Mechanical Animal

Maxed Out Muscle Cars

Jason R. Sakurai Jan 12, 2005 0 Comment(s)

me*tic*u*lous adj [Latin meticulous timid, French metus fear]: marked by extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details. Synonym see CAREFUL.

Rich Roberts is meticulous, and a good thing too, particularly if you happen to buy a Pro Mod car from him and you regularly see speeds of over 230 mph at a little over 6 seconds. It also doesn't hurt that he's had 30 years of experience building them, along with just about anything else on wheels.

So what does a fabricator with the ability to turn a pile of tubing and fiberglass into a turnkey car do next? In Rich's case, he took a hard look at the street rod market, and decided that there was a need for a musclecar replica. Not just any replica, mind you, but one that embodied all the modifications you would want in a $100,000 money-is-no-object street machine. Instead of cutting up the last remaining SS models available, or cloning base models or RS versions, Roberts went all in--he decided 5 years ago to build his own bodies, mated to a Pro Street version of what he's been producing for the track.

Looking at his stock in trade, Rich produced a custom 2.5x4x.188-inch tubular chassis that's as stout as they come for street and occasional strip use. The key here is that all his Vennom chassis are spread out on a 109-inch wheelbase, so that he can mount the '67 Vennom C-2 body (which evokes the image of a Chevy Nova/Chevy II of that vintage) just as easily as he would a '69 Vennom that strangely enough takes a lot of styling cues and the silhouette of a First-Generation Camaro. No need to mention here that replicas of competitive marques will also fit the chassis, only as a word of caution if you do happen to see some very slick-looking Brand X vehicles that are as low-slung and plain nasty-looking as the Chevrolet-inspired Vennoms you see here.

Roberts fills all the chassis welds, and if you have him put it together rather than order it in "kit" form, he will shoot a basecoat followed by several clearcoats to reach hero status. In front, a ProMax/Vennom IRS, a Flaming River manual rack, and an ididit aluminum tilt steering column are used. QA1 coilovers with 450-pound springs and 2-inch dropped spindles contribute to the car's rakish appearance. In back, a Vennom 9-inch rear with a Strange nodular case contains a Detroit Locker limited-slip, with 4.86 gears and Strange 31-spline axles. QA1 coilovers are also used in back with 185-pound springs, hung from a triangulated four-link. A Mopar Performance master cylinder pumps up 12-inch Baer brakes fore and aft, and the battery's been relocated to the rear for better weight distribution. A Ron Davis radiator, measuring a tidy 19x31 inches, is covered by a Vennom shroud/header panel, to cool this beast (although we think Rich was at it again, cleaning up under the hood). Rolling on Colorado Custom 16x7-inch five-spokes in front, with matching 17x12.5-inch rears, they mount BFGoodrich 205/55R16s and 345/55 R17s respectively.

While just about any powertrain combo you desire can be utilized by simply changing the motor and transmission mounts, in Rich's mule, a Street & Performance 450 horse, 502ci big-block crate motor was selected to keep things from getting too complex, with a handful of additions. A Moroso 7-quart oil pan ensures proper lubrication, while a Mallory fuel pump coupled with a Jaz 22-gallon fuel cell avoids starving the twin Edelbrock 500-cfm carburetors atop a Street & Performance manifold. Like that slick air cleaner? We knew you would, and that's another ProMax/Vennom piece, which sandwiches a K&N Hemi filter element in between. A Mallory Unilite distributor and wires with Autolite spark plugs light the mixture, and HPC-coated ProMax headers, built from a Stahl kit with 2 1/8-inch primaries, are responsible for removing exhaust gases through 3 1/2-inch baffles and similarly-sized full-length tubing. All told, Roberts estimates the motor puts out about 475 hp at 5,800 rpm, and who are we to argue in the face of such vast expertise?

As we said before about the ability to use a variety of engine and transmission combinations, in this case a McLeod steel flywheel provides the hookup for the '91 Corvette ZR-1 ZF six-speed transmission, complete with a Corvette clutch disc, pressure plate and bellhousing. A Hurst shifter atop the tranny directs the application of power, a more difficult proposition due to gobs of torque and a chassis willing to run with it.

But what of the Vennom bodies that so precisely replicate the Novas, Camaros, and Corvettes that are part and parcel of your wildest imagination? Face it, saving vintage musclecars was not your primary motive, was it? Seeing Rich's '67 is to experience the baddest toy on the block, maybe even counties or states, depending on your location and population density. No, Roberts and company (which surprisingly only numbers a handful, but they manage to get the job done) will cast the first body, and unlike some who would modify steel until they got it right, they cut, grind, patch, lengthen and shorten this buck to where it looks right. Now looking right is a subjective thing, but given enough input and experience, you know that it works because the Vennom '67 is dead on. Chopping the top 7/8 of an inch and laying a windshield of undisclosed origin down for a flush fit is only the beginning of the modifications to an otherwise-stock body.Where necessary, Rich has lowered, enlarged, pinched, and flush mounted body parts as needed to achieve the desired results. Surprisingly enough, reproduction '67 lights, grille, and bumpers fit despite the myriad modifications. One that instantly attracts a crowd is the forward-tilting hood, another Vennom innovation that was intended to make a separate cowl piece unnecessary. Once a 3 1/2-inch cowl was incorporated into the hood that drew air from the backside, the task was complete. Another Vennom touch is the CNC-machined trunk hinges, precisely locating the trunk lid to avoid any unsightly gaps. This is, after all, a Pro Street car built to rival the best in the hot rod field, with a nod to Downs, Outlaw, Alloway and others. Roberts broke out the spray gun on this one, and DuPont Porsche Guards Red paint is used liberally everywhere the eye can see, along with some you can't.

