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Meet the Corner-Carving 1986 El Camino of Dan Howe and Schwartz Performance

Meet the Corner-Carving El Camino of Dan Howe and Schwartz Performance

Evan Perkins Sep 25, 2018
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The El Camino is the antithesis of “work in the front, party in the back”—especially in its later years. With a sporty front end and functional truck bed in the rear, it was the answer to a question not many people asked. But, like so many misunderstood personalities of eras past, it faded away only to be longed for and revered in its absence.

For the team of Dan and Josh Howe and Schwartz Performance, the El Camino was the perfect canvas for the corner-carving Pro Touring build they craved. And, while many would consider it the underdog, at the 2017 Classic Industries Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge presented by Falken Tires, this unlikely steed proved its mettle.

002 1986 El Camino Schwartz Chevrolet  LS Pro Touring 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge Falken 2/31

The El Camino started life as a 305ci, automatic with a bench seat—more utilitarian than useful on a racetrack—but that all changed when it came into the Howe’s possession. “What really got the ball rolling was talking to Jeff Smith [then Senior Staff Editor at Car Craft magazine] at the 2012 Optima Invitational in Pahrump, Nevada,” said Howe. “He asked me what I was going to follow up our Monte Carlo build with. Jeff Schwartz chimed in that he’d give me the same deal on the chassis as the first time [the Monte Carlo] and that got the ball rolling.”

While an El Camino may seem to have a disadvantage in the handling department. It was a favorite of Howe’s son Josh. “My son always liked El Caminos, so that’s what we decided we were going to build. I probably looked for a year before we came up with the car. I found it locally with 83,000 miles on the clock. It was a two-owner car and pretty clean.”

006 1986 El Camino Schwartz Chevrolet  LS Pro Touring 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge Falken 3/31

The build took two years from start to finish and was a team effort between the father/son duo. “My son did the bodywork and the paintwork on the car [the original 1986 El Camino Dark Red Metallic the car was born with] and Jeff Schwartz [of Schwartz Performance] was instrumental on the suspension,” said Howe.

Without a doubt, the most significant upgrade on the car is a Schwartz Performance G-Machine chassis that replaces the original and outdated unit with a bolt-in one that is 100 pounds lighter, but with increased torsional stiffness. It features rack-and-pinion steering, double A-arm suspension, and a triangulated four-link rearend with revised geometry. The chassis also features significant clearance for larger tires, allowing the car to fit a 275mm Falken Azenis tire in the front and up to a 355mm tire in the rear, though the rear is currently shod with 315mm Falken Azenis rubber. The wheels are XXR 18x8.5 front and 18x12 rear, though Weldcraft modified them from their original 10-inch widths. Baer 6P calipers and 14-inch rotors at all four corners handle the braking duties.

018 1986 El Camino Schwartz Chevrolet  LS Pro Touring 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge Falken 4/31

“Dan’s El Camino was the first chassis we did for the G-body El Camino,” said Jeff Schwartz. “Now we offer that as one of our production chassis for folks to buy. We use longer shocks than anyone in the industry, which gives you the ability to have a lower ride height but also have lots of suspension travel and a great ride quality. Our upper control arms have needle bearings in them and all the other joints have Teflon-lined spherical rod ends. Our goal is smooth, bind-free operation.”

The wheezy 305ci small-block Chevy is long gone, and the El Camino has been upgraded in a big way with an LS426 engine, assembled by Jesse Riggle at West Bend Dyno Tuning.

022 1986 El Camino Schwartz Chevrolet  LS Pro Touring 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge Falken 5/31

The new engine started life as a 364-cubic-inch LQ4 and has been bored and stroked to 426 ci through the use of a 4.065-inch bore and 4.100-inch stroke crankshaft. A set of forged H-beam connecting rods combines with a set of 10.0:1 JE pistons, Stage 3 hand-ported 317 casting heads, and a Comp camshaft to pound out a whopping 513 rear-wheel horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque on the West Bend dyno. “These guys are amazing at what they do and I can’t thank them enough. The base program they supplied fired the powerplant on the first turn of the key, and it idled at 900 rpm,” says Howe. A harness from PSI Conversions helped the new LS engine install and wire easily.

Behind the new, more potent powerplant is a TREMEC Magnum six-speed transmission, sourced from Bowler Transmissions, who also supplied the shifter. An LS7 clutch and flywheel help transfer the massive power to the Moser 9-inch rear axle with 3.50 gears and an Eaton Truetrac limited-slip differential.

010 1986 El Camino Schwartz Chevrolet  LS Pro Touring 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge Falken 6/31

The El Camino sees plenty of street and track miles. A regular competitor at Optima Ultimate Street Car Association events and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, it gets its share of abuse, but it’s also a regular at events like the Car Craft Summer Nationals and, hopefully, a Super Chevy Show or two (hint, hint). Most recently, it hit the tarmac at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where it proved to be anything but a slouch.

What Makes It Handle
Engine
Type: 426ci Chevrolet LS assembled by Jesse Riggle at West Bend Dyno Tuning
Components: LQ4 block, ported factory heads, JE pistons, Comp camshaft
Power (at the wheels): 513 wheel horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque
Drivetrain
Transmission: Bowler Magnum six-speed with LS7 flywheel and clutch
Rearend: Moser 9-inch with Eaton Truetrac differential
Chassis/Suspension
Chassis: Schwartz Performance G-Machine bolt-in chassis
Front Suspension: Tubular double wish bone
Spindles: Schwartz Performance
Shocks: RideTech single-adjustable coilover
Sway Bar: Schwartz Performance
Brakes: Baer 6P calipers and 14-inch rotors
Rear Suspension: triangulated four-link
Shocks: RideTech single-adjustable coilover
Sway Bar: Schwartz Performance
Brakes: Baer 6P calipers and 14-inch rotors
Wheels and Tires
Wheels: XXR 18x8.5 front, 18x12 rear (rear widened by Weldcraft)
Tires: Falken Azenis RT615K 275/35ZR18 front, 315/30ZR18 rear
Cost of Chassis/Suspension: $17,637 for full frame, suspension components, rack-and-pinion, brakes, and Moser rearend
Weight (pounds)
Total Without Driver: 3,625
LF: 1,019 RF: 982 LR: 781 RR: 843
Percentage
F: 55% R: 45%

How'd It Stack Up?   
 Slalom Average Speed 420-ft100 Yard DashRoad Course Lap Time
Schwartz Performance 1986 El Camino46.1 mph5.39 seconds01:20.8
2017 Camaro SS46.6 mph5.41 seconds01:22.2
Every Elky had its day and this was Howe's. The car proved that despite a truck reputation, its modern hardware was more than enough to make it competitive. With over 510 hp to the tires, it clawed its way to the front group of the pack in the 100-yard dash and proved it could shimmy through the cones in the slalom just barely being bested by the Gen6 Camaro. On Auto Club Speedway's road course, it edged out the Camaro by just over a second.  

Photos by Robert McGaffin

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