads and intake manifold. Fuel and spark come courtesy of a 780 Holley carb and MSD 6AL ignition box, respectively. Under the valve covers, a custom solid roller camshaft with 244/250 degrees of duration at 0.050-inch lift works the valves to the tune of 0.646-inch of lift. Spent fumes flow through ceramic-coated Dynatech headers and into 3-inch stainless steel pipes and Borla mufflers.
Behind the engine is a McLeod RXT twin-disc clutch, a Silver Sport Transmissions T-56 Magnum, and a Moser 9-inch full-floater axle with 3.70 gears and an Eaton Detroit Truetrac limited-slip. “Man, I love rowing through the gears in that car,” said Buck, “There’s nothing better.”
Buck desperately wanted to leave the Camaro’s paint untouched, a memento of his youth, but the lacquer had begun to show its age, doing what lacquer does: spider-cracking and chipping away from the body. He reluctantly took it to painter Mike Osterman, who confirmed no less than 11 layers of paint on the body, and perfectly resprayed the high-school era color scheme in modern urethane enamel. “I didn’t want to paint it red or some other ‘hot’ color,” said Buck. “That would have been a totally different car.” So, instead he had the car redone with the same scheme as when he first encountered it—eye-grabbing stripe and all.
Inside, the car is fairly stock with OEM-style replacement door panels. Buck made a custom three-point seatbelt for the back that hides behind the B-pillar cover so that his 5-year-old daughter can tag along on outings. The front seats are original buckets updated with TMI bolstered covers.
In addition to running the suspension challenge, Buck enjoys driving the Camaro, participating in local events and cruise-ins, and, of course, the occasional autocross. En route to the Muscle Car Challenge, as he was driving down Highway 1, an eco-terrorist, liberal California pigeon kamikaze’d its way through the grille. Not exactly normal wear and tear, but when you’ve had a car for 19 years there’s always some bolt that needs turning or wildlife to remove from the grille. Plans for the car are to keep it in the family and rack up a lot more miles, both on and off the track.
|What Makes It Handle|
|Type: 427ci small-block Chevy|
|Components: Dart SHP block, AFR 210 cylinder heads, Holley 780-cfm carb, Howard’s solid roller camshaft, Edelbrock fuel pump, Canton oil pan, Be Cool radiator, Dynatech 1 7/8-inch headers|
|Power (at the crank): 630 hp at 6,200 rpm, 589 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm|
|Transmission: Silver Sport Transmission TREMEC T-56 Magnum, Quick Time bellhousing|
|Clutch: McLeod RXT|
|Rearend: Moser 9-inch full-floater with 3.70 gears, Eaton Detroit Truetrac LSD|
|Chassis: Schwartz Performance G-Machine bolt-in chassis|
|Front Shocks: RideTech single-adjustable coilovers|
|Front Sway Bar: Schwartz splined bar|
|Front Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors with four-piston calipers|
|Rear Shocks: RideTech single-adjustable coilovers|
|Rear Sway Bar: Schwartz adjustable|
|Rear Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors|
|Wheels and Tires|
|Wheels: American Racing VF498 18x11 front and rear|
|Tires: Falken Azenis RT615K 315/30ZR18 front and rear|
|Cost of Chassis/Suspension $17,637 for full frame, suspension components, rack-and-pinion and Moser 9-inch rearend with brakes|
|Total Without Driver: 3,324|
|LF: 899 RF: 908 LR: 747 RR: 770|
|F: 54.4% R: 45.6%|
|How’d It Stack Up?|
|Slalom Average Speed 420-ft||100-Yard Dash||Road Course Lap Time|
|Schwartz Performance 1968 Camaro||45.4 mph||5.25 seconds||N/A|
|2017 Camaro SS||46.6 mph||5.41 seconds||01:22.2|
|The 2017 Classic Industries Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge presented by Falken Tires puts both acceleration and handling performance to the test. In the slalom and 100-yard dash, Buck’s Camaro placed in the top half of the pack, its muscle-bound 427ci engine and taut Schwartz chassis allowing it to pull hard and transition through the cones with ease. On the road course, unfortunately, the car struggled with a heat-induced fuel problem that prevented it from completing a full lap under power. Compared to the 2017 Camaro SS baseline car, Buck proved old iron still has a bite. Given its performance in the other events we’re dying to see this F-body work over a road course.|