Purchased with no thoughts of modification, Pat Croul’s car is now the toughest-looking Camaro in the land.
I still have no idea what I was thinking,” says Pat Croul, reflecting on what happened to his once tidy, stock-as-a-rock Camaro.
“I purchased the car to just drive, and then I thought I would just tidy it up a little over the winter. I had three or so months of driving it and then apart she came for an engine check.” And so it begins.
“The question was,” continues Pat, warming to his story, “what little mods could be made to the 355ci small block to give it a little more life? It was decided that dropping in a blown big block should take care of it.”
That could have been the beginning of the end. It wasn’t. “The car was stripped, repainted in black and in went a 461ci big block complete with 8/71 supercharger and some other goodies. This took a few months, and then while out for the first test drive I found that there was a little traction problem at almost any stage of the throttle in any gear. The 245 BF Goodriches were just not working out.”
Pat chuckles. “It made driving it somewhat exciting, though.” Ya think?
We’re glad Pat did go overboard. If it weren’t for that giant motor finding its way into the car all those years ago, we wouldn’t be looking at it enviously now. We can’t help but notice there’s no supercharger sticking through the hood. There is one seriously tubbed rear end, though.
Pat explains how that came to be. “With the big power, the small tyres were just never going to work, so I enlisted the help of a mate, Andy, to mini-tub the rear. Once we got it back together after a mammoth effort and sitting on a set of 315s, nothing had changed. It was still just as wild to drive as on the original 245 BF Goodriches. We decided it was time for plan C: a full tub job.”
Over the next 18 months the rear end was cut out, and custom chassis rails and a roll cage were constructed to ensure the Camaro didn’t fold in half or twist itself inside out with every stab of the loud pedal.
Yet although Pat was in theory undertaking all this work to make the car more drivable with the power it had, that power level was also again lifted substantially.
“We built a stronger engine, added some overdrive to the blower and fitted some nitrous,” he says, making it sound like a quick trip to the shops.
Once the chassis work was completed and a custom nine-inch diff fitted, a set of 15×4-and 15×15-inch Convo Pro rims were bolted on, complete with massive 31×18.5-inch Mickey Thompson tyres out back and skinny 26×4.5-inch versions up front.
“With the help of good friends and long hours, finally we were ready for the test drive,” Pat recalls. “Now things should be a lot better. But with the additional mods we were pretty much back where we started. The big Mickey Thompsons were now acting like 245 BF Goodies when I least expected it. Not to mention six miles to the gallon [47l/100km!] meant not much use other than short drives. Three or four 50-litre fills in a day was not uncommon. I would like to point out that they were fun, short drives.” We don’t doubt him for a second.
Although the power figure was never tested, the car was clearly a handful.
After a few years of on-the-edge driving and expensive gas bills, the motor came to an untimely end, leaving the car sitting unloved in the corner collecting dust. Pat even went as far as thinking about selling it. Thankfully his partner, Maree, convinced him that he really couldn’t part with it, and made the generous move of ‘lending’ him the 454ci big block out of her El Camino, which is currently under construction.
Keep it in the Family
It might have less grunt but the big block’s still plenty powerful, and it was just the motivation Pat needed to continue with the Camaro — and at long last give it a proper paint job. Maree’s brother and all-round good guy Kevin Hill donated plenty of time to help get the Camaro’s body looking as good as can be, before spraying it in PPG Ice white with silver pearl. “Kevin is a man of many skills but doesn’t want it to get out. Keep this quiet please,” asks Pat. Sure, his secret is safe with us…
Once the bodywork was transformed from the familiar matte black to the sparkling pearl white, Pat had an epiphany (or an aneurism, he’s not quite sure). He decided that the polished aluminium Convo Pro rims just didn’t look right, and neither did the expensive billet alloy tail light surrounds, so they were promptly rubbed back and coated in gloss black. At the same time the bumpers were taken from sparkling chrome to the PPG Ice white.
It’s hard to make a white car stand out, but the sort of anti-establishment look Pat has achieved really does make the car jump out at passersby. Some people think he’s mad for doing that to a set of Convo Pros but, he reasons, doing things differently is half the fun.
The pro stock-style interior is exactly that: different. While perhaps not the most ergonomically efficient, it’s a cool look, and it’s cohesive with the exterior. Most of it was actually constructed back when the car got the major tub job, but with the outside now all pretty (we’ve been told how much Pat loves that word) the interior also got a spruce-up.
