(Editor's Note: Back in 1970, Popular Hot Rodding had a very unique test driver reporting for them. Clyde Overalls told it as he saw it and we were fortunate to find his evaluation on a pretty rare Camaro, the '70 1/2 SS 396. Few of these cars were built and not too many made it into the hands of the automotive press during the short 1970 model year production run. We felt that it was the perfect compliment to Richard Foehringer's restored SS.)
Well, we done it. We went out and tested one of them new Chevy Camaros. This Mr. Wayne Thumbs of Chevrolet said that most of them other car books had near rurned one o' his prize press cars and that we probably couldn't hurt it no more than it had already been hurt. See, after we won that contest and got a ride in Mr. Jergens' car, it only seemed fittin' that we take another shot at drivin'. I managed to fit some waxpaper in the seat of my woolies so I couldn't mess up the material no more, and cousin Otto mail-ordered himself a set of ear stoppers like them men use at a turkey shoot. 'Fact, Otto got so attached to them plugs that he wore 'em for almost a week before we could get him to take 'em out. He'd probably still be wearin' 'em, 'cept he got butted by Mr. Sutter's bull, and the impact blew both them plugs outta his ears. For a fact, Otto ain't too bright. Anyway, Mr. Thumbs give us this sheet an' told us that to do a for-real run test we had to fill in all the blanks, 'bout how much gas the car used, how quick it'd stop, leg room, if it had a place to put t'bacca chewings, and stuff like that. He also said that we should take the car back out to that long straight road where them fe!lers had had the writin' on their shirts. Otto said he didn't want to go back out there cause he had bad dreams for almost a week after the last trip, but we promised that he could wear his ear plugs all the time we was there, so he went.
But first, I think I'd better describe the inside of the car. One thing has got to be fixed as soon as a feller buys a Camaro like the one we tested. When you get it, there's this little lever on the side of the steering wheel. Well, I pulled the lever and it broke the wheel. Fell almost into my lap it did, even though you could still steer everything. The way I got it figured, you oughta weld this lever so's it can't move. That way the steering don't hit a feller in the...well, so it don't set so low to your lap. I also noticed another feature about this steering business. When you turn off the key, you can't steer no more. Now I know that this might be a safety thing some of the time, but not when you're tryin' to save on gas and shut off the engine while you're still turning into the gate. I 'personal know this can be a problem 'cause it happened to me while I was showin' Mama how easy these new Camaros drive. It ain't that I minded the two Saturdays I spent replantin' her snapdragon patch, it's just that she didn't have to pay for the seed outa my checker money. I don't know what she thinks supports the still, but it dang sure ain't her butter an' egg money.
And them trunks are too small. Otto an' I went in for a sack of layin' mash, and I had to stand it up in the back seat to make it fit in the car. I don't reckon this would have been much of a problem 'cept I decided to do the brake test part of that sheet Mr. Thumbs give us, and that sack of feed pinned Otto right to the dashboard when I stopped quick. Truthfully, I think that it was his fault he got mashed. I hollered at him in plenty of time, but he had them plugs in his ears and couldn't have heard blastin' powder if it had gone off under his hat. One good thing come out of it, even so. Teeth marks will come right out of a Camaro dashboard if you'll give 'em about a half hour. The way I got it figured, it's the sponge rubber they put behind that leather-looking covering.
'Course there was some things that seemed fittin' for a new car like the Camaro. Like everything is easy to reach. With no trouble at all you can reach the window crank, shift lever, radio switch, ashtray (this didn't interest us none because it's sorta tough to smoke chewin' t'bacca), and clutch pedal. If them Farmall tractor people could get half these things on their tractors, most fellers would have to stand in line to plow. This here's a car!
After about a week of everday drivin' the car from our place to town (well, once we did scare the natural devil outta Parson Crock that day when the throttle stuck behind the church house), we measured how far we were going per gallon of gas. Otto worked it out on the ground with a stick, and accordin' to him, we got about 13.7. We never was too sure this was good since the only thing we had to compare it with was our hay bailer, and it don't come close to this much gas for amount of use. More'n likely, this ain't much of a comparison. We never had a car like this Camaro before and the only reason we were able to keep it on the road was because of Otto's chemistry set. It ain't his fault that he thought picric acid helped mileage. Some feller from one of them oil companies must've throwed a wrench in his thinkin'. Anyway, we got 13.7, including everday use of the car and them trips we took down that track. We would've explained this all to Otto but he had them Plugs...well, you probably remember.
