Things would have been much easier if his name was Fannie or Freddie, but Sean Gustin wasn't so lucky. He'd have to bail himself out of this mess. It's all because of a Super Sport deer that lived somewhere in the Texas wilderness, a title it earned after an impromptu branding by the "SS" grille emblem on Sean's '67 Camaro. Whack! At the risk of upsetting PETA, whose efforts we appreciate and respect with the deepest of sincerity, let's just say that it wasn't long before the vultures started circling around the poor little dude. The other victim-Sean's first-gen-has run deep 10s at the strip and dispatched its share of stoplight scum, but this wasn't the kind of street kill it was looking for. Not one to be dismayed by disfigured sheetmetal, Sean soldiered on. While crunching up the front end of a freshly restored first-gen Camaro is enough to make most people go all Britney, Sean and his Camaro have been through far worse and have valiantly prevailed every time.
The precursor to this track rat turned Pro Touring stunner is actually a pair of Camaros from Sean's youth. When he turned 13 years old, his dad bought two '67 Camaros, one for both him and his brother. Naturally, a whole lot of fun ensued. "We tore up the streets with them and took them to shows, and we've been infatuated with first-gen Camaros ever since," he says. "One had a 355 and a four-speed, and the other had a 383 and a Turbo 350. I worked at local garages while I was in school to learn how to turn a wrench, and hopped up my car as much as a young teenager could. One day my dad decided that our cars were too powerful for kids like us, and made us sell them."
It may have been the guilt, or possibly Sean's relentless badgering, but his dad bought another '67 Camaro in 1995 to build as a father-and-son project. The body was straight and rust-free overall-but with 14-inch wire wheels, a tweed interior, and chrome that was barbarically painted upon, it was far from pretty. "The car was hideous, but had a decent 327 and a four-speed in it," Sean recollects. "I put a half-assed paintjob on it after driving it around for three years just to make it look somewhat presentable. These cars weren't that valuable back then, so all I cared about was going fast."
To accomplish that goal, Sean built a stout 396 and affixed it to a Tremec T56 six-speed trans. The powerplant was equipped with a Callies rotating assembly, Brodix cylinder heads, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold, a Barry Grant 825-cfm carb, and a solid-lifter cam. On the chassis dyno, the combo was good for 494 hp on motor and 723 hp on a 200-shot of nitrous. Despite slipping and sliding to a 1.85-second 60-foot time, the Camaro still blitzed through the quarter in 10.21 seconds at 139 mph. With that much trap speed, squeaking into the hallowed single-digit realm was simply a matter of shaving a tenth or two off the launch. Nevertheless, even with 9s within striking distance, Sean had a change of heart. "When the car started running well, I began caring about it more and more," he says. "At the time, the car only had two seats and a rollcage in it and was far from nice. All these people were now paying crazy money for first-gen Camaros, and here I was treating my car like just any other track rat. I started feeling like the car deserved better than the neglected and stripped-down state it was in."
The first order of business was addressing the spartan interior; however, a trip to the interior shop turned out to be just one in a long series of unfortunate events. While awaiting a fresh set of guts, some thugs broke into the shop and vandalized the Camaro. "They shattered the windows and destroyed the passenger door only to realize that there wasn't anything to take," Sean recalls. "What irritated me the most is that since they didn't steal anything, they basically ruined the car for nothing. I guess you can say that was the turning point. I felt so violated by the whole experience that I decided to go all out with the car and completely restore it from the ground up."
Having already relished in prolific dragstrip accomplishments, Sean's goal this time around was to build a versatile street cruiser with handling and braking hardware to match its straight-line brawn. While tossing around the idea of dropping in a late-model EFI motor, another freak event cemented his decision. "I pulled the 396 out of the car while it was being restored, and someone broke into my garage and stole it," he explains. "That's what made me decide on an LT1. I thought about jumping on the LS1 bandwagon, but even though they make more power than an LT1, they aren't necessarily any more streetable. I like the idea of having an iron block in a street car, and I think the LT1 is a better-looking package."
Although Sean wasn't interested in making weekly excursions to the track, the factory 300hp lump wouldn't cut it. The LT1 was stroked to 383 inches with an Eagle forged crank, H-beam rods, and JE 11.0:1 pistons. Valve actuation comes courtesy of a COMP 230/234-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam, and 1.6:1 roller rockers. Up top are a set of stock head castings ported to flow 291/205 cfm by NC Performance (Mount Auburn, Illinois), which are fed by a stock intake manifold, a BBK 58mm throttle body, and an 85mm LS6 MAF sensor. Exhaust exits through custom Lemons 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers, a Hedman 3-inch X-pipe, and dual Dynomax mufflers. The new combo has yet to be dyno'd, but we'd conservatively estimate the motor's output at 500 hp. For extra insurance, a Nitrous Outlet plate system adds 100 hp of spray at will. "My old 396 made more power than this motor, no doubt, but the streetability of this new setup is a hundred times better," Sean opines. "That in itself makes it much more fun to drive on the street."
Updates to the chassis were even more substantial, as the antiquated go-straight hardware got evicted in favor of modern tubular components. Up front are DSE control arms, springs, and a sway bar, while QA1 adjustable shocks dampen each corner. Out back are DSE leafs and Calvert Racing traction bars. Competition Engineering subframe connectors keep chassis flex at bay, and Wilwood four-wheel 11-inch discs provide the whoa. Converting it all into grip are Nitto 275/40R17 meats that wrap 17x9.5-inch Fikse FM5 wheels.
After a grueling five-year restoration process, the Camaro was complete. With an upcoming PHR feature story in the bag, it seemed like luck was finally on Sean's side. That sentiment didn't last long, as the car whacked a deer just days after our photo shoot. In hearing him tell it, the serene and comforting tone in which he spoke made it quite obvious that tragedy is something he's learned to deal with. "It was a beautiful day outside, so I decided to drive 50 miles to my friend's house to help him work on his car," he explains. "The deer popped out from behind a six-foot-tall bush, and I didn't even have time to hit the brakes. Everything from the doors forward was totally ruined, but fortunately I have a very good insurance policy. After my friends found out what happened, they called me up practically crying. I was like, 'Dude it's just a hunk of metal and it can be fixed, so don't worry about it.'"
As this story is being written, Sean's Camaro has already returned home from the body shop. His wild experiences can certainly be cause for some introspection. If Sean and his Camaro can survive vandalism, theft and the now-infamous Super Sport deer, how could anyone possibly come up with excuses as to why their own projects aren't finished? Compared to Sean, we're all a bunch of slackers.