The driver of the El Camino paused briefly after making a U-turn at the end of the parking lot. Even at idle from that distance, the small-block's exhaust note overpowered the traffic in the street behind us. Camera focused, settings locked in, finger poised on the shutter button, we wait. The engine bellows, the converter flashes, and the car rises to the top of its suspension travel. The shutter clacks away but not fast enough to keep up with the flash of red that's more than halved the distance to the camera, leaving in its wake a cloud of smoke and a pair of long black stripes on the asphalt. We repeat this exercise a few more times under the guise of "making sure we got the shot." Really, though, we repeated it because it was so damn fun.
Rod Riemer expressed his gratitude after the shoot was over. Not for the honor of being in Car Craft but for feeling a sense of renewed enthusiasm for his car. We first met Rod at Westech nearly a year ago. Editor Glad had an engine dyno session scheduled on the same day Rod had his Elco on the rollers. Glad went to investigate all the racket and stumbled onto a homebuilt, 500hp street car-prime Car Craft material. Info was exchanged and tentative photo shoot plans were made and subsequently put on hold.
In the interim, Rod was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. He was unconscious for eight hours, waking up with pins in his broken radius and a rod in his broken femur. For a while, he couldn't move without a walker, much less drive a car. Imagine the toll that must take on an otherwise healthy and athletic person. Now he can get around on a cane, but his vision is still messed up (though not enough to keep him from driving), and physical therapy sessions sap most of his energy.
But cruising around with him on a warm spring evening, we could see the spark returning as he regaled us with stories of blown engines and twisted-up driveshafts-the kinds of stories that come from years of owning a car. Rod's had his El Camino for 11 years. It started out with a beat-to-hell roller, but he straightened and painted its twisted sheetmetal and breathed new life into it first with a mild 350 and Super T-10 combo and its current 350 CID/TH350 combination.
Now maybe it's the car bringing him back. After our burnout session/photo shoot and after cruising around for a couple of hours, Rod spoke with increasing enthusiasm about diving back into the engine, installing bigger nitrous jets, finally installing a radio, getting back to the racetrack, and pushing the Elco into the 10s. He said he's more excited about the car than he has been in years. Try getting that kind of boost from a doctor's visit.
Who: Rod Riemer
What: '68 Chevrolet El Camino
Where: Moreno Valley, California. Moreno means "brown" in Spanish. The area was named after Frank E. Brown, whose company built a dam nearby to provide water to the area.
Bucking the current trend of big-inch small-blocks, there's a 350 in the Elco. Larry's Track Pro in Montebello, California, did the machining and 0.040 overbore. Rod assembled it in his garage with a lightweight Eagle crankshaft, 6-inch connecting rods, and forged Mahle 9.5:1 pistons. He phoned Comp for a custom-ground camshaft, which specs out at 242/248 degrees at 0.050-inch tappet lift and 0.594/0.600-inch valve lift through Comp's Pro Magnum 1.6:1 rocker arms. He sourced 195cc intake aluminum cylinder heads from Pro Comp and had Dippner Engine Service in Desert Hot Springs, California, mill, port, and assemble them with Manley stainless steel valves, ARP studs, and Comp valvesprings.
Nothing too complicated here: There's an 830-cfm annular discharge Holley on top of an Edelbrock Super Victor intake. A 1-inch HVH spacer is sandwiched in between.