Today, Carl Casanova's sister is probably regretting trading her '68 Camaro for his '71 El Camino. But fate plays strange games with us, and Carl eagerly took the keys to the first-gen ponycar with all the zeal a typical high school junior would. At the time the Camaro was fairly stock, with a 2bbl-choked 327 and Powerglide trans for motivation, rolling on 14-inch American Racing wheels. Carl and the Camaro would have numerous adventures through high school and college.
By the time he finished his education and job training, Carl had a new wife, a new career, and a new car that relegated the '68 to the garage where it languished for several years. One day Carl's passion for the F-body returned, and with 384,000 miles on the clock, he knew it needed a full rebuild. His wife Kris really questioned his sanity after seeing the disassembled Camaro in the garage, thinking it would never run again. This was back in 1998 and 1999.
By 2002 the '68 was back on the street, and a chance encounter led Carl to a track day at Buttonwillow Raceway. After a few laps out on the course with David Pozzi (our test driver Mary Pozzi's husband), Carl was hooked on corner carving so the Camaro went back into the garage for renovations. Being able to cruise on weekends was a must, but so was being able to hit the track and have some twisty-turny fun. Since Hotchkis was hosting the event, Carl called that company for one of its full TVS suspension systems.
The Hotchkis TVS kit isn't just a package of parts from its individual lineup. Each part is matched to provide the best handling possible and provide a track-ready suspension that is also friendly for everyday street driving. Fully equipped, along with some other mechanical upgrades, Carl can enjoy the Camaro at the track and cruising up and down the Pacific Coast Highway with his family on the weekends.
Driver's Impression-On the Autocross Course
This red coupe was heavily powered with a Magnuson-charged LS1 backed by six forward gears, all resting on tried and true on the OEM front subframe and Hotchkis TVS coils, sway bars, shocks, companion rear leaf springs, and tubular control arms. As with all first-gen Camaros, it's difficult to stuff anything wider than 275s inside that stock wheelwell, and this car was noexception.
With the raging onset of the supercharger, it can be hell in a hurry without a deft right foot. The Magnuson comes on fast and plants you in the seat. You'd better be in a straight line or nearly so as turning ain't gonna happen. I paid close attention here and really tried to keep unwanted supercharger action to a minimum. While fun and all that, having the car scoot out from underneath you can be a bit unsettling in the middle of a slalom
Even with a limited contact patch, off the line this Hotchkis-equipped Camaro was able to hook up and get itself hustled down to the initial slalom. Keeping the supercharger quietly waiting in the wings, I softly worked my four-cone slalom and transitioned across the first changeover to the sweeper. Having to brake here, I was in for a huge surprise as these stoppers had absolutely no shades of gray. It's black or white, brakes being locked or nearly so, or off completely, but after my initial foray into flat-spot territory, I figured out that a very soft pedal application would slow this car. For me, I like to see brakes that offer more stopping power the harder I step down in a linear process. On this '68, these brakes appeared extremely touchy and unpredictable, which would definitely affect the overall times.
Leaving the first crossover, I let the supercharger kick things up a few notches and allowed this red car to fly. Man, this Camaro can move, and I was very impressed by the lateral grip offered by those sticky Nitto NT05s. Transitioning back across the course had me in Third gear (I peeked and saw 78 mph) before I braked for the end. Braking here got me more tire smoke, but got it done; the car slowed, we turned left, and hauled the mail back down the right side.
Feedback was excellent and the car responded to steering and throttle very nicely. In the transitional sweepers, I really liked the way I turned in and attacked each apex and then held my driving line. There was no dreaded wandering or steering delay, and each corner was as predictable as the one before it. Driving was made easy, and I was able to keep my eyes up and looking ahead with my hands following the eyes and the car following the hands. Working down the lane change before the finish, I found the Camaro staying very balanced and underneath me.
The Hotchkis-equipped Camaro has a huge traction threshold and it takes a lot to get it to a pissed-off state. This is a system I'd recommend for anyone that enjoys more spirited driving on the street or at the track as it offers a very predictable and compliant ride, yet won't break the bank.-Mary Pozzi