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Back From The Edge

A Former Backyard Camaro Launches Into A New Life

Odd as it may sound, a Jeep CJ-7 is responsible for this Camaro. When Andrew Harshman was a young boy, he accompanied his father to the local Jeep dealer and watched as Dad picked out the new CJ. He saw the Jeep transform under his father's able hands from a showroom stocker into an off-road-only sand toy with monster tires and power to match.

Many years later, the Jeep was Andy's, but the desire to play in the sand had passed. What he really wanted was a first-Gen Camaro to build a g-Machine, but first the Jeep had to go. One of the responders to the ad for the CJ offered up a '68 Camaro as a partial trade, and Harshman thought this could be a good deal. The Camaro had been languishing outside on a back patio for over a year, untouched. But, it was solid, and its 396 mill could be made to run again. The deal was struck and the Camaro loaded up for the haul back home to Vegas from SoCal. Once back in Sin City, the 396 was cleaned up and treated to a much-needed detail and tuning session. Not only did the engine run, but it ran well. After a good cleaning up to rid the engine bay of cobwebs and leaves, the powerplant was deemed good.

What Andrew really wanted to jump into was the suspension. He completely rebuilt the front suspension, adding polyurethane bushings along the way to minimize flex. New springs were added while the front end was in pieces, and these thicker coils were trimmed to achieve the lowered stance Harshman was after. The car had been previously equipped with de-arched rear leafs, so the look was now right.

The stock transmission was functional, but to really lean on the fat torque of the big-block, more gear choices would be required. Andrew worked directly with American Touring Specialties (also in Las Vegas) and with Tyler Beauregard's help got a T-56 6-speed installed behind the Rat.

Next, improved braking was in order. A complete Stainless Steel Brakes Company (SSBC) front disc brake swap kit was installed, boasting 12-inch rotors and PBR calipers up front, motivated by a 7-inch diameter booster. A knowing pal has been working with Andy to get the system perfect, and this 'tweaking' was still in process when our braking tests were done.

"There was still some air in the system when we did the tests...so don't think the brakes are working to their full potential. They weren't at that time. We've since dialed them in properly and they work better than ever," Harshman said. "I don't want anyone looking at the braking test data and thinking there's something wrong with the SSBC system. There isn't...we've been testing some ideas and the system wasn't fully bled at the time." In addition to the brakes and bushings, Andy also added a 1.125-inch Hotchkis anti-sway bar up front, teamed with a 2-inch drop spindle. With the suspension closer to perfect, the wheel and tire package was researched, purchased, and mounted up.

Wheels are by Center Line, and measure 17x7 (front) and 17x8 (rear). They wear Kumho Ecsta tires, measuring 235/45R-17 (front) and 275/40R-17 (rear). The final effect of the suspension, wheel, and tire upgrades is lowered without being too low, cool without being too flashy, and effective enough to be driven every day (which Andy proudly claims to do with this Camaro). Keep these dimensions in mind when considering a similar move under your own first-gen F-body.

While this particular car has reached a certain plateau, Harshman's future plans call for a new powerplant. Like most cars we feature, this one is still a work in progress and more aggressive mods are on tap. The old 396 has done a decent job of urging the Camaro along, but the need to minimize weight has got Andy looking at small-blocks. Interestingly, his small-block plans out-cube his current big-block.

"I'd really like to get a stroker small-block in there, at around 427 cubes," he explained. "It'll be topped with 18-degree heads and will save me a bunch of weight off the nose without sacrificing power. I want a stout naturally-aspirated motor without a blower, nitrous, or fuel injection. A serious all-motor combination is simple and effective, which is what I want for the entire car."

The interior is well-appointed, with mostly-stock components highlighted by carefully-chosen aftermarket goodies. It's hard to miss the white-faced Auto Meter gauges, and the cool Hurst shifter atop the T-56 matches well with the Tenzo-R steering wheel. Door panels, seats, and carpets are still as GM intended. The final effect is mild and tasteful, although we predict a pair of more-modern buckets will be need once Andy really starts carving deeply into corners with the newfound small-block power.

We expect you'll be seeing more of this car at future track days and other road-racy events. Until then, look for the bright Porsche Guards Red '68 Camaro on the streets of Vegas, and run him while you can. Once the big-inch small-block is installed ahead of that six-speed, you probably won't see anything but taillights.

TEST RESULTS
Andy Harshman's '68 Camaro
0-60 mph: 5.20 seconds
60 ft.: 2.21 seconds
1/4-mile: 13.57 seconds at 105.82 mph
60-0 braking: 191 ft.
200 ft. skidpad: .79g
420 ft. slalom: 42.1 mph
Stock 1994 Chevrolet Corvette
0-60 mph: 5.22 seconds
60 ft.: 2.15 seconds
60-0 braking: 124 ft.
1/4-mile: 13.51 seconds at 106.91 mph
200 ft. skidpad: .85g
420 ft. slalom: 45.03 mph
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