Jeff Van Buren had bad hots for Mark Stielow's Red Witch. Stielow, you might remember, was arguably the first proponent of the so-called g-machine, an offshoot of the then-fledgling Pro Touring scene. His first two cars, the Mule and the Thrasher, were the setup; the Red Witch laid it all out and got people thinking about new ways to show off, and have big fun with cars that could master all the driving disciplines in one package. Outstanding braking, acceleration, chassis response, and creature comforts (especially air conditioning) made a powerful statement to a community that was heretofore bent on straight-line annihilation. Add an ex-Detroit engineer or three to the proposition and the thing took off like a bottle rocket.
Meanwhile, the Red Witch came up for sale. Jeff didn't have the funds to capture it, but well-heeled California car collector Charley Lillard did. Jeff kept a lid on and bided his time. He found his 1967 Chevy Camaro on eBay and gave $18,500 for it. "Originally, it was a six-cylinder 'Glide car, so no desirable muscle cars were harmed or killed in the process, but when I bought it, it had a vintage LS7 big-block, a Super T-10 four-speed, and a 12-bolt turning 3.90 gears. The brakes were stock, 11-inch discs and rear drums. The 15-inch Torq-Thrust Americans had dark gray spokes that finished off the '60s-era Trans Am look."
So Jeff had himself a player that was the exact opposite of what he sought and what he saw in his mind's eye. "It didn't take long to get sick of feeding race fuel to the 12.5:1 compression ratio. By that fall [four years ago], the transformation had begun. I'd decided to completely rebuild the car with the existing, aging paintjob. It got the full Detroit Speed treatment along with a carbureted LS2 from Wegner Motorsports. The car was back on the road by fall of 2006 and was mainly like it is today."
Two years later, in the winter of 2008, Jeff decided to blow the car apart and have it media-blasted in preparation for paint. While the car was down, he came across a shrieking deal on a new 6.2L L92. He sold the LS2 and began collecting parts to upgrade to a special EFI system on the new engine. After Wegner had finished toiling, Jeff slid the new motor in place and the car was painted in the spring of 2009. Though Jeff built most of the car in his home garage, a lot of other souls put their all in this project, too.
Telly Violetto at Violetto Auto Works in Montello, Wisconsin, did the body modifications, welded-up the trim and antenna holes, did the front bumper bracket gaps, smoothed the firewall, and shot the paint. Next up was Schwartz Performance in Crystal Lake, Illinois, where the DSE mini-tubs, the rollcage modifications (originally set up by Pro Start Race Cars in Asbury Park, New Jersey), seat mounting, and the modified trunk floor (to fit a '69 fuel tank) came about. Dennis Equitz of Blitzkrieg Motorsports in Caledonia, Wisconsin, worked the DSE coilover conversion, bent the custom brake lines, and fabricated the air intake tube. The requisite 3-inch mandrel-bent stainless steel exhaust is the produce of Dave Neu at Neutek Autowerks.
Readying the chassis for the mayhem that would certainly befall it, Jeff kept the stock spindles and made the following modifications: the DSE front clip carries rack steering, tubular control arms and antisway bar, and AFCO springs sheath Koni adjustable shock absorbers. Last but not least are the Baer 6S six-piston calipers on 14-inch rotors. Though he's now having second thoughts about the DSE 3-inch drop leaf springs and offset hangers, he paired them with Koni shocks. Baer 13-inch plates ride the rear with PBR four-piston calipers. Big brakes require big wheels, but Jeff wisely held down unsprung weight by refusing to go any larger than 18 inches, hence forged Kinesis K18R hoops and sticky Toyo RA1 rubber (18x8 with 245/40ZR and 18x11 with 305/35ZR).
No need for an engine with monster displacement for what Jeff had in mind; he kept the cubic inch limit at the stock 376 ci (4.065x3.622), ensuring the grunt he'd need but keeping the cost of fuel within sensible limits. Obviously, this is why the majority of g-machine owners also opt for a transmission with at least one overdriven gear. So now we find ourselves at Wegner Motorsports in Markesan, Wisconsin, a road race-oriented company that's been investigating, building, and outfitting the LS engine since its inception. The idea was to leave the short-block as factory. Wegner's reasoning was sound; along with a deep-skirt, rigid block, and six-bolt main bearing caps, the bottom end of these engines are frightfully capable and favored because they save a ton of bucks. Naturally, they balanced and blueprinted the assembly, screwed the thing back together with ARP studs, a Champ 5.5-quart oil pan, and factory oil pickup, and then turned to the L92 cylinder heads. Wegner administered CNC aid in the ports, runners, and combustion chambers. With the flat-top piston, they produce a pump-gas-good 10.87:1 compression ratio.
