Lately it seems that if a car doesn't have at least 17-inch wheels, an overdrive trans, road-course-ready brakes, and probably fuel injection, it just isn't hip enough to be seen in a street machine mag. We're not much for trends, but we'd have to admit that our tastes have been leaning in that direction, at least for stuff that's supposed to be driven regularly. Like a lot of guys, we're getting spoiled by the driveability of late-model rides and their ability to do many things well. But maybe we need to back up a few steps.
The wake-up call came while we were searching for feature meat for this issue. On the other end of the line was Ted Toki, proprietor of Westside Performance in Santa Monica, California. Unbelievably, there's actually a speed shop not 20 minutes from our office that we didn't know about. Worse yet, it's been there for like 30 years. Ted was curious why we hadn't come sniffing around before, so we prodded him for leads on trick iron from around the block. One of the cars he listed-rather casually-was a '69 El Camino. A 10-second El Camino with a big-block on spray. "Is it a street car?" Ted came back, "Oh yeah, that's what it's for. Drive it anywhere if you're willing to pay for the gas." Pulling into the alley behind Westside produced skepticism; this was our 10-second ride? Street car yes, but 10.70s at 125? It seemed unlikely. After all, it's all steel, right down to the Rally wheels, and it's low, like a cruiser. Popping the hood didn't change our minds. An iron-headed big-block with a dual-plane? And is that a stock fuel-feed line and filter? Sure, there's a nitrous plate and the obligatory set of headers, but so what? You can imagine our reaction when Ted relayed that the 12-bolt contains only 3.42s and a stock Posi unit, and that the Turbo 400 has a mere 2,800-stall converter.
But then there's the rollbar-our first clue that this is more than a simple street cruiser. The tubes are neatly tucked against the interior sheetmetal so as not to be seen, with downtubes poking through the bedwall below the window and well out of sight to anyone who isn't standing right next to the open bed. This was no accident. Ted informed us that the previous owner, Jeff Alexander along with Westside wrench Jeremy White, had fabbed the bar good enough to satisfy the NHRA-you know, because it goes 10s. They also installed the tiny fuel cell under the bed floor that holds a reserve of race gas to be administered with the nitrous hit. We were starting to get the picture. And speaking of pictures, Ted produced one that showed the Camino yanking an 8-inch Rally wheel off the ground at the track. The pieces were coming together. We were looking over a finely crafted sleeper.
We later learned that the Chevy has close-ratio power steering and Koni shocks along with its big front sway bar, enhancing the street experience in conjunction with the wide 15-inch rubber. The 112-degree lobe separation on the cam keeps the idle reasonable and contributes to the sane exhaust note along with the complete set of pipes. There's a stereo and everything. And with 3.42:1 gears behind an engine that actually prefers to motor around 3,000 rpm, who needs overdrive? Maybe successful street machining doesn't absolutely mandate '90s technology after all.
Tech NotesWhat: '69 Chevrolet El Camino SS396Owner: Shane MochizukiHometown: Los Angeles, CA
Engine: The engine specs sound more like an '80s recipe than a contemporary big-block, but it works like a champ. The 454 block is a Mark IV casting from the '70s, and the crank is a forged-steel GM piece like you'd find in an LS6, as are the GM "dimple" rods, which are bushed for full-floating pins. One of the specialty items is the set of custom Ross pistons, with a dome spec'd by Westside Performance for 10.25:1 compression while enhancing flame travel.