Frank Militello fired the LS2 motor in his '07 Corvette and got right out on the road. When the oil temperature had reached operating temps, he cranked the bejeezus out of it, loving the way the engine responded. He wasn't looking for balls-to-the-wall road ripping, but he certainly liked its immediate response and docile demeanor. No urgency. No boy-racer theatrics. Just vibrant, flexible torque and a nice top end sugared with scrumptious open-road fuel mileage a Toyota would envy.
He decided then and there to build a contemporary hot rod around this package. Unlike some of us, he's young enough to actually remember his high school days, back when he dearly wanted a '69 Camaro (or a '77 Trans Am). But his father wisely steered him toward a newer (though significantly less cool) form that would likely not cause him any mechanical grief. He settled for an '83 T/A, later bumping up the vintage to an '87 model.
"As I grew older," he said, "I bought the middle-age crisis car, a Corvette-actually three of them, a '01 C5, a '05 C6, and now the current '07 C6.... But, I still wanted that '69 Camaro." Like so many casual conversations fueled by a beer or three, the heart grows fonder. Frank was in his garage yakking with friend Raul and mentioned that his passion was still very much alive. Raul perked up. "I know Bill Jelinek [Route 66 Motorsports, www.rt66motorsports.com], and I know that he has one in his shop right now."
Frank bought the coveted mule on a Friday, and by the following Monday Jelinek had already begun the detailed restoration. "I wanted the classic look of the Camaro with the modern features of my Corvettes. I wanted a great ride [quality] and comparable handling, so I went with air springs all around. Aside from the superb handling qualities they offer, they make it very easy to adjust the stance of the car," Frank offered. "Don't have to take a coilover apart to change the ride height, and I don't have to crawl under the car to turn a knob. I'm too old for that."
Since Frank was impressed with what he saw at Route 66, he decided that Jelinek would build the entire car, a feat that took a mere 18 months. There's a lot of substance in the axiom and Frank admits it wasn't cheap, like somewhere around $250,000 worth. At first, you figure there's no way that his little piggy could have gobbled up that many shekels, but under scrutiny the fine sheetmetal details and the handicraft needed to produce them are striking in their understated elegance. Route 66 creations have been featured in major car rags and have won awards at prestigious shows for years, so there was no doubt of its skills and prescient planning. Likely, the Camaro's aura will stay fresh and contemporary for years to come.
Frank didn't want the fastest ride in town, only some validation and a little respect when he puts his best foot forward on the boulevard or at Goodguys events. Since the Camaro's debut last June, he has won a number of awards and cranked the clock about 1,800 miles, driving it "whenever possible."
The Camaro's ticket was enhanced by a virtually hand-built interior that contain and blend all the Corvette's comfort and convenience toys, among them what amounts to a home entertainment center (the 60-inch flat-screen was just too wide) in complete and seamless integration. Though some might think that the pearly white gut is bit too dainty, you'll notice how it makes the entire form pop to life. That's how Frank feels every time he gets behind the wheel, and who would argue with that?
Frank wanted a fluid, flowing interior that would mirror the exterior theme of the car, and that's exactly what Route 66 provided. There isn't a shred of the original metal anywhere. Although there is much more than we can enter here, the highlights include a hand-built metal dashboard, a billet instrument panel popping Auto Meter Cobalt Series gauges, an engine compartment with an uninterrupted, an uncluttered firewall, and a one-off metal console. Vintage Air HVAC controls are minimal. The audio/entertainment barrage is complete with a remote Alpine audio system, Bluetooth, Sirius radio, an iPod adapter, two amps, two subwoofers, eight speakers (four midrange and four tweeters), and yes, even a mini-TV. Frank sinks into seats that were custom-built by Kris Kustom and upholstered in pearl-white leather and vinyl by Mark's Interiors of New Lenox, Illinois. A Billet Specialties Fast Lane wheel tops the tilt steering column.