History records that on February, 5, 1970, Malvern, Pennsylvania Chevrolet star, Bill, "Grumpy" Jenkins wheeled his ZL1 engine 1968 Chevrolet Camaro match racer "Grumpy's Toy VI" to the first ever NHRA Winternationals Pro Stock Eliminator title over arch nemesis Ronnie Sox driving the Sox & Martin 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. Within a matter of a month, the "Grump" would repeat that feat twice over, once at Orange County International Raceway's West Coast Pro Stock Championships, and then down south in the Sunshine State at the NHRA Gatornationals where Jenkins captured his second consecutive NHRA Pro Stock Eliminator title. It appeared as though Bill, "Grumpy" Jenkins "owned" Pro Stock Eliminator!
Jenkins along with Sox & Martin, "Dandy Dick" Landy and the late "Dyno Don" Nicholson are all credited as being the founding fathers of NHRA and AHRA Pro Stock racing having previously competed as members of the United States Drag Racing Team, a heads-up super stock circuit which they formed in early 1968. Naturally in the fall of 1969 when both the NHRA & AHRA were forming the framework for this exciting new eliminator it was only logical they adapt many of the USDRA's rules and guidelines.
History also records that with Pro Stock Eliminator's announcement, Sox & Martin, Landy and Nicholson all went out and built brand new race cars for Pomona. On the other hand, Jenkins was patiently waiting for the arrival of the all new, second generation 1970-1/2 Chevrolet Camaro which was reportedly delayed due to UAW strike issues. Hence, the "Grump" had to rely on his trusty 1968 "Grumpy's Toy VI" to get the job done.
Speculation ran high as to exactly what Jenkins had in store for Chevrolet's all new Camaro. Then in July, 1970, the world got to see the latest in a long line of "Malvern Missile's," as
Built by the Jenkins Competition "Super Crew" which consisted of Dick Whitman, Derrick Von Bargen, Joe Tryson and Dutch Irrgang, "Grumpy's Toy VIII" benefited from the team's years of experience gained racing Chevrolet products (specifically Chevrolet Nova's and Camaro's,) in the NHRA and AHRA Stock, and Super Stock Eliminator classes. For example, Grumpy's Toy # VIII was equipped with a heavy duty 1965-70 12-bolt GM passenger car rear axle housing narrowed 2-1/2-inches, containing a 5.13:1 GM Service Package Posi-Traction gear set and heavy duty axles. Rear suspension consisted of a pair of extended 1970 Camaro spring hangers and Camaro SS 396 heavy duty rear leaf springs moved inboard to provide ample tire room, aided by a pair of Lakewood traction bars using a special wedge plate at the rear to enhance traction. A pair of Cure Ride competition shock absorbers provided adequate torque enhancement for that all important weight transfer. Other Jenkins tricks included a white-painted, Carter-equipped Camaro fuel tank to reflect heat and keep the fuel cool.
Since the all new 1970-1/2 Chevrolet Camaro was initially designed to accept a small-block engine rather than a tunnel ram-equipped 430-cid rat motor, "Team Jenkins" gusseted the entire front sub frame welding up weak areas to increase strength. The front a-frames were also re-angled to achieve more positive front caster. Sub frame connectors were added to eliminate torsional stress on the body, and the engine was torque strapped to the frame to prevent it from ripping out the front a-frames.
Actual suspension consisted of a pair of 1966 Chevy II heavy duty coil front springs rated at 220-inch pounds. The front shocks were specially valved #2018 Koni shocks which provided sufficient front end lift under acceleration to enhance traction.
Powering this beauty was the aforementioned Jenkins Competition assembled 430-inch GM rat motor which featured a cross-drilled, shot- peened, and Tuff-Trided GM forged-steel 427 crank bolted up to a set of 427 big-block connecting rods pressed on to a set of eight Sealed Power-equipped TRW forged-aluminum pistons. The cam of choice was a General Kinetics #332 flat tappet grind along with a General Kinetics valve springs, retainers, and roller tip rocker kit bolted up to a pair of Dutch Irrgang-ported and polished open chamber "Jenkins" stamped 427 alloy cylinder heads. Induction came from a 2x4 Edelbrock tunnel ram intake sporting a pair of big bore 750-cfm Holley carburetors. The ignition system on Grumpy's new "Toy" came in the form of a '62 Corvette dual point tach-drive distributor firing a set of Champion spark plugs through Packard spark plug wires. The exhaust used a set of large diameter Hooker Headers. Because Chevrolet didn't happen to manufacture a torque release clutch fan at the time, Jenkins had to resort to an 18-1/2-inch diameter aluminum-bladed fan designed for the 1965 Chrysler hemi race engines to keep things cool! Backing this all up was a Borg Warner T-10S four-speed transmission with 2.43:1 low gear using a Schiefer clutch, a Lakewood bellhousing, and Hurst linkage.