Inside the cockpit, Bobby Griffey wrapped the Vennom panels in parchment colored leather, with sand tan wool carpeting on the floor. A Vennom fiberglass dash is filled with Auto Meter Ultralite gauges, with a Painless Wiring harness to tie it together. Not content to rely on the sound of the big-block motor for aural entertainment, an Alpine head unit is employed, along with a Vintage Air A/C system to make Cruisin' the Coast or to a Goodguys event in Charlotte a breeze. We should also mention that Roberts managed to hide the aforementioned master cylinder behind the dash, where fluid levels can be monitored through an easily removed access panel.

So, you ask--what's it cost? ProMax's Stage I base package includes: The main body, doors, hood, trunk, and front end. The chassis is fully welded with all of the mounting brackets and attachment points installed, with the body bolted to chassis. The doors, trunk lid, and hood are all hung and latched, and the power window drive mechanisms and tracks are installed. Side door glass and quarter glass are supplied, but not installed. The base package does not include front or rear suspension, or any other components, and the base chassis is not painted or powdercoated. In addition, any products picked up or shipped inside Tennessee are subject to state sales tax. At $18,200, the entry price is not for the faint-hearted, yet it compares favorably with street rod packages, and in fact, most buyers have been rodders who understand this pricing paradigm. Should your wife's grandfather suddenly leave you with a sizeable inheritance, ProMax will also build it for you--pricing available upon request.

At this point in time, Vennom has produced and delivered four of these cars, with more already on order for anxiously awaiting customers. One can be seen on the cable TV program, "Rides," wherein the crew at Year One is seen thrashing on theirs, in a made-for-TV "do or die" race against the clock. Sure, getting a Vennom in your garage in short order would be great, but we are hoping to take a more relaxed approach to building one, maybe experimenting with a few powertrain options we've got lying around. One thing's for sure--Vennom certainly has our imaginations running overtime!

11

0502sc_01z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Passenger_rear_side_view 1/39

The view most would-be challengers will have of a Vennom car.

0502sc_02z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Passenger_side_view 2/39

In silhouette, the Vennom C-2 emulates one of the most popular cars of all time.

0502sc_03z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Passenger_front_side_view 3/39

Rolling out of the shop, the Vennom is evil, wicked, mean AND nasty.

0502sc_04z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Front_view 4/39

Straight on, the front-end drop and top chop can be felt more than seen.

0502sc_05z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Front_view 5/39

Vennom's cowl induction hood measures 3 1/2 inches at the base.

0502sc_06z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Radiator_view 6/39

Keeping cool is the function of this good-looking shroud/radiator support.

0502sc_07z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Driver_front_side_view 7/39

On any street machine, stance is important, and the Vennom has it nailed.

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This is the mold from which the C-2 body is made.

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The front end originates in this form.

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Thick, smooth fiberglass inner panels help make the Vennom show-ready.

0502sc_venom_11_z 11/39

See the billet hinges, and the way the trunk floor accommodates the Jaz fuel cell?

0502sc_venom_12_z 12/39

OEM-type strikers ensure positive engagement of the door latches.

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Vents in the body aren't just cosmetic; they prevent pressure buildup and window blow out.

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Note the lack of exterior handles. Door poppers make them unneeded.

0502sc_15z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Passenger_front_wheel_view 15/39

The 109-inch wheelbase centers the wheels in the wheelwells.

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Vennom chassis begin life secured to this platform.

0502sc_venom_17_z 17/39

Promax/Vennom independent front ends are built on yet another jig.

0502sc_venom_18_z 18/39

A rear section jig, like the front, keeps everything in perfect alignment.

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Among the options, a four-link coilover suspension is one of their most popular.

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When Promax says "complete" they mean it, down to their own fabricated rearends.

0502sc_21z 1967_Chevrolet_Venom Wheel_view 21/39

With the rotors slotted and drilled, the Baer calipers are body colored to add pizzazz.

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Below, a removable tranny crossmember and ample room for headers are but two features.

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Chassis molding, while optional, is one we would opt for.

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Billet exhaust hanger, a race-inspired part, is also a Vennom creation.

0502sc_venom_25_z 25/39

Not forgetting their race car roots, a Pro Mod chassis buildup occurred while we observed.

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The mold for the floorpan is large, and with the size of that tranny tunnel it has to be.

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Out of the mold, the completed pan is then supported until it cures and dries thoroughly.

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Uniting frame and pan, the chassis is wheeled through the shop while work is underway.

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The next step for the chassis is to put a mule or mock-up engine to ensure it will fit.

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Vennom license plate is often the only way to positively I.D. this car until it's too late!

0502sc_venom_31_z 31/39

HUGE tubs leave no room for the rug rats, and large woofers would also be a problem.

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An access panel atop the dash makes it easy to check vital fluid levels.

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Flush Lokar door pulls, billet pedals, and other items are integrated in the interior.

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Surprised how long it took to make this cowl panel and body support? Try 5 years!

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From the body mold, the result is very smooth, leaving a minimal amount of finish work.

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While this '67 'Vette body is destined for a racecar, the street version is equally swoopy.

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Mounted on a Pro Mod chassis, the lineage between race and street car is unmistakable.

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A departure from other Vennoms, this '67 'Vette is getting late-model C5 underpinnings.

0502sc_venom_39_z 39/39

A steel '70 1/2 Z28? On occasion, they do work their magic on metal, but Rich informed us it was a drag strip refugee that had been backhalved.

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