Ever since its fall-of-1966 introduction, there's never been a time when first-generation Camaros were undesirable, though we can't fully explain the recent surge in their popularity. Along with this recent swell in interest comes a similar fascination with improving the handling and braking performance of the early F-cars, although in truth, there's always been a faction of enthusiasts keen on making these cars turn and stop better than the factory did. That began with the early Trans Am imitators and led to the canyon racers of Southern California in the '70s, and on to the low-profiled, big-braked Pro-Tourers that started appearing in the '90s.
In the decades since the late '60s, upgraded suspension hardware for muscle-era cars has evolved considerably. While these enhancements help early F-cars take great strides in performance, the OE auto manufacturers have been simultaneously improving the handling and braking of new cars, enabling them to continue eluding even modified examples of their elders on a road course.
But the appeal of vintage body styles continues to motivate car crafters in their quest to elevate the overall performance of classic muscle to modern standards. In fact, that was the driving force behind Randy Johnson's '67 Camaro project. Randy had owned a '70 RS (featured in our Nov. '98 issue) that was a decent handler after some tweaks, though a bit temperamental. Then he had a '99 SS, which provided excellent handling and reliability, but he missed the lines of the classics. It was this conundrum that sparked the thought process that eventually led Randy to create a first-gen car that could hang with today's best.
The strategy began with the idea of installing the aluminum-armed front suspension from a C4 Corvette under the '67 F-car and snowballed from there. After a conversation with Wayne Due's Chassis Shop to obtain one of its custom subframes designed just for this task, Randy learned that Wayne had developed a new subframe that accepted a C5 frontend. Then Wayne mentioned his C4 independent rear suspension installation kit for early F-cars, and Randy figured he ought to have it as well. And since there'd be so much Vette underneath, it only seemed right for the final product to be motivated with modern Corvette power, thus inspiring an LS1 transplant, which would naturally have to be mated to a six-speed.
So, after many months of working out in the garage from the time his kids went to bed until 2 a.m., Randy now has a '67 Camaro that seems like a restored stocker, only lowered a touch and fitted with contemporary rolling stock-just the look he was going for. Of course, underneath it's a different story.
Car Craft Q&A
Car Craft: After having the '70 Camaro, the late-model wasn't so appealing, huh?
Randy Johnson: Actually, I liked my '99, especially the handling and reliability. It was also my first exposure to the LS1, which was impressive, but I couldn't get over the desire for a classic look.
CC: That's where the '67 came in?
RJ: Yes. I sold the '99 and some other stuff, found the '67, and decided to build it to look stock but ride and drive like a new car. I was originally looking for an LT1 but kept finding deals on the LS1, which weighs less and makes more power, so it was tough to turn down.
CC: How's the final product?
RJ: Better than I anticipated. Cornering is excellent, which I'd hoped for, but I was surprised at how well it rides. Even with the coilovers, it's never harsh over rough pavement. Including the Hot Rod Power Tour(tm), which we left for immediately after finishing the project in May, I've already put 4,600 miles on the car, and it's been thoroughly enjoyable.
Car: '67 Chevy Camaro RS/SS
Owner: Randall (Randy) and October (Tobie) Johnson, Kewaskum, WI
Engine: '01 Chevrolet 5.7L LS1 (346 ci) aluminum V-8, unmodified
Heads: Stock '01 LS1 aluminum (2.00/1.55-inch valves)