Lonely dudes often commiserate about the one that got away. In many instances, she was a lady way out of the dude's league who got past her low self-esteem phase, then ended up with a wealthier, more charismatic, and far better looking mate. There isn't much you can do about that-outside of moving onto the next young lady with more looks than self-esteem-but hot rodders always seem to have similar tales about project cars they should never have parted ways with. Considering that cars don't care about how poor, boring, or ugly their owners are, this scenario is quite peculiar. The story usually ends with a hot rodder who pays way too much money for a jalopy just because it reminds him of the car from his youth. That's not necessarily a bad ending, but like comparing real sugar to Sweet'N Low, the new car is merely a substitute that's almost as good, but not quite the same. That doesn't apply to Randy Johnson. He sold his '70 Camaro, bought the same car back several years later, then transformed it into the supercharged LS-powered g-Machine he was too naïve to build the first time around. With how thoroughly this Camaro gets abused on the road course, it's the real deal in more ways than one.
Before you ask, this Randy Johnson-the one from Kewaskum, Wisconsin-isn't the retired MLB pitcher who won 303 games and five Cy Young awards. It turns out that it's a somewhat common name, and Randy's mom used that to her advantage. "As a kid, I loved Hot Wheels toys, and was always building model cars and drawing pictures of cars. My mom wanted to get me to read more, but I didn't want to read boring stuff," Randy says. "One day a copy of Motor Trend showed up in our mailbox, and I was confused. I never ordered a subscription but it was addressed to 'Randy Johnson.' My mom said there has to be more than one Randy Johnson in the world, and they probably sent it to our house by mistake. I wasn't exactly the brightest kid, so I believed her, not realizing that she subscribed to the magazine just to get me to read."
Although the paint and body was already in good shape from Randy's first resto attempt, he
The trick worked, and Randy consumed a steady diet of car magazines all through high school, drooling over the muscle cars featured in their pages. As soon as he could start driving, Randy went through a slew of project cars and started turning wrenches. His early rides included an '81 Olds Cutlass, a '76 Camaro, and several T-Type Buicks. Then in 1997, Randy picked up a '70 Camaro that would prove to be his life-long infatuation. Like any proper Midwesterner, Randy insisted on doing everything himself. He built and blew up several big-blocks, and while they served as a great learning experience, it got tedious after a while. "My '70 Camaro was the first frame-off restoration that I did. I had to pull the motor every winter for five years fixing things that broke," he says. "I did a half-ass rebuild the first time, and broke a ring going down the track. Next I put a bigger cam, ported heads, and a ProCharger on it, and the motor dropped a valve and cracked the cylinder walls. After the next rebuild, the lifters got stuck in their bores, clogged up the oil flow, and seized the blower bearings. Trying to figure out the blow-through carb setup was a real pain too, so I got sick of constantly working on the car and traded it for a '99 Camaro SS in 2001."
The LQ4 small-block uses a drive-by-wire throttle body and a PCM out of a '02 Corvette. It
Naturally, the fish-faced fourth-gen Camaro left a lot to be desired in the looks department compared to the gorgeous split-bumper front end of the second-gen, and Randy regretted his decision almost immediately. It wasn't an entirely lost cause, however, because the late-model SS allowed Randy to develop a deep appreciation for the LS-series small-block. "The fourth-gen was my first exposure to LS motors, and I was amazed at how easy it was to get big-block power out of a reliable, lightweight small-block," Randy says. "All the carbureted motors I built in the past were very finicky as ambient air conditions changed, and required constant tuning. With EFI, I didn't have to deal with that anymore and the motor could adjust itself. Of all the motors I've built, I can't seem to find anything that makes as much power as easily as the LS platform."
To prevent oil from shooting out the valve cover breathers, the PCV lines are routed rearw
Although smitten with the fourth-gen's balance of power, handling, and reliability, Randy pined for the timeless lines and character that only a '60s muscle car could offer. He sold the '99, then picked up a '67 Camaro that got the full Pro Touring rubdown with an LS1 and a C5 Corvette suspension. Soon he needed a new challenge, so he picked up a '66 Chevelle and proceeded to install an LS7 small-block, Wilwood brakes, and a Schwartz Extreme Performance frame and suspension. The A-body was such a crowd favorite that we featured it in the November 2008 issue of PHR. Despite having built such a sweet g-Machine, Randy still couldn't get his old '70 Camaro out of his head. He searched high and low for his old flame, and his hard work eventually paid off. With lady luck on his side, Randy found the second-gen in 2008, and bought it back without hesitation. The car had only logged an additional 1,600 miles during the seven years it lived with someone else, and hadn't changed much at all. "I left the car alone for a few months, but then decided to completely redo the Camaro with a modern Pro Touring feel to it. The first time I owned this car I learned that you can spend lots of money on a project and still end up with garbage," Randy says. "I definitely wanted to do things the right way this time around."
Wegner Automotive (Markesan, Wisconsin) designed the custom supercharger pulleys. Randy pl
All the lessons Randy has learned during his numerous frame-off restorations in the past resonate from every nook and cranny in the Camaro. Every subsystem of the car has been painstakingly thought out, and every component serves a purpose. Take the engine, for instance. When Randy reacquired the second-gen, it had a 402 big-block and TH400 trans. With a supercharged Gen III small-block as part of the grand plan, Randy started with an LQ4 short-block for its boost-friendly 9.4:1 compression ratio and rugged iron block. Furthermore, the LQ4 block's 4.000-inch bore spacing allowed for enough intake-valve-to-cylinder-wall clearance to top it with GM L92 rectangle-port cylinder heads. Additional displacement comes courtesy of a K1 4.000-inch steel crank and rods, and Wiseco pistons for a total of 402 ci. Matched with a Howards 224/242-at-.050 hydraulic roller camshaft and a Magnuson blower set to 8 psi of huff, the LS small-block lays down 623 rear-wheel horsepower. All that grunt is backed by a Spec twin-disc clutch and a Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed trans.
