Painstakingly restored numbers-matching auction queens have their place in the pantheon of American muscle cars. The effort required to restore the car right down to the chalk marks originally scrawled onto the firewall through a blistering hangover on the assembly line is commendable. Then there are the rest of us who like to drive American muscle. Jesse Greening falls into the "rest of us" camp. He designed and built this '71 Camaro to drive to the car show, out on the race track, and then back home again, even stopping for a few donuts on the way.
The seemingly disparate worlds of the show car and the concept car are not so far apart. The show car spinning around on a slowly rotating turntable with cotton tufts and mirrors stuffed underneath, and the latest concept from a big money automaker both serve the same purpose: to be an object of desire toward which designers, builders, and potential drivers can project their ultimate ride. Dreams sell cars. The reality is, high-dollar show cars seldom, if ever, see the road. Concept cars that do see the road, drive like a full-size plastic version that someone built from leftover AMT or Revell snaptite model kits. Hit over 30 mph, and you'll need a big tube of glue.
Most tragic is that the coolest parts of a concept car often don't make it onto to the production version. A cut here, some money saved there, and the translated end result doesn't live up to the concept dream. Jesse Greening decided to change all that with this '71 Camaro. What if General Motors had the technology of today in 1971 and were able to build a Camaro that not only looked as good as the original concept, but drove like the car of the future right off the showroom floor? Jesse and his Dad had the technology and experience from years of building street rods. They could build a second-gen Camaro better, faster, and hopefully for less than six million bucks.
Jesse works with his Dad, Jeff, and together with a talented staff form the Greening Auto Company. Dad handles the paint and body side of things while Jesse takes care of design, fabrication, and business-like tasks. Together they've quietly been building and fabricating street rods, and now muscle cars, for the last 11 years. This distinct lack of unnecessary drama helped get this '71 Camaroof the future completed in just eight months time.
"People ask us when we're going to get a TV show. I tell them we don't fight enough!" said Jesse.
The formula was pure and simple. Out with the technology that needed to stay in the 1971 parts bin in 1971, and in with modern engineering, muscle, and prowess. Keep the clean lines that lend the second-gen its signature race-inspired shape. Add suspension and brakes that fast forward 1971 ahead thirty-plus years to bring handling and stopping into the present. Engineer a powertrain not for a 1500 split second horsepower blip on a dyno for a magazine cover blurb, but one that starts up and runs all day long without overheating or puking rods through an exotic block. Target: 400 reliable horsepower. Transmission: Manual, with six-forward speeds.
An '01 LS1 engine satisfied the power requirements with a little top end work and a Comp Cams custom grind. Fuel, air, and spark performance management with reliable, stock-factory drivability came into the mix courtesy of Street and Performance. Jesse used a stock '01 Camaro aluminum radiator that was only slightly modified to fit into the 1971 location; factory cooling engineering at no extra charge. Jesse finished up the system with stock upper and lower radiator hoses from the local auto parts house! The LS1 breathes through a set of Street and Performance headers that send the good sound through an H-pipe. A pair of '01 Camaro Flowmaster replacement mufflers sit up above the rear axle in sheet metal that was moved around a little to accommodate the cans.
The LS1 is bolted up to a GM T56 six-speed with an ACT clutch managing the power shifts. A GM 12-bolt limited slip rearend holds the 4:11 gearset. The stance of the car is not just for show. Detroit Speed, Inc. A-arms and a full Quadra-Link rear suspension work with a set of their solid body mounts and frame connectors. On this foundation is a set of Belltech 1-inch drop spindles. The car sits on Eaton springs, and Bilstien adjustable dampers keep bounce out of the handling equation. Putting the whoa on modern horsepower and suspension is a set of Baer 14.25-inch rotors. The wheels are a prototype design for a future line of Greening Auto Wheels, and are shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 shoes.
A recent two-hour trip from Greening Auto Company world headquarters in Cullman, Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee, returned a two-way average of 22 miles per gallon at highway speeds. At 70 mph, the LS mill is loafing around at 1,900 rpm. The six-speed overdrive transmission allows for frenetic gear gnashing action during an autocross event, and a relaxed drive back home after running the cones. Your mileage may vary, especially when stabbbing the throttle around an autocross or gymkhana course, or running flat out down the back stretch at your local road course.
The interior holds onto the Grand Turismo spirit of 1971, but jettisons budget plastics in favor of old-school craftsmanship and quality materials. The Greening Auto Company crew made a mold off what was left of the crusty relic of the original dash for a smooth new start. Paul Atkins is the hands behind the scenes in the interior fabrication, with a Grant steering wheel and B&M shifter taking care of car control beyond the cockpit. Classic Instruments gauges take the guesswork out of what's going on under the hood and out on the road.
Outside, the car says second-gen Camaro with authority through a layer of Glasurit Black. The unique underhood treatment is a metallic charcoal basecoat color with a satin clearcoat. The original Endura nose was done over in sheet metal after Jesse and his Dad figured out it would take about the same amount of man-hours to fix the plastic as it would to shape a new nose cone out of good old steel. The steel would also stay in one shape when finished. The shop made a mold of the metal Endura and now boasts a fiberglass replica nosecone for those who like driving more than English wheels and hammer forming.
The Camaro of the Future 1971 is a living concept of what GM might have built if the company had held onto the second-gen as the platform for a few more generations. Rather than just ponder of what might have happened, or who's fault it was that it didn't, Jesse built his dreams and concepts into a rolling reality that ended up far more fun then the average show car or street rod. He gets out and drives the dream every chance he gets.