With so much new technology available on the market to improve the performance of vintage rides, Steve Gray says people can be pretty dismissive when it comes to his classic 1967 Camaro. After all, it's not LS-powered—it just has a little, 400ci small-block Chevrolet with a plate kit. There are no exotic electronics, no EFI, no turbos.
Factor in a 3,700-pound travel weight with a driver, small tires, and leaf springs, and Steve says most folks guess it's a low-11-second car. Well, they'd be wrong. Steve has owned and raced his Camaro for nearly 40 years, so it has benefited from endless tuning and tinkering that has helped propel it from the 12-second zone to its current best e.t. of 9.91 at 137 mph.
After buying the brand-new, fully optioned, hide-a-way-headlight car in 1978—his senior year in high school—Steve immediately started making his Chevy faster.
"I did heads and a cam, and then things really got going when I started playing with nitrous in 1983," Steve says. "Back then, Nitrous Oxide Systems just had three options: 125-, 175-, and 225hp kits. I picked the middle-of-the-road system, and it's been on the car ever since."
By the 1990s, Steve was dipping into the 10s, which was pretty fast for a street car back then. In fact, it was fast enough that the car remained in a kind of stasis for more than a decade until a cracked block forced Steve to make a change.
"I had run the car for more than 10 years with countless nitrous passes, so the engine didn't owe me a thing," Steve recalls. "I was looking to go faster anyway, so it was time to give the engine a full rebuild."
Although he had been using a factory GM block for years, Steve took the opportunity to upgrade the powerplant to a Dart Little M cast-iron engine block. The forged Eagle rotating assembly out of the old engine was swapped over, along with a set of 14.45:1 Ross Racing pistons. The heads were also built on the serious side, with a camshaft spec'd by AFR employee Tony Mamo to work in tandem with the nitrous. Much of the intake and exhaust system was swapped over from the old combination, but Steve was still on the lookout for upgrades whenever he could find them, including a new Holley 950hp carburetor.
Once everything came together, the engine was dyno'd at an impressive 661 hp and 535 lb-ft of torque without nitrous. With the 175hp nitrous plate, Steve would now be looking at well over 800 hp when he hits the button.
Other than the engine, the transmission received the most updates. As horsepower levels increased, Steve switched to a TH400, which he eventually smoked with a healthy dose of nitrous. The upgrade was an Ultimate Vasco 400 from Mike's Transmission in Lancaster, California. To help the hit off the line, they installed a 5,500-rpm stall torque converter to better match the new engine's 7,200-rpm shift point.
While much of the engine and transmission is new, the rest of the car is as close to authentic as it gets. Some of the components, including the brakes, date back to the early 1980s, while other parts like the rollcage, were added later when the Camaro got fast. The 9-inch rearend has been in the car so long that Steve had to take his best guess at what's inside of it.
While Steve's Camaro continues to evolve and becomes faster at the track, he refuses to compromise its roots: "Every time I race the car, turn a wrench on it, or even just start it up, it takes me for a trip down memory lane. For me, there's just nothing that can beat that."
Cooling: A big-compression engine means big heat. Steve wanted to street-drive and hot-lap his car, so the cooling system received plenty of attention. The radiator is a large Griffin aluminum piece, which is supported by twin electric fans and a Meziere water pump.
Fuel System: The fuel system is another old-tech part, and it starts with the factory gas tank that has a sump welded in. From there, a Holley black pump pushes fuel up to the engine, while a separate Holley black pump sends fuel from a 1-gallon fuel cell into the nitrous system.
Exhaust: The Hooker Super Comp headers have survived several engine swaps and feature 1-7/8-inch-diameter primary tubes. A full 3-inch exhaust has also been on the car for years and dumps into a set of single-chamber Flowmaster mufflers.
Transmission: Steve chose an Ultimate 400 from Mike's Transmissions to ensure everything remained solid. Mike builds the Ultimate Vasco 400s with a modified case, billet input shaft and front drum, billet intermediate shaft, high-pressure valvebody with transbrake, heavy-duty 36-element sprag, roller bearings, and a revised clutch count. A 5,500-rpm stall torque converter from Continental connects the transmission to the engine.
Rearend: As much as it hurt Steve to put a non-GM part in his car, he credits the Ford 9-inch rearend with lasting forever. The basic bare-bones unit has 4.10 gears, Posi-traction, aftermarket axles "of some sort," and not much else.
Chassis: You can't get away with running a car for nearly 40 years without twisting the frame into a pretzel—unless you have some type of chassis stiffening. A set of ancient Lakewood frame connectors tie the front and rear subframes and are further connected by an eight-point rollcage with swing-out bars that were installed years ago.
Suspension: Steve kept the suspension simple, performing effective upgrades over the years. Up front is a set of QA1 shocks with Moroso drag springs and Smith Racecraft upper and lower control arms; out back, the leaf-spring suspension is helped by a set of Calvert Racing CalTracs bars.
Brakes: Steve installed the brakes at a time when he didn't have any money, so the fronts are discs off a 1970 Nova and the rears are factory drums. "I've thought of upgrading, but the car seems to stop fine," he says.
Wheels/Tires: The front tires are old enough that they have 165/R15 86S on the side as a size. The rear tires are standard 28/10.5R15 Mickey Thompson ET Drag slicks. The wheels are from Centerline, "back when there was only one kind you could buy," Steve says.
Paint/Body: The body of the Camaro is all steel and still retains the factory hideaway headlights. Steve says the paint is "whatever blue looked good to me in 1986."