Patience is certainly a virtue, as the well-worn maxim points out, but one that we’ve never learned to fully embrace. Not that we can’t appreciate the fruits of forbearance, especially when we see the payoff before our eyes in black and … red. Rick Klein’s 1968 Chevy Camaro RS/SS is a Pro Touring warrior that took eight years to complete. That’s a long time for a guy to wait for his muscle car payoff, but the approach has its benefits. Rick built much of the car himself—a source of satisfaction and a good way not to go broke. Also to that end, the big-ticket items needed to execute that plan were purchased only when he received his yearly bonuses. The long build time allowed Rick time to research and plan a direction for this car. He was rewarded with a machine that works even better than planned, and what bigger bonus can you get than that? It may not be particularly exotic, at least by today’s Pro Touring standards, but it is a well thought-out formula that just plain works, driving to So Cal autocrosses and road course events, and then ripping through them with aplomb.
Of course, our man Rick was already used to digging in for the long haul, waiting close to 25 years for his adult Camaro go-round. As a teenager, Rick had owned two ’67 F-bodies: One was a 327/automatic trans RS car that he drove for a couple of years. As for the other one, Rick recalls it as “a bastard of a car” that had pearl paint, a diamond-tuck interior, and flared fenders. “It was actually quite hideous,” he told us with a laugh. We say hideously valuable now, if he had hung onto it. About his long-term F-body infatuation, he simply says, “I was attracted to them.” As with many first attractions, this one lingered, and he returned to the Camaro owner ranks in 2001, when he bought our subject ’68 from a former co-worker for $5,000. The car had seen duty as a drag car and street racer but had to be towed to its new home. The good news was that it was returned to driving status within a few weeks of the purchase. The not-so-good-news? At some point in the process, Rick noticed the car had a previously undisclosed salvage title. Angry at first, he quickly realized that while salvage status was a hindrance to doing a full restoration, it gave him the freedom to build the car like he really wanted it to be.
This project started just as a proper resto job would have: with a complete, down-to-the-bones teardown. Rick—who works as the general manager of an aluminum foundry—built a stand in his garage to support the body, then proceeded to pick the bones clean. Once bead blasted, the body proved to be rust-free; Rick tells us he got offers for it at the blaster. This thorough disassembly also made it easy to confirm that this Camaro was indeed an original RS/SS car, as indicated by the RS parking light configuration and the presence of SS brake and gas lines. It also provided a sound base for shimmering coats of two-stage ’04 Lexus Red that would eventually be sprayed on. The exterior touches were completed with a Classic Industries “STK” grille and steel 2-inch cowl hood (supported by custom cast aluminum hinges), Spaghetti Engineering “Digi-Tails” rear and marker lights, and several nice pieces from the Detroit Speed catalog: RS headlights, electric wiper motor, and the body-matching core support closeout under the hood.
The interior is clean and functional, starting with a factory-style carpet and headliner from National Parts Depot, along with custom door panels set off by Lokar door handles, pulls, and window cranks. Corbeau TRS buckets in basic black wear are outfitted with Morris Classic Concepts three-point seat belt conversion to keep the pilot secure in his seat during more exuberant outings. The stock dash features a Covan’s dash panel full of Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges, a full stereo system topped with a Custom Autosound “Secretaudio SST” head unit playing through JVC speakers and subwoofers, and a Vintage Air A/C setup with its accompanying control panel. It’s all topped with a Flaming River steering wheel, and another set of Rick's custom creations running up the middle of the car: a Delrin shift knob to limit heat transfer, the faux knobs on the stereo control panel, and the console, which started out as an aluminum casting Rick turned up at the foundry. This isn’t in chronological order, of course; we are, after all, talking about an almost decade-long transformation.
