Car Corner
Ideas for my next project car

January 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

In my November column I wrote about electric cars. In that article I gave my usual sarcastic jab at California's electric car mandates. Well, shortly after that article came out I read a New York Times article about California planning to scale back on electric car quotas. Read the article here (you will need to register with the New York Time, but it is free). Just thought you would like to know.

Future Project Car

A few months ago I wrote about what I want for my next car. Two of those possibilities were a 69 Camaro and a 68-72 Corvette. If my next car is a classic car it will be one of these two. (Unless I see something better along the way; but I am trying to stay focused.)

This month I would like to take you through what my plans would be for a 69 Camaro. Why not the Vette? I would be less inclined to "hot rod" the Vette. Not that I wouldn’t improve the performance of America’s favorite sports car, it’s just that I would probably take a much more conservative approach to a Vette than a Camaro as a project car. Also, the Camaro would make for a much cheaper project car.

If (When!) I acquire my 69 Camaro I will be deciding between two long-term approaches. First would assume I would build a big block, and the other would be based on my desire to build something "different."

No Replacement for Displacement

Like the old saying goes, there is no substitute for cubic inches. The smallest big block I would build would be based on Chevrolet’s crate 502 ci. engine. It is available in a number of versions. I would be inclined to get a crate short block (block, crank, pistons, rods, etc.) as opposed to a long block (adds heads with valve train, rocker covers, timing cover, sometimes manifold, etc.)

With a 502 short block I would head (no pun intended) over to Edelbrock for a set of their oval port aluminum heads. Oval port heads breath better at low RPMs and this motor would be a torque monster expected to jump off idle like gangbusters. I would probably limit engine speed to 5500 RPMs. Rectangle port heads don’t really come into their own until past 5000 RPM, and really make a difference in the 5500-7000 RPM range.

Equipped with the short block and heads, I would throttle on over to Holley. They recently bought out B&M’s supercharger business. I would pick up one of their 420 Megablowers. This is a big blower that would look great sticking through the hood of my Camaro. While there I would think about adapting Holley’s Projection system to run with the supercharger. Their Projection system is a throttle body style fuel injection unit that bolts onto a standard four-barrel manifold. Since the supercharger has two four-barrel mounts that normally accepts two four barrel carburetors, I would need a projection setup that has two throttle bodies.

Behind this killer 502 injected and supercharged engine I would try to mount a 6-speed manual transmission like on new Corvettes. With a 6th gear overdrive of 0.50:1 I should be able to gear the car so cruising on the highway is done at around 1500 RPMs. With enough torque on hand to spin the tires at highway speed.

I would probably get Currie Enterprises to whip me up a Ford 9 in. rear end. They are extremely strong and gear changes are relatively easily. I would probably keep a set of 2.73:1 gears in the car for ultra low RPM cruising, and have a set of 3.73 or 4.11’s ready for drag racing. Assuming I ever take it to the track. Maybe I will just compromise and get one set of 3.42s.

The suspension would be setup more for handling that drag racing, with an eye toward comfort. Between Herb Adams & Dick Gulstrand I should be able to put together a suspension setup that will allow me to match the handling of a new Z28 without a punishing ride. I would use 17 or 18 inch wheels wrapped in the latest stickies from Goodyear or Goodrich.

I would setup the interior to be as close to original as possible with three exceptions. The seats will be replaced with better ones, though covered in a material that would provide an appearance appropriate for a late 60’s pony car. Next, I would like to use the factory console gauges. I may resort to aftermarket gauges in the stock console mounted bezels. Last would be the steering wheel. Something that won’t look out of place but would provide decent feel when driving.

The final aspect of this project would be paint. I would want a color that is very modern, and clearly was never available from the factory. Something like a candy apple cranberry, or maybe a deep purple. Then I would add white factory style Z/28 stripes.

Now that would be a great car.

Something Different

Sometimes I get the urge to be different. If this urge lasts until I have a 69 Camaro sitting in my garage, I may want to experiment on an unusual engine for a pony/muscle car. I would like to try a V-6. Maybe Chevy’s 4.3 liter Vortec V-6. It would have to make decent horsepower, so I would go with either a Gale Banks twin turbo setup, or maybe custom fabricate a twin Vortec or Paxton supercharger setup.

The entire engine would have to fit under a stock cowl induction style hood. Horsepower would only have to be enough to beat anything that is currently coming out of the factory. 400 - 500 hp should be more than enough to keep a new Vette or Viper in my rear view mirror.

This car would also have the 6-speed, and the handling suspension mentioned above. I might be more inclined to use stock seats and steering wheel to fool prospective competition into thinking it was just an old car with a nice paint job.


There you go. I figure I can build this car for about $30-40K, depending on the cost and condition of the car itself, and how much work I can do myself. I would budget about 10K for the engine. I could spread that out over time since I would not need the supercharger setup in the beginning. I would spend another 5K in the rest of the drive train, and 5K in the suspension, wheels & tires. Hopefully I can do the paint and interior for less than 10K if the donor car starts nice. That leaves no more than 10K for the car to fit in my long-term budget. I would just need to come up with a timeline that will help make that budget work.

We should start building our house with a three car garage in March. I can hardly wait to see a project car in that third drive bay.