The Hoosiers stand no chance. Despite their massive 13.5 inches of girth, they're about to suffer some inclement pulverization. We're on the road trailing behind Rafel Wlazlo's '67 Camaro, searching for the ideal setting in which to bust out our camera gear. Suddenly, two 100-foot-long deposits of what used to be drag slicks appear a split second before the indignant rasp of a big-block bludgeons our eardrums. And that's from a 60 mph roll, folks. It's a terribly unscientific, yet gloriously entertaining, way of learning that the speed of light is indeed faster than the speed of sound. Teaching lessons is this car's specialty, and it's about to take us all to school on the art of going fast for cheap.
We'll make no bones about it. This car is presentable enough to qualify for a magazine story-but just barely. It's a fact we're willingly disclosing this time around, not due to objective journalistic integrity-you can't even get that with The New York Times-but because it represents the very essence of this Camaro. Take the front bumper delete and the missing RS-style headlamp covers. For those accustomed to more polished machines, it certainly takes a bit of getting used to. Some might even call it tasteless; however, there's rhyme and reason for these aesthetic transgressions. This is a car whose primary mission is putting maximum hurt on the competition for minimum hurt on the checkbook, and whose top priority is saving weight and money. The result: 10.08 at 133 mph for $20,000. The verdict: mission accomplished, and then some.
If competition improves the breed, then it's quite fitting that this Camaro calls the outskirts of Houston, Texas, home. Here, a plethora of sea-level dragstrips, a mild winter climate, lax vehicle inspection edicts (for classic cars), and wide-open public roads serve as an ideal cesspool for the proliferation of filthy street thugs. [Please, no letters, we're taking creative license.-ed.] In this hostile region, 11-second street cars are for your wife, and solid 10s are a must if you wanna stand a chance on game day. Nonetheless, Rafel wanted to play, and step one was finding a suitable vehicle. "I wanted the easiest route possible to run 10s on pump gas with a street car, so small-blocks were out of the picture," he explains. "Chevelles are too heavy, and Chevy IIs require too much work to fit a big-block into, so I bought a '67 Camaro about nine years ago." As a former street racer, the car's fenders, quarter-panels, hood, and trunk all needed to be replaced. It then got sprayed with PPG Galaxy Silver paint. Another $3,500 later, the Camaro looked much better, but it still wasn't ready for prime time.
Paint and bodywork are two of the few things Rafel doesn't do himself; consequently, the $3,500 it cost him was the most extravagant sum of the entire project. Conversely, he put his resourcefulness to work to score a used GM 502 short-block for $800. Since the plan called for building a naturally aspirated, moderate-rpm motor, he kept the factory cast crank and rods and mated them up to forged 10.0:1 Lunati pistons. After cleaning up the block with a .020-inch overbore, he assembled the short-block himself for a total of $3,950, which includes the price of the machine work. Like many Rat motor buffs on a budget, Rafel opted for a set of GM 049 iron oval-port heads. For $1,200, he had the bowls touched up and 2.19/1.88-inch stainless valves installed. They're fed by a used $200 Dart intake manifold, which he ported himself. "Making good transition from plenum to runners is usually where the power is, and I also put a thermal coating on the bottom of the intake to keep inlet air temperatures low," Rafel explains. A mild 252/263-at-.050 Lunati hydraulic roller cam ensures decent driveability, and the finished product pumps out 626 hp on the engine dyno. Overall, the entire motor was built for about $6,000. "To me, a real street motor runs on pump gas and has a hydraulic cam. Who wants to adjust their valves all the time on a street car?"
Although they ensure some hefty demerits in the style department, more strokes of ingenuity are evident when it comes to the motor's supporting hardware. The 2-inch Hooker headers are rusty eyesores, but they get the job done and only cost $150 at a swap meet (including the collectors). Rafel built the custom 3.5-inch X-pipe himself, and hooked it up to a set of MagnaFlow mufflers. Under the hood, a home-fabbed sheetmetal scoop feeds the motor with a fresh supply of air. "It's just some cheesy sheetmetal, nothing fancy, but I wanted to test it out at the track and it picked up a solid tenth and 1 mph," he explains.
Painstaking efforts were made throughout the car's buildup to keep mass to a minimum, which pays big dividends in the driveline setup. In addition to the aforementioned front bumper delete, there are lightweight Bogart aluminum wheels and a fiberglass hood and trunk lid. Likewise, tailpipes and inner-front fenderwells are nowhere to be found. "The fenderwells are pretty darn heavy-they probably weigh 25 pounds each-and it's not like I'm going to drive the car very much in the rain anyways," Rafel says. "Since the motor is all iron, I had to compensate for the extra weight wherever I could." The result is a package that tips the scales at 3,130 pounds, which allows running lighter-duty driveline components and further reduces mass. Instead of a heavier and hungrier TH400, a built TH350 trans backs up the 502, and is plenty stout for the job. In lieu of a bigger and less efficient 9-inch rearend, a 12-bolt transmits power to the wheels without sucking up as much horsepower. Moreover, not only is the spool lighter than a locker diff, it's cheaper to boot. "If you go through my car part-by-part, every measure was taken to cut down on weight."
While it plays on the street, Rafel's Camaro was tuned at the track with plenty of backwoods experimentation. During its first time out at the dragstrip, it could only muster 60-foot times in the 1.7- to 1.8-second range. "The car wouldn't hook up at all, so I installed a looser torque converter and made some custom traction bars that hit right under the spring eyes," he explains. The tweaks were good for 1.4-second 60-foot times and 10-flat in the quarter. "This has never been a car that 60-foots that well, which has a lot to do with the tall 3.73s I run so it can cruise comfortably on the freeway. I'm fabbing up a new set of traction bars, which I hope will get the car into the 9s."