In the onslaught, in that hailstorm of first-gen Camaros that I’m usually bound to dissect each month, there is sometimes a respite, beautiful, peaceful sojourn to the days of my youth, years before the Camaro was even a dream. Yes, there were downsized "economy" cars then (Falcon, Dart, Chevy II), but they were a half-decade or more before the intermediate "muscle car" appeared on the street scene and dominated it for many years to come.
The bubbletop architecture happened just once, in the ’62 model year and it was reserved for the midline Bel Air. Impala (and the miserly Biscayne) had a squared back light and a formal roofline reminiscent of the convertible form. The Bel Air bubbletop was sleek and sinewy in comparison, weighed less, showed a lot of glass, and was probably a bit more aerodynamic. With the right gears, one of them equipped with a stock 409/409 would nudge 150 mph.
I called Gordon McGilton in North Carolina. With his first words I knew he was born and raised north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In his early teens, he hung around hot rod garages and helped when they’d let him, and because he "loved the enjoyment of doing it around people who knew what they were doing." When he was 17, he left Detroit to become a marine.
He’d fooled with flatheads before his service days and had the bug in him screwed tight. He quipped: "When I came home from the service, I went to Royal Pontiac [Royal Oak, Michigan] and bought a ’63 Swiss cheese’ Catalina race caryeah, the one with the aluminum exhaust manifolds." Oh, our boy was smitten. He’d laid-over in California during his mustering out so he knew what was going on there, and he couldn’t peel himself away from the adventure. He drove, or attempted to drive, the big Cat to the coast. Somewhere along the way, the aluminum castings began to liquefy.
He stopped long enough to replace the sagging metal with good old cast iron and throttled happily on down the road. He spent years in SoCal. He went racing with Danny Ongais (Top Gas Dragster) before Ongais had cracked the big time, and they burned rubber all over the state and east into Arizona. So Gordon has this thing about driving...and about being able to source parts at a dealership when on the road rather than looking for stuff that was unobtanium.
"In my mind, I’m still about 18, chuckled the 67-year-old owner of Jet-Hot Coatings. I don’t feel any different about cars now than I did then." He was around when the first ’09s hit the streets in 1961. He drove them. He knew them. He got that vibe inside him, clinging like a remora on a sand shark. So it was just plain natural that he gravitated to that era, and the cars that ran it. I’m Gordon’s age. What he says is true for me, too.
He’s a pal of Paul Atkins (Hot Rods) in Hanceville, Alabama (about halfway between Huntsville and Birmingham). The Atkins confab usually invests time in superior interior fitments and is considered among the best in the hot rod universe, but Atkins’ staff is also well versed in the disciplines of fabrication, metalwork, and applying the paint that solidifies the whole. It wasn’t the first time that Gordon and Atkins had collaborated.
When he found the right car, he called Atkins to discuss the build and exactly how it should look. "The idea was a superslick black car with Z06 power, cutting-edge’ red interior, huge brakes, big wheels and tires, and just the right stance," Gordon says. The product came to fruition in July of 2010 just in time for the Goodguys’ Columbus gathering. "I was really impressed with the car because I hadn’t seen it until then and with the fact that it took the Trendsetter Builder’s Choice award [by Brizio] at the 13th Annual Goodguys that same month."
It’s safe to say that you haven’t seen or heard the last of Gordon.
We know right off that Gordon McGilton didn’t want a Pro Mod motor under that precious sheetmetal. He was looking for dependability, reliability, repeatability, and something he could restock at any GM dealer. A friend had pulled the LS2 and T56 from a departed ’06 GTO to use in one of his own put-togethers. Gordon talked him out of it, doing absolutely nothing to enhance the 364ci aluminum plant except for the engine controller and the custom-built exhaust system. Tony at Street & Performance jumped on the original equipment ECU and made it fit for power and speed dispersal. The LS2 keeps a cool head via a late-model Camaro radiator swamped by a single electric fan. Gordon added an ’02 Camaro sump. Then he dragged the Bel Air to Randy French at Discount Muffler & Supply in Cullman, Alabama. French built the headers with 1.875-inch primaries and funneled the tubes into 3-inch collectors. The 3-inch system is minimal but hush-quiet. French included stock GM mufflers and an X-pipe accelerator. "I hate to admit it, but when the engine is running, you can barely hear it," French says. "I’m too old to tolerate the sting of loud pipes for more than five minutes." That’s key to pleasant driving times, and Gordon has plenty of them. Trailer, no. Driver, yes. Power output is slightly greater than the stock 400 at 6,000 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 (flat from 3,000 rpm to 5,200 rpm). The rest of the mechanicals include the Goat’s original hydraulically operated clutch assembly and six-speed manual. Grunt twirls around a custom prop shaft built by Fast Shafts in Huntsville, Alabama. The 9-inch housing holds 3.70:1 gears on a Detroit Truetrac positive traction differential that ratchets 31-spline shafts.
Matte black is the theme in the engine compartment as seen by the custom inner fender panels, semismoothed firewall, and the coil/rocker “covers”. The factory badges were trashed, but otherwise the body is perfectly stock. The bumpers were sucked in a little and part of the Atkins Hot Rods crew, Joe Burgess and Danny Sams, prepped the skin and shot the 15 coats of Sikkens Black.
Since Gordon had no pretensions about making the bubbletop more than a driver, he eschewed wheeltubs, rollcage, and wide web belts. However, his shiny aesthetic side shows through like a blue patch in a dark sky. Atkins and company accommodated his needs with RideTech components throughout (tubular control arms front and rear, antisway bars, electrically controlled air shocks, holding tank, and ancillaries). The Detroit Speed 605 steering box is power-assisted and linked to CPP 2-inch drop spindles.
Before anything, Atkins rewired the car with a Centech system, thus laying down a formal background for the Bel Air’s electronics. There’s a Clarion stereo in there somewhere, along with a Vintage Air Gen IV HVAC system. The leather for the red interior was imported. Interiors by Paul Atkins did the installation. To most of us, these accommodations are elegantly understated and almost too nice to defile, but Gordon simply sees them as a crucial piece of the puzzle. The Lexus seats have custom backs clinging to them and the Dashworks dash holds Classic Instruments. Atkins’ Hot Rods crew made the steering wheel. The theme begins at the dashboard and continues throughout with the door and side panels and onto the rear compartment. Atkins constructed the custom console/armrest to match and caged them in brushed aluminum. Some soul massaged the stock shifter to fit the tableau.
Rollers & Clamps
Gordon forsook shiny for matte finish and minimal, thus exciting the black body and bringing your eye directly to the surface of the wheel. Bravo! Those Billet Specialty Bonneville G alloys are billet construction measuring 18x8 and 20x10. On these hoops are 245/40ZR Kumho and 275/45ZR Goodyear rubber. Gordon got his big brakes, too, but on the cheap. Here’s how he did it. Kore3 Industries supplied the Z06 14-inch, six-pot brakes in front; 13.4-inch and four-pot calipers in the rear. Kore3 managed every part for the swap and kept the price affordable at around $1,500.