DARK DE­FENDER

Mario might make more moves

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

Mario might make more moves

See if any of this sounds fa­mil­iar: Mario Marr clipped his Camaro from eBay, a car that was an­nounced as “rust free.” Lit­tle did he know that the rust was free—“it was a com­plete pile of junk,” Mario said. Then he said, “I al­ways wanted a COPO Camaro but they are way out of my league, price wise.” Without re­ally know­ing why, he de­cided he was go­ing to build a COPO clone. He thought his cre­den­tials were full enough. He’d started the life in his brother’s cage do­ing gen­eral re­pairs, got some heavy diesel ex­pe­ri­ence along the trail, and ul­ti­mately he opened a col­li­sion re­pair shop. He wasn’t any­where near ready for this ac­tion.

He was still hot on the COPO clus­ter un­til one day that en­tire no­tion dis­in­te­grated. Now, Pro Tour­ing would be­come the pre­vail­ing wind. “The first per­son to help me start the project in the new di­rec­tion was my nephew DJ. Then I met Mike Kelly from Lat­eral-g.net. Through him, Troy Gudgel from BBT Fabri­ca­tions be­came re­spon­si­ble for 90 per­cent of the build,” he

said. “I pur­chased the car in 2005, fig­ur­ing that I would get a nice foun­da­tion to start with, grad­u­ally putting money away so I could build it without cut­ting cor­ners. I had Carter Hick­man De­signs do a ren­der­ing or two, and by 2010 I had enough money to start the project.”

The be­gin­nings were hum­ble in­deed. Ev­ery sin­gle panel was rusted out and noth­ing much

was sal­vage­able—ba­si­cally just the A-pil­lars and the in­ner quar­ters. “I should have scrapped it and started over with a bet­ter, cleaner car.” But he didn’t. Oh, no. “Not many can say they built a car from ba­si­cally noth­ing, so it be­came per­sonal to me to make it hap­pen,” he con­fessed. He and nephew DJ dis­as­sem­bled what was there and sent it out to get sod­ablasted. They sprayed the re­sults with PPG DP40 epoxy primer. He got a call a few weeks later from Mike Kelly, who was keep­ing an eye on Mario’s Camaro. Kelly asked if he could come down and lend a hand.

Af­ter a year of week­ends, the car was back to­gether—in a man­ner of speak­ing—but was still sorely lack­ing. Mike and Mario took a hard look at what re­mained—not a sin­gle end-gap was close to be­ing per­fect, so it must be time to send the car out to get them welded up.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Mario be­came in­fat­u­ated with a ’69

Fire­bird project called En­core on Lat­eral-g. It was be­ing built by Gudgel at BBT Fabri­ca­tions in free­way-close Ma­homet, Illi­nois. He called Troy and talked about, among other things, gap­ping his Camaro. Mario: “I can hon­estly say that was the point where ev­ery­thing changed.”

Mario took the Camaro to BBT and parked it next to the En­core Pon­tiac. “I would have been OK with drop­ping the car off my­self, but I was with a group of what my wife, Pamela, likes to call en­ablers (and we know who the main one is) and within min­utes I re­al­ized that my car wasn’t there just to get gapped. I went to my first Goodguys show in Colum­bus later that year. I ran into Troy and dur­ing a sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion, I went from hav­ing a nice Pro Tour­ing build to what you see here.”

This crew chewed on, re­moved the quar­ter-panel gills, built the cowl on the hood 3/4-inch lower than

stock, smoothed the wiper cowl, re­cessed the marker lights, built the chin spoiler out of alu­minum, and con­structed the side skirts and deck lip. They moved the gas fill door to the cen­ter of the valance, nar­rowed and tucked the bumpers, and cre­ated the cen­ter ex­haust and rear bel­ly­pan. Ad­vanced Plat­ing in Nashville did the bright­work.

Mike’s Cus­tom Cars fab­ri­cated the rear floor sec­tion and re­moved the spare tire well so that the fuel tank can sit higher and not be seen; they added 3 inches to the DSE mini­tubs. The bil­let grille was erected by Green­ing Auto Com­pany (Cull­man, Alabama). Troy’s lads put up a new fire­wall and lined the en­gine com­part­ment with alu­minum. They sub­tracted 3 inches from the cen­ter of the DSE sub­frame to ac­com­mo­date wide, deep, and clearly bel­liger­ent 19-inch hoops and 30-se­ries rub­ber. Be­cause they are rarely seen in a street ap­pli­ca­tion, those gi­ant 15-inch Brembo car­bon ce­ramic ro­tors and six-pis­ton calipers are im­pos­si­ble to dis­count. Can’t get ’em much larger or lighter than that.

Right where you’d think they’d have put an LS3 or some­thing else as or­di­nary, there’s a fat-block in there giv­ing the rasp­berry, flaunt­ing 572 cu­bic inches as built by Joe Kern and Tad Lewis in Salem, Illi­nois. Un­der that sexy Ho­gan’s in­take man­i­fold and Hol­ley fuel in­jec­tion, a Lu­nati hy­draulic bump­stick com­ports with Comp en­ablers. BBT formed the cus­tom rocker cov­ers and built the 2.0-inch pri­mary-pipe head­ers and 3-inch col­lec­tors, as well as the ex­haust sys­tem com­plete. Torque is trans­ferred via a Mag­num T-56 spin­ning freeze-al­tered gearsets and a Cen­ter­force clutch as­sem­bly.

Got to put Mario some­place. Might as well be in the strik­ing in­te­rior de­signed by Vic­tor Ful­ton and turned into some­thing that can ac­tu­ally be used from col­lab­o­ra­tion by Cus­toms by Vos and BBT. An un­likely color com­bi­na­tion, creamy leather and se­ri­ously ad­vanced con­trols and tun­ing knobs pro­vide a likely con­trast with those acres of PPG Black.

“I can’t say,” said Mario, “I would do any­thing dif­fer­ent with this build. It makes it easy when you work with some­one who knows what he’s do­ing. To that end, my most memorable rec­ol­lec­tion of the Camaro is see­ing it com­plete for the first time at the 2016 Goodguys Colum­bus show.” If he pon­dered a lit­tle longer, he’d prob­a­bly come up with a few more good thoughts. CHP

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