We've all heard of beginner's luck--some of us have even been fortunate enough to experience it. We say fortunate--many use the term less than charitably. But what's wrong with getting something right the first time? Take a beginner with commitment, a healthy dose of initiative, and some well-founded guidance, and chances are things will turn out just fine. As exhibit number one, we submit Jonathan Dovichi's stealthy but lethal '67 Camaro, an audacious first effort that would do a veteran hot rodder proud.
Jonathan, who now clocks in at a ripe old 19, readily admits to his own inexperience as he started this project. "I got my first car when I was 12," he recollects. "I didn't even know what it was; it was a box with a pink slip and keys. I didn't know anything about cars. My dad said, 'You'll figure it out.'" And while we're certain that teaching his son to learn by doing was part of John Sr.'s plan, he was also passing on a pretty decent hot rod lineage.
As it turns out, the Dovichi family patriarch, Bud, was an original Smoker. Don't worry if you don't know--we did a double take ourselves. The Smokers started out just after WW II as the Bakersfield Coupe and Roadster Club, doing most of its racing on SoCal's dry lakes. Long story short, this band of speed merchants, now called the Smokers, held its first event on an abandoned airfield in 1951. Today, the location is known as Famoso Raceway, and the event is one of drag racing's most storied, the March Meet.
With this kind of heritage, it certainly wouldn't be fair to say that Jonathan totally lacked experience. Bud had also passed on the tradition of working on cars and learning about them early to his son, and his progeny found their subject '67 at a show in Southern California--with an owner who didn't want to sell. Undismayed, John Sr. left his card and later got a "If I don't sell this car, I'm going to jail" call. "It was an old six-cylinder car with a 350 in it," the elder Dovichi recalls. "It was decent. Most importantly, it was something for us to do as father and son." "It was a way for me to stay busy," the younger Dovichi chimes in.
And stay busy he did. "Dad's plan was to build a daily driver with more horsepower than most," says the youngster, and how many monster-motored cars started out with these good intentions?
"We always wanted to go with a small blower," Jonathan explains. "The main thing was to get it under the hood." The quest for a reasonable hood height led to extreme measures, specifically lowering the motor mounts. Of course, we're jumping ahead a bit, leaving out the fact that Jonathan built the engine himself, supervised by another original Smoker and March Meet winner, namely Tony Waters.
In the final analysis, John Sr. admits, "It kind of got out of control," though he says it without a hint of regret. "It brought me and my son closer together." Jonathan agrees, adding, "It was a way for us to be together." On a different note, though this project ended up with much more motor that originally intended, Jonathan recalls the original plan father and son formulated: "I can daily drive it if I want, and sometimes I do--I can drive all the time." It sounds a bit plucky to us, but hey, when you're right, you're right.
