A nine-second car that can get you to the dairy with ease is the perfect cure for a badly afflicted speed addict.
Much as clothes do, street machining tends to follow trends, and what is red-hot this decade is often derided for the next couple, until a different generation picks it up and it’s the new next big thing. Again. Pro Street ” the look that proclaims your nasty road-going ride has just clicked off nine-second passes all afternoon and was merely stopping off for an ice cream on the way home ” was once hugely popular in the US, with everything conceivable (and some things that shouldn’t have been) hacked up to fit huge steamroller tyres and a big motor.
One-upmanship being what it is, though, it wasn’t long before these radical-looking rides were being fitted with two blowers, two turbos and three stages of nitrous injection, all to putt around a fairground while fouling the plugs and looking ridiculous. The trend had become Pro Show/Pro Slow.
Meanwhile, a bunch of participants returned to what they believed the original intent should have been ” Pro Street was back, only this time around the look had to be backed up by the ability to cook. Fast street car drag racing associations sprung up everywhere, and magazine pages which were once full of shiny stuff that couldn’t get out of its own way were now full of back-halved Novas, Impalas and Camaros that could run indecently quickly. They were clicking off low nines and high eights using single four-barrel carburettors and bucket-loads of laughing gas.
It was not to last. Racers are racers, rules are bent and boundaries are stretched, things quickly went from the sublime to the ridiculous, and in a few years the street part was long gone and spectators were viewing thinly disguised Top Doorslammers with mufflers ripping off mid-six-second passes.
Yeah, they’re impressive, but we’ve lost the beauty of the original idea: a street car we can get the groceries in and be home before the ice cream melts¦
I said Functional, not Practical
Here in Godzone, we generally don’t do that over-the-top thing. Most Kiwis like things to be functional. At events like the Fathers’ Day drags it’s all about fast street cars, and among the dozens of pristine muscle cars being thrashed down the track there’s a hardcore bunch of guys who are after just one thing: bragging rights for owning/driving the country’s quickest street machine. They’re talking full-size factory muscle; they’re the hard men who believe trailers are for boats, real street cars are driven to the track, go real fast and then get driven home again, on pump gas. Warrant and rego be damned, it ain’t a fast street car if it ain’t driven on the street, Jack. Bruce Cox’s ’71 Camaro is just such an animal.
Feed the addiction
Like most of us, Bruce worked his way up to driving his low ten-second grocery-getter, streeting about in a mint VE Valiant in the 1980s. He had a tidy 5359cc (327ci) pushed Torana four-door that cut 14-second quarters in the ’90s before getting into his then dream car, a ’77 Torana hatchback. This thing was a real beast, with an LSD nine-inch and radical 5735cc (350ci) Chev that could push the Torrie to low 11-second ETs. Although it was exactly what he thought he wanted, Bruce realised he wasn’t quite happy with it. “The Torana was my dream car but high maintenance, like living with a supermodel. It was too pretty, and I was always being too precious about it. The compression ratio was stupid for a street car (12.7:1) so it had to be run on race fuel, severely limiting its use. Long trips required prearranged gas stops at various airfields where we would fill up both the car and multiple 20-litre containers so we could get to the next one. And I felt that no matter how much money I threw at the Torana, it was still just a Torana. I wanted a car that could hold its value, go fast, but be user friendly and run on pump gas. Then I spotted this on TradeMe.”
Just the Ticket
“This” is the Black Rat. Imported into New Zealand back in the early ’90s, the Camaro received a quick tidy-up from its new panelbeater owner before being purchased by Dion Fletcher, and the car’s fate was sealed. Dion had just given up Super Stock racing but couldn’t resist bolting on some leftover parts, taking it down the track and rattling off some 10-second time slips. In 2000 Dion sold the Camaro to Darren Saunders, who ran it as purchased for a season before deciding to up the ante a tad, rebuilding the 7440cc (454ci) engine for higher capacity. A 108mm stroke crank and a .030 overbore netted 8013cc (489ci) of gut-wrenching torque, and two more years of fun were had out of the engine before Darren upped the stakes once again, this time with a 8849cc (540-cube) monster with more than 559 dyno-proven kilowatts (750 happy horsepower), and another 224kW available at the push of the nitrous button.
