Unless you’re the kind of person who really doesn’t care what sort of car you drive, chances are there’s a reason why you drive what you do. Somewhere on the timeline there was a pivotal event or person that influenced what sort of ride you eventually spent those hard-earned greenbacks on. The moment could have been simple and happen quickly like seeing a pair of top fuel funny cars trade header flames down the quarter mile; or longer and more complex as a life spent incorporating the myriad changes of multiple generations of American muscle into your psyche. In the case of Stewart Powers it was football, a Tennessee college sweetheart, and a mid-seventies second-gen that was ultimately behind the buildup of the ’78 Camaro he drives today.
While Stewart remembers Miss follow-me-to Tennessee as being pretty sweet, her ’74 Camaro was even sweeter. She may have dumped him when he quit the football team, but after driving her car, Stewart knew that the second-gen Camaro would be with him forever. When the sleek-for-’78 version hit the showrooms, a younger Stewart was convinced he had to have one right then and there. Reality, unfortunately, had something else in mind. Getting through dental school, setting up his practice, and starting a family put all epic dreams of driving a ’78 on hold.
Stewart wasn’t the only one wanting a ’78 Camaro when they were introduced. The great leap forward for the model year was the body-colored urethane front and rear treatment. Sales of the restyled-to-compete-against-the-Pontiac-Firebird machine surpassed those of even the ’69 Camaro. But the same greatness could not be applied to the stock 350. Unless there was a Z and/or a 28 on the fender, the stock eight could barely muster 170 horsepower. This figure dropped ten ponies if the Camaro was bound for California. When Stewart finally did pick up his car, it came equipped with an extra tired version of this malaise-era mill at no extra charge! The plus side of this not-so-desirable option was that even though the seller was asking $3,000, she ended up parting with the mostly-complete, dream-machine-in-the-rough for a mere 900 bucks.
The remedy for the anemic stock engine was simple enough: Stewart gave a late-seventies GM a do-over and gathered up the best of today’s GM performance parts by way of one part number: In place of the tired V-5 and a half the car came with, went a rated-at-385-horsepower GM performance parts crate engine−the Fast Burn 385.
Stewart finished out the engine bay with a set of Patriot headers, stealthy wiring, and two-row Rodney Red Aluminum radiator. The Billet Specialties Serpentine True Track setup spins a Powermaster 100 amp alternator and a Vintage Air chill system. The engine is dressed to kill with a set of GM Valve covers, a custom mandrel bent upper radiator connector, and a body color and stripe-matched custom-fabbed sheet metal air cleaner assembly.
Sending horsepower back to the wheels is a Tremec five-speed mated to the engine through a LUX 11-inch clutch setup. A Hurst shifter helps Stewart row through the gears. The GM bell housing was left alone, but the stock driveshaft was cut and re-balanced in the capable hands of Stan Hopkins. An 8.5-inch Chevy rear with 3.73 gears and limited slip was assembled and bolted up to the stock suspension with a set of 2-inch lowering blocks and sub-frame connectors by Carl’s Hot Rods.
The interior of the car remains true to its late-seventies disco ideals of black vinyl, but was totally reworked for freshness by Carl’s Hot Rods, with new bits from National Parts Depot. The seats were recovered to better-than-’78 specifications by Preston’s Upholstery. As thirty-something year-old gauges aren’t known for their accuracy or reliability, Stewart upgraded with new Equuus units, but kept them in the stock locations by plastic welding adapters machined from PVC pipe into the original dash. The same approach was taken for the Vintage Air controls. To keep with the grooving, all the modern upgrades fit into a period-correct vibe. The tunes hit courtesy of an Alpine head through NPD 4-inch Pioneers in an NPD front speaker unit and Rockford Fosgate 6x9 ovals in the back. The PPG Performance Red paint and graphics came by way of Advantage Autobody.
The front suspension was given the right stance through a set of Heidts 2-inch drop spindles with Monroe dampers all around, bringing the bounce into pounce. Putting on the whoa behind the nose is a set of Baer binders that clamp down on 13-inch rotors while a set of 11-inchers live out back. The Intro Pentia wheels are shod with a sticky set of Toyo Proxes T1R skins so Steward can keep a stylish grip on current events.
While the thirty years between 1978 and the ’78 seen here may have seemed like a long time to Stewart, the completion of his true car only took one year when it came time for dreams to be realized. The time spent dreaming of having a ’78 Camaro better than even 1978 itself could produce has been well worth the wait. If he could change anything he wouldn’t−the car is exactly as it should be. Every time he drives the car it turns more heads than it ever could have back in college.
There’s a reason we all drive what we do, you just need to find out what it is.
Stewart has found his.