If you count yourself among the lucky enthusiasts steeped in this automotive hobby, chances are, you picked it up from someone close to you – perhaps an older brother, an elderly neighbor, grandpa, shop teacher, or maybe your father.
If that’s true, then you probably cut your teeth turning wrenches by first holding a flashlight and being yelled at for not doing it well enough. Sure, for some, it may be relaxing and cathartic to calibrate precision instruments and use a dial bore gauge on their latest engine build, but I’ve spent enough time contorting my body underneath the dash of rusted out piles to know it can also be very frustrating.
So, having now been on both ends of that flashlight, I can empathize with the teacher and pupil. But, we can only earn the skills needed to build great cars through a sacrifice of blood sweat, and a little bit of sanity to the hot rod gods.
I say all of this to explain why Scott Mahowald’s story spoke to me when I heard it. See, he too knows the bond formed after a father and son work on a project together for not minutes, hours, or days, but years.
I came across Scott’s impeccable example of early GM muscle styling at the St.Paul State Fair Grounds in Minnesota earlier this year while attending the Street Machine Nationals. I was tasked with selecting an Editor’s Choice Award, and there was some steep competition in attendance.
Scott’s Camaro stopped me in my tracks, but a car’s looks are only half of the equation. It still has to have the right story to go along with it to make a truly great feature or in this case, award winner…It may sound corny, but every car has a soul…except the Prius, those are the cold, emotionless, mechanical lemmings of the automotive world.
A proper hot rod, on the other hand, evokes emotion for not only the person behind the wheel, but also, any onlooker fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of its attitude as they rubberneck at the sound of its cacophonous exhaust note.
Scott’s car did that for me. As his blown big-block-powered Chevy shook the ground on our way to shoot some photos, I saw the faces of each passerby as their slack-jawed gazes tracked the Lime Green Camaro.
When I shoot photos, I have a tendency to get in “the zone.” I focus on capturing all of the shots I really need and then wrap up the session by shooting the small details. Scott and I discussed the Camaro while my shutter clicked. He ran down all of the usual particulars one expects to hear when breaking down a build like this. It wasn’t until I shot the interior that the story unfolded and my ears began to perk up. That’s when I noticed an interesting totem-like object hanging from the rearview mirror.
I asked Scott what it was, and he paused…”That’s a little piece of my dad,” he said. “He passed away about three years ago and that’s my way of keeping him with me and the car.” It was a small metal vial that holds the ashes of Scott’s father. Scott and his father have major history with this car, after all. So, it makes sense that even in the afterlife, all three of them stay together.
Scott’s old man, Monte G. Mahowald, purchased the car after having a long-time love affair with plenty of four-wheeled street beasts. In his late teens and early-’20s, Monte could be found street racing and boulevard cruising the streets of Minneapolis and St.Paul. But in the early days, he didn’t spend much time wrenching, and what he did do was likely basic maintenance.
Original Purchase In The 1980s
That is until we fast-forward to when Monte originally purchased the Z/28, which we can only surmise was around the mid-to-late 1980s from what Scott’s told us. By the early ’90s, Monte had cast aside his original plan of simply restoring the car and decided to go full-blown custom instead – excuse the pun.
As the subsequent years passed, Scott tells us the car saw many different iterations bringing it to the point we see today. As the car is a true Z/28, it originally came equipped with an LT1 350 SBC engine, which Monte quickly swapped out for a 350 four-bolt-main that came out of a crashed truck. Monte rebuilt this engine in his garage, eventually having it dyno’ed to the healthy tune of around 430 hp. Still, power is a fickle mistress always urging you to push the limitations of the internal combustion engine, your wallet, and skinny-pedal fortitude.
The Late ’90s
So, like any red-blooded horsepower-loving American, Monte decided to upgrade the drivetrain in his Camaro once again. Scott told me, “He contacted a local engine builder, Jeff Cheney, founder of Cheney Performance – he was a successful NHRA driver. Cheney started with a 454ci block and proceeded to build a real fire-breather, pumping the horsepower output of the Camaro to 550.”
All that power must’ve put the fear of something into ol’ Monte, because he decided that was a good time to upgrade the suspension and transmission. He had the TH350 transmission rebuilt to include a manual valve body so he could do his own shifting. Safety has its place too, so Monte had a friend, Jon Evers, install an eight-point roll cage as well.