The competition was getting tough. At the 2005 Muscle Car Drags Darren took the Black Rat all the way to the final, where he red lit against Wayne Grimmer’s 9899cc (604-cube Hemi). It was still all smiles though, as the Camaro brokethrough the nine-second barrier, running a 9.9 at 142mph (229kph) while using the giggle gas in top gear only. He improved to a 9.7 at 145mph (233kph) at the inaugural Dragmasters event, earning the unofficial record of being NZ’s fastest small-tyre street car.
The Right Package of Parts
But Darren had his eyes on an early model Camaro, and before long the Black Rat was put on TradeMe, looking for a new home. “When I first spotted the black Camaro, Darren’s fire-breathing 540 was still installed,” Bruce says. “I was sorely tempted to buy it then, but I knew the engine required race fuel and I didn’t want the hassle. I kept thinking about it though, and eventually I made contact with Darren, and he told me he’d removed the 540 and refreshed and refitted the 489. Darren told me it was no show car (though it looks pretty good to me!), its real value was in the engine and running gear. He predicted some fantastic times for the untested combination, and I was instantly hooked.” The car works as well as it does simply because it’s engineered to work as a total package. These second generation Camaros supposedly don’t have as good a weight distribution as the earlier models, but this car works extremely well given the limitations it operates under. It’s an un-tubbed, small-tyre car, apart from the addition of some parts from Competition Engineering including chassis connectors, trick mono-leaf springs and Slide-a-Link traction bars. Teamed up with a pair of QA1 shocks, that’s the rear suspension taken care of. Up front there are some Moroso coils and some more QA1 shocks and that’s all. Robert Tynan added a roll cage for safety and some much-needed chassis rigidity, but apart from that it’s all 1971 Chevrolet.
Once it was outfitted with all the good gear from Strange Engineering, a nine-inch Ford diff was slid under the rear. The gear ratio is 3.7:1, a good compromise for street and strip usage, especially with nitrous oxide. The full manual TH400 uses a sensible 3000rpm stall converter, again proving the car’s street heritage. Too high a stall speed would blow the small tyres away on launch and slip like crazy while cruising, heating up both the transmission and Bruce.
It doesn’t sound much like a car with nine-second potential so far, does it? The trick for making all this street gear work like a race car is an engine that makes great mid-range torque. Starting with a slightly over-bored four-bolt 7440cc (454ci) block, the six millimetre increase in crank stroke makes for cheap capacity increase while being as strong as an anvil. Readily available and inexpensive cast iron oval port heads were fitted with big port valves and then pocket ported in the crucial valve bowl area by Terry Lockely. In the rev range the motor operates in, these heads actually out-flow the bigger, more expensive options.
Comp Cams got the nod for all valve train components including the valve springs, titanium retainers, rockers, stud girdle and, of course, the cam. Most guys look down, mumble vaguely and generally shy away from giving their cam specs, but Bruce had no problems telling us the intake lift at 50thou is 16.78mm (0.661 inches), the exhaust is 17.22mm (0.678 inches). That’s a small cam by race car standards, but once again illustrates how this combination makes its maximum through that 3000 to 6500rpm rev range to motivate the Camaro quickly away from intersections and Christmas trees.
The induction is as simple and straightforward as everything else is. A Weiand single plane intake manifold mounts a Proform 950cfm Double Pumper carburettor which, in turn, has supplied fuel through the ubiquitous Barry Grant fuel pump and regulators. An additional 224kW (300 horses) is on tap should Bruce hit the purple Zex N20 button.
An MSD 7AL magic box and Pro-Power coil supply enough programmable spark to ensure there are no unburned hydrocarbons exiting the two-inch headers.
Real street cars get driven in traffic, and one of the most frustrating things to experience in any car is over-heating. The Black Rat has no issues in this area thanks to a huge custom radiator. Comfort is also important in a road-going race car. The Camaro features a pair of Racepro seats to do the job, and while in them Bruce keeps an eye on the full complement of Auto Meter gauges that monitor the engine’s health. He likes to listen to the in-car entertainment system: no, it’s notwhat you’re thinking. “It does have a stereo; it does work but I never use it. I prefer listening to the music of my big block V8.”
