When Ronald Strayhorn signed on for service with General Motors, he hitched up for a lifelong tour. With time at Buick in Michigan, and currently serving as regional service manager in suburban Atlanta, Strayhorn is a ranking GM manager with a passion for his company's products.
He's also a drag racing nut.
"I got into it with my cousins when I was young," says Strayhorn. "Even when I had to take a break from it for my career, I never lost the interest in racing."
For the last decade Strayhorn has owned a 10-second '66 Nova, but in 2000 he got the itch to go much faster. After locating a '67 Camaro rolling chassis, the gears clicked and Strayhorn commissioned one of the baddest First-Gen Camaros we've seen in a long time.
And though it appears like it's a show queen, with its wet-looking black paint and unique induction system (the car was runner up in Pro Engineered at the Atlanta Super Chevy Show), this Camaro is a serious contender in quarter-mile competition. To date, Strayhorn has piloted the car to best e.t. of 8.66 at 155 mph.
"The car goes straight as an arrow down the track," he says. "There's no drama or anything; it's deadly consistent. I just hang on for the ride."
As for that interesting induction setup on the port fuel injected big-block, it's a modified version of GM Performance's Ram Jet, with a one-off throttle body crafted by Pro Mod racer and fuel injection whiz Harold Martin.
Before the injected Rat motor went into place, the '67 Camaro that was transformed into a ground-hugging ground pounder had to be bent into shape. Already a rolling chassis when he bought it, the car was sent to Sheppard Race Cars, in Covington, Georgia, to be completed.
There, the jumble of unwelded moly tubing that comprised parts of the chassis was joined to conform to 25.1C specifications (it has since been certified). The all-steel body was put on a diet, too, and the front end, doors, deck lid and bumpers were replaced with fiberglass parts.
Adding a nice bit of detail to the plastic nose is the use of a real RS grille. Sheppard Race Cars also fabbed up the car's carbon fiber rear wing. When it came time to lay down color, the car was sent to Adrian's Customs, where the black paint and silver stripes were sprayed.
As for the Harold Martin-built big-block, Strayhorn originally approached the Pro Mod racer with the idea for a conventional carbureted setup. But Martin, whose Detroit-area business, Martin Motorsports, also does fuel injection development work for GM, wasn't going to have any part of that antiquated air/fuel mixer. With that, the unique three-butterfly throttle body idea was born. Besides looking like nothing else in the pits, Martin says there are strong advantages to the design.
"The engine has great idle speed control, which it wouldn't have with one, large blade," he says. "With three blades, we get the necessary cfm and great idle characteristics."
We can attest to the 800hp motor's docile nature. During our photo shoot, the car fired up, idled and maneuvered at low speed very well.
Martin started with one of GM's Ram Jet 502 crate motors and opened it up to 541 cubes. Custom forged pistons that squeeze into the chambers of Dart aluminum heads provide a relatively mild compression ratio of 11:1. The heads' passages have been ported and their bowls blended.
Atop the punched-out short-block and deep breathing heads, Martin found the stock Ram Jet intake was lacking in the airflow department.
"We hogged out the runners to meet the ports of the heads," he explained. "That's when we determined the flow at the throttle body would need to be increased, too. We needed about 1200 cfm."
The stock Ram Jet's twin 48mm throttle body flows about 650. To accommodate Martin's custom three-blade setup, the inlet on the Ram Jet's plenum was opened up, too.
One more thing about this radical Rat: it redlines at 7,600 rpm. With that kind of crank speed, Martin transformed the street engine-based sequential injection system to a race-efficient batch fire system, lit with an MSD ignition box.
Interestingly, the Ram Jet's factory engine controller is still used, although reprogrammed. Even the stock fuel rails were used, so that they would stay tucked cleanly beneath the intake manifold's tunnel ram-like runners. The rest of the engine was set up for the track; and the headers are custom, with 2.125-inch-diameter primaries.
There's also a super-trick air scoop that feeds the throttle body at the track. It takes air through the grille and rams it through a custom air box, which not only adds a true ram air effect, but reduces inlet air temperature, too.
Power is funneled to a Sid Neal-built Powerglide, filled with a 9-inch, 5,500-stall AED converter and requisite trans brake. A 9-inch rearend, featuring 40-spline Strange axles and a 4.10 gearset, puts the big-block's power to the 33x16-inch Goodyears. (The car rides on Bogart wheels all around.)
Those chunky rear tires are located by a 4-link suspension. Up front, a combination of Strange shocks, as well as upper and lower control arms, keeps the suspension simple and effective. In all, the car tips the scales at a mere 2,300 pounds.
Inside, the aluminum-skinned cabin is all business. The 25.1C specs include the multipoint rollcage, and the remainder of the interior equipment is limited to what Strayhorn needs at the track, including a set of Auto Meter UltraLite gauges.
Strayhorn says there's not much left to do to the car, although the easy-going nature of the engine has him considering some fastest street car events.
"It has mufflers and lights," he says.
Harold Martin, who relies on big doses of nitrous in his Pro Mod car, is urging Strayhorn to experiment with spray, too.
"We built the engine nitrous-ready," says Martin. "The pistons' ring packs are designed for nitrous. We just need to talk Ronald into it."
"It might be fun to play with the nitrous," Strayhorn says with a grin. "It would be cool to have a 7-second time slip."
Heck, who wouldn't want that?