How can someone impact the path of a build so profoundly without even touching it? Mike Silva's dad, Mike Sr., gave his son all he needed to back-burner the day-to-day stuff and jump back on "Project Justified".
It all began when Mike was just 10, snooping around Mike Sr.'s automotive upholstery shop in Fremont, California. He noticed a 1968 Camaro that was getting a brand-new vinyl top. He turned to his father and said, "That's the car I want to drive when I get older." Pops answered that someday he would be able to buy one just like it if he wanted. Fast-forward a few years and Mike was now working in that shop with dad. Even at only 14 years old, he was itching to get an old-school car for when he was able to drive. Mike Sr. was working on a 1967 Nova when he heard that the vinyl top 1968 Camaro had come up on the market. He told Mike that he would either give him the shoebox Nova, or a loan to buy the Camaro. Mike grabbed the cash and ran.
By the time Mike was 16, the loan was paid off and the Camaro was all his. He drove it through the rest of high school. He managed to give it a pretty, blue paintjob when he was in auto shop. As with any new toy, he couldn't be stopped from driving it. Several years went by and it became a weekend car until it was finally benched. After bringing his daughter home from the hospital in it, the priorities in his life changed. His parents' barn would house the Camaro for the next 10 years while he raised his daughter and son.
Sadly, Mike's dad was diagnosed with leukemia. Mike, his wife, and kids dropped everything and moved to be close to his parents and help them with their ranch. Between the ranch duties and Mike's full-time job, there was no time for the Camaro, but Mike Sr. asked about the progress every day. Mike's dad entered remission and got back to normal life, but still didn't make time for the Camaro. Months after the family thought Mike Sr. was in the clear, the leukemia came back with a vengeance. He would have less than a month with his family. Just before he died he told Mike that he should take the car out of the barn and get it done because none of us know when our time is going to be up.
Mike took that advice and immediately started planning the build. It hadn't changed since high school, but Mike's taste sure had. He wanted a car that would drop jaws without being over the top, a difficult task. He had the dreams of a $200,000 car with a dramatically different budget. That's where the name Project Justified came about. Mike's not a big-time white-collar guy; he is just a regular guy and wanted to build more than just a regular guy's car. He would scrutinize every single part and expense associated with the car. Only if it was an absolute perfect fit in both theme and cost would he let it be part of the car. Everything had to be truly justified.
From idea conception to completion Mike had help. Longtime friend Clint Petree lent his experience working with manufacturers and scored Mike a sponsorship from ARC Audio, which would inevitably land him a spot at SEMA and eventually many manufacturers on board with his project. Once the wrenches started flying, Mike's best friend Shawn Worth was there every step of the way lending a hand. When it was crunch time, Worth put in just as many hours in the car as Mike did. There is no doubt Mike would have missed SEMA without him.
The moral of this story is not having time or money is not an excuse. Anything can be achieved with the right amount of determination and heart. Mike's father gave him the push he needed, but Mike hopes others can get the push without it being brought on by something devastating.
Engine & Drivetrain
The car's original equipment was the common 350/TH350 combo, which wasn't potent enough for Mike. He canned the 350 and had a 1970 396 converted into a 440ci powerplant by Dave's Engine Machining in Newark, California. The 4.185-inch bore and 4-inch stroke is made up of forged KB pistons, forged and nitrated GM crank, and is connected by factory shot-peened rods. Ancient oval port iron heads received new larger valves and a complete gasket-match port job. Mike chose full roller 1.7:1 ratio Scorpion rocker arms to support those stainless oversized Manly valves. They are commanded by a COMP Cams solid roller with 0.590/0.598 inches of lift to maintain street manners. On top sits a Weiand Team G single-plane intake manifold disguised in black ceramic coat. Air flows down through the K&N air cleaner and into a 750-cfm Speed Demon carburetor. Spark lights the fire with a carefully hidden MSD 6AL ignition box, a Pro-Billet distributor, and matching Super Conductor wires. The spent fumes exit through Patriot intermediate-length headers for maximum ground clearance, and continue through 3-inch stainless pipes and MagnaFlow mufflers. The TH350 got the boot for an overdrive and an extra pedal. In went a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed with street and track aimed gearing. Mike also went with an 11-inch Borg & Beck clutch. The 1968 GM 12-bolt was narrowed 4 inches to make room for the desired wheel and tire combination. The new suspension configuration out back would help make room for the big 'ns. Inside the 12-bolt is an Auburn Posi unit with 4.56:1 gears driving 33-spline axles.