Nines are coming
Either Darren Saunders knows what he’s talking about, or he’s psychic. “My first drag race with the car confirmed Darren’s predictions,” Bruce says. “The combo has proven tough and reliable ever since. At one of Rob Penman’s dyno nights we ran it up to 460 horsepower [343kW] at the back wheels without any nitrous. It’s run an 11.4 at 119mph [191.5kph] with a full exhaust and no nitrous, and a 10.4 at a 129mph [207.5kph] with a 250 shot of the spray. This engine combination ran 9.9 in another car before going back into this one; I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see another nine-second pass out of the Black Rat.”
There’s been a big increase in interest in fast street car racing. Fram Autolite Dragway is now holding a King of the Street shoot-out at its Friday Night Drag Wars meetings, so Bruce will have plenty of opportunities to push his Camaro-shaped envelope closer to the magic nine-second barrier. But one thing’s for sure, nothing will be done that would impact on the ability to jump in and cruise off for an ice cream. And you can buy one not too far from the local drag strip.
1971 Chevrolet Camaro – Specifications
Engine: 8013cc (489ci) big block Chev, 10.6:1 compression ratio, four-bolt mains, steel stroker crank by Eagle Specialty Products, Clevite H Series race bearings, Eagle H-beam forged steel rods, JE forged pistons, JE chromoly race rings, balanced by Balancing Specialties in New Lynn, high-volume oil pump, ROMAC SFI harmonic balancer, cast iron Lockley ported truck head, 2.19-inch intake valves, 1.88-inch exhaust valves, Competition Cams tool steel valve springs, titanium retainers, Competition Cams solid bar stud girdle, Competition Cams custom Magnum grind roller cam, lift at intake valve 16.78mm (0.661-inch), lift at exhaust valve 17.22mm (0.678-inch), 65-degree overlap, Torrington Roller T/Gear cam drive by Rollmaster, 1.7:1 ratio stainless rockers by Competition Cams, 10mm chromoly pushrods, S&B performance air filter, single plane Weiand intake manifold, Proform double Pumper 950cfm carb, Barry Grant fuel pumps and regulators, Zex nitrous kit (up to 224kW or 300hp), MSD 7AL ignition, MSD Pro Power coil, two-inch primary exhaust, 3.5-inch secondary, custom radiator
Driveline: Turbo 400 forward pattern gearbox, manual valve body, 3000rpm stall torque converter, SFI rated flexplate, Strange axles, Strange Detroit locker, 3.7:1 drive, Billet yoke
Suspension: QA1 shocks, Competition Engineering mono leaf rear, Moroso trick front springs, Competition Engineering chassis connectors, Competition Engineering Slide-A-Link traction bars
Brakes: Up-rated vented disc, race brake pads
Wheels/tyres: Street, 15×8 and 15×10 Pro Star Steel mags, 235/60R15 and 275/60R15 tyres. Strip, 15×6 and 15×10 Pro Star Alloy mags, Mickey Thompson Front Runners and ET Street 28×12.5×15 slicks
Exterior: Custom cowl hood, removed rear spoiler
Interior: Racepro seats, five-point harnesses, Auto Meter gauges, roll cage by Tynan Fabrication
Performance: 343kW (460hp) at 6800rpm at the wheels without NOS, 565Nm of torque at the wheels without NOS, 11.4sec at 119.2mph (191.8kph) full exhaust no NOS, 10.6sec at 126.9mph (204.2kph) open exhaust and 112kW (150hp) shot NOS, 10.4sec at 129mph (207.5kph) open exhaust and 186kW (250hp) shot NOS
Driver Profile – Bruce Cox
Occupation: Self employed
Previously owned cars: Mint 1969 VE Valiant (“the only car I ever sold for more than I paid”), 1975 dour-door Torana with Chev 327, mint 1977 Torana hatch running a wild Chev 350
Dream car: “I pretty much have it now, but I wouldn’t mind Darren Saunders’ 1969 Camaro.”
Bruce thanks: “My wife for her understanding of my drag racing passion, Darren Saunders for allowing me to take the car off his hands, Magnum Automotive for its continued expertise and support.”
Words: Trevor Tynan Photos: Adam Croy