Randy Johnson (not the pitcher, baseball fans) first owned this car from '97-01. "Orange Peeler" (as it was known) appeared in the November 1998 issue of sister publication Car Craft. Randy parted with the car in 2001 for a '99 Camaro SS, but nausea kicked in as the '70 pulled away with its new owner. Randy got into building restomod muscle cars and other cool projects, starting D&Z Customs in 2007, and in 2008 won the award for Street Machine of the Year, Muscle Machine Division, at the Car Craft Summer Nats.
About the same time, a friend called Randy after seeing Orange Peeler for sale on eBay. It didn't take long for a deal to be struck that brought the Camaro back to Randy's garage, with only 1,600 extra miles on it. The F-body was still pristine, but after years of learning custom car building, Randy decided for an all-out rotisserie rebuild. The crew at D&Z stripped it down to bare metal, smoothed and straightened the body, then resprayed it in PPG Orange with white stripes. The car was rechristened "Re-Peeled."
Meanwhile, Randy had built a relationship with the suspension wizards at Heidts Hot Rod & Muscle Car Parts, and together they used the '70 to design and test Heidts' new bolt-in independent rear suspension. After the usual R&D, the IRS was ready, and it's truly a bolt-in system. The Heidts unit utilizes a 9-inch-style center section for superior strength, 31-spline halfshafts, QA1 coilovers, and 10-inch rear brakes with four-piston calipers. One interesting design twist is the inboard mounting of the rotors and calipers (similar to an old Jaguar IRS), which reduces unsprung weight, and shifts it to the car's centerline for improved handling.
Up front is Heidts' full second-gen Camaro front suspension with QA1 coilovers and Baer 14-inch rotor/six-piston caliper brake combo. Power comes from a stroked and Magnuson supercharged LQ4 LS engine now displacing 403 inches, topped with L92 heads and built by Wegner Automotive. The mill cranks out 623 hp, and sends everything through a Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed to the $6,500 IRS system.
Inside, the Camaro has accoutrements from Ace Auto Trim, Auto Meter, Wilwood, and a RideTech roll cage.
On The Autocross Course
Taking a peek at this year's contenders found something entirely new ... completely independent rear suspension for a second-gen Camaro. Inboard Baer brakes, flexible CV joints, axles, and coilovers complemented the supercharged LQ4 and T56 transmission. Sporting a huge grin, I was anticipating my turn behind the wheel, feeling lucky that I'd drawn up an ultra-fast course. Can you say Third gear? You can ... and I did!
The Camaro was balky off the line, but once moving, it was very compliant and easy to position. The car quickly moved through the four-cone slalom, went where it was pointed, and gave good feedback with no evil handling surprises. The high-speed crossovers were an incredible rush in Third gear. I was surprised how well-balanced this car felt during upshifting followed by a mad burst of acceleration g's, then softly settling back into second gear before the 180-degree end turnaround.
Third gear also deserves a huge pat on the back, as this car's power is massive. It's "plant you in the seat" power with a couple "OMG's" thrown in for good measure. You know that feeling you get when the elevator suddenly descends? Yep, my stomach was plastered against my spine, and it was cool. Even with this überpower, there was good harmony and no discord between the suspension and the tires.
Shredding my way back through the sweepers, I was able to trail brake into corners and get rotation in return. Under gradual acceleration on track-out, the Camaro didn't appear to be tail happy and took power input well. It stayed balanced through the lane change, and quick steering got me turned and through the tight stuff before the finish.
Overall, it was a very fun and predictable journey through the cones. What really stood out was the car's ability to put all that power to the ground, yet madly hang on when carving some g's. It just plain felt good.
There were a couple pesky annoyances and one biggie was the twin-disc clutch. I found myself staging further and further back from the official "start'"as the car bucked and kicked like a rented mule every time I moved off the line in First gear. Brakes, too, were somewhat touchy but manageable. And I'd like to see the steering a bit stiffer, as with the brakes, a very light touch was all it took. Looking back on the overall times, I'm betting there was an easy second, perhaps two, left at the starting line. - Mary Pozzi