Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Banned! Dan Clark's Camaro

The Banned! series consists of feature stories that the corporate media don't want you to see. These are stories I did for various magazines that never were published, for various reasons. This one is a typical example.

Although I've enjoyed working on many musclecars for customers over the years, my personal preference is for older hot rods and customs. But when I stumbled across Dan's Camaro, it's edgy street racer presence won me over.
I assumed the magazines would love it, so I approached Dan about doing this feature. He was into it and let me ride shotgun for a few days and nights, shooting photos and taking notes. I submitted the story to the magazines I'd already done features for and was surprised to find their marketing departments had declared F-bodys to be newstand poison, just like the shoebox Chevys before them. Curious, since both groups still make up such a huge chunk of the street/race/show scene. Granted, they were played out at one point, but seem to be back stronger than ever (to my uneducated eyes).
I continued down the list and approached all the niche titles, including two for first-gen Camaro titles, who all passed on the story. Fine. I moved on.

I felt bad for Dan and by now I had an emotional attachment to the car myself. So I've decided to set the story free here, using some images I like that I know the magazines would never print, as my tastes tend to run a bit more 'eclectic'.  So for what it's worth, here's a sample of the life of Dan Clark - Hard working American and a true hot rod hero.

                  BIG NOISE FROM SMALLTOWN

        72 typical hours in the life of Dan Clark’s REAL street Camaro   
        By Scotty Gosson
       Photography: Scotty Gosson (and Dennis Vollmar)

In the daylight, they look just like the rest of us. They put in an honest day’s work, pay their taxes and pick up the dog poop. The nocturnal transformation is astounding: With glazed eyes and maniacal grins, they chase their flickering headlights into town, where they wag their tails down comatose side streets from curb to curb, exit quickly, and rarely return - disposable performance art of the hardcore order. What’s going on here? Just your standard gearhead adrenaline and passion, unleashed. With relatively affordable power trickling down to Joe Toolbox, Smalltown America is packing more muscle than ever and something has to give -  usually rubber, sometimes hardened steel and occasionally, eardrums.

Our case study is one Daniel Clark - unassuming owner-operator of an HVAC company in southern Oregon by day, asphalt sadist by night. During his high school days in Roseburg, Dan lusted after this ’67 Rally Sport, owned by body man Rueben Weickum. Dan’s dream was to own “the fastest car in town” and he eventually purchased it. A subsequent move down I-5 to Medford put Dan much closer to the dragstrip, where the orange zinger produced low 11s and an obsessive compulsion in Dan to mine more power from the combo. The power came quick and easy and so did the ensuing catastrophic failure. At that point, Clark wisely drafted street/strip guru Charlie Allin into his program and it was on. Charlie transferred the wounded alloy rat into his triage center (Allin Specialties) and Dan takes it from there: “After that motor gave up, one rebuild later, the car went low 10s. Not fast enough. A new top end and it went 9.50 on the motor. A 350 shot of nitrous and the car went 9.07 at 152 MPH”.

Day One

This is where we came in, hitching a ride on Dan’s pursuit of an eight second timeslip (“My dream is to drive it to the track and run 8.50, then drive it home”). He really wants to justify his 8.50 chassis certification tag! Riding shotgun on the street, we were rattled by the rowdy 572 incher, broadcasting heavy vibes through the chassis with every revolution of the crank. Yeah, it uses solid motor mounts, but this was a red flag we should’ve acknowledged with more than a cursory salute. The externally balanced crank was trying to tell us something, but we were having way too much fun to get the message. Dan mumbled something about spending an hour after each drive tightening fasteners throughout the car and we just chuckled in response. Full steam ahead!

 Despite its eight second ambitions, the Camaro is a bona fide street car. “I drive it all over town and pick up my kids from school in it”, says Dan. Indeed, we’ve witnessed it setting off car alarms from one end of town to the other, over the last couple of years. Like any living human, Dan can’t resist going wide open at any opportunity (“to clean off the plugs, you know”) and the side streets see most of the action. While idling through an industrial complex, our shouted conversation turned to the subject of NMCA class rules and the required 25 mile qualifying drive. These days, those so-called ‘real street’ cars are using twin radiators with giant ice tanks, mondo marine style electric water pumps, and multiple batteries to accomplish the feat. Meanwhile, the throwback Camaro’s temp gauge held steady at 180 on a 90 degree evening and we’d been torturing it for over an hour in downtown traffic, after Dan drove it several miles into town. And oh yeah, with the compression dialed at 10.25-1, 91 octane pump gas is Dan’s fuel of choice. He confided, “Those NMCA guys are still heroes, but the whole ‘street class’ deal seems to have lost touch with reality again”. Maybe the Smalltown heroes are the last of the credible fast guys. We snapped some photos and agreed to meet Dan at the track the next night, if he didn’t have to work too late.

Day Two

At Dan’s previous test and tune session, the car had flirted with kissing both guard walls, so some effort was put into correcting that ungentlemanly behavior. A new Smith Racecraft rear suspension installed by Allin Specialties solved Danny’s traction woes with a vengence - and major wheelies are now a staple of the Camaro’s routine (the rear tires trigger the 60’clocks). After six nitrous passes, the eights seemed elusive as ever (a “still pulling” 9.23 at 151 was the night’s highlight) and the exclamation point was epic noise and violence at the stripe on Dan’s last pass, redefining the term “finish line”. A few days later, the track would close for winter.

