Maybe it's us, but lately we're seeing a move away from grunt and a surge toward sensible, safe, responsive chassis-and in detail like never before. Surely these street machines were conceived of and built before the Saudis and the rest of the world's petroleum producers got nasty, so maybe this signals a trend that will become the focal point of all such cars.
Big brakes, reinforced rails, perfect geometry, and tenacious rubber are in, and for the first time in hot rodding history, the big, ballsy engine seems to be sliding toward second fiddle. But that's just our humble take on the scene. Maybe too many cups of high-octane Bustelo in the morning. Maybe wishful thinking. Or maybe we're right.
Ray Thompson seems adherent to this notion. The 383 stroker motor he had built for this exercise attracted quality components sure enough, but the package is mild by modern standards. It's also supremely reliable, inoculated against injury, and will happily burn regular unleaded in perpetuity.
Ray was in no hurry. His zeal didn't interfere with the facts. He didn't throw the SS/RS Camaro together. On the contrary, he did his homework. He enlisted one of the best builders in the business and got what he paid for. To be sure, there was a squad of others who did their part with just as much aplomb, care, and respect for the project as did the "professionals."
Ray: "This was my first car. I was 16. I bought it in '79 for $600. It was a good 50-footer, yeah. Originally, it had a 396 and a four-speed but they were stolen from the previous owner, who put a three-speed and a 350 in to peddle it. I fixed the clutch and the front floor sections, got a four-speed in it, and found a good 12-bolt."
Years passed, lots of them. Ray gained hard-knocks experience. He and Lori got married in '89, but the year prior to this life-altering event, Ray wisely blew the car apart "to keep from selling it." By '99 he had a home, a dog, and a daughter. He could then turn rapt attention to the phantom pile in the garage. He cleaned and primed the pieces and began to fit the new floorpans, dash, and cowl, all of them done with butt welds.
"In 2000 I met Kyle Tucker [of Detroit Speed & Engineering] at the Detroit Autorama," Ray recalls. "Kyle was a huge help in that he would take the time to talk about anything I wanted to know. A couple of months later I asked him if he would make a set of upper control arms and coilover mounts on my frame. I made a roller out of it, put the body together, and took it to Kyle [when DSE was still in Michigan]. He mini-tubbed it and did the rollcage and some patch work on the rockers and windows.
"I brought the car home and began reassembling it to fit the air conditioning, do the dash work, and run the brake lines, and I mocked the motor and transmission for the exhaust system. The Camaro went to paint in August '04 and while that was going on, I knew I'd have plenty of time to build the motor and finish painting the parts and subassemblies. I got the car back in March of '06. It took Lori and me a year to put it all back together. We quit having to push the car around. It rolled under its own stroked power, and I finally got seat time."
And Ray'll be getting a lot more of it when he swaps out the wide-ratio Muncie for a five- or six-speed come next winter. Until then, the Thompsons are enjoying the sensation that their unflinching blue pill provides time and again.
Motor And Drivetrain
There are some who would say that the traditional small-block's last days are numbered. We say not by a long shot, hydrocarbon-breath. DAS Service in Tallmadge, Ohio, has done so many little-blocks it could put them together in its sleep. Center Automotive in Akron punched the '70-vintage 350 over by 0.030, made accommodations for the Comp Cams beltdrive, ground the block for counterweight clearance, and balanced the 4.375-inch stroke Scat 4340 crank and 6-inch I-beam rods affixed to JE/SRP pistons with 0.927-inch-diameter pins. DAS put the assembly together with Speed-Pro ring packs on the forgings, which, combined with the Pro Topline cylinder heads, produce a static compression ratio of 9.8:1. Man, you could run cat pee in this motor without feeling guilty. The 2.02/1.90 valves are popped by a Comp hydraulic roller sporting a 0.560/0.580-inch lift, Comp pushrods, Pro Topline valvesprings, and 1.5:1 Comp roller rocker arms. Lube courses through the galleries via a Mellings pump, and a windage tray keeps the oil from roping on the counterweights. The oil pan is stock. Induction is simple and time-honored: An Edelbrock Air-Gap partners with a Demon 650-cfm carburetor. Fire is initiated by an HEI distributor fixed up with MSD components and locked in at 35 degrees total timing. Ray slicked up the front of the motor with a compact and subdued Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive that doesn't jump out at you with chrome or high polish that would "remove" it from the rest of the subtle engine package. Stainless Works 13/4-inch primaries lead to a 3-inch collector and corresponding 3-inch Stainless Works system. A big Be Cool aluminum core and thermostatically-controlled fan keep the fluid temp at 190 degrees F. Ray did the drivetrain straightforward. He used a Centerforce flywheel and clutch assembly and enabled it with an M21 wide-ratio (2.54:1 Vs, 2.20:1 Low gear) that was original to a '65 GTO and rebuilt by Jim Campbell. Dave at CU Equipment made the vital link between the transmission and third member, in this case a '69 12-bolt twirling 3.55:1 gears on a posi-traction carrier.