A lightning storm is a thing of beauty. Everyone awes and oohs over the burst of light that comes crashing down at visceral speeds. And just like that, it’s gone. The spectacle of glory has vanished. And then it hits you like a ton of lead in a 50-pound sack, and what Dan Bergmann won’t tell you is that the roar you hear from his ’72 Camaro comes not from a fancy fuel-injected LS motor, but rather the bellowing comes from an insanely built big-block.
The lethal combination didn’t start out that deadly, in fact it was a bit more of an anemic sputter with a cough. “I bought the car from a friend for $1,500. It ran and drove, but within two miles I had to tear it down,” Dan tells us. “I bought a 468 big-block from a local engine builder. That motor only lasted 312 miles before it spun a rear main and took out the crank. The builder said he’d cover the labor, but I was out the parts. It was then that I decided to order a Scott Shafiroff motor with a warranty.”
The 540 sports a Merlin III block and a set of aluminum Dart 325cc heads; typical fare you’d find in a power plant that creates 662 hp and 682 lb-ft of torque. The block is distended with an Eagle crank and Mahle pistons creating a 9.8:1 compression ratio for conservative reliability. Dan topped off the Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake with a Holley comp series 850 carb fed by an electric Mallory 140 pump and a complimentary Mallory regulator. For good looks and space savings, Dan used March’s pulley kit. Keeping the spark nice and crisp is an MSD Pro-Billet distributor, 6AL box, and a Blaster-2 coil just for continuity. The thunder comes courtesy of a Jet Hot coated set of 2-inch Hooker competition headers and a 3-inch stainless Magnaflow exhaust system.
Bottling a bolt of lightning can be a hell of a thing to do, but Dan figured out that a well-built Art Carr 700R4 can do the trick. Launch is controlled by a 9.5-inch 4000-stall converter. Dan opted for the feel of a stick shift with a reverse manual valvebody crammed into the transmissions gut, which is probably a good thing because you don’t want to have to put down your soda to shift gears while cruising the strip. The Precision Shaft Technologies 3 1/2-inch driveshaft reduces rotating weight and increases throttle response. Dan decided to keep the 8 1/2 GM rearend and fill it with 3.73 gears and an Eaton posi.
Dan lowered the front end with a set of 2-inch lowering springs from Global West, and a four-corner array of KYB shocks. A Hotchkis 1 3/8-inch sway bar aids in controlling body roll.
Taming the hurling mass of incendiary ordinance is a set of frame connectors and SSBC’s Force 10 four-piston calipers and 11-inch rotors, which peek through a set of Vintage Wheel Works V45 wheels measuring 17x7 and 17x8 front and back, respectively. The fronts are covered in BFGoodrich Traction TA 215/50-R17 rubber for lateral grip, and the rears utilize Nitto NT05 275/40-R17 tires for straight-line authority.
The interior houses a six-point roll cage installed by Dan himself. The inside matches the exterior’s sleek and classically updated look. Black and gray Corbeau Legacy seats and harness belts provide comfort and safety all in one. Covan’s gauge panel with Autometer Sport Comp gauges are for keeping a steadfast eye on the engine vital signs. An Alpine CD deck pumps tunes through a set of stock front speakers accompanied by Pioneer 6x9 rears. The inner door panels and carpet are covered in OEM material, installed by Superior Upholstery in Elk River, Minnesota.
The exterior is dressed in PPG Dover White paint. Dan added a fiberglass VFN 4-inch cowl hood as his buddy Perry Heigl completed the bodywork and painting process. Perry’s car, an equally wicked yellow ’72, graced the pages of the April ’11 issue of Camaro Performers.
“Building the car was the most memorable experience I’ve had. I love showing Perry [Heigl] my taillights every chance I get,” jokes Dan.
Dan had to sell his ’69 Camaro to get into his house with wife Sandra and was itching to get into another project, “I want to say thanks to my wife for letting me build the car, and also to Perry Heigl for everything he did!”
Dan, we are sure sorry to see your ’69 find a new home, but if this is what you do for an encore, we certainly can’t blame you for coming back for more.
The phrase catching lightning in a bottle means that one must complete a rare feat, and indeed this bottle is full to the brim with "white lightning."
A special thanks to Phil Gagne of the Pig’s Eye Brewing Company for free reign of his brewery to showcase this awesome Camaro.