Bill Mitchell 1980 Chevrolet Camaro - The Concept Camaro

An original, unrestored, early image of Pro Touring

Ro McGonegal Jan 1, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In anticipation of a big power jump, Mitchell upgraded the braking system with sintered metallic pads and linings. He also fashioned a hydraulic pump (enabled by the power steering pump) to compensate for the extra pedal pressure required by the metallic linings. With the installation of Minilite wheels, he reduced unsprung weight by 40 pounds total.

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In 1980, the Z28 could barely manage bluster in the engine bay. The 350 extruded a wheezing 190 hp at a somnambulant 3,800 rpm. This was about the time that aftermarket turbochargers made their entire primitive, electronic-less assemblies that depended on Hobb switches and engine vacuum lines. Most simply picked the correct-sized turbo and based their fabrication on it. Mitchell used an Air research unit and pegged it at 7psi positive manifold pressure. There was no intercooler. On the car that Mike Moses has, Mitchell added a 9-quart sump and a second oil filter under the left front fender. The Moses Camaro also assumed a trunk-mounted fuel cell.

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The 350ci LM1 engine was curried for the turbocharger; it also got some undisclosed top-end changes (including those to the carburetor), to help airflow and velocity. Further, it incorporated an idle and cruising mode bypass system as well as a Turbonetics wastegate. The ignition was also tailored with a pressure return on the spark advance—as boost pressure climbed, the more timing it pulled out. Water injection (remember that?) helped with the fuel/air mix and hedged against detonation. In preparation for the forced air dance, Mitchell underwrote the rotating assembly with Carrillo connecting rods and forged pistons as insurance. Output is estimated at 330 hp. Not very much compared to the 500-600 hp brandished by a lot of serious Pro Touring Camaros today, but quite enough to give this car a fine balance between handling and its meager grunt.

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Moses: “This was the most expensive package that [Mitchell] built. It was $15,000 over the cost of a new ’80 Z28. Bill called this car the “Canadian Camaro” because a Canadian living in Florida purchased it … The car is original and unrestored. Mileage is 35,222. I spoke with Bill about ten years ago and he knew exactly what car I had. He said that his shop got flooded about 15 years ago and that they lost all records of the Concept Camaros.”

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Exterior changes are subtle: the Mitchell badge on each of the front fenders; a sliding sunroof (not wiggly T-tops); and rear quarter fender flares. The front fender air ducts are original, as is the cowl hood. The custom air dam (fog lights and integrated fender flares), as well as body striping, is strictly Mitchell. Notice the NASCAR backlight safety straps. Moses shod the 15x8 Minilites with 255/60 and 275/60 Goodyear Eagle RAs.

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Since a comfortable and alert driver is liable to be better on his game than not, Mitchell chose Recaro seats and matched them to the original upholstery. The shift lever for the Turbo 350 is stock but the Racemark steering wheel and Nakamichi head with JVC equalizer and Phillips speakers were installed by Mitchell. Lastly, the hardwired Escort radar detector maintains vigilance. All else is clean but otherwise original and unmolested.

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Moses explained that he also had a ’68 Shelby Mustang (“crude and doesn’t handle very well”) and an ’86 Porsche 930 Turbo. “The Camaro has some lag but it’s easy to drive fast once you learn how to keep the revs up. You hit the apex, stand on it, and you’re gone. It’s pretty much a point-and-shoot deal.” Check out the track shot and tell us that this thirty-year-old car doesn’t corner flat. “I had it at Gingerman (where these images were taken) and made three laps until the original Harrison radiator overflowed and stopped the parade. I took it to a shop. It was loaded with mud! They boiled it out and deemed it ready to work. As for turbo, I’m going to change the compressor and the turbine wheels to something that is matched better in an effort to spool it up quicker. Watch me at Gingerman next year.”

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