Determined to go big-block or bust, Michelle’s brothers scrounged up a perfect 402 block and a set of iron heads off of a 396. Here’s the cool part. They say that hot rodders are the ultimate recyclers, and the block in question came from the same motor that Michelle swapped into her dad’s old truck when she was 10 years old. Since the goal was to have fun, not set lap records, she kept the engine build simple. After treating the block to a .030-inch overbore, Michelle cleaned up the factory crank and rods, then slipped in a fresh set of Keith Black 10.0:1 pistons. The factory oval-port cylinder heads were topped with an Edelbrock Air-Gap intake manifold, and a Barry Grant 750-cfm carburetor. To take advantage of the freer-flowing induction package, Michelle installed a COMP 230/230-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft. Not surprisingly, she assembled the entire combination herself, and only needed an extra set of hands to swing heavy pieces like the crank and heads into place. At an estimated 450 hp, the combo isn’t a fire-breathing beast, but that’s not what Michelle wanted. “I didn’t want to build something that was so aggressive that it wouldn’t be driveable around town. Even so, hot rodding is about always wanting to add more, and now I’m thinking about going with a bigger cam,” she admits.
With the motor finished and ready for action, Michelle finally turned her attention to patching up the Camaro’s body. While disassembling the body panels in preparation for mediablasting, she didn’t like what she saw. “The more I looked, the more I realized how much work the body needed. I didn’t have the time or money to fix the body, so I decided to find another Camaro to put my motor in,” she explains. As luck would have it, Michelle tracked down a copper ’68 Camaro in a nearby town, which just happened to be the color she planned on painting her other Camaro. “After I drove it for the first time, I decided it would be mine. It came with a 400 small-block, a Turbo 400 trans, a 2.73:1 one-wheel-peel rearend, and the car’s original 327 motor. The sellers said that they were so glad a girl was buying it since that meant it wouldn’t be raced. Two weeks later, the right-rear tire was getting a tad smoother than the left rear.”
After running around town for about a month, Michelle installed the big-block and swapped out the one-legger differential for an Auburn Posi with 3.73:1 gears. At this power level, the factory drum brakes were a liability, so she came up with a budget-friendly solution by adapting a set of four-wheel discs off of a fourth-gen F-body. Although these updates made the car much more pleasant to drive around town, Michelle just wasn’t content hanging out at shows and at cruise night. “After a while, I decided to check out the autocross events at the Goodguys shows. This was much more fun to watch than people staring at you from their lawn chairs,” she says. “I ended up getting behind the wheel of a friend’s car on the autocross and loved it. I knew I wanted my car to handle like that, and I thought it would be so cool to get my Camaro to drive like a modern sports car. Plus, my car sat like a 4x4 truck, so a new suspension system was suddenly high on my priority list.”