Car chicks have it rough. On one hand, they have to deal with egomaniacs stricken with wee-man syndrome refusing to believe that a woman can actually build or drive a car better than they can. On the flip side, there’s no shortage of creepy bald dudes who are too busy ogling them to fully appreciate their wrenching or driving talent. A certain open-wheel-turned-stock-car racer of GoDaddy.com fame comes to mind. Michelle Harvey has been dealing with this kind of nonsense her entire life, so she gets a kick out of sticking it to the boys in her ’68 Camaro. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, the fact that this F-body is owned by a woman has nothing to do with why it’s getting featured in the pages of PHR. To the contrary, it’s a homebuilt, autocross-ripping, big-block–powered g-Machine worthy of the limelight in any arena that just happens to be owned and driven by a woman. And whether you have one X chromosome or two, it’s a muscle car from which everyone can take a few pointers.
Growing up in a working-class family, Michelle didn’t get a free pass on anything. “Girls in my family were not treated as precious little beings who can’t do anything. If something needed to get done, whether you were a girl or boy, you pitched in and did it,” she recalls. “My dad was a logger, sawyer, and farmer, so we weren’t wealthy, and the cars we drove usually needed some work to keep them running. My parents, brothers, and sisters gave me direction, but the independent girl in me wanted to do things on my own. My sister, Denise, taught me how to change spark plugs, and my mom showed me how to change oil. When I was 10 years old, my dad and I pulled the old six-cylinder out of his ’80 Chevy Cheyenne pickup, and we dropped a big-block in it.”
You can distinguish real hot rodders from posers by listening to their future mod list. Th
Although that’s already a pretty cool story, it gets even better, as working on cars in Michelle’s family wasn’t limited to routine maintenance and occasional engine swaps. “My dad, brothers, and cousins always had some sort of hot rod, race car, or modified truck around the house. Cool cars that go fast and have great sounding motors make me smile,” she gushes. Her first project car was an ’83 Olds Cutlass she bought from her brother, Darryl. It had a 350 small-block and a lumpy cam, but what she really craved was some big-block power. Unfortunately, someone convinced Michelle to sell it and she still regrets that decision to this day. “After I sold the Cutlass, I felt an emptiness inside that could only be filled by another hot rod. I always loved first-gen Camaros, and my cousin had a yellow ’68 with a 427 big-block that I volunteered to wash all the time just so I could get near it. My younger brother, Chris, called me up one day and said he found a nice ’68 Camaro that I might be interested in. The paint and interior were nasty, but the motor ran and it fit my budget, so we hauled it home.”
Before digging into the bodywork or chassis, Michelle’s top priority was building a motor. “Where we come from, if it rolls you put a motor in it. Who cares about the rest,” she quips. Of course, the trendy thing to do would have been opting for an LS small-block, but Michelle is a woman who feels that size does matter. “Who the hell wants to push around a big, heavy, iron big-block in the land of those cute little LS motors that make ungodly horsepower? Well, I do. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time at tractor pulls, and the only small-blocks at a tractor pull are the ones in the spectator parking lot. After being exposed to tractor pullers with six big-blocks in them singing like an exploding opera, nothing compares. I always say that when you stand near a big-block running, you know it because it radiates through your body.”