Suppose you found this Camaro. Suppose you didn't know what to do with it. Suppose you better close up this book and take nap. Mark Sanders didn't do that, of course. He didn't even lust for this car, you know, like from when he was a drooling 10-year-old or something. He bought it because he liked the shape of the body and the way it inspired him. Besides, it had a mere 60K on the clock and was in terrific shape.
"I paid $6,000 for the car. It was in too nice of condition for what I did to it because everything was there from the factory...but I eliminated all of it to customize the car. The biggest surprise was the amount of prior repair to the quarter panels. I've learned that you will always be surprised when rebuilding a 35-year-old car, but the '71 SS was a California original so it had no rust," says Mark. And its lineage and experience were documented. "I bought it from a friend who got it from his friend's grandfather." That was in 2005.
For another six Gs, Mark found a motor and transmission. "I thought I would have a total of maybe $20,000 in the car. Needless to say, I exceeded that mark well before the project was finished." Mark didn't see a Pro Touring car or street and strip racer in his Camaro, either. The car just sort of evolved, following no particular discipline, much like it would have back in the day.
As for the two-year gestation, Mark thinks it was a protracted experience. "The reason the car took so long to build was because I was only able to work on it every other Saturday or so due to the extensive travel my job requires. [Ed. note: He is COO of Caliber Collision Corporation.] Besides, my wife Jennifer and daughter Bailey and I were in the process of adopting a baby boy." Mark, you still got away clean. We know some guys that still aren't driving a "finished" ride 10 years in!
Mark used the palette at hand to create a clean, simple one-off silhouette: Door handles shaved, '69 Camaro parking lights parked in the valance, side marker lights eliminated, bright single-color paint, rear body seams filled. Mark did all this work and had pal Mike Reed shoot the paint. Under the hood the theme stays simple yet compelling. Mark customized and smoothed the firewall and crafted a custom cover on top of the cowl panels that hides the windshield wiper motor assembly, the ignition box, and the coil. The detailing is what makes Mark's car stand out. There's nothing radical, bizarre, or incomprehensible here. Everything is naked and joined together seamlessly. There are no knots.
Despite its simple, sanitary appearance, the Camaro has a wealth of change quietly roiling beneath its bright orange. Mark took particular care with the interior, its subtle shades of gray and charcoal bipping lightly against sculpted panels and straight, brushed-finish pieces. In all, a calm station, a welcome oasis in a world of uncertainty. Though they don't exactly jump out and grab you by the throat, the billet dash inserts, customized dash face, package tray, and headliner are undeniable, and they front for a trunk with orange backlighting.
Mark estimates output from the 468ci at about 600 hp and 600 lb-ft, more than enough to justify supplanting drivetrain pebbles with boulders. The chassis, likewise, has been upgraded accordingly to handle the influx of torque. Big brakes front and rear, a quick-ratio steering box, new bones for the suspension, subframe connectors, a welded frame, and some wiggy 17s flesh out the package. While Mark did all the bodywork and building, he got some mechanical help from his dad and props from painter Mike Reed.
What would he do over again? In light of the world conservation worry, he would replace the guzzling Rat with a small-displacement Mouse-twirling twin hairdryers! And that's the way it is in Colleyville, Texas.
Clearly, Mark's take on the build was not predicated on the engine. What might have been humungous and belligerent is a powerful yet docile big-block. Based on a 454, it was punched 0.060 to create the time-honored 468ci. Aside from this, we know that Mark bought the bullet so he had no hand in building it. Details are therefore somewhat sketchy. Dart Pro 1 cylinder heads breathe bitchin' and help create a 11.5:1 compression ratio. In the belly of the big-block is a "very large solid roller cam," according to Mark. The rest of the finery is clearly visible. A Moroso oil pan buttons up the bottom end, while cooling fluid is moved via a CSI electric pump, a CSR aluminum core, and dual electric fans. A Victor Jr. intake manifold holds court with a Demon 1000 (Billet Specialties air cleaner housing) and is supplied by a Barry Grant fuel pump sucking from a Rock Valley stainless tank. The instigator is an MSD ignition setup. On the back end of the chain, Hooker Super Comps stuff noxiousness into a 3-inch system "quieted" by a cross-pipe and Flo-Pro mufflers. Regardless, the properly detailed engine in its sanitary surroundings is nothing if not compelling. That Turbo 350 his wife Jennifer surprised him with is equipped with a semiserious Hughes 3,800-stall speed converter and has been fitted with a manual-shift valve body. Twist twirls down a custom-made driveshaft to the Strange Engineering axle. Mark was taking no chances here; he took the S-60 Dana package fitted with 3.73s and beefy 35-spline shafts as well.
Wheels & Brakes
It's difficult to beat a five-spoke wheel (or variation thereof) for the best in a simple yet powerful presentation. The ones on Mark's ride are Budnik Groove, 17x8 and 17x10, with spokes ample but not enough to obscure the 13-inch Baer brakes posted at each corner. Since maximum stick is the object, Mark chose DOT-approved P245/45ZR17 Nitto NT555 and P275/40ZR17 Nitto NT555R drag radials for the drive wheels.
In the Seat
Mark, despite the incendiary red device he's cloaked in, is thinking very serene thoughts. Where you might expect solid black, Mark preferred the soothing hues of charcoal and gray-all leather, of course, to coincide with his high-zoot audio system. 1 Stop Mobile Solutions in Richland, Texas, arranged and installed a comprehensive Alpine series, beginning with a CD head unit, two amplifiers that 1 Stop augmented with Diamond Audio 6 1/2-inch front speakers, 6x9s in the rear, and a brace of 10-inch subwoofers. While this benign cacophony vibrates his cochlea, he sees before him an array of neatly arranged and logically placed controls and visuals. With a digit or two firmly hooked on the Billet Specialties steering wheel, Mark has a clear view of the Covan's Classic Dash insert with Auto Meter gauges. The cockpit space is visually expanded by a custom billet stripe that comes off the audio nacelle and stretches nearly to the opposite door.
Though we've outlined Mark's ministrations to the '71 SS Camaro's skin and aesthetics, he did all of the prep work himself, saving a pile of cash. He modified the original grille and reworked the lower valance to accept the first-gen Camaro running lights. To put a little more breathing room between the Demon and the underside of the hood, he adopted a modest cowl. His friend Mike Reed blew on the custom-mixed Orange Crush paint.
Though the frame rails are stock, Mark welded up every seam to oppose lateral and torsional bending. Further, subframe connectors join either end of the Camaro and set the stage for a CalTracs traction system, complete with a 1-inch lowering Split-Mono leaf spring and Calvert's legendary adjustable bars. On the steering end, Mark adapted Speedtech tubular upper and lower control arms and works them with adjustable QA1 coilover shock absorbers, securing the desired stance and ride height. The Camaro points true with a Flaming River quick-ratio box on an adjustable steering column.