The front suspension got RideTech coilovers between their StrongArms control arms. Mike chose to match those with RideTech's Musclebar sway bar. The factory steering type was retained, but reinstalled with a new steering box and new high-pressure -AN lines in the place of the typical rubber ones. In order to eliminate bumpsteer, Mike installed RideTech's spindles with corrected geometry. Out back got similar treatment with RideTech coilovers and a whole-new triangulated four-link setup that includes another Musclebar sway bar. The factory stitch-welded front subframe wouldn't be good enough for this pro-standard build. Mike ground them down and did a continuous weld in their place. At the same time he cleaned up any factory splatter and got the frame powdercoated satin black for a clean look and easy cleanup. Weld-in subframe connectors attach that front section to the inverted hat channel rear frame. Those too were powdercoated satin black.
Wheels & Brakes
All that work in the suspension was effort to fit the right wheels, tires, and brakes. Mike spent months looking at wheels and finally settled on Hot Rods by Boyd HR22 in 18x8 front and 19x10 rear. These are wrapped in BFGoodrich KDW2 245/40ZR18 and 285/35ZR19 tires. Inside are big, bad Wilwood six-pistons in the front and matching four-piston rear calipers with drilled and slotted 12.88-inch rotors. These calipers, with their iconic red powdercoat, stand out next to the black and gray theme of the rest of the car.
The most difficult decision in this whole process was choosing the color. The hardest thing was getting past the idea that the Camaro wouldn't be blue anymore, as it had been for the first 18 years he owned it. Mike looked at every metallic gray swatch provided by every automotive paint manufacturer. Those swatches proved to be an unrealistic way of picking a color for something larger than a swatch, so he started looking at whole cars. He finally found the right color being worn by an unassuming 2011 Hyundai. To add drama, he had large satin black graphics applied to the hood and decklid, all by Steve's Body Shop in Fremont, California. Under the paint is a semi-smoothed firewall, shaved marker lights, deleted antenna, and removed door locks. The door handles and driprail trim were retained to keep from looking like an over-smoothed custom rod. After paint, Mike decorated the body with Marquez Design LED taillights and aluminum doorjamb vents. Mike's absolute favorite piece on the car is the Aero Tech Laboratories aluminum gas cap in his favorite satin black anodized finish.
The interior is not usually the highlight in a muscle car like this one, but it's one of Mike's. He, like his father did, has his own shop, No Limit Customs in Riverbank, California. There he re-covered 2009 Hyndai Tiburon front and 1997 Camaro rear seats. He also stretched the Mystique Vinyl and graphite suede over custom door panels, armrests, and rear package tray. Nearly everything in the interior of Mike's Camaro is custom. The Dakota Digital VHX gauges were made one-off for Mike with his Project Justified logo printed. Mike knew he would be driving this car a lot, so he made sure to add some creature comforts and ensure everything worked, every time. He installed an EZ wire kit to replace every existing wire in the car and even added some more. The wires hook up his Classic Auto Air Restomod Air Viper kit and other non-factory electronics to a flat-blade fuse block. Mike scored his first major sponsor with this car. ARC Audio heard his story and was happy to support him with product and give him the invite to attend the 2012 SEMA show with his car as an exhibit. Not just any stereo system would do. The dash is head unit free because an iPad does the control work. It holds the data as well as a PEQ seven-band parametric equalizer. Sound exits through four 6.5-inch speakers and two 12-inch subwoofers powered by a KS900-6 amplifier. Dual trunk-mounted YellowTop Optima batteries keep everything juiced up.