It's not surprising that the save for the heavily padded Lakewood Industries three-point roll bar, Stahl tachometer, and Stewart Warner gauges, the interior of "Grumpy's Toy VIII" was surprisingly stock, although a set of A&A fiberglass bucket seats would be later added for match racing.
As for the exterior of the Camaro, both front and rear wheel wells were enlarged to clear those 15-inch Cragar S/S-mounted Stahl front, and Good Year rear tires. Initially "Grumpy's Toy VIII" debuted with a steel front end and an A&A Engineering one-piece-fiberglass tunnel ram lift off hood. Soon, however, it was updated to an A&A Engineering 1970-1/2 Ralleye Sport fiberglass front end and spoiler. Finally, as was common practice with most of Bill Jenkins cars, the Camaro was painted in traditional Wimbledon White with the familiar "Jenkins Competition" logos on the back fenders, and the words, "Grumpy's Toy VIII" proudly lettered in gold leaf on the doors.
However, as well engineered and thought out as Grumpy's newest Toy was, the car seemed to struggle in NHRA legal trim recording high 9.8's at best while chief rivals like Sox were running at least a tenth to two tenths of a second quicker. As a match race car, though, the Camaro appeared to have found its niche as Jenkins would routinely run 9.40's with a big-inch "Mountain Motor" installed with all the weight out, but by then Jenkins was already moving on to bigger and better things.
By the summer of 1971, rumors about the radically revised NHRA Pro Stock Eliminator rulebook for 1972 allowing shorter (96-inch) wheelbase cars like the soon-to-be-released Chevrolet Vega to compete in Pro Stock with small-block power (@6.75 or more pounds per cubic-inch,) prompted Jenkins to jump head long into an intense small-block Chevrolet R&D engine development program that would ultimately pay off with a big win at Pomona '72 with his revolutionary SRD Race Cars-built, "Grumpy's Toy IX" Pro Stock Chevrolet Vega. In the meantime, famed match race and funny car pioneer Bruce, "USA-1" Larsen had grown tired of getting burned behind the wheel of a fuel funny car, and approached Jenkins about renting Grumpy's Toy VIII" as sort of a "trainer" entry into Pro Stock racing. Decked out in Larsen's familiar red, white and blue "USA-1" livery, the Dauphine, PA. driver campaigned the disguised Grumpy's Toy Camaro throughout the remainder of the 1971 season, and midway into the 1972 season until Bruce's new SRD-built USA-1 Pro Stock Chevrolet Vega was ready.
At this same time Long Island, New York Chevrolet racer Richie Zul made a name for himself in NHRA's Division-1 with his aging 1969 Pro Stock Camaro. In late 1971, Zul ordered a new replacement car which was un-ceremoniously stolen before it ever turned a tire. In dire need of a car to race, Zul approached Jenkins, and entered into a "rent-to-own" agreement with the Camaro. For the next three seasons, Zul consistently flogged the Camaro constantly changing and upgrading the car to make it more competitive. For example, early on Zul had SRD Race Cars back half the Camaro adding a full roll cage while upgrading the rear suspension to the now more commonplace four bar/coil-over shock design. In the process, Zul also upgraded the car's sheet metal to the new "aero" look typified by Camaro's of the day, and even installed a bigger back window to keep the style of the car current. For his efforts, Richie won Pro Stock Eliminator at the 1974 NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township's Raceway Park in front of a standing room only crowd. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
From that point on, little is known about what happened to the Jenkins-Zul Camaro, although one thing is for sure, it remained a race car the rest of its days. Then in 2003, mid west musclecar collector Mike Guarise spotted an ad offering the car for sale. "It (the car) was presented as the Bill, "Grumpy" Jenkins, "Grumpy's Toy VIII." but the seller didn't have any documentation at that point to prove it. He was also hard to get hold of, and a little cantankerous when you did get hold of him. I strongly suspect that was the reason why I was the only bidder. I told him that I would be glad to make an offer on the car. However, I would need to have a letter of certification from Bill Jenkins that it was indeed his old race car." After agreeing on a price, the seller agreed to haul the car from Baltimore, Maryland to Malvern, Pennsylvania to have Jenkins authenticate the car. With letter of authentication firmly in hand, the deal was quickly concluded. Mike brought the car home, and started the restoration process shortly thereafter.