Valve timing comes down to a Comp hydraulic roller ground with the following events: 0.586-inch intake, 0.595-inch exhaust; 291- and 301-degree duration. The lifters they pirated from an LS7. Jeff didn't see the need for a power adder either, but he specified a top-notch (sophisticated and expensive) induction, engine controller, and ignition system, something that would burn eyeballs and make people say "Wow!" The sex object is a Precision Metalcraft (Escondido, California) isolated runner intake manifold and billet fuel rails originally developed for sand racing (where the LS engine rules). An exciting spectacle to be sure. Lance Nist's Pantera EFI in California built the ignition system and engine controller (ECU 882C digital signal processor). Fuel is delivered via a Walbro fuel pump. Wegner stuck a K&N element on the leading end of the intake tube and called it done. A serpentine belt captivates ancillaries as part of the Wegner billet accessory drive system (Stewart water pump in league with a Griffin aluminum core), Vintage Air Gen II HVAC, and Powermaster alternator. Those clean, crisp rocker covers are Wegner billet items. Hooker ceramic-coated headers feature 13/4-inch primaries and 3-inch-diameter collectors that merge with a stainless steel X-pipe and Dynomax Ultraflow welded mufflers. Dynamometer output was 599 hp at 6,800 rpm and 505 lb-ft of grunt at 5,600 rpm on pump gas.
Jeff would have nothing less than two overdriven gears in his transmission-a Tremec T56 as assembled by Liberty's Gears in Taylor, Michigan, perhaps best known for its drag racing products. For the connection between crankshaft and transmission, Jeff chose a SPEC flywheel, Stage 3 Plus pressure plate, and a SPEC SC903 carbon-graphite disc-this all living famously beneath the factory bell housing. Channeling torque is the responsibility of a Strange Engineering chromoly prop shaft fitted with toughie 1350 universal joints. To save a bit of weight and require less horsepower to turn the pinion, Jeff used a 12-bolt carrying 3.90:1 gears and a limited-slip differential rather than the popular 9-inch type.
Seating is firm but not uncomfortable on the long haul. Recaro Pole Position racing buckets are done in cloth and amended by G-Force five-point safety harnesses that are lashed to the rollcage crossbar. Friend Russ Szweda did the headliner and the carpeting. Jeff's behind a Grant Corsa GT steering wheel and flicks a Twist Machine billet gear lever on a Pro 5.0 shifter tower. There's no console or fabricated dash insert. Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges set in a Covan center panel with a big tachometer and speedometer directly in front of him collects engine information. Whaddya think? Rapture by engine is quite enough for Jeff, so there isn't an ounce of audio equipment or anything non-essential to the purpose in the car.
As mentioned, Telly Violetto applied the GM Victory Red (BASF Diamont base and clearcoats over the surface he carefully prepared). When the red had set properly, he applied simple nose graphics in a nod to the factory. The grille is stock and the front bumper fell off somewhere between Vegas and Caledonia. The air dam is also stock, but that neat adjustable piece of aluminum on the decklid sure isn't.
What would he do differently if he were to build the car again? "I would have sandblasted the undercarriage and coated it with some sort of bed liner material. I also would have installed a four-link rear suspension in place of the leaf springs ... both may happen this winter."
So Jeff didn't get the Red Witch. He simply blew its doors off and guaranteed he did for a lot less than the its going price. Was it worth the time, anxiety, and energy? Jeff says: "I ran the car a couple of years ago at the Midwest F-body weekend at Road Atlanta. I loved the reaction of the Viper driver who was pitted next to me. He hadn't given the car a second look until I passed him at 100-plus going up the hill on the front straight. After the session he walked over and said 'What the hell do you have under the hood of that thing?'" What indeed.