"Here is one for your horsepower page." Rick Lantz wasn't kidding when he flashed us a view of the Dominator and the 746hp dyno squiggles related to his '69 Camaro. We really couldn't resist when he threatened to drive the car on the freeway from its hiding place in Yorba Linda, California, to a scuzzy L.A. ghetto to show us the goods: four-speed, four-link, and giant Brodix 14-degree heads and all.
What would you do? He had a '95 Z28 with a Vortech supercharger, some Torq-Thrust IIs, and lots of aftermarket stuff, but he needed a cam to make any real power and reality bites. In California, you just can't do it, so Rick looked for some old iron. His first score was the promise of a '63 Nova with a mildly built 383, but when it showed up, it didn't have the 10.5:1 compression or the 383 that was promised. It turned out to be a stock 350 with cast pistons, but it did have the Demon carb, Edelbrock heads, and some other sundry items.
"I would have had to put a lot of work into the car to get it to go, which was what I was trying to avoid from the Z28 episode," Rick admits. He found another car on the Internet that looked more like a driver with a 700-horse small-block that was allegedly already dialed. The previous owner had become obsessed with the trinket and succumbed to its demands, spending night and day shuttling it to different shops and working on it endlessly at the price of his family. He got the car; she got everything else. Snapped from the spell, he put the car up for sale. Rick drove the car once and bought it.
"That's where my nightmare began," Rick remembers. On Easter Sunday, it just died after chewing the distributor gear clean off. It had been nibbling for a while and depositing chunks into the oil. After that was fixed, it all of a sudden made a hell of a racket and destroyed a lifter, rocker arm, and pushrod, likely due to a slurry of oil chunks floating through the valvetrain. Then and there, Rick decided it should be able to live on the street.
He called his boat-engine-building buddy, who is accustomed to building big small-blocks that live idling around on the river all day. He had some good ideas to stabilize the drivetrain with larger lifters, cam bearings, and a rebuilt shaft-rocker system. They also noticed it had pistons with vertical gas ports, which tend to clog when there is no rpm to clear the carbon. That required a complete teardown and rebuild. Soon, the engine was on the Westech dyno where Steve Brule and crew messed with cam timing and oil levels to hit a peak horsepower number. We pressured Rick to admit it is tuned for bragging rights. It's kind of peaky, but he doesn't think it is too big a deal with such a big engine in a relatively light car.
Rick put the whole car together in his garage on his back with the car on jackstands. "Fortunately, the Jeffco is light, so I just bench-pressed it in," he said. With his wife's help, it took him about three unhurried days to put it together. His experience comes from a job at TRD Racing, where he was required to dabble with fuel injection back when they were into open-wheel racing. These days, Toyota is into NASCAR, forcing Rick to fall back to the rudimentary world of carbs. And what better way to learn than to drive a car with a Dominator? "I used to tinker with my Typhoon and the Camaro with LT-1 Edit to customize the curves until Toyota got out of IRL and got into the Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. Now they are headed for Busch and Cup cars in 2007." Rick is going to need the big carb skills as the Busch series program manager.
Look for Rick near the big ovals or near his home in Concord, North Carolina, in his Camaro. "I'd like to get it on the track as soon as I finish the 'cage. In the meantime, I'm going to take it out and terrorize the streets of North Carolina once in a while."
What: '69 Chevrolet Camaro
Owner: Rick Lantz
Hometown: Concord, NC. The same state that hosted last year's Cruisin' USA in Oakboro.
Block: It is an all-aluminum 461-inch Donovan small-block with 4.155 bore and a raised cam location to accommodate the 4.25-inch stroke. Rick sent it to LSM after the lifter collapsed and wiped out the bores. LSM repaired them with brass sleeves and opened up the cam journals for big roller bearings. The rest of the assembly was performed by Dave Ebbert at DNE Motorsports Development.
Cage: The 'cage only has four connection points because the old owner never did decide what kind of racing he wanted to do. Rick will go with an NHRA-approved setup.
Cam: The primary problem with the valvetrain is the raised cam location and aggressive profile combined with the stock small-block-style lifters and pushrods. And even though the former owner claimed he never over-revved it (sure, dude!), the stock equipment just couldn't compete. Now the engine has Chrysler dimension lifters (0.904 inch) and a custom-grind solid roller from LSM. Rick thinks it can take 7,200-7,300 rpm, but the shift light is set for 6,800.