By now, many of you may be wondering how after all those years of use, and abuse, was Bill Jenkins able to authenticate the car? "Although the car was in primer, and all the original paint below it was gone, it was pretty much the way Richie Zul had last raced it. I believe that the car had sat from the time Zul parked it. Number one, he (Jenkins) was familiar with SRD's work, and the SRD sub frame and coil-over rear suspension which they had installed. Number two, when Zul had raced the car in the later body style, he had cut out the rear window opening to accommodate the much larger later-model Camaro back window. There also had been a patch installed to fill that area in, so he immediately recognized where the window had been cut out. The car had also been acid dipped which was another way Jenkins could tell it was his old race car. There were also no top bows for the headliner as well as no structural support in the roof area which is another way he could tell that it was his car. And the A&A fiberglass dash installed when Bruce Larsen campaigned the car was also still there!"
During the lengthy restoration process, which began at Wonder Lake Auto Body in July, 2003, under the watchful eye of Bob Kroening, Mike spoke to Jenkins on several occasions. "He was sometimes hard to get a hold of during the racing season when he was busy building motors for Dave Connolly, but there was a lot of written communication back and forth between the two of us. I decided that the best thing to do was to write up a list of ten questions, and leave enough room at the bottom of each question for him to give me an answer. That seemed to work the best!"
"Since the Camaro had been back halved, the first order of business was to locate a wrecked donor car which lent its rear floor pan and trunk section to the cause." Mike Guarise was also adamant about getting the engine combination right. "More often than not, he (Jenkins) ran an iron block in the car not the ZL1, or "Can Am" motor like he ran in his '68 car, so that's the way I built it. Basically, what's in there now is a code "512" dated cast-iron 427 block now displacing 468-cid. It also has the correct heads, and the Weiand vintage tunnel ram with "period correct" 750 cfm Holley double-pumper carburetors. We even went as far as to obtain the correct 1962 Corvette tach-drive distributor that Bill originally used on the car. Another hard-to-find-item was the Hemi Super Stock 18-1/2-inch aluminum fan which he used. In the process of restoring this car, we have attempted to get everything as technically correct as possible. For example, although the HOT ROD MAGAZINE article lists the 2x4 tunnel ram intake as being an Edelbrock, that association was short lived. In its place, Guarise has installed the more commonly used Weiand 2x4 tunnel ram intake.
The black vinyl interior in the Camaro is also original NOS as is the ultra rare Stahl tachometer. The three-point Lakewood roll bar is also technically correct. Both front and rear Cragar S/S wheels are period correct as well as the Stahl front tires and Goodyear drag slicks on the rear. Completed July 2005 just in time for its public debut at York U.S. 30's "Super Stock Reunion," the resurrected "Grumpy's Toy VIII" received rave revues from everyone in attendance. But what did Bill, "Grumpy" Jenkins actually think about the restoration?
"When Bill Jenkins finally saw the car at York, I pointed out some of the hard to find items like the tach-drive Corvette distributor and Hemi fan setup in an effort to impress upon him that in the process of restoring the car, we wanted to get everything right. Now, he also pointed out a couple of things that I had messed up on like the inline Hurst shifter for example, so I'm now in the process of fixing those things." None-the-less, old "Grumpy" was sufficiently impressed to autograph the cowl for Mike and that's all the approval Guarise needs. "I'm a big fan of Camaro's in general, and ex-drag cars in particular (Mike also owns Ronnie Sox's 1971 NHRA World Championship-winning Plymouth Barracuda Pro Stock car,) and the fact that it's "Grumpy's Toy VIII" makes it a phenomenal collector piece. There really is only one "Grumpy's Toy VIII" Pro Stock Camaro, and VERY I'm proud to say that I have it!"