“The reason it took me eight years to build it was that I relied on yearly bonuses for capital. So once a year I ordered the expensive parts,” Rick explained to us. Which leads us to what we all really want to know about. As an avid participant on www.pro-touring.com and a dedicated adherent to its ethos, the first thing the cash was dropped on were the brakes: Wilwood six-piston pots up front, one-piston in the back, with 13-inch rotors all the way around and a matching master cylinder. On the heels of that came the running gear: Bonspeed Delta wheels, 17x8.5 inches up front and 18x11 inches in back, wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport gummies, 245/45Z17 and extra-wide 335/30ZR18, respectively. His path set, Rick made way for the fat back rubber by employing his fabrication skills to install a set of DSE mini-tubs himself. “I did it before they had a kit,” he recalls. “I used photos on their website for reference.” Rick went farther than that, crating the rear upper shock mounts from 303 billet steel. He added DSE leaf springs with a 3-inch drop, along with 1-inch custom lowering blocks for a deep 4-inch drop, and damped the work with QA1 adjustable shocks. The rear suspension is tied to the front with a set of DSE subframe connectors, where Rick has refined his formula to include Global West lower control arms, along with 2-inch drop Heidt’s spindles and Specialty Performance Company (SPC) adjustable upper control arms to allow for ideal camber settings. A Lee Power Steering (Sun Valley, California) quick-ratio box handles directional duties, while QA1 adjustable shocks and complementary springs completed the suspension package.
One year into the project, Nelson Racing Engines (Chatsworth, California) was selected to “freshen up” the Rat the car had been carrying. “Tom Nelson ended up being the guy,” says Rick. “He was very reasonable and helpful, though I think at that point he was being very nice to help me out, as he was getting very busy with his turbo motors.” Nice help out, indeed. The end result is a 407ci powerplant (4.154 bore x 3.76 stroke) built around a forged Morrison Racing crank, Chevy rods, and Speed Pro forged pistons coming in at 10.5:1 compression. It’s topped by Chevy iron heads (now with an NRE valve job) that are activated by a Chet Herbert solid-roller cam spec’ing out at .625-inch lift/250 degrees duration at 0.050 lift, intake and exhaust. It’s all fed by a 750cfm Quick Fuel carb that draws from an Edelbrock mechanical fuel pump and breathes through a Performer intake. Lube duties are handled by Milodon 9-quart pan with a high-volume pump. A MSD Pro Billet Ready to Run distributor lights the fires, while ceramic-coated Doug’s headers team with a custom 3-inch stainless steel exhaust with crossover and Edelbrock mufflers built by “a nice guy named Corey from Canyon Country (California).” A Vintage Air Frontrunner setup handles the pulley duties. Engine builder Nelson estimates that the re-vitalized Rat is putting out 500 hp at 5,800 rpm; experience tells us that with these specs, it should be making well over that in the torque department at a nice and usable engine speed, perfect for the ‘68’s street/track mission.
To fully exploit the car’s big-block power, Rick added another one of his bonus-bought, big-ticket items, specifically a Keisler TKO 600 five-speed setup. “My wife freaked when I ordered the TKO,” he recalls. “She just didn’t get it.” We’d hope that by now she’s been for a ride and has a better understanding of the situation; in any case, Rick assures us that tranny sticker shock aside, wife Lisa was supportive during his endeavors. The Camaro’s new gearbox setup was augmented by a Centerforce clutch shielded by a McLeod bellhousing. Rick used his fabrication skills in this area as well, creating a custom bracket for the clutch reservoir. Continuing down the line, the abundant big-block grunt is fed through a Keisler driveshaft to a stout 12-bolt diff assembly. It’s the one the car came with, albeit rebuilt by Hooper’s Rear Ends (Sun Valley, California) with a limited-slip, 3.73:1-geared differential and narrowed by 6 inches to allow for big rubber with the deep-dish–wheel look Rick wanted.
Of course, this RS/SS Camaro is about way more than just looks. Rick Klein put together a car that just plain delivers the goods, whether working the cones at an autocross, sprinting wide-open at a road course, or just running down the highway. “On public roads,” he told us, “It’s stiff and loud, but its mannerisms are great.” These driver-friendly mannerisms have translated to the track as well. In addition to his autocross activities, Rick has attended both of the first two Run to the Coast events to run the road-race track, and has acquitted himself admirably. At this year’s event, he arrived late but managed to put up the fifth fastest time among a field of Saturday’s hot shoes before the Camaro went on a trailer with a case of bent pushrods. We like that almost as much as we like the car’s track performance. Not the engine damage, mind you. Rather, the fact that this ride was driven to the track, and only saw the flatbed when it couldn’t be driven anymore. “It did surprisingly well on the road course,” Rick told us. “It shouldn’t handle as well as it does. Either that or I’m a helluva driver.” Maybe it’s a little bit of both; it usually is, after all. In any case, the payoff was more than expected—a bonus, in other words. And who among us doesn’t love getting a bonus? Ka-ching.