We have to admit to being a bit baffled by the whole SUV phenomenon. The things are obviously vehicles, transporting people and things to and fro. We also get the "utility" part--these road leviathans can certainly swallow copious amounts of groceries, dog food, lumber, and rug rats. But "sport?" Come on! Exactly what sport would that be? Certainly not any of the sports CHP readers are into: disciplines such as the quarter-mile sprint, the stop-on-a-dime disc burn, and the tight-and-twisty road routine. Of course, the gearhead's way around that particular predicament is to build your own vehicle, and build it just the way you want it. Case in point: Mike Conway's totally comfy, slick-handling, brute big-block-powered '67 El Camino. Says Conway, "We wanted a car that would have classic styling and also possess all the comforts, handling characteristics, and power of today's auto--and it also had to haul stuff and haul butt." Now that's our kind of SUV!

A quick review of Mr. Conway's motoring history provides ample evidence that only such a vehicular appliance would do. "I started with my dad, Mark, who is now 93 years old," Conway told us. "He had a four-banger Chevy, which he ran up at 117 mph out at Muroc." Conway's first cars included a'40 Ford business coupe, as well as a '48 Merc with Strombergs and Edelbrock heads. But our guy did fall on the right side of the tracks more often than not, running a '61 Impala convertible with a 348 Tri-power, as well as a '65 Chevelle and a '72 El Camino. It was at the track, however, that Conway really got busy with his Bow Ties. He drag raced a '62 Corvette, and also road raced a '63 split-window coupe in SCCA events throughout Southern California. Conway admits to having no delusions of grandeur. "There was no money in it," he reminisced. "It was just for fun." Regrets? "We made that '63 Vette lighter," he wistfully says, "and ended up trashing it." We've all had our do-overs, Mike.

Conway continued in this vein through the late '50s and into the '60s, selling hot rods part-time while also going to school. "The dealers didn't know what to do with 409 and 427 Chevys and such," he recalls. "We did." Conway eventually made his way in the real estate business, and clearly remembers an '84 El Camino he used for company business. Conway also remembers that a wealthy client loved it. "It's like a car, but you can haul stuff in it," the older lady would exclaim. "It's very practical." These words left an impression. Conway found his own Elky in 1999 and became the third owner of this Fremont, California-built '67 El Camino. The car came fully loaded, complete with A/C, bucket seats, a center console, a Turbo 400 tranny, and a 325hp 396 under the hood. It was also very straight, as Conway recalls, and only showed 53,000 miles on the clock. "I bought this car to have a classic runabout--to Home Depot, the nursery, carrying bicycles--as well as something I could run at the local dragstrip," he continued. "I drove this car and drag raced it for a while, running mid-14s. I think it's one of the best Chevelles made. It was built on a station wagon frame, so there's more weight on the back, and it had 4.10:1 gears. I went up against a '70 SS 396 four-speed car. He redlighted, and I still beat him." Nice, but this Chevy's biggest victory would happen off the track.

Conway had been driving and racing his low-mile Elky for a while, "and then wham, my wife Kathy had a cycling accident that ended in a massive stroke," he confides. A bit down the road, as part of her therapy, Mike and Kathy began to restore the El Camino, creating, according to Mike, "what GM should still be building today." We'll get to those particulars momentarily, but as a recuperation tool, the '67 has been an unqualified success. "Kathy has astounded her doctors," Mike proudly told us. "They gave us no hope, but we weren't gonna settle. The people we met at shows and in our club [the Southern California Chevelle Camino Club] were so nice and kind to her. It really helped. People in the car hobby are part of the reason she's made the recovery she has." We can also thank Kathy for choosing the classy Merlot Red Metallic hues the Elky now wears instead of its original "Grey Poupon yellow" paint. That club involvement led to the creation of a classic Pro Tourer--loads of comfort and looks, loads of power and handling, and the ability to carry loads, to boot. "Our club likes to drive, so we needed it to be comfy," Mike told us.

The interior digs are that--the Reno leather-covered Flofit bucket seats catch the eye right away. They contrast but also complement the Haneline gauges sitting in a custom engine-turned dash insert, a result of Conway's fascination with Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Vintage Air A/C and a custom behind-seat box for the stereo are part of the entirely modern creature comforts. Global West and QA1 suspension components nicely update the Elky's ride and handling.Lest we get too carried away talking about comfort and utility, let's not forget that a longtime racer built this car, so the stump-pulling big-block under the hood isn't entirely unexpected. Sporting 400 ponies and 461 lb-ft at the wheels, the mid-12-second rips at the strip this Elky lays down aren't unexpected, either. But the "single coolest mod," according to Conway, is the Gear Vendors overdrive unit he installed, especially when the '67 still had 4.10s in it. Let's see, this guy installs a torque monster engine, then backs it with a Turbo 400, plus another three gears, including a 0.78 overdrive. Yeah, we'd say that's pretty cool. On a recent trip to Seattle to California with their buds from the SCCCC, the fat-block-powered Elky returned 15 mpg, and conveyed its passengers in comfort and style. Now fitted with milder 3.42 cogs in anticipation of future road trips, we're sure that number will jump.

