Don't hate Marty Ceccarelli just because he's got some coin. We don't want to hear it. There's a reason why Marty's got the financial and psychological fortitude to slug it through a two-year buildup with Heath Elmer, one of the Southwest's premier car builders. Both men are imaginative, passionate, and obstinate individuals who are used to getting their way in life's game of high-stakes poker, and this 1970 Camaro SS is the multiplied product of that combined bravado.
Marty's 27-year career as a contractor and developer is pockmarked with the scars of the real estate market's volatility in the Phoenix area where he plies his trade. In the span of decades, gallons of blood and sweat have been shed, pounds of flesh sacrificed, and fortunes have been lost and won. It's not a vocation for the faint of heart. Yet through it all, Marty has protected the glowing ember of his vehicular passion, shielding the fragile flame from life's flatulence, waiting for the right time to set his dream ablaze.
Rip your eyes away from the story copy for a moment, and gaze again upon Marty's 1970 Camaro SS. It is an X-rated muscle car in its most prurient form, and you know you want it. That paint. That stance. Those wheels. That sexy injected big-block. Even Chevy-haters must submit to its spell. Like a beautiful vixen on the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, that look doesn't come easily, cheaply, or through cavalier happenstance. And in case you're wondering, this thing also runs, turns, and stops as good as it looks.
The long hard road to Marty's punishing Camaro took many twists and turns, not the least of which was Marty's ambivalent relationship with powerboat racing—a sport which left deep wounds on his psyche, if not his body. Marty: "I had five crashes when I was doing it, and I walked away from them all. I feel like I was pretty lucky." Lucky indeed. "What got me out of it was I was losing too many friends. I started having kids, then a business with quite a few employees who relied on me. It was just too dangerous. I was getting a lot of pressure from my controller and my family. It just wasn't worth it."
After moving from Super Stock to Pro Stock, then to K-class boats, Marty called it quits. The price was just too high in more ways than one. Notwithstanding, Marty came away from the experience with three key ingredients: a reaffirming desire for all things Chevrolet, an addiction to speed, and the friendship of engine builder, Al Cherney. Through Cherney, who has since died, Marty met Bob Ream, owner of Imagine Injection, the tuner and induction guru who would later play a big part in our story.
For a while, Marty tried his hand at flying, then took up shifter carts, which he claims still fills the void for a quick adrenalin fix. But there was still a need for something more substantial, and after Marty sold his contracting business in 2008, he began looking in earnest for a viable project. "I've always had a passion for muscle cars," Marty says. "I was looking for a 1970 Camaro and found a roller with no engine or trans locally in Glendale. Me and my older boys—Mario and Tony—took it apart, and I started looking for a person to build the car. One of my close friends had work done by Heath Elmer on one of his cars, and he introduced me. My friend's very picky—he's about as picky as they come—so if he likes the work, it's good enough for me. When I met him, he quoted me a price and a time line that I liked, but as you can imagine, both doubled!"
Once safely ensconced in the Heath Elmer Restorations (HER) digs in Mesa, the Camaro's transformation from pile to style began. Marty and Heath quickly came to the conclusion that in order to make the second-gen on par with contemporary supercars, they would need to throw the complete Detroit Speed & Engineering catalog at it, including a hydroformed front subframe, C6 spindles, splined sway bar, JRi coilover shocks, rack-and pinion steering, mini-tubs, QuadraLink rear four-link conversion with a 9 inch rear, and integrated subframe connectors. A six-speed T56 Magnum gearbox and huge Baer 13-inch platters with six-piston calipers were considered mandatory, and occupant comfort would be a priority with Recaro leather, Vintage Air, and audio from a Pioneer/Rockford Fosgate combo.
That's when the "mission creep" set in. HER and Marty were like-minded about creating the ultimate big-block second-gen Camaro; it would be fast, high-tech, cutting-edge, and visually stunning, but as is often the case when two alpha dogs meet who talk more with actions than words, some of the details get lost in translation. Elmer had a pit bull–like grip on the project with his artistic vision, and nothing was going to get in the way. Dimple-die lightning holes? Check. Lightweight carbon-fiber body panels? Check. C5 Corvette door handles? Check. Scads of custom body and chassis mods? Check. Fully integrated rollbar? Check. Tons of custom millwork? Check. Custom aircraft-style gauges—check. Show car undercarriage? Check. Marty's Camaro was moving inexorably closer to a tour de force of HER's fabricating capabilities, and all that would require greenbacks—supplied not always eagerly by Marty.
