Without warning, something that has consumed Vinnie Saviano for all of his adult years is actually happening as the words come out of him.
"This has been a dream of mine, especially being a dedicated car-magazine reader for the last 30 years [he's 39], so I feel it's a real honor to finally be in Chevy High. When I was about 12, I used to ride around on my bike looking at cars. I found a '69 Super Sport parked by the side of a gas station. I would sit on my bike and just stare at it and drool, dreaming of the day I could have my own.
"That day did arrive, in 1988. I was 21. My brother showed me a classified ad for a '69 Super Sport. When I pulled up and saw it, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the very same car I'd slobbered over! It was basically stock. It had a few dents and some rust, but it was very solid. I became the third owner. At the time, I was heavily into drag racing and I was obsessed with the movie American Graffiti. I wanted to be John Milner.
That's what young guys (and a helluva lot of old ones) crave-the speed, intensity, and the squishy-gut fact that it's happening on a public road. Several places on the Island are perfect for this big-rush activity. Civilians are not a concern and sometimes the cops even look away. Nowadays, with wife and family responsibilities weighing as heavily as his conscience, Vinnie's speed exhibitions are confined to the dragstrip.
Regardless of how many '69 Camaros we've met, Vinnie's could well be the epitome. The stance is perfect. The car is clean and simple and does all its work strictly on the motor. If we'd put a label on this Camaro it would be street-and-strip. Though the car appears tame, it relinquishes even the most basic creature comforts in the name of hard-core, and it ain't no gutted lightweight, neither (3,660 pounds). There's not a shred, or scab, or open space anywhere, and the back seat is still in place. What with those shades-of-the-'60s Cragar S/S wheels, it vibes time warp, and without the lines of a rollcage disrupting the visual image, the thing looks almost stock.
Where Vinnie runs, the whole car/street/drag thing is most cultlike. Undoubtedly, the regional dialects and accents infusing New York Metro sound coarse and altogether unsophisticated to ears west of the Hudson River. Behind the toughness perceived by the rest of the world (even over in Jersey) are people with big hearts, a standard of pride, and love of hobby that reaches beyond the normal car interest-lifestyle doesn't even come close. Vinnie's very proud that he drives his Chevy to the track and that it runs so well through closed exhaust and on pump gas.
It's likely you won't see the finesse. The motor appears an ordinary street bullet-until Vinnie cranks it and the sound swarms over you. You'd swear it was a big-block. It's got oil spray bars inside the rocker covers to keep the valvesprings cool. Those slick headers look store-bought but they're not. The sleeper mentality's goin' full-boogie here.
Finally, the Strangely Believe It category: "A coworker of mine was looking at the Camaro and he said, 'I know the original owner of this car.' He was sure of it because the appearance had not changed much from the old days. He said the guy had written his initials on the bottom of the console, so we looked. They were there. Eventually I met him and heard a very familiar story. He sold the Camaro (for $2,800) because it was time to buy a house." What goes around comes around.
Vinnie had JA Performance in Lynbrook, New York, develop a '70s-vintage 406-inch small-block (4.155x3.750) after legendary S&K Speed in Lindenhurst had tended to the machine work. S&K balanced, polished, and checked all clearances on the rotating assembly-Cola crankshaft, Lunati connecting rods, and Ross flat-tops that generate a 10.5:1 squeeze. JA oriented a 0.630-inch-lift, 264-degree-duration Comp Cams camshaft and chained it (straight up) to the crank with a GM timing set. Down below are a Moroso oil pump and 6-quart sump. To complete the long-block, JA gasket-matched the ports and installed Dart Pro 1 CNC aluminum castings finished with 64cc combustion chambers and 2.08-inch Manley intake valves. Hardware includes Crane 1.5/1.6:1 roller rockers, Comp Cams 955 valvesprings, and Manley pushrods, guides, retainers, and locks. A Victor Jr. intake manifold hosts a 750-cfm Holley worked over by Ten Speed in North Bellmore, New York, a 4-inch Super Sucker spacer, and a K&N element. Fuel comes up the old-fashioned way, pushed by an Edelbrock mechanical pump. Once fuel and air mix, they take marching orders from the MSD 6A ignition system set at 36 degrees total. Though those smoothie headers might appear to be ready-made, they represent MI Mike's subtle handiwork: 171/48-inch primary pipes that transition into a 3-inch system joined by nasty-bark Hooker Aero chambers. Mike also fabricated the rocker covers and the oil spray bars inside them. Fred at FB Performance Transmissions in Bayshore, New York, surgically implanted one of its 4STB-E three-speed full manual automatics (based on the 4R70W Ford) equipped with a transbrake as well as an overdriven top gear (2.84, 1.56, 1.00, 0.70:1). It has a 900hp capacity and uses electrical activation for the converter and OD lockup functions, but does not interface with the ECU. Vinnie flips the OD switch next to the Hurst Quarter Stick and the tranny goes fat for the freeway walk home. An FB 8-inch torque converter does the multiplication behind a gnarly 4,100-stall speed. Torque flies (yes, it does) down an FB driveshaft, and an oil cooler keeps the tranny juice on a low simmer. It all comes out the 12-bolt axle fitted with a 4.10:1 final drive (2.87:1 in OD), an Eaton limited-slip differential, and Moser 31-spline axles.
The beauty of Vinnie's Camaro is its simplicity. There's very little inside today that wasn't there 35 years ago. Every panel and stitch of upholstery is GM resto fare as applied by S/P Classics in Amity Village, New York, and the seats are stock but refurbished. To suppress the debilitating effects of noise and heat, S/P swathed the floor with Dynamat. MI Mike installed the Auto Meter gauges and rewired the car. There is no audio or air conditioning; steering and brakes are manual.
This is what the blue car is all about, of course, and Vinnie stapled a time slip to the tech sheet to prove it. He put a half-tank of 93 in it, drove to the track on street radials, and ran a 1.49-second 60-foot and the quarter-mile in 10.72 at 124.60 through the mufflers. To tell it another way, the 406 makes 525 hp at 6,700 rpm and 500 lb-ft of torque at 5,800 rpm, right there at the tarmac.
It got the full slam. In preparation for the GM Code 71 Lemans Blue paint, Gene in Oceanside, New York, stripped down, sand-blasted, blocked off, and wet-sanded Vinnie's racer. The hockey-stick stripe is absolutely essential to the whole.
Chassis preparation is the mainstay at MI Performance in West Babylon, New York. Mike Ingrossio builds 10-inch-tire killer cars, and not just Chevrolets. Things could have gotten out of hand here, but Vinnie's ride didn't need much in the way of preparation. Mike made the subframe connectors and installed the Cal Tracs bars beneath the 12-bolt. The front and rear springs, spindles, steering, brakes-all of it-are pure stock. The rear shock absorbers are gas-charged but the front dampers are stock. Ingrossio spent many hours trifling with the Camaro's suspension to produce a subtle, hard-working stance.
Rollers & Brakes
Vinnie's car doesn't need monster brakes, a full-on handling suspension, or shiny dubba-dub hoops. The disc/drum binders are stock and the Cragar S/S rims ply more than a little nostalgia, at least to this writer. In the fabled day, they were the wheels to spin. On the glide side, it's a 15x6 with a 215/60 BFG Touring T/A. On the punishment end, Vinnie put M/T 275/60R15 ET Street Radials on 8-inch rims.