Of course, moderation is for the weak, as they say. So, around 2005, Monte was ready for the next step in his ultimate pro-street build. This was a big one, as Scott puts it, “This was the move he always had in mind as his ultimate modification.” It came in the form of a supercharged big block.
As Scott explains it, “Monte had the first (there’s more) supercharged engine built by Magnum Superchargers. The engine was designed to run on 92-octane pump gas, and when all was said and done, it made 830 hp at the crank and somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 hp to the rear meats.” Speaking of power transfer, Monte took it upon himself to swap out the rearend for a stout 12-bolt unit and some thick 19-inch-wide Mickey Thompson rubber wrapped around the wheels you see in the photos here.
To haul the Chevy to a swift stop, he also upgraded the brakes to Wilwood two-piston calipers to accompany the much-needed steering upgrade in the form of a Mustang II rack-and-pinion system. “Aside from removing a ton of weight off the front end, it made it much easier to control the car.”
In order to accommodate those huge rear tires, Monte was faced with a decision to tub the car, and as any self-respecting fan of the pro street era would do, he pulled the trigger.
As luck would have it, Monte was good friends with a talented upholstery specialist by the name of Fred Mattson. Fred has authored several books detailing custom upholstery practices – he even surprised Monte with a custom red leather Chevy Bowtie sewn into the fabric that rests atop the rear tub he installed in the Camaro.
From Flashlight Assistant To Wiring Expert
By this time, Scott had been helping Monte the whole way through. The way Scott explains it, “I was learning and giving my input where I thought prudent. If you have ever done anything this intense or important with your father, you will understand when I tell you that this was no easy task, and sometimes threatened our relationship as father and son.”
Trust us, Scott, we know! Still, it’s that whole pedagogical obligation that keeps us around when the going get’s tough.
Scott continued, “He asked if I could rewire the entire car knowing that my profession was wiring custom machinery. I said sure, if you buy the wire, just let me know.” To Scott’s surprise, Monte called him a short time later and explained that he had everything Scott would need to rewire the Lime Green monster. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly what Scott was expecting…
“I was quite surprised to find he had bought eight small rolls of 18-gauge wires, four red and four black…I said, ‘I guess I need to be more specific.’ After several hours of trying to explain, he said he’d get some larger gauge wire for me as well. Ultimately, I wired the car with all red and black wire. What a nightmare of a rats-nest that was!”
We can only imagine. The multi-colored spaghetti we have under the dash of some of our own projects is enough to manage as it is. To do so with only two colors to distinguish from would be exactly that – a nightmare.
Still, Scott persisted and completed the project. Although, Monte eventually ponied up and sprung for a Painless Wiring system, which Scott installed.
Club Affiliations and Awards
All this work the both of them and their friends had put in landed Monte in the Northstar Camaro Club Of Minnesota. With club membership comes show attendance. Monte’s ‘Maro was already known all over the city, but when it started popping up at shows, it instantly began winning awards. Although, Scott is quick to point out that Monte never built the car to be a show-winner per se’, but to enjoy and be enjoyed by others. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing both…
“My father built this car for himself to enjoy and bring joy to others. Not once did he pick a car show because of the awards or accolades it offered; it was much more rewarding to see others enjoy the car.” Scott continued, “If someone asked to take a picture, he told them, happily, to do so and share it wherever and with whomever they wanted. As a result, the car showed up on social media websites, posters, and on the cover of the auto repair journal. He did receive a lot of trophies from many car shows over the years though.”
When I asked Scott which of them mattered most to Monte, he replied with the perfect answer, as if he hadn’t already won me over with the proverbial father and son story. Scott explained, “the ones that mattered most to him were the Participant Choice Award 2008 Car Craft St.Paul, MN. And in 2016 he attended a local charity event, Cars For Blake, that raises money for kids like Blake that are born with congenital heart defects. He won Best Muscle Car and Best Of Show, but he was most proud to win Blake’s Choice, awarded by the four-year-old himself.”
Of course, what would an American muscle car be, if not a visceral representation of the freedom we hold so dear? So, it’s no surprise that one of the other most memorable honors the Camaro wears is the Remembrance and Honor Top 21 Car Show on 9/11/2016. “He [Monte] was just proud to be a part of the 9/11 show.”
And we’re very proud to now be a part of the list of awards Monte and Scott’s Camaro has earned.
