Rich Downing grew up in a family of gearheads. But while the rest of his bloodline enjoyed building and playing with mainstream street machines like Camaros and Chevelles, Rich preferred tinkering with Tri-Five 210 wagons and Volkswagen Beetles.
In his junior year in college, Rich got the urge to build a Camaro of his own. After unloading his latest shoebox creation, he purchased the shell of a '69 Camaro. The previous owner had lost interest in the project, but Rich took it head on. With the paint and bodywork complete, it was the perfect foundation to build the car to his liking.
The plan was to emulate a Trans-Am racer from the late '60s that could be flogged hard into the corners and provide an ample amount of lateral g's. Further enhancements had to include big brakes and a six-speed transmission, all without spending a ton of money.
Amazingly, during the four-year transformation, Rich not only managed to produce his latest vision, but he also graduated from GMI Engineering and Management Institute, got married, and purchased his first home. Rich largely credits his wife Andrea, two of his buddies (both named Jeff), his father, and his employer at Wheel to Wheel Inc. for all their support. Maybe graduating from school and jumping into the real world is a good thing after all.
Car Craft Q&ACar Craft: There's a heavy emphasis on early Trans-Am-series styling. What's the reasoning behind it?Rich Downing: I love the aggressive look, from the wider fenders to the hunkered-down stance. Those cars were built for high speed and wheel-to-wheel action.
CC: How difficult was the T56 conversion?RD: Pretty easy actually. I used an LT1 trans, American Specialties crossmember, and a Dynotech 6061 aluminum driveshaft, and it literally bolted right into place. The hydraulic-clutch setup was custom, but there are many aftermarket manufacturers that supply a complete bolt-in unit.
CC: Why didn't you go with the larger 13-inch Corvette rotors with the massive 18-inch Torq-Thrust II wheels?RD: I also own a set of 15-inch Torq-Thrust Ds that I like to throw on once in a while, and there's no way I could get them to fit with the larger rotor.
CC: What do you enjoy more-drag racing or open-tracking?RD: I enjoy them both. Each has a different element, but both offer a great adrenaline rush.
The DetailsCar: '69 Camaro Z/28 cloneOwner: Rich Downing, Berkley, Michigan
Engine: 350ci small-block
Heads: Cast-iron Vortec, 1.94/1.50-inch intake/exhaust valves, 1.6:1 roller rockers
Induction: GMPP Vortec aluminum dual-plane, Holley 750-cfm carb
Camshaft: GMPP LT4 HOT cam, 218/228 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift, 0.525/0.525-inch lift
Transmission: GM T56 six-speed, factory flywheel and clutch, SLP short-throw shifter
Rearend: 12-bolt, 4.10:1 gears, Eaton posi-traction, Summit racing aluminum differential cover
Front suspension: Energy Suspension polyurethane control-arm bushings, Hotchkis 111/48-inch sway bar, Hotchkis coil springs, Bilstein shocks
Rear suspension: Hotchkis leaf springs, Bilstein shocks
Brakes: '94 Corvette 12-inch discs, front; '94 Z/28 calipers with '94 Corvette 12-inch discs, rear
Wheels and tires: 18x8 American Racing Classic Torq-Thrust IIs with P245/45ZR18 Sumotomo HTRs, front; 17x11 American Racing Classic Torq-Thrust IIs with P285/35ZR18 Sumotomo HTRs, rear
Paint: PPG Marine Blue with black stripes
Cost to build: $17,000