Man does the im­pos­si­ble, builds exclusive Sec­ond-Gen with or­di­nary ma­te­rial through ex­tra­or­di­nary ap­pli­ca­tion

Chevy High Performance - - Contents - TEXT: Ro McGone­gal | PHO­TOS: Robert McGaf­fin

Man does the im­pos­si­ble, builds exclusive Sec­ond-Gen with or­di­nary ma­te­rial through ex­tra­or­di­nary ap­pli­ca­tion

Don Houser is a lo­gis­tics man­ager for Cater­pil­lar, Inc., so he’s used to deal­ing with that

Big Yel­low on ton-over-tons ma­chin­ery. Man, the stuff ’s not bash­ful. This ele­phant in a phone booth prob­a­bly pushed him in a cer­tain di­rec­tion when it came to build­ing his Ca­maro. Don had a se­ri­ous yen to ex­hibit his work in closed-course se­ries. He built the Ca­maro to com­pete in au­tocross and at track day events. He craved a stick shift. And how did that oc­cur? His lov­ing fa­ther planted the seed deep and early. When the kid was 5, his old dad would perch him on the trans­mis­sion hump and let him shift from Low to Sec­ond in an old four-speed car. Don’s young brain schizzed. He re­al­ized that one of his synapses re­fused and would no longer close … and that some­how he would be hooked on this stuff in­ex­tri­ca­bly. Years passed. Adult­hood couldn’t be ducked. He set­tled in for the long haul—a trip that en­com­passed four years of angst and joy. He did it with peo­ple close to him: his son Henry, cousin Jeff, and his agents on the out­side: Tony and Chris Smith (Smitty’s Cus­tom Au­to­mo­tive) and the tal­ent at Trent’s Trick Up­hol­stery.

He bought his project in 2012. There were three rea­sons that framed his mind: it was orig­i­nal, it was solid, and it was a real RS/SS. It had a 1970 Duke Uni­ver­sity park­ing per­mit on the rear bumper. “I called the guys at Detroit

Speed and they rec­om­mended Smitty’s. I spoke to Tony Smith for a few min­utes and he in­vited me to the shop.

“Af­ter see­ing the qual­ity of the work and speak­ing with Chris, I knew they were go­ing to com­plete the build,” said Houser. At the very be­gin­ning of the vor­tex he was happy with the Ca­maro’s ex­te­rior styling but he wanted to make some­thing that would re­ally stand out in the Sec­ond-gen crowd. “That’s when I de­cided on the color brown when most oth­ers are sil­ver, orange, black, or some shade of blue.” Am­bi­ent light is the de­lin­eator; with­out it this car could be all the way black, but cer­tainly not brown. For an un­usual con­trast, in­stead of dress­ing the in­te­rior in tan rags, he was drawn right to the red. And see how well it works.

“Thanks to Trent VanArs­dalen’s guid­ance, the in­te­rior turned out in­cred­i­ble and has el­e­ments I’ve never seen … stain­less wire in the [cus­tom] door pan­els, the pat­tern stitched in the seat cush­ions and head­liner match­ing the stain­less wire pat­tern in the door pan­els. Then the har­ness bars that were fab­ri­cated by Dan Dreis­bach.” Since the Ca­maro’s rear seats are just pack­age trays, Don and Trent elected to eightysix ’em al­to­gether, but they didn’t want to stuff the crater with the usual cam­ou­flage pan­els. So why not put the crater to work in­stead?

Dreis­bach and VanArs­dalen cre­ated the alu­minum har­ness bars, the likes of which we’ve never seen be­fore, and an­chored them in the rear seat wells. Though Don might have other thoughts about the ex­clu­siv­ity of his Ca­maro, any­one who sees that hairy so­lu­tion is likely to re­mem­ber the car more for that than its tasty dark-brown crust or its un­likely hot-red cen­ter.

Since the project was far from in­ex­pen­sive, when­ever Don had op­por­tu­nity he was re­spect­ful to his wal­let. Rather than gather com­po­nents and scratch-build a bul­let and worry the de­tails, he plucked a pro­jec­tile from Chevro­let Per­for­mance that was dressed out from the top of the in­ter­cooler to the bot­tom of the oil sump. Since a six-speed man­ual was al­ways part of the plan, Don in­serted a Chevro­let Per­for­mance steel fly­wheel and twin-disc clutch assem­bly and at­tached the gear­box to the su­per­charged LSA with a

Chevro­let Per­for­mance bell­hous­ing and hy­draulic link­age.

The for­mula for the car had to in­clude a will­ful stance high­lighted by the most com­ple­men­tary rolling stock in the uni­verse. Un­for­tu­nately, the de rigueur com­po­nents have be­come com­mon to and pop­u­lar with this ul­tra­road­wor­thy Pro Tour­ing genre. The pro­file em­braces dusky and de­cid­edly un-cute Forge­line wheels paired with bru­tal Nitto skins. These things look like they’d rip ass all the way to Fayet­teville with­out break­ing a sweat and be just as bloody use­ful on the way back out.

Wher­ever the car is you can be sure that Don will be in it, not thrash­ing but en­joy­ing and al­most re­lax­ing. Though we’re no fans of crim­son, the ex­e­cu­tion and the par­tic­u­lar shade of red is, how­ever, sooth­ing. There’s ur­gency there but it doesn’t dom­i­nate or tend to crank up the sub­con­scious.

Any thoughts Don has about the project are dom­i­nated by what he should have done in the first place. “Start with a ren­der­ing,” he opined. “Af­ter pick­ing the odd body color I had an idea to make the in­te­rior tan, but ev­ery­body does that. I wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent … and I was lost. Thanks to Trent for his pro­fes­sional guid­ance.”

Un­der­neath it all, the kid wob­bling on the trans­mis­sion hump all those years ago con­fides: “In my heart, I built the Ca­maro as a trib­ute to my dad.” CHP

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