HOT CHOCO­LATE

A NEW BREED OF PRO-TOUR­ING CA­MARO

NZV8 - - CONTENTS - WORDS: TODD WYLIE PHO­TOS: JARED HUNT

What’s brown and sticks like shit to a blan­ket? Well, be­sides the ob­vi­ous, it’s a good way to sum up Damien ‘Damo’ Crook’s Ca­maro. While it may not have huge-byeven-huger wheels or a ride height that scrapes up ants, the car has been built with one pur­pose in mind: per­for­mance han­dling. Sure, Damo’s sac­ri­ficed a few in­ter­net cool points by opt­ing for some­thing that’s ac­tu­ally driv­able and for which the tyres are af­ford­able, but that suits his plan per­fectly — that plan be­ing to get out and clock up as many miles as he can all around the coun­try, wife and young daugh­ter in tow, carv­ing up as many cor­ners as he can find along the way. It was Bruce Kett’s Cam­bridge-in­signia’d Cen­tral Mus­cle Cars (CMC) Ca­maro that drew Damo to the body shape. Sure, he’d al­ways loved V8s and al­ways been a GM fan, but see­ing Kett’s car in ac­tion was when the switch flicked on that that would be his next build. Sadly, put out of ac­tion due to a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence, Damo had to wait a few years be­fore he was well enough to put in the hard yards to make his dream a re­al­ity. What he did have on his side, though, was his ca­reer as an in­dus­trial de­signer — you know, the type of guy who can create some­thing from noth­ing and get it per­fect the first time. In fact, you could go so far as to say that that state­ment sums up the build — it cer­tainly would have been hard to vi­su­al­ize that an un­mo­lested Simi Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, ’68 Ca­maro could be turned into what Damo is now the proud owner of.

HE’S THE TYPE OF GUY WHO CAN CREATE SOME­THING FROM NOTH­ING, AND GET IT PER­FECT

Ac­tu­ally, call­ing Damo the ‘owner’ is re­ally only half the story; ‘re­searcher, de­signer, builder, and cre­ator’ sums it up far bet­ter. To add a bit of a twist to the build, Damo wanted to com­bine his pas­sion with his work and create some prod­ucts along the way, if the op­por­tu­nity arose. The more Damo re­searched, the more it be­came clear to him that the build would be in­spired by orig­i­nal ’68 race cars but gain from the 50 years of per­for­mance de­vel­op­ments since. This meant that the car would con­tinue to look es­sen­tially orig­i­nal — al­beit with one hell of a paint job — yet ev­ery­thing un­der­neath would be new. Help­ing Damo get off to a good start was the fact that the car, im­ported by good friend Ge­off Mit­ford-Tay­lor, was as mint as it had been de­scribed in the eBay auc­tion some eight weeks ear­lier. That was lucky, as there’s no deny­ing that Damo’s a true per­fec­tion­ist. The paint­work was al­ways go­ing to be trusted to the le­gendary Bruce Porter, a Napier lo­cal who spent many years be­hind a spray gun in a small work­shop owned by a Hawai­ian-shirt-wearer by the name of Boyd Cod­ding­ton. Bruce gave Damo plenty of ad­vice from the get-go, which is prob­a­bly a fair rea­son why the car looks as good as it does to­day. With first-gen Ca­maros be­ing more com­mon than any other ve­hi­cle in the pro-tour­ing move­ment, Damo was spoilt for choice when it came to sort­ing the han­dling side of the equa­tion. The only prob­lem was that most set-ups were de­signed to work with 17-inch or larger rims, which didn’t work for Damien’s retro-look build plan. On the other

hand, Ride­tech com­po­nents, paired with Wil­wood calipers, would work with the 15s, and Damo was stoked with how good all the bits looked. Sadly, some mods were re­quired to get bump-steer down to an ac­cept­able level — so Damo needed to spend plenty of time de­vel­op­ing his own parts. Of course, the bits had to be per­fect, as he knew that he wasn’t build­ing them just for him­self but also to be able to sell to any­one who found them­selves in the same sit­u­a­tion. The 15x7-inch and 15x8.5-inch Amer­i­can Rac­ing Torq Thrust wheels threw their own small twist at the project, with the car re­quir­ing new axles to suit. Trade Me had the per­fect-length so­lu­tion, al­beit with a Ford PCD — Damo was able to remedy that in the ma­chine shop. The three-inch-long wheel studs add a bit more of a race vibe, too, much to Damien’s de­light. Damien had noted that chas­sis connectors were all the rage abroad and, again, saw the po­ten­tial in build­ing his own. How­ever, rather than look­ing like a piece of box sec­tion, his connectors would be bet­ter in­te­grated into the ve­hi­cle, CAD de­signed, laser cut, and CNC folded. The plan from the get-go was for LS power — and, to be fair, it’s hard to blame him, as few en­gines can match the bang for buck and re­li­a­bil­ity of the faith­ful LS. Not just any LS, though — Damien’s en­gine would be fit­ted with an LS7 dry-sump set-up, com­plete with oil tank in­side the driver’s