Chassis: The original intent was to run the Silver State Classic open road race, so Ray's Fabrication assembled the Chris Alston tube-frame chassis with the help of J Bittle from JBA. At some point, the old owner changed his mind and tried to make it a drag car. The result is a car that is neither top-speed ready nor NHRA approved but is great for the street. Rick says, "With 275s on the front, at low speeds it is a little tough to turn, otherwise it rides good on the freeway with the adjustable shocks. I've never taken it around a corner hard, I am afraid that the rear will step out and I will wreck it."
Dash: Basically, Rick's done nothing to the dash except the backlighting. Nothing else works, and there is no speedo conversion for the Jeffco transmission. He's covered the whole thing up with a Pro Comp tach. It works for us. The wiper switch controls the electric fan and the water pump, and the switch near the shifter toggles between the horn and the line lock.
The Dominator: Only the jets had been tinkered with on the out-of-the-box 1050 Holley Dominator. It was then sent to a DaVinci Performance expatriate for some booster work to get the engine to work on the street. "I think it's really driveable; I can have it at 2,000 rpm in Fourth gear and it will just start to buck a little bit. It hasn't had a burp or hiccup since. It was one of the happy surprises for me."
Exhaust: The headers were custom-made by Bob Butler. They are 2.125 primaries that step to 2.250 with a 3.50-inch collector. The system then dumps into an oval tube for ground clearance and set of MagnaFlow 3.500-inch mufflers.
Fuel: The cell is pretty small in terms of it being a street car, so Rick has to hit the gas station pretty often. There is a fuel cell that holds about 12 gallons, and a piece of foam seems to keep the fuel from sloshing around in there on the street. Rick likes it though: "Part of the appeal is popping the trunk to fill the gas tank, and the battery switch is mounted where the filler neck should be."
Heads: The shaft rockers on the Brodix CV SP 330 heads were rebuilt by T&D after the broken lifter opened up the lash and metal from the distributor gear spread glitter into everything. Otherwise the heads retain their original 14-degree canted-valve setup. According to Rick, they flow like crazy, but because some of the bolts are under the springs, you have to take some of the parts off the heads to install and remove them.
Intake: Brodix has two different port sizes for its heads and only makes one manifold, so Rick had Wilson Manifolds port the intake runners to match that of the head. Wilson also worked the floor a little and milled half an inch off the top then added the four-hole tapered spacer to help low-end driveability and still have some hood clearance.
Paint: Right now it is midnight blue, but Rick has always been partial to red. Who knows? He just doesn't want it to be too pretty, so he can drive it and not worry too much.
Pedal: Covers! He got them from an auto parts store in Yorba Linda, California, in the chrome section.
Rearend: The Camaro has a Chassisworks chromoly FAB 9 housing with a Strange aluminum dropout designed for GM 12-bolt guts, including an Eaton Posi, Strange 30-spline axles, and 3.42 gears.
Seats: The Corbeau seats are going to be replaced from bottom-of-the-line metal frames with foam so thin the springs poke you to top-of-the-line carbon-fiber seats with better pads and comfort. After the 'cage is done.
Transmission: Essentially, the Jeffco is a manually activated automatic. You have to have a clutch to start and stop but not to shift gears. You can no-lift shift, but on the street, it is a firm shift, and scary. Instead, Rick just lifts off the throttle then gets back into it. If you are just pulling levers, it is equivalent to a really stiff shift kit in an automatic. There is no park, so the car needs to be put in the opposite gear to stay put. It will roll back when it is in a forward gear or roll forward when it is in a reverse gear. Not so nice on a street car with no parking brake. The four levers are all forward, and each gear is pulled in descending order. All levers pulled back is Fourth, and when you get to a traffic light, you have to push each lever forward.
Water: The log on the front of the engine is required because the intake has no provisions for a traditional water neck. The Meziere electric pump circulates the water through custom braided lines in and out of the head.
Wheels: The 17x11-inch Budnik Prisms in the rear have a ton of room because that part of the chassis was custom-made. The 17x9.5-inch front wheels rub the headers at full lock. It never had a good turning radius to begin with.
Cool: "My favorite thing is shredding tires at will. It will get old eventually, but I like it for now. On the freeway, I knocked the shifter down one gear and got it a little sideways. The big stuff is done, so I can just fix the little things," Rick says.