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.”
Nelson Racing Engines interpreted the build with a tall-deck (9.325-inch) Dart Iron Eagle with a 4.155-inch bore and a 4.125-inch stroke to create a displacement of 447 ci. A Callies crankshaft is paired with Callies connecting rods. When combined with an 80cc combustion chamber and the mild dome on the JE pistons the result is an unremarkable 9.7:1 compression ratio (maybe a little forced air down the road?). Middling squeeze ratio or not, it’s still really hard to beat cubic inches. There’s an outfit in Waterford, Michigan, called LSM Systems Engineering that lives by the CNC axis, creating cylinder blocks from billet stock and building custom camshafts, badass valvesprings, bushings, lifters, and liners. The roller in Craig’s motor specs out at 0.410/258 on the intake and 0.410/260 on the exhaust, at 0.050 inch. LSM lifters nudge 0.080-inch-wall pushrods. A Nelson CNC’d billet timing cover closes it off. Nelson sealed the lower end with a billet oil pan/kick-out and a Melling pump. Craig got the Air Flow Research heads back in 2009 when they were cutting-edge equipment. They have a 23-degree valve angle, 235cc runners, 2.125/1.60 valves, and the capability of flowing 340 cfm, cam willing. Harland Sharp roller rockers squeeze LSM valvesprings. The air/fuel mix is vibrant through the Carb Shop–massaged Holley 1050 Dominator and the ported Dart intake manifold. Craig tapped Jere Stahl for some total-tuned pipes that are stepped from 17/8 inches to 13/4 inches in a 4-2-1 configuration with a 3-inch collector. Rather than crackly Super 40s, Craig opted for Flowmaster’s HP-2 silencers. Spark jumps from an MSD Digital 6AL2 box, Pro Billet distributor and Blaster coil. Total timing is set at 36 degrees. Supporting systems include fabricated billet rocker covers, a March Revolver Series accessory drive system, DSE remote power steering tank, Alumitech radiator with twin SPAL fans, an Aeromotive Stealth fuel cell with A1000 pump, filter, regulator, and fuel log. The PTFE-lined fuel lines are from Pegasus Racing. Output from this little darling reaches 629 hp at 6,500 rpm and 569 lb-ft of torque at 5,100 rpm. To deal with the produce reliably, Craig opted for a Ram flywheel and clutch assembly, a Keisler engineering TKO 600 (2.87, 1.89, 1.28, 1.00, and 0.64:1), a Keisler Perfect Fit install kit, and an accompanying driveshaft. The hydraulic clutch reservoir is a billet piece from Ringbrothers. A Moser 12-bolt stocked with Detroit Truetrac differential, 3.73 gears, and 33-spline axles fortifies the nether end of the Malibu.
Wheels & Brakes
In the energy-burning department, Craig had Dale Snoke hang Baer Track4 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers at each corner. The rollers are a blend of pure-finish Rushforth Rated-X hoops (18x9, 19x10) and 235/40 and 275/40 Nitto Neo-Gen AA-rated all-season stickies.
As Craig tells it: “No real mods other than a filled antennae hole, the Glasstek 4-inch cowl hood, Fesler billet hood and trunk hinges, and the Rushforth Sharpshooter hood hold-down pins.” In Pomona, David Lloyd applied the PPG Ferrari Azurro California hue.
A nice, clean play on the stock theme is all Craig needed. The Haneline dash insert sets the stage for the Auto Meter Cobalt gauges and makes a backdrop for the MOMO Retro wheel on the ididit tilt steering column. Electricals are consolidated by an American Autowire harness. Craig wisely opted for a Vintage Air Gen IV HVAC system but left aural input to the howl of the 447. He had the ’92 BMW 3-Series seats re-covered in vinyl, put Dynamat on the doors, rear panels, and floor, and installed Morrison Concepts three-point safety belts. He sprinkled points of light throughout with Clayton Machine Works pedals, doorknobs, and handles, and shook out lots of OEM and repro bits from True Connections in Riverside.
Dale Snoke was the professor here. He notched the frame to accommodate the Stahl headers (fitment issue due to the tall-deck block) and put a custom sump in the trunk for the Aeromotive fuel cell. He affixed the Lee 670 quick-ratio (14.7:1) steering gear and Mark at Savitske Classic and Custom in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, got busy specifying all suspension components. While the original spindles remain, the list rests heavily on Specialty Products Company (SPC) upper and lower control arms and ride height kit (modular, adjustable spring seats). Concurrent, Alston double-adjustable VariShocks are posted at front and surrounded by SPC springs. The antisway bar is a DSE-splined unit. At the rear, the suspension pairs single-adjustable VariShocks with SPC springs and Curretrac adjustable upper and billet lower control arms locate the housing. Hellwig provided the antisway bar. chp