"I purchased the vehicle ... in Virginia Beach, Virginia, thinking I was going to restore the car to original condition. I later found that any numbers the car had either disappeared or didn't match," confesses Joe Frole. "I was crushed! No harm done, though, I thought. The car was still worth the $6,000 I had paid. At that point, I had to find something to make the car respectable. My vision needed to change drastically. Actually, I was a little worried."
Yes, Joe, who hasn't had that empty, sinking sensation at one time or another? Thankfully you forgot that matching numbers game and have had some real fun with a car you really like. It's still an original RS/SS, right? Five years after the fact, you had a different animal-freeform and unencumbered by the purist curse. And other than the paint, you and family did most of the mechanical exercises in privacy and within the confines of home.
To be sure, it was a family endeavor, thus ensuring harmony and just cause throughout the project. Son Joe III provided muscle for the heavy work and that often indispensible second pair of hands and helped keep the car "tweaked" whenever necessary. Joe's wife Hilva Allen was responsible for keeping the theme on track and the color coordination. The family that builds together lays rubber together.
Joe's occupation is in aircraft carrier engineering design support as an on-site engineer, so he's quite familiar with stuff like metallurgy, torsional and bending stress, and producing regular and highly detailed progress reports. The car feature techsheet he filled out for us was a wealth of technical as well as invaluable personal notations.
When Joe bought the Camaro in 2000 he began scouring the Internet for some input, ideas, and advice. He hit upon Detroit Speed & Engineering back when the Tuckers were working out of a well-equipped hole in the wall in Brighton, Michigan. He was captured by their bright yellow Twister Camaro, especially by the "eye-catching stance and the killer tire and wheel combination" that appeared to be right on the money.
"I took all the stuff [that DSE could provide in those early days] to Virginia and worked on it for the next three years in my spare time. It really was a monumental, time-consuming project, yet well worth the effort in the end." That's Joe's subjective side speaking. His objectivity, his pragmatic, problem-solving engineering side, was invaluable.
He installed the DSE mini-tubs, thus increasing depth approximately 3 inches. A structural reinforcement and upper shock mount brace was welded to the subframe rail structure between the tubs. The brace is critical because the floorpan of the trunk is structurally compromised when the tub depth is increased, simultaneously obliterating the original structure right along with the upper attachment points for the shocks. The brace restores and relocates the attachment points. He installed frame connectors and retained leaf springs but with lowering blocks and offset shackles to secure them. His one regret is not including a rack steering system and a subframe designed to accept it.
The interior received no less attention. Penny Burt at Classic Soft Trim in Austin, Texas, handled the case, and according to Joe, she's "simply fantastic." Her work included coordinating the upholstery, the seat pattern drawn from separate model years, and the theme stitching on the headrests. "The interior theme was planned to be subtle but without an extensively modified appearance," said Joe. Mission accomplished.
Curiously, Joe had little comment about the Rat under the cowl hood, as in its ability to vulcanize tarmac. We want terror, Joe. We want to see you on YouTube smokin' 'em sideways, maybe crossing just before the Norfolk Southern hurtles by.
Engine & Drivetrain
Joe wanted a big number under the hood, so the 502 genuinely satisfies in that regard. More to the point was a substantially flat torque curve for right-now throttle response regardless of the gear. Joe took on the engine tweaking chores, which include Edelbrock Performer heads (110cc combustion chambers, 2.25/1.88-inch stainless valves, rocker arm studs, Harland Sharp 1.7:1 roller rockers, 9.6:1 compression ratio). A Performer RPM intake feeds off a Holley 850 serviced by a "red" pump drawing from a Rock Valley stainless tank that was narrowed to accommodate the offset leaf springs. Aside from the Fluidamper harmonic balancer, Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive (including a 140-amp Tuff Stuff alternator), MSD 6AL box for the HEI distributor, and the ubiquitous HPC-coated Hooker Super Comp 2 1/2-inch primaries, the motor sings 502 hp at 5,600 rpm and warbles 565 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. The cooling system is big and more than adequate: a four-row, 24-inch-wide Be Cool aluminum core and thermostatically controlled puller fans. A motor the size of Joe's ought to have a 3-inch exhaust system, in this case Stainless Works pipes and an cross-pipe silenced by polished Stainless mufflers. Our engineer was leery of a production Muncie four-gear, so he opted for a Tremec TKO five-speed (3.27, 1.98, 1.34, 1.00, 0.68:1). Teamed with the 3.73s in the narrowed limited-slip 12-bolt, he does the highway jig with the equivalent of a 2.53:1 ring-and-pinion. Inside the Lakewood blast shield, a Centerforce flywheel, clutch, and disc schmooze grunt through a 1-inch shorter GM driveshaft.
Paint & Body
This is the part that really turns on Joe's lights. Brian in Chesapeake, Virginia, laid down PPG goods, a Pewter hockey stick over Inferno Red after the Biggs, Ray, and Desimone's Auto Body prepared the body. While that was going on, Norfolk's Bob Gulaski polished the stainless trim and Don's Mobile Glass in Chesapeake cured all the myopia. The vacuum-operated headlight doors swing motorized now via DSE, and the taillights are LED with segmented, sequential turn signals.
A couple of the things Joe brought back to Virginia were Detroit Speed tubular upper control arms, coveted for their lighter mass and more importantly their ability to provide much-needed geometry for positive straight-line steering and keeping the outside tires upright in a hard corner. The original stamped lower arms are intact but fitted with harder bushings and modified to accept the lower mounting points of the aluminum DSE-valved adjustable coilover dampers (2-inch drop). Aft, he inserted PST leaf spring bundles and DSE lowering blocks (combined 2-inch drop) with DSE 2-inch offset shackles. Traction is enabled via nonadjustable Konis and very adjustable Competition Engineering Slide-A-Link bars.
Shades of red usually partner well with shades of tan, therefore a field of Auto Custom Carpet high-zoot rugging is the underlay for the Camaro's varied hues and is teamed with original Chevrolet vinyl door panels. Joe chose the seats from an '00 Camaro especially for their side bolster support. With the help of Penny Burt at Classic Soft Trim, he got the shade of leather that would contrast rightly with the rest of the sand-dune tableau. Joe "inserted" a TIG-welded DSE dashpanel that holds the large Auto Meter Ultra-Lite speedo and tachometer. The rest of the engine meters abide in the nacelles of the original SS console. Joe keeps both hands working with a Hurst shifter and a Budnik Famosa tiller. Up above is an Acme headliner made from synthetics available only in late-model Camaros.
Wheels & Brakes
What? No skinnies and drag radials? Joe stayed conservative with 17x8 Budnik Famosa Fat Lips and BFG g-Force rollers that let the 13-inch Baers shine through. He countered at the back of the car with 17x11 Fat Lips and P285/40ZR rubber.