The Recaro front seats were re-trimmed by On Point Upholstery to match the original Camaro interior, although the only other fabric inside the car is the roof lining and carpet. The swaged dash features a plethora of Auto Meter gauges, which were fitted in the days of the blown motor. Besides the sheer number of dials, what most grabs people’s attention are the twin nitrous bottles sitting between the massive rear tubs. After spotting them, it’s pretty obvious the car isn’t just designed to look fast, and even with the ‘borrowed’ motor it still has more than enough power to fry those big Mickey Thompson tyres.
A lot of work has gone into making the car as nice to drive as possible, so the front suspension now employs tubular A-arms and a 32mm sway bar. Both front and rear have been fitted with Nolathane bushes and the rear shocks are fully adjustable QA1 items. Slowing the big tyres down is a task left to a set of four-pot Wilwoods, exactly the same as fitted to the front.
The car may have taken a roundabout way to get where it is, and with the demise of the big motor’s bottom end it hasn’t been a cheap exercise, but Pat finally has the car of his dreams. It looks the part, drives amazingly and, with the motor now under the hood and trouble free, Pat and Maree intend to get out in the car as much as possible. Of course, at some stage Maree’s El Camino is going to want that motor back. Good thing it’s in the process of getting tubbed, and with the involvement of the right people, we expect it to be every bit as tough as the Camaro.
So what will become of Pat’s car once the motor is gone? “I’ll buy a big cube crate motor,” he says. “I’d never build another motor. The old one cost a lot more than I can just buy one for now, so I won’t make that same mistake again.” Just how big is a big cube in Pat’s world? Think around 600ci… Now that — along with the completed El Camino, — we can’t wait to see.
1969 SS Camaro – Specifications
Engine: 454ci (7.4-litre) big block Chev, Comp Cams cam, Comp Cams external timing belt, Dart 320cc Iron Eagle ported heads, Comp Cams valve train, Dual Edlebrock manifold with two 750 vacuum secondaries, dual 175hp nitrous plates, Magna Fuel electric Pump, Barry Grant four-port regulator for main line, Barry Grant two-port for NoS line, braided lines and GSS fittings, MSD-6BTM ignition, MSD coil, MSD leads, Hooker Headers, three-inch pipes, either three-inch Flow Masters or four-inch Borlas depending on the mood, 787x483mm aluminium radiator, two 406mm electric fans, with CSI electric water pump
Driveline: Turbo 400, 3500rpm Hughes stall converter, reverse pattern trans brake built by Chuck Mann, Ford nine-inch diff, Romac kit – 31-spline axles, 4.11:1 ratio, LSD head, custom driveshaft with Mosier universals
Suspension: 32mm sway bar, tubular A-arms, QA-1 three-way adjustable coil-overs, four-link rear, Nolathane bushes
Brakes: Wilwood four-pots front and rear, Wilwood proportion valve, inline brake booster and vacuum catch can
Wheels/tyres: 15×4-and 15×15-inch Convo Pro rims, Mickey Thompson 26×4.5 front tyres, Mickey Thompson 31×18.5 rear tyres
Exterior: Tubbed, de-badged, side lights removed, all chrome removed except around screens, shaved door handles, RS SS Camaro grille, Billet RS SS tail lights, four-inch steel cowl hood, colour-coded bumpers, PPG Ice white with silver pearl
Chassis: Custom rear chassis rails, custom chassis connectors, roll cage, custom floorpan
Interior: Recaro seats, Super Sport steering wheel, TC1 shifter with nitrous control, Auto Meter gauges galore, custom dash, custom doorskins
Performance: Untested, just a street car
Pat Croul – Owner Profile
Previously owned cars: Corvette, couple of Fords and a handful of American motorcycles.
Dream car: None in particular. I like American and Australian Muscle
Why the Camaro: I was in the market for something and it looked like a good car to just buy and drive with no intention to do any mods. That part hasn’t gone well.
Build time: Hasn’t stopped and not sure it does.
Length of ownership: 10-plus years
Pat thanks: Firstly thanks to Maree for the ‘loan’ of her 454. I will put it back soon. Also for putting up with all the hours spent in the shed and for feeding the lads liquid refreshments and the occasional solid item as well.
Then to the following gents: Duane Bicknell, engineer and fellow petrol-head along with Andy Campbell, Ford Nut and Steinlager supporter, for their time, effort and endless hours working to feed my addiction over more than a few years. Top mates. Also thanks to Hilton from On Point Upholstery for getting stuck in and getting the interior sorted out for us on schedule. Last of all a huge thanks to Kevin Hill for giving up his weekends and any other spare time he thought he had. It was a massive effort over four months that saw us down at Americarna taking part in a great week of attending car runs and enjoying a huge turnout of awesome American metal and good people.
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy
This article is from NZV8 issue 62, click here to check it out.