Wegner Automotive (Markesan, Wisconsin) designed the custom supercharger pulleys. Randy pl
As with any proper g-Machine, the Camaro's underpinnings are the true stars of the show. A Heidts subframe assembly is the foundation of the front suspension, and supports a set of tubular upper and lower control arms, 2-inch drop spindles, QA1 coilovers, and a big, fat, splined sway bar. Out back is a brand-new independent rear suspension system that Randy helped develop with Heidts. The Camaro served as a testbed for the new IRS during the R&D phase, and the assembly includes a 9-inch third member, twin A-arms, CV-jointed halfshafts, and QA1 coilovers. "The IRS works awesome, and makes the back end of the car stick to the track very nicely. I've pounded on the car hard on several road courses, and the limiting factor to how fast you can go is the guy behind the wheel," Randy says. Scrubbing off speed is a set of Baer brakes with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston clamps out back. Forgeline 18-inch wheels FS3P wheels and Nitto NT05 rubber glue the second-gen down to
Thus far, nothing on Randy's Camaro sets it apart from the typical all-show-no-go Pro Touring machine, but taking a closer look makes it quite clear that this car is the real deal. Underhood there's an accumulator system to prevent oil starvation on the road course, and a catch can plumbed into the PCV system that keeps oil from shooting out the valve cover breathers during hard cornering. Wilwood tandem master cylinders enable precise control over brake fluid control, and bias is adjustable with a big knob conveniently located on the trans hump behind the shifter. Other clues that give away the Camaro's racy intentions are Cerullo bucket seats and a RideTech six-point road race rollbar and five-point harnesses. Beneath the car is both a power steering cooler and an oil cooler strategically positioned in the air stream.
The Stainless Works mufflers don't look like mufflers at all, and as such, are quite
Not only are the second-gen's stats impressive, everything works extremely well in the real world as well. "This car is so exhilarating to drive on a road course that it's hard to describe," Randy says. "You hit the brakes hard entering a corner, turn in, and feel the back of the car start to get loose as you slowly feed in the throttle and rocket out of a corner. When the motor gets into its powerband on the straightaways, the car hits over 120 mph. It's awesome, and the power is just obnoxious sometimes." If that sounds like someone who's simply hyping up his own car, you don't have to take his word for it. In an annual street car shootout conducted by another magazine that pits racers in a variety of acceleration, handling, and braking contests, Randy's Camaro took First Place in 2010. We don't remember the exact name of the competition, but it has something to do with eliminating real streets.
So in a world of wannabes, how has Randy managed to build a g-Machine that does what it's supposed to do? "You have to educate yourself to build a car like this, and I learned a lot of stuff when I worked on the pit crew of a sportsman oval-track racer when I was younger. I paid close attention to every single part they used on the car," he says. "They ran power steering coolers, oil coolers, breather tanks, and accumulator systems, which are all necessities for a car that's subjected to prolonged cornering loads. On a road course, you need either a dry sump oil system or a good baffled oil pan and an accumulator. You can't push your car hard if you're worried about the oil pressure dropping. Also, having the rollbar and proper safety equipment is a must. It will make you feel much more comfortable, build your confidence level, and allow you to drive faster." Those are words spoken by a man who knows what he's doing. It just so happens that Randy's car is the real deal, not just in the way it performs on track, but also in the sense that it's the one that didn't get away. And how many people can say that?
Dept. Of Corrections
This story is being shown as originally printed in the February 2011 issue, but we inadvertently left out a few names from the build roster. Brad Riekkoff of West Bend Dyno Tuning (West Bend, WI) takes credit for the EFI tune-up, Jeff Miller (Kewaskum, WI) gets credit for the paint work, and Darrell Whitman (West Bend, WI) gets kudos for the sheetmetal work. These omissions will also appear in the April 2011 print issue in our Message Board news section.
|BY THE NUMBERS
|Randy Johnson, 39
|Kewaskum, WI • '70 Chevy Camaro
||GM LQ4 small-block stroked to 402 ci
||factory 4.000-inch standard-bore iron block
||stock pump and pan, Canton Accusump system
||K1 4.000-inch forged crank and steel rods; Wiseco 9.4:1 pistons
||ported GM L92 aluminum castings
||Howards 224/242-at-.050 hydraulic roller, .578/.612-inch lift, 115-degree LSA
||Howards valvesprings, retainers, and pushrods; Wegner Automotive rockers
||Magnuson TVS 2300 supercharger, stock drive-by-wire throttle body
||Rick's Hot Rod Shop gas tank; SX pump and regulator
||Hedman 1.75-inch long-tube headers, custom 3-inch X-pipe, Stainless Works mufflers
||stock water pump, Be Cool radiator, SPAL dual electric fans
||623 hp at 6,400 rpm and 606 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm (rear wheels)
||Heidts Pro G subframe assembly, 2-inch drop spindles, and control arms; splined sway bar, QA1 coilovers
||Heidts IRS assembly and upper and lower control arms; QA1 coilovers
||Baer 14-inch discs with six-piston calipers, front; Baer 11-inch discs with four-piston calipers, rear
||Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed trans, Spec twin-disc clutch, Hurst shifter
||Heidts independent rear suspension with 31-spline axles, Detroit Truetrac limited-slip differential, and 3.70:1 gears
|WHEELS & TIRES
||Forgeline FS3P 18x9, front; 18x10.5, rear
||Nitto NT05 275/35R18, front; 295/35R18, rear