A fallen soldier's legacy is often heralded in flag-draped coffins and 21-gun salutes. But what if that fallen soldier is your father? Tom Nichols of Arden Hills, Minnesota, knows that feeling all too well. You see, Tom's father bought this third-gen Camaro brand new in April of 1992, right off the showroom floor. At the age of 11, young Tom learned to drive a manual gearbox in this car, his short legs barely able to reach the clutch. As fate would have it, Tom's father was killed in a helicopter crash on March 13, 1993 while serving in the Minnesota Army National Guard. Tom watched helplessly as the car was sold during the estate sale with a few other cars, one being a red-on-red '69 convertible Corvette with a white soft top, a 427 and a four-speed.
The story could have ended there-another lost car slipping through the fingers of chance. Just another gem to tell the grandkids about "the one that got away." This version has a different ending as providence would have it. In 2004, Tom gratuitously flipped through an Auto Trader while standing in line at a gas station when a '92 Camaro caught his eye. He feverishly called the number listed and reached a retired couple who had surely purchased it during an estate sale. Tom flew out of the gas station and drove the 150 miles to find the car virtually untouched by the elderly couple who couldn't work the clutch pedal anymore. Tom got lucky and found this car before someone got their hands on it and blew the motor, or worse yet, hacked it to bits. You see this is Tom's fathers' car, right down to the VIN number. Tom purchased the car on the spot and parked it until his college graduation, where it was pulled from the garage and given one final glorious drive before being ripped apart for a fresh rebuild.
Tom honored his father's heritage by rejuvenating the Camaro the way his father would have; with an LT1 and a Tremec T56. Tom made sure this rolling memorial would not be a slouch. The seemingly plain-Jane LT1 was well-messaged to a full 383 ci by Wheeler Racing Engines and assembled by Jesse Gese. Most guys would have stopped there, but Tom was determined to make this car go as fast as it looked. A set of Stage III TEA aluminum heads make sure the E85 gets to the cylinders in copious doses. The motor is rounded out with a set of Mahle pistons at 12:1 compression, an Edelbrock LT4 hydraulic camshaft and a Callies crankshaft. Andy Wicks from Dyno Tune USA helped reprogram the Holley fuel injection system to work in conjunction with the polished 58mm throttle body. With 449 rear-wheel horsepower and 462 lb-ft of rear wheel torque, this is a fire-breathing corn-fed dragon. The engine exhales through a duo of Stainless Works 13/4-inch headers feeding into a 4-inch Flowmaster Y-pipe. Barely able to cope with the massive amounts of power, the 3.73s housed in the Moser 12-bolt and the 305/35/18 Nitto NT555RII rear tires always get a stellar workout.
Don't think for a second that this is a tire-smoking, E85-guzzling pretty face that only goes in a straight line. The car has been treated to a full Spohn suspension with a torque arm, lower control arms, adjustable track bar, sub-frame connectors and a K-member. The 18-inch Boze Speedster rims wrapped in Nitto rubber keep it firmly planted on the asphalt in the twisties (18x7.5 in the front and 18x10 in the back). Up front, a set of Wilwood six-piston calipers grab the 14-inch rotors with precision, while out back, a pair of four-piston Wilwood's brings the car to a halt on a dime.
Nothing was overlooked in the name of speed and safety. This theme continues into the cabin. Ron at Clocksoff Racing made sure this car was safe in the case of incident by installing a custom rollcage. Jim from Premiere Upholstery completely stripped the Corbeau A4 buckets and recreated the stock Camaro look, right down to the Camaro logo on the seat back. A pair of RJS five-point harnesses keeps everyone in their places during Tom's spirited driving episodes.
With the help of buddies, Mike Bighley and Todd from Tracktime Motorsports, and three long, arduous years, the car was finally completed with a bright coating of red paint complemented with a pair of black rally stripes gracing the top of the 2-inch steel cowl hood. The stance comes from a compilation of 21/4-inch Eibach lowering springs on all four corners with adjustable KYB AGX shocks.
As fate would have it, Tom followed in his father's footsteps and became a pilot. Pilots are a rare breed of humans who crave a combination of speed, adrenaline, and aviator-style sunglasses. They do hundreds of preflight checks, and on this Camaro's checklist it looks like every box was checked and double-checked. Stance, looks, performance, and the plain old cool factor, combine to make a solid, all-around amazing car.
Tom's father is not around to see what became of his Camaro, yet a little voice in the back of our collective gearhead skulls tells us that he'd be proud.
At ease, soldier.