When Rob Roberts sold his 1969 Camaro project car, he didn't know just how much his sons, Matthew and Austin, would miss it. He could tell that Matthew especially was sad to see the car get loaded up on a trailer and roll off forever. "I knew I had made a mistake," Rob told us. He had sold the Camaro to make room for a Corvette ZR1 that would replace it. The LS9-powered C6 got hot-rodded with an aggressive cam, an overdriven supercharger, and a set of HRE wheels, but it just wasn't the same as the old muscle. Soon enough the bug for old iron bit him and Rob found a 1971 Camaro to buy as a project. The car was a driver, although it was always in need of some sort of mechanical attention. Rob told us, "the car was leaking oil, then the fuel gauge didn't work, and I didn't even know what was wrong with it." Those nagging gremlins caused that early iteration of the car to earn the nickname "Enigma" because Rob never really knew what the problem would be each time he wanted to take it for a cruise. In order to make the car dependable enough to drive from his home in Texas to Biloxi, Mississippi, for Cruisin' the Coast, Rob dropped in a basic Chevrolet Performance crate 350 and hit the road. The car did its job, delivering Rob and Matthew to Mississippi. It was just missing something. That's when Rob decided to meld his Enigma with the best parts of his Corvette ZR1 to create a road-carving Camaro capable of comfortable, reliable, cross-country cruising.
To build his ZR71 Camaro, Rob enlisted Tim Palazzolo and the crew at GAP Racing in Houston. One of Rob's friends had a first-gen Camaro built there, and the impressive workmanship sold him on the shop. Like a lot of talented car builders, Tim got his start when he was young, learning fabrication skills on custom mini trucks. In 2008 he began working with his father, George, in the business he created building hot rods and muscle cars. Now that George has retired, Tim runs the shop and has recently focused on full-scale car builds like this one.
While Rob's Camaro was a driver, the body was in sad shape. GAP Racing removed the hood, fenders, roof skin, cab floor, trunk floor, and quarter panels. All junk. Replacements were ordered from Auto Metal Direct. While the new quarters were being installed, wide rear inner fenders were fitted, so wide that the rear subframe had to be narrowed. In place of the 10-bolt is a Moser Engineering fabricated 9-inch housing with a Detroit Truetrac and 3.50 Moser gears and 35-spline axles. It's mounted to the subframe using a Detroit Speed Quadralink modified for the 52-inch-wide axle. A custom floorpan was also fabricated to fit a Tremec T56 Magnum transmission.
The foundation for the front suspension is a Detroit Speed hydroformed subframe that uses Detroit Speed control arms and spindles, and JRI remote reservoir shocks with improved geometry for a better camber curve. The subframe incorporates Detroit Speed's own rack and pinion steering. The installation of the subframe required a bit of fabrication on the part of GAP Racing, as it's not intended for the front drive system from an LS9. Rob pirated the supercharged powerplant from a 2012 ZR1 and GAP Racing upgraded it with a ported snout from Lingenfelter and a cam from Brian Tooley Racing. It's the same cam grind as Rob's 2010 ZR1, which he has since sold.
For the interior, Rob didn't want anything too wild. After all, this car will see a lot of use. Rob called upon Stitch by Stitch Custom Designs in Cookeville, Tennessee, where he went over some ideas with the owner, Jan. He explained his goals of a simple interior that was both comfortable and durable while keeping an overall performance theme. Jan immediately knew which direction to go. He picked up some upholstery fabric samples and Rob gave him the go-ahead. Jan kept the factory dash and console, wrapping them in stitched leather, and added matching Recaro front seats. The rear seats were ditched entirely, replaced by a luggage shelf and a leather and carbon fiber waterfall between carbon fiber wheel tubs.
Despite the custom touches and perfect paint, Rob plans to rack up the miles on his ZR71 Camaro. His goal is to complete Power Tour 2017 with the car, and we admit it seems well suited for long distance touring. The LS9 won't go to waste either, as Rob sees some hard driving in the car's future: "show cars are great, but my philosophy has always been 'drive it like you stole it' so that's just what we plan to do."