Once upon a time, 67-year-old Mike Moses came across a little bit of history that he tucked in his pocket like a smooth stone, thinking that he could take it out and rub it between his fingers when he was in a funk and it would wisk him to a soothing, less complicated time. He also bought a somewhat rare dab of automotive history.
Remember 1980? Though the OE performance picture was bleak, its landscape cratered and distraught, at least that heinous disco thump was writhing in agony and going down in flames. But the first Arab oil embargo had gotten our attention right quick. Worse perhaps, the almighty engines of record were long dead and those that had survived were not much more than gurgling eunuchs.
During extended periods of want, the freelance thinkers create out of sheer necessity. They begin to offer what the store-bought goods can do no longer. The thinkers looked at every aspect of the cars that Detroit had produced with the “this is it; take it or leave it” attitude because that’s the way it had always been done. A lot of the factory notions had been disproved by individuals in their home garages.
Bill Mitchell was one of those thinkers. This is not the head of GM Design Bill Mitchell, nor is it the bearded Bill Mitchell of Hardcore fame. This Bill Mitchell is a former GM employee who served an eight-year stretch with Oldsmobile as a project engineer and as a member of a racing team that fielded bumptious technical compilations—the most interesting being an all-wheel drive chassis that was powered by twin-turbo all-aluminum Olds motor and backed by an automatic transmission. In thirteen years of SCCA competition, Mitchell won nine divisional titles.
In 1971, he worked with Mark Donohue in the development of the Camaro for the International Race of Champions, aka IROC. The time he spent with Donohue left him with the knowledge needed to transform a car from showroom stock to race-track ready as well as a philosophy about the kind of American cars he would like to see American enthusiasts driving. His beef was with the suspensions deemed right by the factory, by and large over-sprung, obdurate, and fatiguing to drive for extended periods. After Donohue’s death in 1975, Mitchell formed Special Vehicle Developments, Inc., in Cheshire, Connecticut, and began to build his progeny Concept Camaros. His vision was a high-zoot traveling companion, not a hot rod.
With this notion, elevated handling and superior ergonomics were his targets. In effect, he “blueprinted” the existing components and brought them into optimum flexibility and application. He championed softer spring rates, anti-sway bars, stiffer shock valving, and reduction of unsprung weight and in this way, imparted a much more pliable ride with monstrous handling capability. He knew that the weight bias of Detroit-built cars always allowed for passengers and a certain cache of luggage.
Mitchell simply proceeded as if the car carried only the driver and no luggage. He began by stationing the Camaro on a dead-level steel table and allowed for the weight and distribution of all vital fluids, a half-tank of fuel, and an average-size driver. Then he disconnected the shocks and anti-sway bar and began the rebalancing act.
His plan was to equalize the weight on each wheel. To accomplish this, he trimmed the springs accordingly; installed Koni adjustable shock absorbers built to his specification, and aligned the front end according to his own geometry and zero tolerances. Then, he attached the stock front bar with new hardware to remove the preload from the bar. He added a ⅞-inch diameter bar at the rear of the car as well. His concession to ergonomics included repositioning the gas pedal one inch lower and to the left to easily enable the heel-and-toe driving technique. Superior driving seats and a smaller-diameter steering wheel rounded out his scant but dead-nuts modifications.