Dan Thompson’s love for Camaros is nothing new. When he picked up this beauty just after his nineteenth birthday, he committed himself to building something special with the sort of imagination and financial naivete that characterize young people with a taste for speed—or anything exhilarating, really. Influenced by the Red Witch Camaro, Dan’s been tweaking this particular car over the past twenty-one years with the intent of blending “vintage looks and modern performance,” he declares.
His stars aligned when the owner of this beauty was willing to let it go to line his wallet for his upcoming marriage. Therefore, he was willing to part with it for a college student-friendly price, and with that, a young Dan had his dream machine.
In reality, the car was a little rough around the edges, though you’d have a hard time telling that to its proud teenage owner. Dan’s exuberant exploits in his new steed involved a backroad blitz with a Mustang that blew the Camaro’s motor. Young, focused on school, and frugal, Dan took that setback in stride, parked his baby, and started putting money away to make it a proud Pro Touring car one day.
Over the last two decades, Dan’s been picking at his to-do list. Time and persistence have made a massive change to the car’s exterior, interior, and underpinnings, with the most work done on the bits which aren’t readily visible. A minimalist interior, a clean paint scheme, subtle touches here and there, and some remarkable footwork courtesy of Detroit Speed help make this one of the more understated and tasteful monsters around.
The motor is a strong example of useful, cost-effective modifications providing more than enough for his purposes. Dan harvested an LS6 from a 2002 Corvette. Onto the V8, he planted a ported and polished head and a whoppin’ big cam, all of which was specced out courtesy of Mike Norris Motorsports. Driving roughly 500 horsepower through a T-56 transmission and onto a Ford 9-inch rear with 4.10 gears, he will have more than enough acceleration to keep his friends impressed, his rivals respectful, and his neighbors slightly irritated.
A modest but sufficient amount of power would help define the nature of this build. After all, this Camaro wasn’t destined to become a calendar centerfold or a chrome-drenched pretty boy; it had its history sewn in those late-night mountain blasts, and Dan sought more performance with an inconspicuous exterior. That would only see a coat of Reflex Blue, a pair of black racing stripes, and some clever red accents throughout—seen on the shifter boot, gauge lighting, and valve covers. Other than those self-respecting additions to the wardrobe, it was designed to fly under the radar.
Not only does Dan have some taste, but he’s aware of his own limitations. Not trying to bite off more than he could chew, he hired Scotty Prater of Prater’s Auto Restoration to ensure a solid suspension setup. “Dan asked for a car that was enjoyable to drive and wouldn’t rattle his fillings out, but could still autocross on the weekend,” Prater says with a chuckle. They put together a list of parts, Prater approved them, and they went from there.
Where the biggest chunk of change was spent was on the entire Detroit Speed catalog—minus their subframe. The Speed Kit III, as it is known, includes a standard subframe modified with Detroit Speed gear, their upper and lower control arms, and Koni coilovers. At the rear, a QUADRAlink rear end helps put the power to the pavement, and back up front, a GM 600 power steering system was made to fit within the confines of the classic muscle car.
That fancy footwork is put in contact with the road through a set of C4 Corvette ZR1 wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich g-Force T/A KDW rubber. Set within those subtle but wide five-spokes are 12″ disc brakes from Touring Classics to bring that heavyweight to an abrupt stop if need be.
Dan was aware of the Camaro’s heft and wanted an agile road course carver, which is reflected in his interior layout. Though the Recaro seats are leather-bound and plush, the rest of the cabin is very spartan. A four-point rollcage with subframe connectors, minimalist carpeting, the lack of a center console, and five-point harnesses from Crow scream focus—with only a closeout panel in place of the back seat and a set of Dakota Digital gauges for style points. Those gauges, however, look analog to all but the trained eye, since Dan wanted to keep a near-factory appearance throughout. After all, “GM got it right,” he says with some certainty, and adds, “there’s something to be said about those classic lines.”
A labor of love, this Camaro has been tweaked and tinkered on for the past two decades, and as of August 2017, the end is finally in sight. Once the interior is finished and Dan finds the time to fit an exhaust system, he’ll be able to set a few autocross records and turn heads at the local car show. The weekend warrior and street-track hybrids are nothing new to us, but rarely are they executed with such restraint and taste.