Put down the Xbox controller. Dave Leisinger's '71 Camaro isn't a digital video game creation that you drive in some virtual la-la land with your thumbs. No sir, this thing is the real deal, and with so many complex contours blending harmoniously into one coherent shape, it's almost impossible to comprehend how something like this can be hand-fabricated from real sheetmetal. That wow factor permeates well beneath the surface, as the F-body's gracefully flowing skin conceals some seriously heavy-hitting hardware. Fire the beast up, and it goes thumpity-thump like only a 500ci, mega-compression, Q16-burning, Warren Johnson-built LS small-block can. The foundation for all this madness is a full-frame Art Morrison chassis that boasts aluminum C6 Corvette suspension bits. As one of the wildest street machines in existence, Dave's Camaro just kicked the Pro Touring bar way up, and the long line of copycats that will inevitably attempt to emulate its excellence starts right here.
In recent years, the caliber of custom fabrication, attention to detail, and overall craftsmanship once reserved exclusively for high-dollar street rods has trickled into the realm of Pro Touring muscle cars. That can be good or bad, depending on whom you ask, since messing with the body lines of classic Detroit iron is always a precarious endeavor. Dave is no stranger to high-end builds, which might explain why he has no reservations about going to town with the body mods. "First- and second-gen Camaros are so common these days that they're now the new '32 Ford," he says. "Everything that you can possibly imagine has already been done to a '32 Ford and Camaros aren't much different. So unless you go over the top by dissecting, changing, and fabricating everything from scratch, your Camaro is going to look just like all the other Camaros out there. The billet and bolt-on look is very popular these days, so I wanted to make sure that this car would have its own unique character."
If you want a Warren Johnson-built LS small-block for your car, you’re out of luck. Dave s
Interestingly, Dave's Camaro was actually inspired by vintage drag cars. "I built this car as a tribute to Warren Johnson's first Pro Stock race car, a '71 Camaro, but with a modern twist. That meant that it had to be low and sleek like a newer Pro Stock racer," he says. "For their time, second-gen Camaros had a lot of European styling cues, so my goal was to play that up and make it look more like a Ferrari. These cars have always looked like bubbletops to me, so I wanted to flatten the roof down and lay back the front windshield. Eric Brockmeyer Design put these ideas to paper, and Roger Burman at Lakeside Rods and Rides turned it all into sheetmetal."
As someone who has been building high-end street rods for decades, Burman welcomed the challenge of custom fabricating an entire body from scratch. Naturally, it made the most sense to start out with a jalopy. "We found this car sitting in a field and paid less than $1,000 for it. The plan was to knock out the entire floor and all the sheetmetal anyway, so all we needed from the original car was the VIN number and title," Burman says. Starting at the front, Burman wedge-cut 2 inches out of the fenders to angle them downward. Likewise, the top of the grille and headlights were leaned forward, and flattening the grille chin allowed grafting in a custom front spoiler. Furthermore, there's a peculiar lack of seams compared to a stock second-gen Camaro, and that's no accident. "From the side profile, you can see the hood seams on a stock Camaro, which looks terrible. To get rid of that seam, we narrowed the hood 8 inches, then welded part of the old hood to the tops of the fenders. To smooth things out some more, the entire front clip-including the fenders, grille shell, and bumpers-is a single piece. When working with metal, it's a lot easier to build panels with sharp creases, but it looks so much nicer with smooth contours."
Working from the front rearward, the Camaro's greenhouse has been completely modified as well. Burman chopped the top an inch, and flattened it out for an edgier profile. In an effort to reduce drag, the front windshield has been laid back 3 inches while the rear deck has been raised 2 inches. Other body tweaks include extended rocker panels, a custom rear valance, and bulging quarter-panels eerily reminiscent of a fastback Mustang. The net result of all the custom metalwork is a stunning styling remix of a car that already looked pretty darn good to begin with straight from the factory. The Camaro's complex contours and wild proportions look downright surreal, and the breadth and overall execution of its custom fabrication work seems utterly inconceivable. "I try to make these cars look exactly like they do in the renderings," Burman says. "After we finished the car, Eric Brockmeyer told us, 'Man you built a car that looks just like my renderings, and no one else builds them like that.' "
The Camaro’s interior is just as custom as the exterior. The dash and center console were
Although the elite crop of g-Machines might resemble their street rod counterparts in their overall craftsmanship, weak-sauce engine combos just won't cut it in the muscle car arena. As you might expect from a car built as a tribute to Warren Johnson's Pro Stock machine, Dave's Camaro packs some serious heat underhood. What no one would expect, however, is that W.J. built the thing himself. Naturally, the Pro Stock legend opted for 500 ci of displacement, but from an LS-series small-block instead of a big-block. Beyond that, however, all the other specs are a big enigma. The combo is based on a Chevrolet Performance tall-deck LSX block fitted with a custom Lunati forged crank, Carrillo rods, and Wiseco pistons. The air supply comes from a set of ported Mast Motorsports 285cc LS7 cylinder heads and a massaged FAST LSX-R intake manifold. Both Dave and W.J. are mum on the rest of the specs, but based on its appetite for VP Racing Fuels Q16 and how hard the exhaust pulses thump you in the chest, big-time compression and a nasty solid-roller cam are safe assumptions. Dave wouldn't even quote us an exact horsepower figure, but he claims it lays down 800-plus horsepower at the rear wheels. While your gut reaction might be to call bs, the Mast heads are capable of well over 400 cfm of flow, so those figures aren't entirely out of the question. "W.J. likes to say that he's not out to school anyone, so I'm not about to give out engine specs that he doesn't want anyone else to know," Dave quips.
