Bad-ass big block blue Camaro. A whole lot of Bs and a whole lot of power
Road trips. I love them, and ‘number one’ photographer Quinn and I usually get to do quite a few together. We get to share cheap-arse motel rooms together and put up with each others’ odd body smells. But even though those times are all awesome fun, our favourite pastime is playing I-Spy. Yep, that classic road trip game we all loved as kids, and our parents hated us playing ’cause it got on dad’s goat something shocking. But Quinn and I, we love playing it. How many times he’s caught me out with ‘T for tree’ still amazes me. But I remember on a trip to Taranaki that I hit him with a killer. “Something beginning with four Bs.” I had him stumped. He looked around for ages, and eventually gave. “I don’t know,” he said, puzzled. I killed his curiosity. “Badass blue big block.”
Yep, I had just spotted the 1976 Camaro of Ian Elliott. Now, Camaros of this era can often be overlooked as tough streeters, but Ian is one out of the box. He had previously pedalled some pretty cool cars that show a rather diverse influence in automotive interests. He had thrashed around a tough 350 Chev-powered 1971 GTR XU1, a classic MkIV Zephyr running a 302 Windsor, and several other items he would prefer no one ever know about.
Of course, as most of us find when we’re into the aural delights of the V8 world, the small blocks are fun to play with, but there’s that yearning desire for some serious power, and something American. Drag racing is an important factor in Ian’s life, so a car that would serve both worlds of race and street would be the goal. The hunt was on for something that was already up the right alley, and would only need minor adjustments to suit requirements. The ’76 would hit the target on every desire.
The Camaro was discovered in New Plymouth, having been brought in from the USA by Don Henderson. Don had found it on the side of the road somewhere in California and jumped at it. Once back home it was passed onto his son Blair, who later sold it to Ian, some 15 years ago now. It was running a tired 327, so Ian progressed to a 350, then on to a tunnel-rammed 402ci Chev that was destroyed at Meremere in 2000 (that’s 5359cc, to 5735 then 6588cc in modern parlance). It was then the decision was made that big cubes were the only way to go on the strip.
Friends In High Places
Shane Neighbour was a well-known man in the circles of hot rodding and racing, and he sold Ian his 468ci (7669cc) big block, which was in need of a rebuild. Shane sadly passed away before the motor was finished and run down the quarter mile. But there is no doubt he was watching over the build of the 468ci during the four years Ian worked on it. And it was done right the first time around, that’s for sure.
Having originally been built in Bakersfeld in the USA, the big block had been given the once-over by Willie Roach of Eagle Automotive. The internals were given a mild touch-up to say the least, including TRW 12.5:1 pistons that hold onto the stock rods, which have been balanced and shot-peened. The heads have been match ported and now house Comp Cams roller rockers and stainless steel valves topped off with Comp Cams valve springs. No doubt the big block would have a big appetite, and feeding protein liquid into the old girl would take some serious carburetion. So once the Carter high-volume manual pump pulls through the gas, it quenches the thirst of a 850cfm Holley resting upon a Torker 2 Tarantula manifold on a 51mm spacer that was set up by Shane at Hawera Automotive. Firing up the BB is the trusty MSD 6AL with a 7200rpm chip, which sends the pulse down to an MSD Billet dizzy with Blaster 2 coil.
Keep Your Cool
Rob Low of Arthur and Low Radiators and Exhausts was called upon to perform some magic to get both heat and cold flowing through the block in all the right areas. Rob supplied 1.9-inch Heddman Headers that run into three-inch stainless pipes and through Lukey Mufflers to three-inch tips. Needless to say the Camaro lets out a rather impressive yell when Ian gives it a kick.
While it was in the shop, Arthur and Lowe also installed the five-core radiator, which runs twin fans to keep cooling under control: so far there are no problems to report. (Rob Low, by the way, is also well known for his offshoot business, Rob’s Rod Shop.) A Gilmour belt hangs off the front of the block. It’s been modified to run a belt to the power steering. The only other engine bay modification was to relocate the battery to the boot and have the engine bay colour-matched to the Mariner Blue of the exterior. Sitting in behind the healthy 468 are a Chuck Mann-built Turbo 400 with a reverse pattern manual valve body, and a 3500rpm stall converter built by Auto Trans. From here it runs into the trusty Ford nine-inch, with mini spool and Holden tubes and axles with 4.56 gears for racing, and 2.75 open diff gears for the street. The suspension uses the factory leaf springs on the rear and 32mm lowered Camaro springs on the front. The only other changes are the custom-built lift bars to aid with traction on the strip, though all the bushes front and rear have been replaced with Nolathane items, as have the body mounts. Pulling the Camaro to a halt is still the job of the huge factory discs and drums, front and rear respectively.
More Than Just Brawn
As far as bodywork goes, it remains stock with the exception of a modified fibreglass hood that was adjusted by Robyn at Coop de Glass. Robin Barnes of Barnes Panel and Paint straightened up any imperfections in the body to prepare it for Phil Nicholson Car Painters in Waitara to lay the Mariner Blue. During the painting stage the entire under-body was given the flick with a nice new coat of gloss black.