HE GRABBED HOLD OF A TIG WELDER FOR THE FIRST TIME AND SET TO A PAIR OF SPIN­TECH MUF­FLERS

side in­ner guard. The sump it­self re­quired plenty of cut­ting and shut­ting to work around the Ca­maro steel work, but the re­sult is a re­sound­ing cool fac­tor. An L98 block was cho­sen and the bores en­larged so that the Cal­lies in­ter­nals took it out to 408ci. Right through the build, Damo was of the mind­set that fail­ure wouldn’t be if some­thing didn’t work, but if he never gave it a go to start with. This phi­los­o­phy summed up his ap­proach to the ex­haust set-up, when he grabbed hold of a TIG welder for the first time and set to a pair of Spin­tech muf­flers — cho­sen for their race car sound. Bends of 17⁄8 and three inches were pur­chased, and slowly they were as­sem­bled, the small ones be­ing for the head­ers, and the big ones be­ing for the rest. Mock­ing up the head­ers with PVC pipe worked a treat for Damien, and made light work of the header de­sign. It was a tech­nique that flowed on into the rest of the sys­tem. Things were look­ing good, un­til it was sug­gested to Damien that real race cars have a sin­gle side pipe … chal­lenge ac­cepted. The fact that it up­sets many opin­ion­ated hot rod­ders was sim­ply a bonus. Be­ing mates with Bruce the painter had its perks for Damien and its down­sides. The good part was that Damo could help out with prep; the bad part was that Damo had to help out with prep. Clearly learn­ing from the best is never easy, as it’s hard to gain years of ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge, but Damo did his best, with his own per­fec­tion­ist na­ture no doubt help­ing out. Brown was al­ways the pre­ferred colour, although get­ting the ex­act hue was more chal­leng­ing than he had ex­pected. Even­tu­ally, he set­tled on a colour called ‘Hot Choco­late’ from DuPont Auto Refin­ish. As you would ex­pect, the paint­work is flaw­less; what you would prob­a­bly not ex­pect is that it wasn’t even done in a booth!

Now, it was time to fire the en­gine into life and find out what that Cal­lies Speed Pack could do when matched with Comp Cams val­ve­train com­po­nents. The thump from the mas­sive lift cam sent tin­gles down Damien’s spine the first time he heard it, even if the car was far from ready to hit the road. Hav­ing had suc­cess with the other prod­ucts that he’d built from the car, Damien’s next mis­sion was to build an over-the-ra­di­a­tor air in­take, much like those seen in the af­ter­mar­ket for Com­modores and the like, only cooler. Dur­ing the mock-up stage of the build, a fac­tory VE Com­modore ra­di­a­tor was fit­ted and leaned over to ac­com­mo­date cold-air de­liv­ery to the en­gine. Damo hit the CAD pro­gramme again to de­sign brack­etry that could hold the ra­di­a­tor in place along the fans. How­ever, when it came time to the in­take, he went a dif­fer­ent way, creat­ing it out of 3D-printed plas­tic and fin­ish­ing it with a tex­ture­coated paint to repli­cate the ex­pen­sive in­jec­tion- mould­ing process. Again, his goal was not only to make one for this car but also to on­sell to oth­ers. The de­sign could eas­ily be adapted to suit other ve­hi­cles, so Damien’s cur­rently in the throes of build­ing a large-for­mat 3D printer to com­mence pro­duc­tion of one-piece items. Damien’s plans for the in­te­rior were far sim­pler: a set of Toy­ota Hilux seats slot­ting in and hid­ing in plain sight. How­ever, he did call on his train­ing in er­gonomics to get the seat-belt hang­ers ex­actly where he wanted — only to be told they couldn’t be there for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion rea­sons. The fi­nal lo­ca­tion came cour­tesy of some DX Corolla hang­ers, with the belts pass­ing through the quar­ter pan­els, the chal­lenge here be­ing to create wa­ter­proof pock­ets. Brian O’Brien was en­listed to stitch up the soft trim­mings, be­fore LVV Cer­ti­fier Andy Smith did his part and gave the Ca­maro the fi­nal seal of ap­proval, send­ing Damo on his way be­hind the wheel of his dream ma­chine.

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