In hot rodding parlance, 38-year-old Chris Sanders has got himself a “reacher”, a first- attempt rookie that is well on its way to becoming whole. He says that he had previously never had a “hot rod” and that his ’73 Z aspires to something greater than a limited budget could muster in 2005. He paid $500 for the original, a bona fide Z28, plus a parts car, but it wasn’t like he stumbled over a screaming deal.
The deal wasn’t screaming, it was cursing him. In fact, the car didn’t even have rear wheels when he bought it. It was trying very hard to return to the earth. “I kept jacking and jacking,” he says. “But the axle was not coming up off the ground. Finally, there was a big thump … and the axle hit the ground along with a 2-foot [section] of the framerail that came off [bringing] the leaf spring with it.” This prompted his usually mild-mannered bud, Chris Martin, to jump back and exclaim, “That’s not good.”
He’d bought a rot bucket, a really bad rot bucket. No, that doesn’t come close. Listen: “…the goal was to just get it running right so I could drive it to Martin’s house to work on it a little at a time. I noticed a weird sound coming from the rear seat during acceleration … the floorboard just behind the driver seat would lift 3 or 4 inches as the leaf spring pushed the whole thing up. We got the green light from Martin’s dad, Larry, to use his shop for disassembly.”
Chris spent money as if it was going out of style. “I ordered quarters, a floorpan, radiator core support, fenders, hood, tailpanel, doorskins, rocker panels, front and rear wheelhouses, front and rear bumpers, new trim, marker lights, taillights, headlights, door handles, and a master bolt kit.” They blew the car apart and started cutting, stripping, and welding panels back in. “I was to the point that I almost hated the car before I got done with it.” Yeah, that’s the point when you know you’re never going to let go. The car isn’t generating anything, and you’re frustrated and longing for the project to end. So you schmooze the stone and keep on grinding.
“Thanks to Martin, the guys at NastyZ28.com, and an understanding wife (Aimee), it was finally done and ready for upholstery,” Chris says. He drove it. He went cruising in it. He lived in it. Then, one day he was at a local watering hole getting ready to leave when a friend suggested that he stomp the throttle and let the clutch fly (sort of a gesture of camaraderie and good will, you see). He roasted ’em in Low gear, banged Second … and that’s when things went black. The Muncie M21, which had obviously not been prayed to in a while, decided that it had lived long enough. “There was a very loud pop and then a very loud grinding sound,” Chris says.
High gear was all Chris had left. He knew that if he stopped he’d never get the car rolling again, and he had to get it home regardless. When Aimee heard his pitiful tale and saw the look on his face after the tranny trauma, rolling a red light, and ignoring several stop signs, she suggested that Father’s Day was approaching and that he should go ahead and order that trick Tremec five-speed he’d been lusting after. One door closes; another door opens. Chris nearly teared up.
Like the rest of us, he knows that his labor will never really be finished. He sees a different ending down the road. He’s learned from experience, not from the tales of hangers-on. In the future, he’ll nod to that RideTech suspension system, four-link bars, and mini-tubs. The pedestrian tweed interior will turn into rich leather and Chris will bask in the shine of the moon.
Since Chris Sanders was anxious to get his ride rolling under its own steam, his restricted funds allowed a basic small-block, albeit one with the long arm. Pro Machine, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, clearanced the block for the 383 stroker based on Scat rotator 10:1 hypereutectic pistons, 5.7-inch connecting rods, and a cast-iron crankshaft, all of it making perfect economic sense for Chris’ original intent. Pro Machine used COMP double-roller timing gear to secure an Erson hydraulic roller that’s been mapped with 226/234 degrees duration at 0.050 inch and a lift of 0.548 inch for both valves. The train is composed of COMP springs, roller rockers, and pushrods. They closed the lower end of the engine with a Milodon sump and a Melling high-volume oil pump. The Pro Race aluminum cylinder heads were fitted with 2.02 and 1.60 valves and form the stage for a Holley Street Dominator intake manifold and 770 Ultra Street Avenger carburetor. To add a bit of drama, Chris applied twin Spectre cold-air intake systems in conjunction with a custom airbox cupping the Holley’s maw. Favored combo MSD 6AL box and Pro Billet distributor broadcast spark fat and vibrant. Hedman headers sport 13/4-inch primary pipes, extract noxious gases and send them down a 21/2-inch tract joined with Flowmaster 1-chamber mufflers. A steel flywheel hosts the Zoom 11-inch clutch and pressure plate, followed by the exalted Tremec TKO 500 (3.27, 1.97, 1.34, 1.00, 0.68:1) gearbox. Torque migrates via a custom steel driveshaft by Bowling Green Machine to a ’70 12-bolt carrying a GM Positraction differential and 3.73:1 gears.
The Camaro’s had more bodywork than The Real Housewives of Orange County. Read: Chris and Martin replaced every panel on the car save for the firewall, roof, trunk lid, and valence panels. Trim is new. Bumpers are new. Glass is new. Lights are new. After many long hours of fitting and aligning the body parts, gapping the seams, smoothing the skin, and prepping it for paint, Martin dragged it to his secret closet in Morgantown, shot the Spies Hecker ’04 Viper Yellow, and applied the rally stripes.
The boys set the undercarriage up by fabbing rear framerails, splicing in Competition Engineering subframe connectors, and locating polyurethane body mounts. Chevrolet replacement spindles anchor the front. And the front of the contraption is peppered with polyurethane bushings, KYB shocks, and replacement springs with some of the coil removed (1 inch from the spring translates to 2 inches of lowered stance). At the rear of the chassis, they lined up aftermarket leaf bundles, KYB gas shock absorbers, and 4-inch lowering blocks.
Chris’ desire to eventually decorate the Camaro with mini-tubs suggests that larger, wider, meaner rollers are imminent. For now, though, the Z squats on Coy 18x8 and 20x8.5 C5 hoops embraced by 245/40ZR and 255/35ZR Hankook Ventus Sport K104s. For the fine art of burning off accumulated energy, the Camaro stomps on 13-inch Advanced Brake Technology drilled/slotted rotors followed by a similar pattern (12-inch discs) at the rear.
As per Chris, the tweed is temporary and will be seriously upstaged by something a lot suppler down the road. DJ’s Upholstery in Bowling Green did up the Geo Storm seats, finished the door panels to match the scheme in the trunk, and installed the Covan’s Classic carbon-fiber–like dash insert and Auto Meter Classic Black instrumentation. The tiller is Grant GT matched to the upholstery. Audio sensation arcs from a Kenwood head unit, 6.5-inch Pioneer speakers in the kick panels, and 6x9s in the package tray.