Heath Elmer's '79 Chevy Camaro Z28 - The Silver Bucket
This Street Freak '79 Camaro Really Shines-But Only If You Know Where To Look.
From the May, 2008 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Ro McGonegal
Photography by Robert McGaffin
The mind reels. It wasn't too long ago a Camaro like this wouldn't get a passing glance. Road kill was more interesting. No matter that the car was clean, it was just flat undesirable; not among the hallowed. Not cool. Had to have that shiny side up. Had to have the right owner.
Heath Elmer has built and owned his share of specialty cars (more than a 100) and a gaggle of others for monied clientele. Under "occupation" he wrote on his techsheet "stay-at-home dad/car builder/sign maker." He put the eclectic Silver Bucket together for a measly $25K in about five months-in between other car projects.
Is it the simplicity that captures him, or is it working with underdogs? Maybe this car is just a blatant case of hiding in plain sight. His Goof-Bomb Camaro encapsulates all these things with a certain strain of understated elegance. Heath has the innate eye as well as the demeanor to create curious forms that function just as well as they look. You might cringe at the sight of his weathered '79, but to us it's the highest form of cool, the antithesis of the street machine model. It's about time. And one thing's for certain, he'll never have to wash it.
Heath drives the wheels off his patina baby so it must be stone reliable. It carries his kids, Ryan (6) and Aaron (4), to school, so it must be secure. He'll take the mule on the '08 Power Tour so it must be economical...and supremely comfortable. Heath's subtext is highlighted with unexpected pinpoints of out-of-context ingenuity.
"I found the car on eBay, where else? It had sat for several years in a shed in Kingman. The original female owner had passed and her husband decided he was never going to do anything with it. He had all the paperwork from new. It had 84K on the odometer, the original paint, and a 350 with a factory four-speed. It was a solid-roof car and even had a dealer-installed GM CB radio with the "Bandit" antenna, all for the winning bid of $3,000," Heath told us. "After a quick stop at the car wash to remove an inch or so of dust, I immediately disassembled it and put it on my rotisserie. I scraped, sanded, and painted for days." Ryan and Aaron helped their pop, too. "They like to sand stuff and sweep up," gushed Heath. "But what they really like is when I take 'em to school in it."
Perhaps it's because the shine from a straight, pretty wrapper can easily draw attention from the gritty details; places where brainpower and craft have obviously come together. Heath: "I can appreciate high-dollar show cars and expensive paint jobs because I do them for a living, but let's face it, would you leave one in a Walmart parking lot?"
There are a number of custom crafts inside his modest project. When he's had enough of the Borlas, he washes them away with substantial audio waves as demon-tweaked by Jeff and Dave at Sound Xpression (Phoenix). They inserted a Kenwood KDC MP535 head unit and Sirius Satellite Radio and left the rest to Rockford: P850.4 amp, components set in custom door panels, and a 10-inch woofer in the trunk.
The Camaro's mottled, sun-scorched skin (RPO Code 15 Silver) continues to provide plenty of dramatic contrast for the coal-black interior palette. This place can be as serious, as practical, or as loving as you want it to be. Some reconstruction work on the instrument panel accommodates a Racepak UDX Ultra Dash LCD display, as told digitally. Heath supported it and the rest of the ancillaries with a complete American Autowire harness and wiring kit. Then he stuck tons of Dynamat and insulation all over the place. ACC carpeting and mats went down next. Then the dominating Recaro SEs, followed by the back seat in identical upholstery. Lots of black yes, but still lots of subtle details that do not go unnoticed.
Heath rebuilt the HVAC system and joined it with the Sanden compressor that is part of the Billet Specialties Tru Trac accessory drive. Discount Auto Air (Mesa) flooded the system with 134a, and Heath was cool again. The shine of details is subdued, but pertinent, and as simple as an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and outside temp display. In this car, it's a special and unexpected upgrade. Same goes for the shift light in the cigarette lighter hole. When Heath retreats to his Recaro for a full-court press, his talented digits are firmly upon a Mecham Racing steering wheel. There's a rebuilt GM box at the other end of it made civilized by a Maval power steering pump. All the way out, Edelbrock tie rod sleeves minimize bump steer.