"When you look at the car, it doesn't look like much," opines Jonathan Dovichi. "Then you look under the hood." We know understatement when we hear it. Jonathan assembled the Camaro's motor himself, with veteran drag racer Tony Waters overseeing the operation. "Tony's like a brain surgeon when it comes to engines," the kid tells us. After Reynold's Machine in Bakersfield, California, handled the machining and balancing duties, doctor and intern started with a '76-vintage, four-bolt main 350 block, bored 0.030 over to create 355 ci. A Callies forged crank works forged Manley H-beam rods through a 3.48-inch stroke. The cylinders were filled with J&E custom forged slugs, wearing Total Seal rings, creating a supercharger-friendly 8.5:1 compression ratio. Aluminum L98 heads were ported and polished and the chambers cc-matched; the Vette heads were then fitted with Manley Severe Duty valves, 2.00- and 1.60-inches, intake and exhaust. The balance of the valvetrain is by Comp Cams, including 1.450-inch dual springs and 1.6 roller rockers--the cam is also by Comp and specs out at 0.600-inch lift and 244 degrees of duration at 0.050. A Cloyes True Roller timing set keeps the 'stick in sync. The oil pan is by Milodon, the pump by Moroso. A blower was in the picture from the beginning--and so was fuel injection. So, the solid small-block is fed by a Holley 250 supercharger running 8-9 pounds boost; Dan Fodge Engineering in Sacramento, California, created the custom fuel-injection system, controlling it with a FAST ECU and software. The setup includes single-shot alcohol injection. "The alcohol cools the motor down," Jonathan tells us. "And it adds some extra horsepower." An MSD-6AL box teams with a Joe Hunt mag distributor and an ACCEL Super Coil to spark the mixture; Lemon's Headers built a set of custom headers with 13/4-inch primaries and 31/2-inch collectors, and the burnt junk exits though Flowmaster mufflers. An Aeromotive pump, filter, and injector bypass regulator pulling from a stock-style tank with a custom bottom feed and ARP pickup keep this blown beast fed. Cooling duties are handled by a custom four-chamber aluminum radiator by Mattson's, dual 12-inch fans, and a Meziere electric water pump. The estimated output for this combo is 650 hp, with levels of up to 850 in reach by increasing the boost. That makes the manual valvebody Turbo 400, built by ATO Transmissions of Rancho Cordova, California, a rather good idea. It's fitted with an ATO 2,700-stall, 10-inch converter, which runs back to a narrowed Fabco 9-inch diff spinning 3.73:1 cogs and a posi. Shifting is done--rapidly, we suspect--through a Precision Performance Kwik Shift II.
Nothin' to It
It didn't take much to make this Camaro a looker. The body was straight, and the only panel replaced was the hood, which was put aside for a Harwood 4-inch cowl lid. Manuel's Auto Body in Bakersfield, California, did the prep and also sprayed the custom yellow Sikkens hues.
We're talking straightline style here: The rims are Weld Draglites, 15x5 up front, clad in BF Goodrich 205/65R15 rubber. The rear hoops measure 15x10 and mean sticky business, wrapped up in a set of Hoosier 325/50D-15 Quick Time Pro DOT tires. Stopping power is via Strange 11-inch front discs grabbed by four-piston calipers, 9-inch rear discs, and a 9-inch dual-diaphragm master cylinder by ABS Power Brake.
The passenger compartment of Jonathan's '67 Camaro was in pretty good shape when the car arrived in Bakersfield. Everything was pulled out when the old 350 in the engine bay was yanked, allowing him to powerwash the works. Upon reassembly, stock-style replacement carpet was sourced from Classic Industries, while the seats wear the skins they received at the factory. The pilot's chair was complemented by a Covan's Classic gauge panel filled with Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges, along with a repro tilt steering column from Bob Chandler topped with a Grant steering wheel. A Vintage Air A/C system keeps the occupants cool, while the stereo is definitely hot: a Pioneer Premier flip-down deck stereo playing through a 1,050-watt Zapco amp, which powers Massive 51/2-inch mids in the doors, a pair of tweeters hiding under the dashboard, a duo of coaxial mids in the rear package tray, and dual 10-inch JBL Pro subwoofers in the trunk. An EZ Wiring loom ties it all together.
Dan Crisp of Waterford, California, was called on to assemble a Camaro chassis that could handle the blown and injected creation under the hood. Fitting it under the hood was the first order of business, and to that end the motor mounts were lowered 2 inches to allow the reversed bug catcher to fit under a 4-inch cowl hood. Up front, Heidt's upper and lower control arms team with the factory spindles and QA1 coilovers; out back, a Chassisworks ladder-bar setup works with another set of QA1s. Crisp finished up with a set of Chassisworks subframe connectors--nice in most early Camaros, mandatory in this one.
According to Jonathan's dad, more than a few people took a look at the reversed Enderle bug catcher and proclamined, "It'll never run that way." But thanks to the Jonathan's determination to build a sleeper--and Dan Fodge's custom tuning--we can bear witness to the fact that this ride does indeed run.