Before we get into the specifics of this 1967 Chevy Camaro, let's consider that the era when drag racing raged in popular culture has unfortunately passed. While we do have new COPOs and competitors hosting a renewal, we will never return to the musclecar age of the 1960s, when high school plans included having regular time to cruise or drag racing on the weekend, spending a whole ¢42 per gallon on Sunoco 260 high test. From that era came a number of people and teams that epitomized Detroit’s finest stock offerings on the quarter-mile. For Chrysler, it was Sox & Martin and Dick Landy, Ford had Don Nicholson and members of its Ford Drag Team, while Chevrolet’s most notorious movers and shakers included Dave Strickler and Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins.
The noted duo from Pennsylvania ran in tandem for several seasons with great success, even as the “Dodge Boys” for 1964, while also fielding separate efforts at certain times. Jenkins won the first U.S. Nationals Super Stock crown in 1967 in a 396/375-hp Camaro; Strickler won the whole NHRA Super Stock championship in a fresh Z/28 the following year. At the dawn of Pro Stock, they were together again, fielding a group of “Grumpy’s Toy” F-bodies in NHRA and AHRA competition. Following a final Vega lettered up for “The Old Reliable” Ammon R Smith Chevrolet dealership franchise in York, PA, Dave retired from driving in 1973 as prices to race in the pro division skyrocketed. He most regrettably missed the resurgence of nostalgia racing when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1985 at the young age of 44. In all, Mr. Stickler won 16 national class championship titles in NHRA and American Hot Rod Association competition, and he set 41 national and world records.
Of course, little needs to be said about Jenkins, who himself passed away in early 2012, except that young Mike Strickler looked up to both men and inherited the same high-octane desire to trip the lights fantastic. The 1967 Chevy Camaro you see here is actually the true touchstone to the past – Dave had bought it for high school-age Mike as a street driver back in 1984, and it became Mike’s after the sad events the following year. While he eventually converted it into a mild bracket car, in 2010, he decided to change the venerable first-year pony car into something more reminiscent of the past. “Since my dad bought this car for me, I like to think of it as the latest in the long history of ‘Old Reliable’ racecars that he made famous back in the ‘60s & ‘70s,” says Mike, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his father. “And since Dad never had a ’67 ‘Old Reliable’ Camaro, this became my vision of what one might have looked like in match race trim.”
Mike recalls that it was in this 1967 Chevy Camaro, originally as a 350 four-speed combination, that his dad taught him some of the idiosyncrasies of seamless gear-grabbing. As Mike got more interested in racing it more than for just test ‘n tune sessions, he also began perfecting technique, actually going several rounds in the super-tough NHRA “Land of NED” (North East Division) bracket finals in 2006 before parking the car to do the changes seen here. He still lives in York, PA, and works as a mechanical engineer.
Of course, you first do a double-take at the cleverly-blended combination of early Pro Stock Camaro parts, lettering that never existed, and carefully selected decals that honor the past and present. The credit for that goes to painter/bodyman Jerry Breznicky (Jerry’s Hot Rods, Hampstead, MD) and local sign letterer Larry Spangler, who was responsible for lettering virtually all of the “Old Reliable” cars back in the 60’s and 70’s. The steel 1967 Chevy Camaro body received a ‘glass hood hoisting up a “Grump Lump” scoop, with a ten-point roll cage added inside and M/T Pro-5 rims on all four corners. The interior is typical racecar business – Kirkey cloth-covered aluminum seats, G-Force camlock belts, AutoMeter gauges, and a VJ 1000 Pistol Grip for shifting (we did not ask, but maybe this is Mike’s one homage to his dad’s Dodge days of ’64-’65 as a factory sponsored racer). Braking is a combination of Wilwood and Aerospace discs, with shocks from Santhuff and suspension courtesy of Chevrolet circa 1967 with Calvert’s weight reducing rear springs (CalTracs).
Dave had been adept at slinging gears in that Muncie crashbox, but we all know that history had moved forward since then. During the rebuild, Mike installed a G-Force 101A four-speed in its place that is capable of handling up to 1,000 ponies. Though most of the racing is ¼-mile, the Rinehart Performance hand-fabbed 9-inch housing has a tight 5.43 gear in it. The big 29.5x10.5-inch Mickey Thompson slicks are wrinkled by an NHRA appropriate McLeod Soft Lok adjustable clutch, Strange 40-spline axles and spool.
So that brings us to what’s under the lump – how about a 379-inch small-block prepped by some of the guys who worked for Jenkins over the years, and capable of living in the stratosphere of 8500rpm? Randy McKinney (McKinney Auto, York, PA) started with a Dart SHP block and, after careful machine prep, added a Callies crank, Oliver rods, and 12.9 compression custom Race Tech pistons. A top-secret solid-roller cam grind by York legend and thinker Jere Stahl went in above that, with Manton, Isky, and Jesel valvetrain parts. Next came CNC-machined AFR aluminum heads, a set of Stahl’s hand-fitted headers, and MSD ignition equipment. The crowning touch was an Edelbrock Pro Ram II intake topped with center-squirt Holley 660s. The latter were modified by Jake Barbato (Black Arrow Race Engines), who, Mike simply says, used “all the tricks Bill Jenkins taught him.”
The resultant 1967 Chevrolet Camaro recently tripped the lights in the early Pro Stock zone, going 9.95 at the Nostalgia Nationals at Beaver Springs Dragway in July the day we shot this feature. As Mike has gotten only a few passes made on the finished car, the potential is there to go ever quicker, but what we appreciated the most about this was seeing the “Old Reliable” name back in action, driven by the one person who deserves to carry on with the Strickler family tradition.