Heath addressed potential reliability issues. He augmented the Camaro's cooling system with a Ron Davis aluminum core that is tended by a 17-inch Maradyne fan cased by an aluminum shroud built by Byron Pryde (Queen Creek, Arizona). Our car builder was not enamored of the original rear drum brakes, so he and Hal Baer had discussions. Heath soon became the first hand in the hot rod world to apply Baer's new Iron-Sport budget brake kit to anything. Meant as an upgrade for ancient equipment and as a sensible application for modest street drivers, the fully machined 11.62-inch rotors are clamped by a single-piston iron caliper that disappears behind a 17-inch rim with inches to spare.
Though Heath didn't expend one ounce of energy on the skin, the underside of the Camaro couldn't be any neater or cleaner. That economy theme again. Nothing there that doesn't need to be. Looks like a real hot rod underneath. Lines plumbed straight and angled to the right. Power defined. Primal: duals, X-pipe, and mufflers. No catalytic converters. No extraneous crap. Heath media-blasted the bottom of the car and took it up the firewall then put both surfaces in satin black. He powdercoated the subframe and reattached it to the shell, sandwiching Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings between them to minimize deflection.
You've got to admire Heath's constraint...or is it sense of proportion? Look at the drivetrain: a 355 peanut that's put together with parts of the right temperament. No overkill. The pistons and rods are forged, but Heath saved money on the cast crank. He soothed his Edelbrock fetish with a package: cylinder heads, camshaft, and intake manifold, all of it meant to enhance the whole-a known quantity. Local engine builder Joe Martin opened up the heads and lent a hand with tuning duties.
Considering Heath's demeanor and his avocation, he partnered with a manual transmission rather than an intrinsically passive automatic-firmly believing that the left leg is there for the clutch. More control and a lot more entertaining. Anyway, anyone who runs the highway without overdrive is a crazy monkey. What better place for a Classic Chevy five-speed conversion, touted as a bolt-in procedure? Heath got only the parts he needed, including a Tremec TKO-600 rated at 500 lb-ft and fitted with an OD ratio of 0.62:1.
The 355 won't come anywhere near that much grunt now, but its master has his eye on an Edelbrock E-Force supercharger kit (actually a Magnuson MP122) that's guaranteed to make 500/500 at a piddling 5 psi, sans intercooler. With that much more energy leaning on the brakes, Heath wants to insert a Hydratech braking system to see how long it will take to dislodge his eyeballs. To add some torsional stability to a "chassis" likely affected by a ton more torque, subframe connectors will soon fuse the ends of the car together.
What will he do with it soon?
"I plan on doing the Hot Rod Power Tour Long Haul this year. It's a long drive just to get to it...but that's half the fun. This will be the first time on Tour that I won't be washing the car at every stop. I'm just cleanin' the bugs off the windshield and peelin' out. ...I'm drivin' the hell out of it and parking it anywhere I want," he proclaimed. Wish we could say that.
Economy is one of the keys...
Economy is one of the keys to Heath's jarring rendition. This relatively harmless small-block looks high-tech, but frugal. Bitchin' billet fuel log and custom throttle linkage bracket are harmonious with the signature rocker covers, air cleaner graphics, and the subdued accessory drive.
Since Heath plans to spend...
Since Heath plans to spend all his time inside the Z (not outside looking at it), the cockpit is rife with comfort and convenience. He and Doug Stinson at All-American Upholstery (Tempe, AZ) worked on the interior and used Recaro cloth on the bench to match the fronts.
As he is wont to do, Heath...
