A NEW BREED OF PRO-TOURING CAMARO
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.