1970 Chevrolet Camaro - The Return Of Grumpy's Toy

Drag racing's most famous "rent-a-racer" gets restored to its former splendor

Bob McClurg Dec 22, 2006 0 Comment(s)
Sucs_0600_06_z 1970_chevy_camaro_grumpys_toy Driver_side_view 2/19

Owner Mike Guarise and the staff at Wonder Lake Auto Body went to great lengths to restore the 1970-1/2 Camaro coachwork to "as raced" condition when Jenkins owned the car.

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.

Sucs_0600_07_z 1970_chevy_camaro_grumpys_toy Rear_view 3/19

That included replacing the entire rear floor pan, trunk area.

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.

Sucs_0600_08_z 1970_chevy_camaro_grumpys_toy Driver_side_door 7/19

You can't put this on the door if it ain't true.

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.

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With the exception of the A&A fiberglass dash, and three-point Lakewood Industries roll bar the black vinyl interior of "Grumpy's Toy VIII" is factory fresh!

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.




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