Out back, the taillight panel has been sunken 4 inches inward. The rear valance, custom di
Not knowing the exact horsepower output of Dave's Camaro doesn't change the fact that it still puts out a ton of grunt. To keep it all glued to the pavement, Burman and company cut out the car's floor and slid a complete Art Morrison frame into place. Up front, it uses C6 Corvette hardware, and out back is a custom three-link suspension-similar in layout to a late-model Mustang-with an integral Watt's linkage. So given the ludicrous output of the 500ci LS small-block, does the suspension stand a chance in putting all those ponies to use? Burman that. At the Goodguys Street Machine of the Year competition last summer, Dave's Camaro laid down the fourth fastest lap on the autocross out of a field of 13 cars. "I didn't build this car to push it on and off a trailer. Whenever we take it out on the autocross, people can't believe it," he says.
Realistically, very few people will attempt to one-up a car like this Camaro simply because very few people have the resources to pull it off. However, bits and pieces of the car's design-whether it's the heat extractors, chin spoiler, fender flares, or decklid louvers-are elements that even a skilled DIYer can incorporate into his own build. So whether you like all of it, most of it, or just some of it, Dave's Camaro is one of those machines that just about everyone can gather some ideas from. And that's what trendsetting street machines are all about.
It takes a keen eye to spot it, but the peak in the grille shell has been set back and rou
By The Numbers
1971 Chevy Camaro
Dave Leisinger Wall Lake, SD
Type: GM Gen IV small-block stroked to 500 ci
Block: Chevrolet Performance LSX-R tall-deck
Oiling: custom dry-sump
Rotating assembly: Lunati forged steel crankshaft, Carrillo rods, Wiseco pistons
Cylinder heads: Mast Motorsports Black Label LS7 aluminum castings
Camshaft: COMP Cams custom solid roller (specs classified)
Induction: ported FAST LSX-R intake manifold and throttle body
Fuel system: custom cell; Aeromotive pump and regulator
Ignition: stock GM coil packs, MSD plug wires
Exhaust: custom 1.875-inch headers, dual Flowmaster mufflers
Built by: Warren Johnson Enterprises
Transmission: Gearstar 4L85E automatic, Yank 11-inch converter, Hurst shifter
Rear axle: Morrison 9-inch rearend, 4.11:1 gears, Detroit Truetrac limited-slip differential
Even the Camaro’s undercarriage is a work of art. Roger built custom covers for the coilov
Front suspension: C6 Corvette aluminum control arms and spindles, Penske coilovers, ARB splined sway bar
Rear suspension: Morrison three-link system with custom Watt's link, Penske coilovers, ARB splined sway bar
Brakes: Baer 14-inch discs with 6-piston calipers, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Lateral-G 18x8, front; 20x12, rear
Tires: Nitto 245/30R18, front; 335/30R20, rear
Many of today's top Pro Touring builders started out as street rod shops, and Lakeside Rods and Rides (lakesiderodsandrides.com) is no exception. Owner Roger Burman figures that he's built 150 street rods over the years, so the transition into high-end muscle cars was a no-brainer. "I built a very nice vintage short-box pickup for a customer one time, who suggested venturing out into the muscle car market. I really enjoy building muscle cars, because unlike with street rods, people actually drive them hard," Roger explains. Naturally, he welcomes the challenge of slicing and dicing custom sheetmetal panels, so Dave Leisinger's Camaro was right up his ally. "When you get an opportunity to build a car like this, you want to modify everything. I tend to like more body mods than less, and making them functional is the icing on the cake. On Dave's Camaro, we angled the windshield back and raised the rear deck to reduce drag. Cooling vents in the quarter-panels, and a vent above the headlight, feed air to the brakes. There are also heat extractor vents behind each wheel. In addition to making the car look cool, all the body mods on the Camaro serve a functional purpose."