With nearly 1500hp of twin-turbo grunt up front, Steve Hopes’s SINISTR Camaro is not to be messed with
RACE-SPEC SUSPENSION, BULLETPROOF DRIVELINE AND 1500HP OF TWIN-TURBO GRUNT MAKE THIS SHOW-AND-GO PRO TOURING CAMARO A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
WITH its flawless panels, mile-deep paint, incredible brightwork and insane detail, you could be forgiven for thinking the ’68 Camaro of Steve Hopes is all show. But such notions quickly evaporate the instant Steve pops this bad boy’s bonnet to reveal those 406 cubes of Nelson Racing Engines small-block, which busts out a genuine 1451hp.
Moving underneath only serves to underline the point, with a complete Street Rod Garage Srg-force chassis, monster brakes, Tranzilla six-speed, Watt’s linkage, nine-inch and fat, sticky rubber – all extreme G-machine gear. Steve built his rad Cam for tackling the twisty stuff – a pro tourer on steroids.
“I started out building a tough, big-block-powered track car,” Steve says. “Then I tubbed the rear and cut out the firewall and floor, and one thing led to another.”
And no, that’s not a misprint; engine number one was an allalloy 640-horse 540ci Shafiroff big-block. But SINISTR’S story starts even earlier than that. Steve was already cruising around in a mint matchingnumbers black ’68 Camaro that was too nice to chop up, which is exactly what he knew he’d be doing in his quest to build a barnstorming corner-carver. So he sold it on. Enter ’68 Camaro #2 in 2010, a plain-jane six-cylinder with original purchase receipts.
Knowing he wanted something that handled even better than it looked, Steve ordered the SRG chassis and duly bolted it in place. “It’s one of the best-looking and engineered chassis on the market,” he says. “I told them the wheel offsets I was using and they custom-built the complete rolling chassis for me, diff and all. I was really surprised how well it all went together; the tyres fit the guards perfectly.”
One thing Steve wasn’t so fussed about was how low the chassis hung. Solution? Cut the whole floor out and sink it 1.5 inches further up into the car. While the grinder and
YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING STEVE’S CAMARO IS ALL SHOW. BUT SUCH NOTIONS EVAPORATE THE INSTANT HE POPS THE BONNET TO REVEAL THE 406CI NELSON RACING ENGINES SMALLBLOCK, GOOD FOR 1451HP
welder were handy Steve also opened up the wheelwells to accommodate the monster 345/25/20 rear hides.
Things were definitely starting to look SINISTR now. With the new chassis and floor starting to take shape, Steve began to rethink whether his big-block was the best way to fill all the extra space, so out it came, and in went the twin-turbo NRE.
Steve runs a building business, and had one of his contractors roll up the new trans hump, tailshaft tunnel and rear rollpan, along with a host of other bits and pieces. “I wanted everything to be symmetrical,” he says. “From the turbos to the back of the car, it’s all mirror-image.”
Casting an eye over his handiwork, you have to admit that for a carpenter and joiner, Mr Hopes is a dab hand with the MIG. He’s done a very nice job of piecing it all together in his shed, albeit with a ton of help from good friend Little Steve.
One of the more challenging parts of the build was in front of the engine. “Because I raised the chassis, I also had to make a new radiator support that was lifted three inches,” Steve says. “Packaging was really tight. I made wooden replicas of the radiator and intercooler, complete with brackets plus inlet and outlets. Shaun’s Custom Alloy welded them up and it all fitted perfectly – even the a/c condenser!”
During the build NRE released its symmetrical turbos. Despite the considerable cost, Steve eventually bit the bullet and ordered the NRE pumps to replace the original Turbonetics items. But by the time they arrived 18 months later, all the detailed turbo plumbing was completed and the chassis was painted. Fortunately, fitting the new symmetrical units only required redoing the transition for the blow-off valves.
With such massive power on tap, driveline longevity quickly became Steve’s next hurdle. “The six-speed Tranzilla is rated at 1200hp,” he says. “I’m not really worried about it though; the street tyres have little chance of putting all that power down.”
After contemplating several options for the interior, Steve employed the same tactics as underneath – cut it all out and start from scratch. Under the custom dash went the brake booster, master cylinder, clutch, wiper motor, Vintage Air a/c, coil packs and Electromotive ECU! “It’s very cramped; there’s a lot under there,” Steve says with some understatement. “I had to do the pedal box four times to make it all work.”
While he fashioned the dash from fibreglass, the rest of the interior shows off more of Steve’s metal skills. There’s the fulllength console that flows up into the rear parcel tray, which in turn flows back into the door trims and through into the dash. It’s full wraparound, without looking like some kind of boat interior – it’s very well done. Headlining is a three-piece unit out of the States. “I was surprised how well it fitted,” he says. “Mind you, I had to cut it at the pillars to make it sit right.”
Stitching the leatherwork was one of the very few tasks Steve didn’t complete himself – that distinction went to Cam at North Coast Custom Trim. Same situation with the wiring: “Adam from Caloundra Custom Auto Electrical hid everything,” Steve says. “He’s pretty talented and does lots of very neat custom stuff.”
All this brings us back to that gorgeous Chevrolet bodywork. By the time our skilled woodworker had finished discarding all the cancerous sheet metal, all that was left was the turret, lower windscreen panel, rear scuttle and doors. Steve added new quarters, sills and boot channel, along with a host of subtle changes, before massaging it all into shape.
“My painter, Steve from Creative Bodyworks, was pretty impressed,” Steve says. “He commented that it was as good if not better than most of the work that comes out of shops.”
You really need to park SINISTR next to a stock Camaro to appreciate all the little changes. Some are easy to spot, like the lack of boot or bonnet catches. “Catches look ugly,” Steve states. “I smoothed them off and they’re now electrically operated.”
BY THE TIME STEVE HAD FINISHED DISCARDING ALL THE CANCEROUS SHEET METAL, ALL THAT WAS LEFT WAS THE TURRET, LOWER WINDSCREEN PANEL, REAR SCUTTLE AND DOORS
CASTING AN EYE OVER HIS HANDIWORK, YOU HAVE TO ADMIT THAT FOR A CARPENTER AND JOINER, MR HOPES IS A DAB HAND WITH THE MIG
Additions to the thank you list include Darrell’s Metal Polishing for the miles and miles of incredible brightwork, not to mention Steve’s wife Kim for putting up with him not being at home for five years.
As for SINISTR’S future, the 540ci Shafiroff donk is still stashed under the bench, so it might find its way under the Camaro’s silky-smooth hood for some big-block fun at the track.
In the meantime, Steve’s contemplating returning to Summernats for the first time since 1988! Back then he used to street-race his SL/R 5000 Torana in the Dandenong backblocks. I wonder how many takers he would have got if he’d rocked up with SINISTR back then. Hmmm, now where did I put that flux capacitor?