Randy Johnson's been around the block more than once. He's been modifying cars for the last 21 years and building them seriously since the mid- '90s. Both his decidedly different Camaros wound up on the pages of Car Craft. Lucky lad, he is. But luck had nothing to do with the prescience and the forethought that brought those cars to the strict attention of the savvy, experienced eye.
That exposure was fortuitous. It paved a path to his prime (and primal) avocation: making sleepy-looking cars that all at once retain every bit of their classic Detroit iron lines, are capable of generating monstrous handling, display a sensible power-to-weight ratio, yield supreme driving comfort, and guarantee to elicit bliss from the driver and "oh my God" from the knowing observer. Everything is hidden in plain sight and the list of details, inside and out, is very long indeed. Randy firmly believes in balance, favorable weight distribution, a chassis that has more than enough power to handle the torque, and an engine that can be extorted to the fullest in that chassis.
The stock-body '66 Chevelle on these pages wasn't an SS. It was a Malibu crusted in scuzzy brown primer instead of paint, and it hobbled along with a 283 and a 'Glide. It came from Colorado. It had the magic ingredient: It was absolutely clean underneath and in every blind cranny. It didn't even suffer the usual scabs trailing from the backlight-a perfect project platform.
In this era of supreme overkill, Randy's cars are real, reliable drivers. "What good is 1,000 hp-hell, let's get real stupid, 1,500 hp-if you can't use it?" he asks, but with not a shred of condescension in his voice. "Some people just have to have that number for their big, red egos."
Building horsepower is straightforward and relatively easy. To Randy, building a unique envelope to put it in is a challenge that'll fry your brains. What really motivates this 37-year-old is building the piece, noodling the details, doing stuff that no one has done, and embracing components that are a world away from well-known, if not ordinary, speed equipment.
No stinkin' stock rails would support this bomb, either. Randy went to Schwartz Extreme Performance (Crystal Lake, Illinois) for one of its tubular perimeter frames, crossmembers, and corresponding suspension pieces, then assembled the chassis himself. To make it a roller, he hung a seldom-seen Winters Performance circle-track aluminum axle center assembly (it uses pressed-in Coleman Racing axletubes) with a triangulated four-link, Chester axles, coilovers, and a custom-built splined antisway bar. He put some four-piston Wilwoods in place and stretched the outsized 335 Michelins over foot-wide Kinesis K180 modulars.
"I mimicked the factory triangulation design by running the bottom links straightforward and tipping in the upper bars. I used Heim joints at all the ends, so I don't need to run a Panhard bar to center the axle, and so the diameter of the sway bar can be smaller," Randy confessed.
"At the front of the car, I began with Coleman uprights that have spindles with a Mustang II diameter. That enabled me to use a Wilwood hat that fits the diameter of the spindle. The brake setup is actually for a Mustang II-type suspension.
"I got the LS7 through Jeff Schwartz via GM Performance Parts' Bill Martens. They'd torn down about 30 motors and put forged Mahles in 'em for some kind of CORR truck racing program, I think. The program got scotched and Jeff bought all the motors. That worked right into my SS 427 scheme. That's one thing I love about that motor because it looks so stock. All the SS 427 people come up expecting to see a big-block, and instead they see nothing because the motor sits so low and they wonder what the hell's going on. I love that."
Randy separated body from frame and installed 3-inch mini-tubs, smoothed the firewall, and notched the floor here and there to accommodate the rear suspension members.
Sheetmetal and others parts came from Year One, while he got the repro trim he needed from Restoration World. When it was ready for the shiny coat, Randy trucked it over to Midwest Muscle Car Restoration (Slinger, Wisconsin), where they anointed it with PPG GM '66 Mist Blue.
"Ten or 20 years from now," said Randy, "I wanted the car to still look timeless, not anchored by some paint fad that would immediately identify it with a certain, and perhaps forgettable, period."
While the chassis was still without its body, Randy fit the ancillary systems while the elbow room was plentiful. Be Cool made him a custom radiator and catch can. Rick's Hot Rods built him a custom 19-gallon stainless fuel tank to fit between framerails, which are moved inward 3 inches. Fuel delivery is initiated by a Walbro 255-gph in-tank pump. The 15:1 AGR rack steering got in the way of the first two header tubes on the driver's side, so Randy just went ahead and tweaked them for the necessary wiggle room.
Kwik Wire (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin) builds engine management systems and wire harnesses to put LS crate engines where they're really supposed to be-in old cars. Next stop, the rollers at West Bend Dyno Tune (West Bend, Wisconsin), where after a bit of timing and fuel-table tweaking, the latter-day 427 put down 440 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque.
Obviously Randy's a slave to details, and nowhere is he more intense about them than inside the car. Submerged in fields of black, bright orderly formations of controls and Stewart-Warner meters are frenched into the elegantly understated satin-black aluminum Rocky Mountain Dashes panel. The Vintage Air Gen IV HVAC controls and billet vents fit the scheme with a subtle demeanor. All the control knobs (including one for the ignition key), the delayed wiper system, and the battery hold-down are DSE products. Randy twists a Grant Signature Series tiller and kicks back in Cerullo SC Sport seats sprouting headrests from a truck model. All the black hides and the headliner are the issue of Ace Upholstery (West Bend, Indiana). Pin neat and looking good enough to eat.
Randy has just formed D&Z Customs (LLC) in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, about 30 feet from his house, a building he seeded with money from the sale of his celebrated '67 Camaro. He has already begun to build a machine for his first customer. Realize that at this point D&Z is a serious hobby shop that happens when Randy's not at his regular job with AT&T. All that, and he still has time to spend with his wife, October, son, Dylan (9), and daughter, Zoey (5). Might as well tell you right now, Dylan's got the sickie hot-car gene, too.
A splined antisway bar is...
A splined antisway bar is part of the Schwartz repertoire. Adjustability is key. Rack steering is a 15:1 AGR unit and the Michelin front rollers on 9.5-inch Kinesis K18s are bigger than most guys' rear tires.
In Randy's fertile mind, retaining...
In Randy's fertile mind, retaining the stock lines and appearance of the sheetmetal was paramount to the success of the project. Aside from its whopping big wheels, this car could be easily overlooked for some nice, mild-mannered repro job.
An unconventional axle for...
An unconventional axle for an unconventional car: Randy sweated-in Coleman Racing axletubes to the Winters circle-track third-member housing. The Randy's Ring & Pinion aluminum chunk holds 4.11:1 cogs. Note the top links mimic the triangulated factory setup.
All things flow from the neatly...
All things flow from the neatly executed Schwartz full-perimeter chassis. A Winters/Coleman Racing axle was hung with triangulated links and QA1 adjustable coilovers with 350-lb-in springs. The exhaust system is Stainless Works stuff with an X-pipe and side-exit tips by Randy.