Also on that sheet Mr. Thumbs give us was the following information: 396-inch engine (probably a 402 if everbody was honest) rated at 350 hp, total weight without a driver figured out to 3,482 pounds (this excludes Otto's study books on how to make ice), turning radius of a little more than 36 feet (you can do it less than this in loose sand if nobody's lookin') and a brakin' distance of about 140 feet. Clyde (that's Otto's first cousin and my brother-in-law first removed) saw us do the brake tests and said that Camaros have to have about the best brakes anywhere for a car their size and weight. We didn't argue with him none.
It's plain that these new Camaros can stop short. Otto proved that to us earlier in this here report. We would've told him about that too but he had them...
The last part of the test took place out where them men with the writin' on their shirts was. And you know somethin'? They remembered us from when we had Mr. Jergens' car out there! Ain't that somethin'? Otto said it was because we run over them little tubes at the end of that straight road, but I figured they recollected the way we drove over the ones at the startin' line. Actually, you can't take much stock in Otto. There was a time when he thought manual labor was a Spanish war hero. Even so, he sure knows how to spread that rosin stuff. Clyde put some of that powder in a Bull Durham bag and uses it when he pitches for the Plum Nelly Batbusters.
Without changin' nothin' we found that the '70 396/350 was good for quarter-mile times pushing 14.4 seconds, which Clyde allowed wasn't too bad for a Camaro like ours. We made 11 trips down that little road and never got no better'n 14.36 and 101.32 miles an hour. Well, this ain't honest. We made 10 actual runs down the road and started to make one back the other way, but them men that had been where we started commenced wavin' their arms and shoutin' (and I can guarantee they wasn't quotin' from the Bible) so we quit. The only thing Otto an' I could figure was that they didn't want us to hit that little outhouse by the white line where them cars begin. I would honest have done anything to have kept from knockin' it over 'cause I remember what happened the last time we tipped an outhouse over. The grass died for about a 50-foot circle, Otto got sick and throwed up in the hen house, an' the sheriff come out and wrote Pa a ticket for air prelution, or somethin'.
Anyway, by the time we'd finished them little trips at that road, the test was pretty well over. Coming home, Otto jumped Mr. Sutter's fence for a melon, and it was here that the bull nailed 'im and blew them plugs out on the ground. He managed to pick up one but had to leave the other'n cause the bull was warmin' up for another pass. For a fact, he still ain't figured out what to do with one ear plug. So far, he's just been chewin' it. Claims it saves on his t'bacca expenses.
Finally, Otto helped us warsh the Camaro before Mr. Thumbs come and got it again. If we coulda figured a way how to buy it, I can guarantee that we woulda done it. But it boiled down to givin' up the still or lettin' Mama take in more warshing, an' I just hated to break our everday routine. Y'all drive careful, y'hear?
Our Feature Car
Richard's Camaro is quit unusual in the fact that SS 396s are rare, but add the fact that this one is also equipped with a four-speed, A/C, deluxe interior and the Rally Sport option, and you probable have a production run of less than 100 built. Like so many unusual cars, Richard's Camaro has an unusual background. Soon after the original owner purchased it, he started racing it. He eventually blew the engine and then decided to transform the Camaro into a full-fledged racecar.
The original engine was removed along with the interior and the A/C system and the battery was relocated into the trunk. The Camaro was then raced for several years. Now here's where this story could end like so many other cut up musclecars of the past, but fortunately the original owner had the foresight to not only save all the removed parts, but to bag them up and store them neatly. When it came time to sell the Camaro he reinstalled everything-including the blown engine.
This careful planning and the fact that the Camaro spent most of its life in rust-free Florida resulted in a fairly easy numbers-matching restoration that utilized many of the original pieces. The original deluxe interior still looks like new, and the exterior has been brought back to match. This is certainly a worthy contender to carry the torch.