                                            Photo by Dennis Vollmar

Day Three

The next morning, we rendezvoused at Allin Specialties, where the Merlin block was unceremoniously yanked from the lifeless F-body and the autotopsy began. It was a short procedure. Upon pulling the pan, half of a connecting rod fell out and a broken weld on the oil pump pickup tube glared back at us. Crankshaft harmonics gone wild seem to be the quandary here. The car had tried to warn us. Dan and Charlie reacted predictably, instantly laying out the next edition of the Big Noise: A 4.75” stroke (ahem - internally balanced, this time) will bring the cubes to 632”; Carrillo rods will be employed (Dan: “I guess you’re supposed to replace the rods every ten years or so” – he got 12 years out of these); more cam; Allin Specialties headers; an SRC chrome moly front clip; a lockup converter; etc, etc, etc… As for Dan’s eight second objective, Charlie opines, “The trans went to crap a few weeks ago. The tired converter put 5 percent more slippage on top of the 8 percent it already had. Otherwise, it’d be in the eights right now”. Dan again: “With Charlie’s help, I’ll no doubt easily run 8.50s next summer”.

So Dan’s Camaro is essentially an eight second pump gas ‘small tire’ street car, just waiting for a chance to prove itself. This will be a really long winter for Dan, Charlie, and especially for Dan’s wife Patty, who knows all too well how much Dan likes sitting around, staring at the calendar (he isn’t exactly Mr. Leisure Time). We’re confident that he’ll be rewarded for his patience next spring by getting kicked off the track for running under his certification and license limits. And to those who may disparage the credibility of the NMCA’s ‘street classes’, we say you need look no further than your own town’s back streets to find the more realistic alternative - alive and well, on genuine public roadways. These cars are out there in the real world, driven by real people who work really hard to make real big power. They may be a bit eccentric after hours, but they produce big noise and small E.T. slips. In Smalltown. It doesn’t get any more real than that.


Who: Dan Clark
What: ’67 Camaro RS
Where: Medford, Oregon

Engine: For now, the 572” World Products Merlin aluminum block holds an “old beat up” Crower 4.5” crank and Eagle H-beam rods pushing 10.25-1 Bill Miller Engineering slugs. A Milodon pan and pump team up with a GZ Motorsports vacuum pump to lube the beast. An Erson solid roller (274 int/284 ex @ .050”, .748”/.710” lift, with 110 degree centerline) and PBM lifters direct the action to Dart 355cc CNC’d Pro 1 heads with 121cc chambers. The 1050 cfm Holley Dominator on a Profiler “Sniper” manifold mixes pump gas with an NOS 350 shot of nitrous. A one gallon tank behind the left headlight acts as a nitrous enrichment supply, with a Holley ‘blue pump’ (modified by Allin Specialties) and a Mallory bypass at the fuel solenoid increasing line pressure to keep the switch from constantly triggering, which keeps the pressure consistent. Bullet Machine in Medford did the heavy lifting and assembly. This combo delivered 924.06 HP @ 6400 RPM and 1,296.08 ft lb @ 5350 RPM to the slicks on the chassis dyno at Allin Specialties. As mentioned in the text, bigger and better things are coming to the Camaro’s engine bay this winter.

Ignition: The MSD Digital 6 box, Blaster coil and Pro Billet distributor with Pro cap (for rotor phasing: “They’re always off”, says Charlie) keeps Champion race plugs zapping across a .025” gap.

Exhaust: Dynatech 2 1/8” primary headers with 4” collectors feed the refuse to a 3 1/2” Allin Specialties X-pipe system, terminating into Borla XR-1 Sportsman mufflers.

Transmission: A B&M shifted Hughes full race Powerglide with trans brake hides a Marv Ripes A1 5600 stall (naturally aspirated) converter. This setup doesn’t care if it’s on the street or strip, performing flawlessly in both environments.

     Rearend: Allin Specialties started with a Strange 9” housing blank and built the rearend, stuffed with a Strange Ultra Case holding 3.70 Richmond Pro Gears, gun drilled 40 spline axles with profiled flanges and    5/8” drive studs, tucked into Strange billet housing ends. This bruiser employs (3/8” wall) 3 ¼” tubes, connected by a herculean Allin Specialties back brace. It’s holding up just fine to the 1,296 foot pounds, thank you very much.

Suspension: This is no tube framed racer with license plates. Homemade subframe connectors and an Allin Specialties chrome moly rollcage tie everything together, but it’s just your basic back-halved street car. The front suspension is stock for now, but for some A-arm trimming to clear the bump stops for travel. It’s a little more serious in back, where a Smith Racecraft 4-link kit was installed by Charlie, featuring Strange double adjustable coilovers, a wishbone locator and an anti-roll bar. Um, there are no wheelie bars…

Wheels/Tires: The focal point: 10.5W X 28 sticky Mickeys are clamped to 15 X 10 Champion Wheels with Top Fuel style double beadlocks, gripped by Strange 5/8” drive studs. Bringing the point full circle: 5 X 26 skinny Minnies ride on 4 X 15 Champs.

Interior: Gennie OEM statement is made inside, thanks to a relatively low key Allin Specialties rollcage, surrounding swap meet poly seats and Crow harnesses. There’s Autometer gauges and a B&M shifter – otherwise, it’s 1967 in here.

Paint/Body: This was the hook for Dan. His high school pal Rueben Weickum worked his magic on the F-body back then and it’s still working today. All Dan could tell us about it is there’s very little filler and the orange paint sizzles under the lights and pops in the sun. It’ll get your attention from a block away. The sheetmetal, chrome and glass is all original, except for the fiberglass hood.

Power: 924 horsepower and 1,296 foot pounds equals 9.07 @ 152 MPH in Dan’s 3,342 pound Camaro. And there’s more on the way. Will it be enough to go 8.50s? Stay tuned…