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1974 Chevrolet Camaro - Front Man

Bench Racing

Not every car I buy is a project. In the case of this superfresh '74 Camaro, I'm hoping to wash it and drive it every day as a recycled commuter. The unbelievably straight car was found at an estate auction for $2,000 and has all the markings of grandma's daily driver including a trunk full of expired handicapped placards and photos of the grandkids. It has two passenger-side scrapes, one on the door and one where the door meets the rear quarter-panel, that reveal the original factory primer underneath the original color. Otherwise it is completely free of damage. A miracle when you consider how far the plastic grille is from the driver seat and the planetary curve of the hood.

It's perfect. OK, not totally perfect-it's going to need carpet and seat covers. And the distributor gasket looks like it's oozing a bit so I'll need to pull that out, and while I'm there I should put in an HEI because points should have gone away in 1973. And the Q-jet is leaking a bit, so that is going to need a rebuild, so I might have to install an aluminum manifold if I have one lying around. It actually should get a complete tune-up and a radiator flush before I drive it every day, and I'd better check out the rearend too.

Since the Camaro is a California car, it has either the LM1 or L48 350, which makes a maximum of 185 hp. That will never do; I could get a turbo for it like a T04B, mount it using some swap-meet shorties flipped upside down, then blow through a carb hat. That wouldn't use a lot of fuel down low, and when I got into the throttle a bit for passing or climbing hills I could have some power. Nothing wrong with that.

Then again, I don't know what the mains look like. It might have the original bearings in it. It does have a little bit of oily blue smoke when I sit and rev it. Maybe I should go through the engine first. I have a four-bolt 400-block from the yard, or maybe I should build a 454 small-block. But for that money I could build a Gen III engine like the 6.0L that we put together for cheap and made 550 hp with in the May '07 issue. That would be sick. Of course I'd have to run an overdrive transmission like a 4L65E, or better yet a 4L80E; I hear those can manage something like 800 horses. I wonder if it would fit? It should if you can get a big-block to fit in one of those cars. They were factory-equipped in 1970, right?

Wait. Why run a small-block when a 496 is cheap to build? Man, this thing would cook on the freeway with 700 hp. Imagine the burnout distance. Imagine whacking open the blades and trying to see over that huge hood as you try to control the oversteer in grandma's beige grocery-getter. Ha ha! Woo!

Wait. Who builds 496s anymore when the 502 and 540 are so easy to own? The 502 H.O. is about $5,700, so I could drop it in and have less than $10,000 in the whole car. Big-block Camaros go for a lot more than that these days. For a little more dough I could have the 502hp 502 or a 540, or even the 572 with 620 pump-gas horsepower and a Bow Tie block delivered to my door.

Speaking of blocks, I think you can build a 565-inch engine with a Dart Big M low-deck or 598 inches with a tall-deck version, and I think for $1,000 more you can get a 632-inch assembled short-block with a crazy Callies crank, then go find some swap-meet rec-port heads and drive the thing on the salt flats.

No! Wait! Nitrous! Why didn't I think of this before? I could buy a 706-inch Top Sportsman engine that will make 1,500 hp and put me in the 8s! Fifteen-to-one compression is cool if you don't ping, right?

There, I've managed to spend $40,000 and haven't even driven the car more than 10 miles. Maybe I should just drive this thing and enjoy the '70-'74 blind spot. -Douglas R. Glad

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