1967 Chevy Camaro Convertible - A Prodigy Is Born

One man's junk is a teenager's treasure.

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To say Michael Serafine was born in a restoration shop would be an exaggeration. But when mother and the newborn Michael were released from the hospital, a stop by the family shop to show off the new child was in order.

After a few years, Michael would climb out of his playpen and make a beeline to the shop to find his dad and see what he was working on. His mother would come and retrieve the kicking and crying child, who really just wanted to be in the shop, with dad, and apparently, the cars. Over the years it would become more and more obvious Michael was going to be a car nut.

On his 15th birthday, Michael finally got to drive the family racecar, which he had helped build. His very first run yielded a time of 10.92 at 125.5 mph. When he turned 16, his driver's license was just around the corner and he knew what he wanted: a Camaro. Michael wanted to build his own from the ground up and the hunt began for a 1967 convertible. After looking at many prospects, a '67 RS/SS convertible showed up in the newspaper, and it was 20 minutes from the house. The asking price was $1,500. Michael and his father knew it would be rough, but that was OK-the price was right. They dropped everything and rushed out to see the car. As they turned into the dilapidated trailer park, a guy that seemed to be Joe Dirt's less refined cousin greeted the duo and walked them around to see the jewel he was selling. Michael found his dream car in all its rusted glory. After negotiations, they settled on a $1,300 price.

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Since the floors were rotted away, and the rear frame rails were non-existent, the decision was made to build a full chassis for the car. The car had to be welded at the outer rockers to a rolling jig to hold what little structure there was in place. Quarter-inch steel was welded in place of factory inner rockers to later serve as attachment points for the perimeter frame. Welding these permanent inner rocker supports, along with some temporary bracing strengthened the center of the car. The cowl, surprisingly in good shape, was bolted through the subframe mounts to lock it in its correct location. At the rear of the car Michael welded temporary bracing to the inner rear quarter super structure to hold everything steady and in alignment. Now all the old rusted metal could safely be removed. Using a Sawzall, Plasma cutter and cutoff wheels, the body was trimmed down to a skeleton of its former self.

A truckload of sheetmetal arrived, including quarters, outer wheelhouses, rear body panel, deck lid, door shells, fenders, hood, and every single exterior panel. After sandblasting the skeleton, Michael installed the outer sheetmetal starting with aligning the doors, and quarters, and getting the skeleton back to a complete body shell. Once the outer body was complete, frame construction began. The goal was to build the frame rigid, stronger then the stock subframe unibody arrangement in an effort to eliminate the flex inherent in convertibles. A couple hundred feet of 2x3 and 2x4 .125 wall rectangular tubing would build the frame from the firewall back.

He also decided the body would be channeled 4-inches over the frame, effectively lowering the car 4-inches with no suspension drop. To achieve this, the exhaust was made to run through the transmission and driveshaft tunnel, under the transmission and driveshaft, Corvette-style. The underside of the car would be smooth, in belly pan fashion, so there is incredible ground clearance even though the ground to rocker height is only 6-inches. The frame was designed so the fuel and brake lines would run through the frame, eliminating the danger of scrubbing these items.

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Independent rear suspension was chosen to take advantage of the rigid spine and backbone chassis so front and rear suspensions from a 1987 Corvette was added. The call was made to Wilwood to supply 14-inch front and rear rotors and hats, along with some 6-and 4-piston calipers (front to rear). Since there's not a big brake "kit" available for early C4 Corvettes, Michael had to work closely with the technical staff at Wilwood finding hats, rotors and calipers that would give the proper offsets. Michael then fabricated mounting brackets to hold the massive calipers.

Forgeline SP3P wheels were chosen, huge 20x13-inch rear and 19x11-inch front wheels in a killer polished finish. Pirelli makes tires big enough for rims this size, so the call was made and it supplied massive 345/25/20 rear and 295/30/19 fronts.

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When it came to horsepower, a World Products 540-cubic inch aluminum block was built, saving over 100-lbs over a conventional iron block. The short-block was stuffed full of Manley, Eagle and Callies parts, netting just a tick north of 11:1 compression. A Comp Cams mechanical roller ground at 266/272 at .050 with .714 lift actuates the valves in the ported Canfield heads. A Holley intake/throttle body are used and fuel is fed by an Aeromotive 1000 pump inside a Rick's Hot Rods stainless fuel tank. A FAST XFI computer takes responsibility for sending fuel and spark commands. A March serpentine mid mount pulley system turns all the accessories, including the Vintage Air compressor. A Ron Davis radiator keeps everything cool. The tranny is a TKO600 using a McCleod aluminum flywheel/ hydraulic throw out/dual disc clutch set up.

The exterior of the car features subtle changes, like molding the fender extensions, frenching the Cobra-style flip fuel filler, and eliminating the front bumper. Bolt ons include a Yenko Stinger Corvette-style hood, a '69 Trans Am-style wing, and some nice Marquez taillights. One of the most talked about features on Prodigy is the roll bar. It's a functional roll bar using 1 ?-inch tubing and 11-gauge plate steel. The roll bar ties into a full crossmember and acts as a critical part of the structure and overall chassis strength.

The interior draws much praise. Since the top is an emergency use only item, the midyear Corvette dash is highly visible. One of Michael's friends gave him the original '67 Corvette piece. It was cut, sectioned, widened and molded to fit the Camaro. Wabbits Woodworks built the custom front to rear console, which molds perfectly into the dash. Wabbits also supplied the carbon fiber instrument bezel, glove box door and trimmings. The dash is loaded with Auto Meter Nexus gauges. Wally Riggs recovered a quartet of C5 Corvette seats in retro red/black houndstooth and red leather.


Michael Serafine's '67 Camaro convertible has a 540-cubic inch aluminum block stuffed with Manley, Eagle and Callies parts.
Jan 1, 2007


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