One look at Larry Trimmell's Camaro will tell you that this F-bomb didn't fall off a manure wagon. No, one look will tell you it was arranged panel by panel in the style of a handbuilt race car. Indeed, lots of small changes (shaved mirrors) and some very large ones (comprehensive structural modifications) signify this happy metamorphosis.
Larry, the 64-year-old Hutchinson, Kansas, orthodontist tells us, "I always wanted to build a number one car." One that looks as if it might rip your face off, we suspect. He says it happened like this: "I was honkin' down U.S. 50 for an evening shootout in Dodge City and stopped for fuel just outside of Zenith. The site was all but deserted; dust devils hovered, struck, and hovered again, scouring the hard pack and whipping my eyes with shrapnel. The sky was black on the horizon, surreal ... tornado maybe? When I was done at the pump, I heard rustling, then a dry, flapping sound, but thought it was just the wind playing a trick on me. I opened the car door to get in and right there was a turkey buzzard, hunkered down in the passenger seat.
"It cocked its head, flipping a gobbet of rot into the back seat. It glared at me with one speckled yellow eye and, as if in a dream, croaked 'We know about your Camaro addiction, Larry, and soon you'll be making the move to have one built. Forget all about that cheesy LS junk. You want an all-aluminum ripper to make a fantastic big-block. Get my drift, partner? Look at me. Look at me! I promise there'll be hell to pay if you are remiss.' A little while later, I guess it was, I woke up from a nap. It was as if that horror with the 6-foot wings had never been there at all."
Be it providence or a nitrous oxide flashback, Larry began to gather his thoughts on the impending project. What with all those night guards, bite plates, braces, and money to be made, he would certainly have to subcontract the work to experts. A year and half later, his low-down, road-scraping harbinger bumped out of Kenny Davis Hot Rods in Rogers, Arkansas.
But of course, it wasn't all that simple. The road to building this car was fraught with detours, switchbacks, and new beginnings. Before the 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL1 (a $5,500 roller) was turned over to the actual car constructor, Hagan Customs, also in Rogers, did a formidable job replacing everything (save for the roof and rockers) on the Camaro's wracked body. Larry's suggestion: "Begin with a builder like Kenny Davis, someone who knows the ins and outs of the national car show circuits and knows the people to contact to build the 'specials' for your car. If you're willing to spend this kind of money [amount unspecified] to build it, get the right builder." Also rely on one Mike O'Riley as the day-to-day project manager who would keep time to a minimum.
As instructed by the vulture, Larry went big-time with the engine, picking the all-aluminum Anniversary Edition 427 (No. 89)-the closest thing on earth to a bona fide ZL1. He couldn't escape the reasoning of the forged rotating assembly and moderate compression ratio (10.1:1), a platform that would respond equally well to forced air induction or nitrous oxide.
Though book-rated at 430 hp, this lightweight meteorite is actually closer to 500. He contracted Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, to port and polish the cylinder heads. Larry departed from the carburetor norm, supplanting the 770-cfm Holley with a Hogan's EFI intake manifold monitored by FAST electronics and fed by an Aeromotive A1000 pump. A Y-shaped air intake tract begins with K&N elements and sources cold air at the grille. The rest of the grunt maker is as factory, and now rated conservatively at 510 hp at 5,750 rpm and 493 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm.
The Davis crew made nice with lots of polishing (cylinder block and heads) and chromium coatings for the oil pan, rocker covers, pumps, pulleys, and A/C compressor. Ancillaries include a Ron Davis two-row aluminum core, Vintage Air Super Cooler, and HPC-coated Art Morrison headers leaded to a Kenny Davis-built custom 3-inch exhaust system joined by an X-pipe and interrupted only slightly by Flowmaster Super 40 growlers. For extreme measures, like fleeing the vulture, Larry had KD mount a Nitrous Express equalizer under the trunk lid.
Absorbing and dispersing said grunt falls to a McLeod clutch assembly and flywheel contained by a Lakewood blast shield, Tremec TKO five-speed controlled by a MasterShift paddle shifter (converts linkage from top shift to cable driven), and an aluminum prop shaft by Larry's Driveshaft in Lowell, Arkansas. The rear axle is a chromoly replica of a 9-inch, holding a 3.70:1 ring-and-pinion. The differential is nestled in a three-link rear suspension system by Lateral Dynamics in Carlsbad, California. It consists of front and rear crossmembers, beaucoup bracing webbing the third member, two lateral links, and an extremely stout Watts link, realizing the epitome of high-speed control. Bracing for this system includes an interior fixture that laps the driveshaft tunnel and provides the forward attachment points for the links.
Staying under the radar is easy; as part of its repertoire, the Camaro is quite able to flop flat on the pavement, like a cat wiggling under a low fence, by virtue of its RideTech suspension system. ShockWaves are at each end of the chassis and DSE mini-tubs, and Art Morrison subframe and subframe connectors complement the whole. Corvette C5 spindles, polished control arms, and ShockWaves support and tailor the frontend attitude. Big brakes? You bet. Dual master cylinders actuate Wilwood six-piston clampers working over 14-inch vented discs. At the rear of the chassis are four-piston calipers on 14-inch plates. Rollers are an amalgam of 19x8 (5.5-inch b/s) and 20x10 (5.0-inch b/s) Rushforth Rated X wheels and 215/35ZR and 285/30ZR BFGoodrich KDW2 rubber bands.
KD Hot Rods added more than a little glamor to the project by smoothing the firewall flat and juxtaposing it with a slickly retrenched engine compartment, the perfect backdrop for that sparkling all-alloy grunt-ball. And there's a whole bunch going on between the doors that doesn't immediately hit the eye. Though it appears stock, albeit embellished, it isn't any such thing. Understated is what it is, and all of it built by hand. For this phase, the car spent many hours at Tracy Weaver's celebrated ('06 Riddler Award, for instance) Recovery Room Interiors in Plattsmouth, Nebraska.
Weaver's cohesive force built the low-back buckets and the sculpted door and rear panels, smoothed out the headliner, constructed the console, removed the rear seat and fashioned a kind of package tray à la a fastback coupe. While it lends a special appearance to the Camaro, the package tray sub-structure also affords stiffness to the body. They did the dashboard in the factory style, but again crafted the entire structure by hand. In the custom dashboard, they sunk comprehensive Classic Instruments in two-cluster housing machined out of billet by Joe McCullough. A Billet Specialties Indy steering wheel anoints the custom-length column. Recovery Room took on the audio system with a power head (brand unknown) and channeled its produce through a Kicker amplifier and a series of Kicker speakers.
The KD crew straightened and filled the body, narrowed the front and rear pans, removed the braces and smoothed the underside of the ZL2 hood; shaved the rearview mirrors, the side marker lights, door locks and handles, and applied the House of Kolor Silver urethane. While that was being completed, Advanced Plating in Nashville, nickel-plated and brushed the shortened bumpers as well as the rest of the trim. The renowned Bob Thrash jetted in to immortalize the sides of the hood scoop with a "7.4 liter" and fade-out COPO 9560 graphics.
Epilogue: "Not long after the ZL1 was finished, I was high-ballin' down that same stretch of 50 and spied a scuzzy group by the side of road enjoying a fresh corpse with gusto. Red mist doesn't describe the frenzy. As I slowed, one of the cleaners suddenly stood a head above the rest. It was the harbinger, I'm sure. He winked at me and cawed. No words were spoken. I haven't used that road since."