If you haven't guessed by now, Mike Conway is very pleased with the results of his do-everything El Camino quest. "It's reliable, safe, and a blast to drive," he reports. "Throttle response is crisp and it handles like my Mercedes." We think that's a good thing. "We also get a kick out of people's response to it," Conway says. "It's usually big smiles and thumbs-up." You know what, Mike? That's our response, too--one we don't give to those other SUVs.

Speed Reading
'67 El Camino
Riverside, CA
ENGINE  
Type: '73 Chevrolet 454 displacing 496 ci
Block: four-bolt mains, 0.040-inch overbore
Oiling: Milodon 7-quart pan
Crankshaft: Scat Series 9000 Pro Comp Stroker Lightweight, 4.250-inch stroke
Connecting Rods: Scat 4340 forged-steel I-beam, 6.385 inches long
Pistons: SRP with Speed Pro Plasma Moly rings, 9.5:1 compression
Cylinder Heads: Edelbrock Performer RPM oval-port milled for 106cc chambers, honed guides, and performance valve job
Valvetrain: Edelbrock valves (2.19/1.88), springs, guides, locks and retainers; 1.72:1 COMP Cams Magnum roller tip rockers, Manley pushrods
Camshaft: COMP Cams hydraulic roller, 0.510-inch lift, 224/230 degrees duration at 0.050
Timing Set: Billet double-roller
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold, Barry Grant 750-cfm Speed Demon carb, K&N filter
Ignition: MSD-6AL box, Pro Billet mechanical distributor, Blaster II coil, Taylor 8.5mm wires; 38 degrees maximum timing
Exhaust: ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comp headers, 2.5-inch dual pipes with a crossover, Flowmaster mufflers
Cooling: Ron Davis radiator with twin Spal fans, Meziere mechanical water pump
Other: ARP hardware, March accessory brackets, Powermaster alternator
Output: 400 hp at 5,280 rpm and 461 lb-ft at 3,620 rpm on Westech Performance Group's Autodyn chassis dyno
Machine work & assembly: Dugan's Racing Engines (Riverside, CA)
Thanks To: Ray Fields
   
DRIVETRAIN  
Transmission: Turbo 400 with a B&M 1200-stall converter and Shift Improver Kit; stock T-handle shifter; Gear Vendors under/overdrive unit (six gears: 2.48, 1.93, 1.48, 1.15, 1.00, 0.78)
Rear Axle: '67 12-bolt, 3.42:1 gears, Auburn limited-slip, Diff Works HD axles
Driveshaft: custom with 1350 yokes by Inland Empire Driveline (Ontario, CA)
   
CHASSIS  
Frame: stock
Front Suspension: Global West tubular upper and lower A-arms, 1-1/2-inch lowering springs and 1-1/2-inch swaybar; QA1 Stocker Star shocks
Rear Suspension: Global West adjustable upper and lower trailing arms, braces, 2-1/2-inch lowering springs and 1-inch swaybar; QA1 Stocker Star shocks
Steering: stock GM power box with an Olds Cutlass tilt column
Brakes: Chevy 10-3/4-inch front discs and stock rear drums
Built by: the owner
Vehicle weight: 3620 pounds
   
WHEELS & TIRES  
Wheels: Billet Specialties Chicayne, 17x7 and 17x8
Tires: Nitto NT450, 235/50VR15 and 275/50VR17
   
BODY & PAINT  
Body: stripped to bare metal, straightened and prepped, rear inner wheelwell lip trimmed for tire clearance, Line-X bed liner
Paint: PPG Merlot Red Metallic with Rose-to-Gold Chameleon flames by Starside Design (Riverside, CA)
   
INTERIOR Flofit bucket seats, custom door panels and raised headliner covered in camel and pewter Reno leather; custom center console and behind-seat box, Mercedes carpet, all by Bates Auto Upholstery (Riverside, CA); Corbeau seatbelts and harnesses; custom engine-turned dash insert with Haneline Elite Series gauges; Grant Collector Edition steering wheel; Vintage Air A/C; stock wiring harness modified by the owner; Python security system and electric door locks, Kenwood stereo with 10-CD changer, Eclipse five-channel amp, speakers, and subwoofer
   
PERFORMANCE  
Best 1/4-mile: 12.415 at 115.12
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