“It was the first time it had all been put back together since the day I bought it in California and the lines and the stance… we had something to remember because I knew then it was exactly what I had imagined,” said car builder Robert Zahabi on his moment of clarity. As a denizen of Queensland (on Australia’s Gold Coast), Robert is no less vulnerable to the shadowy taunts of unrequited muscle cars than we. They are his passion and his zeal. He is in them for life.
“As a business owner,” said Robert, “I have been building a new shop car every year for the last 20. And I have never built one exactly how I wanted; it was always to suit the market that year. So with this one, it was all of my picks in one car: the iconic ’69 Camaro.” And just what did he envision?
He liked the Camaro’s lines but made “natural improvements.” He shunned the upstart LS engine (too topical) and went with an old-school 406 little-block that wouldn’t be primed by petrol. No, he vectored completely off the chart. His power broker would be an 8-71 supercharger inhaling large quantities of methanol through mechanical fuel injection. And dad, nothing vibes old school like an engine grunting under a mechanical fuel injector, itself a cruel, crude device never intended for use anywhere else but a race car.
“My idea behind the whole car was that it all had to flow and I wanted it to look like it came out of GM; a concept but still have the Camaro body lines,” ceded Robert. Indeed, the entire sheetmetal landscape underwent rigorous revival, endless trimming and fitting, modifications that are so subtle you’d likely not notice unless an original form was in close proximity.
Robert Zahabi’s virtual toy box includes his company Kam Motor Trimming in Varsity Lakes, Queensland. Kam Motor took responsibility for all modifications save for the engine build. And throughout the myriad changes, the operative words were smooth and flow. “[I] spent pretty much the next 14 months shaping, welding, and sanding. Hood and trunk seams were welded up; the firewall was smoothed out. The area around the taillights where the rear panel and quarter-panels meet was also welded up and smoothed out.” Overall, it was Robert’s intention to leave every inch of sheetmetal inviolate thus maintain the original integrity of the Camaro.
Further smooth-outs were visited on the front fender extensions and Kam welded up the extraneous radiator support panel holes and slicked out the chassis. For a cleaner presentation, Kam Motor reshaped the front fenders top to bottom. The bumpers were welded up, smoothed out, and re-chromed.
The next campaign was the interior frontispiece, mainly the dashboard. It took Robert four weeks to carve it out of foam billet that he fiber-glassed, puttied up, and covered with leather. For simple maintenance, it is completely removable. In an effort to make the paint and leather combo more cohesive, he put another couple of weeks of handwork in the console and the door panels. Over the new steel floor he laid down leather and punctuated it with polished alloy bits. The ambience is… tricky, but see how well it inflames your imagination? Upholstery for the late-model GTO bucket seats (and matching bench) is out of the ordinary at the very least. No doubt those billet eyelets will stay fresh in memory for years to come.
Internal information is issued by the cold, blue light of Dakota Digital SLX Series Chrome instruments. Shimmering just above them is a Billet Specialties Profile steering wheel. A B&M Pro Bandit shifter (with Magnum grip) rises to the perfect height from the custom-built console stage. All hand controls have been logically arranged and easily accessed via the miracle of peripheral vision. The audio system collects around a Sony XAV-W1 head unit in conjunction with Orion XTR5004 and XTR5001 amplifiers, Orion 6-inch XTRPRO speakers front and rear, and two 12-inch Orion XTRPRO124 subwoofers.
Though we suspect the Kam Camaro is an agile handling agent, it wasn't built to be one per se. Its vibe and feel are top-drawer-a high-profile cruiser-a corner lurker just out looking. Kam Motor braced either end of the "chassis" with RideTech components. The front of the Camaro is set with Classic Performance 2-inch drop spindles, tubular upper and lower RideTech StrongArms, and 18-way adjustable RideTech ShockWaves (air spring/shock). The back end includes a Currie Enterprises 9-inch, 31-spline billet axles, 3.70:1 gears, and a TrueTrac differential. Kam located it with the RideTech triangulated four-link suspension assembly and a complement of ShockWaves.
Classic Performance four-piston, 13-inch brake packages at both front and rear feature cross-drilled rotors. They are shrouded precisely by the polished, enormously busy, and multi-faceted 20x8.5 and 20x10 Billet Specialties Profile hoops. Keeping his no-cut pledge limited Robert's practical wheel/tire dimensions. They may not be bulbous, but the sidewalls sure are as skinny as a tapeworm: Falken 235/30 and 285/25.
"[A] good friend of mine, Jake from Jake's Performance in Mitchell, ACT [Australian Capital Territory], is responsible for the crazy 950hp methanol monster hanging out of the hood," blushed Robert. The immodest project began with a 400ci cylinder block that Jake filled with an Eagle 4340 crankshaft, H-beam connecting rods, and JE 9.5:1 pistons. He cammed it up with a COMP solid roller (.630/.640-inch lift; 266/276 degrees duration) and put it to the block with Rollmaster timing gear and finally a Newby Performance front cover. At the bottom end, a Moroso 6-quart pan and a Melling oil pump. Jake stuck studs everywhere, capped the short-block with AFR 235cc aluminum cylinder heads, and reached the camshaft with a phalanx of Trend pushrods. Jake's prowess is logged deeply in tuning. His usual rear-wheel tag is at least 1,500 hp, so the 900hp 400 is but a peanut, but a peanut kicking a NOS 200 shot. Always best to show up at the gunfight with at least two of 'em.
That murderous top end smelling of the '60s includes a Weiand intake manifold and an 8-71 supercharger case, an Enderle Bird Catcher injector (now there's an icon for you), and an 80A-1 fuel pump. The crank pulley has 63 ribs, the top one spins 54 and the combo makes 23 psi of positive manifold pressure. There is no intercooler. A holy hell of a spark arcs from the ICE 7amp, 2-step 7832NR igniter. The remnants are pulled rapidly away by Hooker 17/8-inch primaries and pushed through a 3-inch MagnaFlow system. Heat is always the enemy and the ancillary systems reflect that notion. A B&M engine oil cooler is located in front of the Be Cool three-row light-alloy radiator and Proform billet 66225 water pump.
Gibbs in Burleigh, Queensland, built the drivetrain to absorb grunt as well as be reliable every time Robert goes to the methanol fill-up. The Turbo 400 transmission is equipped with a manual valvebody and launches off a Torque Converter Engineering converter fixed with the 4,800-stall speed. Gibbs built the prop shaft with Strange components and balanced the assembly internally.
Yes, that internal balance thing. It goes way beyond mechanical priorities. Humans can do lots of ways. Mechanical things are pretty much set to the original regimen: one way in; one way out. Mechanical things can't have families. Humans can. The members of Robert's immediate clan (wife, Tricia, and boys Mitchell, Cooper, and Tyler) are the difference between sweet history and a black hole that is impossible to fill.