Wheel and tyre selection would not be difficult for Ian; he knew what he wanted from the get-go. SS Cragars were the wheels of choice, with 14 by sevens on the front and 15 by eight inches on the rear.As for tyre choice, it was decided to leave options for race and street duties. BF Goodrich rubber measuring 235/60R14 wraps around the front and 295/60R15s around the rear for street work, while a chunky pair of Mickey Thompson ET Street 28×13.5×15 is used on the rear for racing.
“Interior-wise the factory seats have been re-upholstered by my sister Toni, at Tidy Trim in New Plymouth,” Ian explains. The dashboard retains the factory instruments, plus an Auto Meter tachometer and shift light that is set to 6500rpm, and after-market temperature and oil gauges.
Ian’s stoked with his selection of stereo system, and the car boasts “a crappy old Panasonic radio cassette with 100-watt speakers that I installed by myself with a hacksaw blade and other crude tools. And it’s useless because the Camaro makes so much noise it drowns it out; it’s awesome.”
Although the Camaro has never officially been on the dyno, it’s estimated from quarter mile times that it’s close to the 500hp (373kW) mark. “And what are those times?” I hear you ask. How does flat 11s at 115mph (185kph) turn your crank? And when racing the 1/8th strip at home in the ’Naki, it cuts a 7.7.
I can confirm the performance of the ’76, as Ian obviously had to take me for a flick down the road in it. It’s one of those horrible perks of the job, I’m afraid. And as we rounded a corner that led onto a nice open, straight road, Ian’s foot went in, the rear kicked out and we left a cloud of smoke trailing behind as the big block let out a blood-curdling howl which left me almost deaf. Yep, there’s nothing like an innocent-looking Camaro to set you in your place. As we flew along the road, I tried to play I-Spy with Ian. I called out, “Something beginning with B.” Ian got it in one try as he yelled back: “BLUR.”
1976 Chevrolet Camaro
Engine: 468ci (7669cc) big block Chev, 454 block two-bolt mains bored 60-thou and O-ringed, TRW 12.5:1 pistons, stock rods balanced and shot peened, balanced steel crank, Comp Cams roller cam, oval port heads match ported, Comp Cams roller rockers; stainless steel valves, Comp Cams valve springs, 356mm (14-inch) K&N air filter, Carter high volume manual fuel pump fed by half-inch fuel lines, Holley 850cfm carburettor, Torker II Tarantula manifold, 51mm (two-inch) spacer, MSD 6AL with 7200rpm chip, MSD Billet distributor, MSD Blaster two coil, 1.9-inch Heddman headers, three-inch stainless exhaust, Lukey mufflers, five-core radiator, Gilmour belt drive
Driveline: Turbo 400 trans, reverse pattern manual valve body, 3500 rpm high stall converter, Ford nine-inch diff, mini spool, Holden tubes and axles, 4.56 gears for racing and 2.75 open diff gears for the street
Suspension: Three-way adjustable shocks, factory leaf spring rear, 32mm lowered big block Camaro front springs, custom-built lift bars, Nolathane bushes
Wheels/ tyres: 14×7 and 15×8-inch Cragar SS rims, BF Goodrich 235x60R14 front tyres, BF Goodrich 295/60R15 rear tyres, or Mickey Thompson ET Street 28×13.5×15 slicks for racing
Exterior: Fibreglass bonnet, Mariner blue paint, gloss black undercarriage
Interior: Re-trimmed seats, B&M Mega shifter, Auto Meter tachometer and shift light, aftermarket temperature and oil gauges
Performance: Approx 373kW (500hp), 11.0 at 115mph (185kph), 7.7 seconds on the eighth mile street drags
Occupation: Radio technician.
Previously owned cars: 71 GTR XU1 powered by a 350 Chev, MKIV Zephyr powered by a 302 Ford, “Nothing else I dare mention”
Dream car: Either a ’34 Chev or a ’41 Willys but hey, who doesn’t want those?
Why the Camaro? “Robbie Low made me do it and it was American so I could not go wrong”
Build time: Four very long years
Length of ownership: 15 years
Ian thanks: “I would especially like to thank Robbie Low for all the hours he has put in over the years to help me finish the car and keep it running. Robbie is one of the most unselfish and helpful people you could ever meet. Robbie owns Arthur and Lowe Radiators and Exhausts, and the infamous Rob’s Rod Shop. Eagle Automotive for sourcing all the parts for the car and my tow truck, and also their patience when I was paying off the bills. Chuck Mann for building an awesome trans giving me a large chiropractor’s bill thanks to its neck-snapping performance. My sister Toni for the upholstery and her boss Jeremy for allowing her to do it. My other sister Lynda for all the sign work on my car and trailer and most of Scenic City Rod & Custom Clubs drag racers’ cars and trailers. All the Ratpack members, Lyall Broadmore, the late Shane Neighbour and, of course, Robbie. And last but definitely not least JD Hickman for allowing a Chev to be photographed in Ford Country”
Words: Ricki Wood Pics: Quinn Hamill