As he is wont to do, Heath put the body on a rotisserie so he could properly prepare the "greasy" side. He did the detailing and mechanical transformation, "all the while being careful not to disturb the exterior finish."
Let's hear it for the Arizona...
Let's hear it for the Arizona patina. The completely original paint and sheetmetal will never look any better than it does right now. It's molding with age, but nicely.
A little bit of foresight,...
A little bit of foresight, adjustability in the suspension, the right parts, and copasetic five-spokes make the Camaro stand out. Its weathered mien is the perfect foil for what lies beneath.
By The Numbers
|’79 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 |
|Heath Elmer • Mesa, AZ |
|Vehicle weight w/driver: 3,695 lbs. |
|Type: ||Chevrolet displacing 355 cubic inches |
| ||(4.030 bore x 3.480 stroke) |
|Block: ||GM Gen I 350 |
|Compression ratio: ||10.3:1 |
|Oiling: ||powdercoated Milodon six-quart pan, |
| || stock oiling system |
|Rotating assembly: ||3.850-inch stroke Scat cast crank, |
| ||5.700-inch Scat forged I-beam rods, forged flat-top |
| ||pistons, Total Seal rings, ATI Super damper |
|Cylinder heads: ||Edelbrock RPM, |
| ||64cc combustion chambers, |
| ||ported by Joe Martin |
|Camshaft: ||Edelbrock RPM hydraulic flat tappet, |
| ||244 degrees duration @ .050-inch, |
| ||.510-inch lift, COMP timing gear |
|Valvetrain: ||2.02/1.60-inch valves, |
| ||1.6:1 COMP Pro Magnum roller rocker arms, |
| ||COMP pushrods, COMP valvesprings |
|Induction: ||Edelbrock Air-Gap intake, |
| ||Speed Demon 650-cfm w/mechanical secondaries, |
| ||’70 Z28 dual-snorkel air cleaner, |
| ||Airaid element, 130-gph Holley fuel pump, |
| ||Aeromotive regulator, Prolite hoses and fittings |
|Power adder: ||NOS Cheater 150, |
| ||installed and tuned by Joe Martin |
|Ignition: ||MSD Pro Billet distributor, |
| ||Digital 6 box, Blaster coil, Taylor 8.5mm wires, |
| ||14 degrees initial, 36 total timing, |
| ||Optima battery, CSR mini-starter |
|Exhaust: ||HPC-coated Hedman JR headers, |
| ||1 5/8-inch primary pipes, 3.0-inch collectors, |
| ||Flowmaster ball-and-seat flanges, |
| ||2.5-inch mandrel-bent system, |
| ||X-pipe, Borla stainless steel mufflers |
|Fasteners: ||ARP |
|Built by: ||Basko, Gilbert, AZ (short-block) |
|Transmission: ||Tremec TKO-600 five-speed, |
| ||Centerforce 10.4-inch Dual Friction clutch assembly, |
| ||CMG/Hurst shifter |
|Driveshaft: ||Chrome-moly steel by Inland Empire |
|Rear axle: ||GM 10-bolt, ARP 1/2-inch wheel studs, |
| ||Posi-traction differential, Moser axles, |
| ||3.73:1 ring-and-pinion |
|Front suspension: ||OE upper and lower |
| ||control arms, stock spindles, |
| ||QA1 coilover w/single-adjustable shocks, |
| ||Hotchkis 1 3/8-inch sway bar |
|Rear suspension: ||stock F41 leaf springs, |
| ||QA1 adjustable shock absorbers, |
| ||Competition Engineering Slide-A-Link bars |
|Brakes: ||Baer Sport 12-inch, front; |
| ||Baer Iron Sport 11.65-inch, rear |
|WHEELS & TIRES |
|Wheels: ||Vintage Wheel Works V40 |
| ||17x 8, front; 17x9.5, rear |
|Tires: ||Nitto NT555 245/45ZR17, |
| ||front; 285/40ZR17, rear |