Trials and Tribulations
When I asked Scott about some of the challenges the two of them faced during the decades-long build, he was quick to respond with an honest and forthright answer. “My father could be very stubborn. Hard if you’re his son, great if you’re trying to restore a car. There was no throwing in the towel. My dad taught himself everything he knew about cars when he found the Camaro. He learned from talking to friends, experts, reading, and trial and error. Before long, he was the guy others would call to learn what they needed to do.”
By the time the build came to fruition, Monte’s original plans of racing it at Brainerd International Raceway had fallen by the wayside, and Scott offered some perspective of his own on the subject. “The car never went to Brainerd, and it’s still never been down the track. While I do ponder running it at least once to see what it could do in the quarter-mile, I understand more now why my dad never did. I’m not sure it is worth the risk of losing something that represents the bond I had with my father. It means so much to me.”
Under New Ownership
Now that Scott has owned the car for more than three years, he’s had a while to reflect on the entire project and his father/son relationship. “Two years before he passed, he handed me the keys and said it was time for me to take over. This was a shock to me – I never thought I’d have it until he passed. I wasn’t prepared for that – at the time, I didn’t have the storage space for it. After explaining, my dad said I could store it in his garage.”
Over the following weeks, Scott admitted, his relationship with his father had grown a little tense. Apparently, Monte was having a tough time letting go of the Camaro – hey, we get it, he’d poured blood and sweat into the Camaro over decades. So did Scott…”I learned a ton of auto mechanics from my father by helping with different modifications. He taught me a lot – to think outside the box. Anything is obtainable if you really want it.”
Still, Scott and Monte discussed it and developed a mutual understanding that Monte wasn’t quite ready to hand over the keys. Scott just told him, “I hope you’re not ready for a long time.”
Monte passed away at the age of 74. His obituary read, “Age 74, of Coon Rapids. Longtime Member of the Coon Rapids Jaycees, Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) MN-O, Northstar Camaro Club, and Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 10. Survived by loving wife, Nancy Mahowald; children, Scott (Sophia) Mahowald and Kirsten (Jeff) Comfort; grandchildren’s, Jodi Mahowald, Cassie deAzevedo, Thomas Mahowald, Isaiah Comfort, Connor Comfort, and Arianna Comfort; brother, Gregory (Mary) Mahowald; loyal dogs, Chevy and Crickett; 1971 Pro Street Camaro Z/28, and numerous other family and friends. Preceded in death by parents, Elman and Bette Mahowald; brother, Philip Mahowald.”
So, even though Scott is the new owner, the father and son bond prevents him from changing a thing on the Camaro. He is the perfect steward of such a period-correct example of pro street heritage. The modifications on the Z/28 are as timeless as the father and son project car story itself.
Plans For The Future
I finally asked Scott what his plans are for the Camaro now that he’s behind the wheel, to which he replied, “Over the years, knowing that I would own the car one day, I pondered things I may want to change. Maybe fuel injection, different color. However, after owning the car for three years, I have come to the full realization of just how well known and admired the car is in the Twin Cities area.”
Scott continued, ” A couple of years ago I went to look at a boat a guy was selling in a town on the outskirts of the Twin Cities. It was a farm with a few barns in the middle of nowhere. After looking at the boat, the boat owner starts telling me of all the old Mopar’s he has in the barns; I mentioned that I too have a car. I showed him a picture and he said, “Oh yea, I know that car.” I asked how he knew of it and he said he had seen it at a couple of car shows in the past and spoke with my dad.”
It was then that Scott knew, “I believe that it would be wrong of me to change anything on this car at this point…”
Instead, Scott told us he has about four to five months out of the year in Minnesota when he can truly drive the car. He drives it at least once a week during those months, sometimes more…”If I’m not going to a show, I just take it for a spin around town. Besides the thrill of driving the streets with over 750 hp, waving goodby to Hellcats, I, like my father, most enjoy sharing the car at shows and seeing the joy it brings.”
So be on the lookout for Scott and his wicked Camaro. Until next time…
|Power Adder||6-71 Weiand Supercharger|
|Rearend||12-bolt/ 3.73/ 33-spline axles|
|Horsepower/Torque||763.4hp/626.7tq at the wheels. 6psi of boost.|
|Chassis/suspension||Adjustable ladder bars and wishbone track locater|
|Tires/Wheels||Mickey Thompson rear 29×17|
|Interior||Custom made by Fred Mattson. Tub and cage by Jon Evers.|
|Underhood Parts||Aluminum firewall, stainless radiator trim and firewall bezel, and various engine dress-up parts performed by Scott and Monte.|