For some guys, the hustle never stops. They never seem to get burned out. Long after their peers have retired for the evening with a beer and DuckTales reruns, they’re still grinding away. It’s less of a work ethic thing than it is a matter of internal wiring. It’s as if they’re genetically coded to handle massive to-do lists without getting stressed out or overwhelmed. By leveraging this unique skill set, Justin Smith started building cars for customers out of his house on nights and weekends while maintaining a full-time gig as a computer engineer. The latest product of this impressive juggling act—a stunning LT1-powered 1967 Camaro—demonstrates the greatness that can ensue from continually out-hustling the competition.
Like most hot rodders, Justin started out building cars as a hobby and as a welcome escape from the 9-5 grind. He dabbled in the off-roading scene and with late-models until building his first muscle car: a Pro Touring ’67 Camaro pimped out with an LS2 and a six-speed stick. To satisfy his inner computer geek, he went to town with a bunch of touchscreens and fancy electronic gizmos long before Tesla decided to do the same thing. Built at a level of quality and attention to detail rarely seen in homebuilt projects, everywhere it went people incorrectly assumed it was a high-dollar car built by a big-name shop.
Then YouTube happened. The Camaro starred in a high-production quality video (search “Overclock Camaro”) doing burnouts, donuts, and other random acts of hooliganism. In the five years since the video went live, it’s logged well over 700,000 hits and led to quite a few inquiries from people who wanted Justin to build them a Camaro just like it. Almost by accident, Smithy Customs (smithycustoms.com) was born in Houston.
“After building Overclock, people started asking about custom builds. It organically grew to where we opened up a dedicated shop,” Justin recounts. “I didn’t force it. I just guided it. Since I still have a normal job working with computers, I was able to avoid a lot of startup risks. There’s always an element of sacrifice, and it takes a chunk of time out of family life. There were many late nights working until 1 a.m. on a customer car then going to my normal job a few hours later.”
The latest Smithy Camarophile is John Laderer, a self-made man who runs a very successful company writing computer code. As a fellow computer pro, entrepreneur, and Camaro fanatic, the two felt an immediate kinship. They aptly named the car Bad Code. Eager to guide John through his first custom hot rod build, car owner and car builder collaborated closely to come up with a solid plan. “John wanted a black ’67 Camaro with a modern chassis and drivetrain,” Justin recalls. “The Gen V LT1 was a very new engine when we started this project in 2014, so it seemed like a natural choice. We made custom headers and motor mounts to get it to fit.”
Modernizing the F-body’s ride and handling is a CA Chassisworks front clip fitted with tubular control arms and a big sway bar. Out back, Smithy’s opted to build a custom torque arm suspension system that utilizes a Watt’s link. The setup rides on VariShock air springs and shocks to achieve the perfect ride height in any situation. Big Boze Torque rollers—18s up front and 19s in the rear—team up with Michelin Pilot Sport tires to stick it all to the pavement, and 13-inch Wilwood discs bring everything to a halt.
Well aware that black isn’t the most photogenic of colors, Smithy’s wanted to inject some visual flair without straying too far from the factory lines. “Black is black and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. With black, it comes down to refining small visual cues to individualize the car,” says Justin. “The body on this car was in decent shape, but we stripped it down on a rotisserie to give us a clean slate. We knew we wanted to add some custom touches, so we matched an RS front end with stock taillight assemblies. The hood vents are close to original, but modified to stand out more. The grille is custom, and the lower valance has been modified to fit ’69 Camaro lights. To clean things up, the windows were flush-fit and the bumpers have been custom fitted to the body.”
From start to finish, the entire car was built in-house at Smithy Customs. That includes the all-business interior—built by Aaron Davis—which boasts BMW M3 front seats, power windows, an Alpine touchscreen stereo, a Budnik steering wheel, Dakota Digital gauges, and a Restomod Air A/C system. The dash, headliner, center console, and door and trunk panels are all custom. “Building everything in-house is how we maintain quality control. As the shop has continued to grow, we’ve hired the right people to make sure we have the manpower to pull off complete builds like this all under one roof.”
Although the Camaro was never meant to be a show car, it was selected as a Milwinder Magnificent 7 award finalist when it recently debuted at the Houston Autorama. After that, it hit the road. “This car was built to drive. Right after the car owner picked it up, he drove it 2,500 miles down to Florida, and not long after that, he put another 1,000 miles on it,” says Justin.
With another satisfied customer roaming the streets in his Smithy’s Camaro, and a shop full of Corvettes and Tri-Fives in the works, Justin is continually weighing his options. He’s in no rush to retire from his computer gig, but each Smithy Customs build brings him one step closer to taking the next leap. “I’ve always had a big drive. Everyone has a certain workload tolerance they can handle, and I don’t mind working as hard as I have to,” explains Justin. “Dividing and conquering by having the right people at the right time has been the key to our success and to growing. This has allowed me to step back into more of a management role and to focus on quality control.”
To anyone that thinks they don’t have the time to start a business, watch and learn. It’s not about time. It’s about the hustle. And there’s always someone like Justin willing to out hustle you. CHP
Owner: John and Jinny Laderer, Babson Park, Florida
Vehicle: 1967 Camaro
Type: GM Gen V LT1 small-block
Displacement: 376 ci
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Bore: 4.065 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: Factory aluminum castings
Rotating Assembly: GM forged crank, forged rods, hypereutectic pistons
Camshaft: Stock LT1, hydraulic roller (0.561/0.531-inch lift, 242/244-deg. duration at 0.050)
Induction: Factory LT1 intake manifold and throttle body
Exhaust: Custom stainless long-tubes, dual 3-inch Pypes mufflers
Output: 500 hp, 505 lb-ft
Transmission: TREMEC T-56 Magnum six-speed manual
Rear Axle: Strange Fab 9 rearend, 3.90:1 gears, limited-slip differential
Front Suspension: Chassisworks front clip, tubular control arms and sway bar; VariShock air springs and shocks
Rear Suspension: Custom rear torque arm, Watt’s link, sway bar, VariShock air springs and shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors, four-pistons calipers front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Torque 18x8 front, 19x11.5 rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 245/45 front, 325/30 rear
Seats: BMW M3
Upholstery: Custom leather and carpet by Smithy Customs
Steering Wheel: Budnik
Carpet: Custom black
Paint: PPG Black by Smithy Customs
Hood: Stock with custom heat extractors
Bumpers: Custom, narrowed and fitted
Photography by Stephen Kim