Craig Tomeo was baptized in a ’67 big-block, four-speed Chevelle, the first fast car he ever experienced … and he wasn’t even behind the wheel. He was just there for the ride. And it changed him. He’s 41 and lives in Jacksonville, Florida, now, but he originally hails from Southern California and it was there that he was drawn into his cultish existence with hot cars. He grew up in a storm of drag racing, so he drove a ’67 Nova that was “more strip than street”. He still has that car.
On a tip from pal Mike Hedges, he bought this Malibu in 2008 in Long Beach, California, with the idea that he would dress it out and turn it, a simple business deal. What could go wrong? His wife, Lori, was kind enough to let him do it, but deep down she knew it would grow into much more than a flipper car. “As I got into [it], I started to get a vision of what it would look like if I was going to build it for myself. I asked Jason Rushforth to give some basic sketches of my ideas and it was on from there!
“The Pro Touring scene was hot. I thought it would be fun to build a car that could handle with the rest of them, and if I wanted to bolt-on drag radials it could run low 11s. Being a street racer at heart, I had to have a big hood, which is not really in line with the smooth look of Pro Touring. A lot of people tried to talk me out of it.”
He didn’t listen. He wanted a small-block rather than the trendy fuel-injected LS engine that possesses an inherently lower profile in the engine compartment. His engine would be erected with a tall-deck Dart block and intake manifold that put the carburetor up in the air, high enough that a flat hood would impinge airflow. “I followed the build of an engine in another publication and thought that the company would be reputable. Unfortunately, this turned into a hard lesson about something being too good to be true.” Despite all his research and inquiry, he hired an engine builder who eventually screamed bankruptcy, shut his doors, and naturally kept Craig’s deposit. After two years of turmoil, he finally hooked up with Tom Nelson to build an assertive and outsized normally aspirated small-block.
Then the entire project got back on the right track. “Not being a fabricator, I turned to my friend Dale Snoke for things like the custom fuel sump in the trunk and smoothing the firewall.” Then more disappointment and progress protracted. “The car ended up being painted three times. After the second botch by the same shop, David Lloyd really got it right.
“As it was getting ready for final assembly, I found out I was being relocated to Jacksonville for work, and I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to finish it after moving. I talked to Dale about my dilemma, and he stepped up and offered to finish putting the car together. Between other projects, Dale, with a lot of help from Jim Fox and Bryan Fargo, brought the car to life. I’m glad I turned the [project] over to Dale because there were a lot of challenges along the way that required his fabrication skills to meet. Without his help and expertise, this car would have taken me years to complete.”