The epiphany came for Marty as the car neared completion, and the genius of Elmer's design elements came into dramatic focus. All too often, we see lesser shops cave to a client's disjointed vision, bringing to fruition a vulgar abomination that can't be fixed, or shops that lack the ability to synthesize the design, color, and engineering elements into a cogent whole, but such was not the case with HER and Marty. Top shops will tell you this: They dream of marrying the right idea with the right customer and enough money to make it real—and this was such an alignment of the planets. Not only was HER in the position to push the limits of style and function, but Marty's years of keeping cool under pressure made him the ideal client for such a monumental build.
One area conspicuously missing from our story so far is the engine. Marty's torrid romance with the big-block Chevy that started back in the 1980s with powerboat racing was still in full bloom as of 2010. That's when Marty contacted his tuning guru and pal, Bob Ream, who he'd met years ago while racing boats. Marty: "I called Bob and asked him to recommend an engine builder, and he referred me to Bud Yancer. Bud builds Sprint Car engines for Bob and he was really successful. I'm totally impressed with Bud. I explained that I wanted a high-revving, quick-revving big-block that would run on pump gas, so that's what he built me." The resulting fuel-injecte427 puts out a healthy 655 hp at 6,000 rpm and 633 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm.
Here's where another communication glitch between Marty and Elmer spawned what is perhaps the Camaro's sexiest feature—Imagine Injection's eight-stack EFI. Although Marty had mulled over and rejected the idea of running one of Ream's eight-stack masterpieces, he ultimately decided to use a prized 830-cfm carb that Ream had tweaked years ago. Except HER had already procured the Anvil carbon-fiber hood, which would not accommodate the single-plane intake and carb setup. "We couldn't fit the engine under the hood. We tried everything. We lowered the engine in the car, we modified the oil pan, but we couldn't get it to fit under the Anvil hood," Marty says. "That's when I called Bob and said we're going to be needing your eight-stack fuel-injection system. It turned out to be the right thing for one because of the appearance. It just pops out of the engine bay with the eight-stack in it. It went from average to over-the-top. It's a huge improvement on the driveability, starting, idle, throttle response; there's no comparison. It's still learning, so the more I drive it, the better it gets."
All this automotive joy, however, wouldn't even be possible without proper clearance from the tower. "My wife, Tammy, likes cars just as much as I do, so I'm very fortunate. She's a total car girl. That's good on the one hand, but it also makes things very expensive," Marty says. "My kids enjoy it as well, so it's been too easy to spend money on this stuff because the family likes it as much as I do." That's a good thing, because Marty's next move is to ramp up the pounding that he's already started to put on it at events like the Goodguys autocross. As an avid road racer (did we mention that Marty runs a BMW 328i in the Chump Car Series and the 24 Hours of LeMons?!), he plans to go wide-open with the Camaro on some of his favorite road courses, and may even show up to PHR's Muscle Car of the Year competition.
We'll be keeping an eye out on this Camaro and its up-and-coming owner to see if he takes the very public dive into the competitive autocross circuit. We also would love to see it turn road course laps with the intensity that was intended for—probably once all the "new" has worn off. One thing that might hasten that is Marty's plan to build a 1967 Chevy II with Heath Elmer Restorations, ostensibly for his wife. That might be just the thing to get the Camaro acquainted with some rumble strips!
By The Numbers
1970 Chevy Camaro
Marty Ceccarelli, 48 • Scottsdale, AZ
Marty Ceccarelli gives credit for the 655hp 427ci big-block to Bud Yancer, with strong sup
Type: 427ci big-block Chevy
Block: Chevrolet Performance cast-iron Bore x stroke: 4.250 x 3.760 inches
Rotating assembly: Mach Development, Scat forged crankshaft, Carrillo rods, JE forged pistons, Total Seal rings
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Cylinder heads: port-matched Dart 310cc rectangle port, cast aluminum
Camshaft: COMP Cams solid roller, .653-/.660-inch lift, 248/254 degrees duration at 050-inch lift, 110-degree LSA
Valvetrain: Manley 2.25-inch intake and 1.88-inch exhaust valves, T&D shaft rockers, Milodon gear drive
Induction: Imagine individual runner (IR) fuel injection by Bob Ream
Throttle body: Imagine EFI, eight port
Engine management: FAST, EZ-EFI
Fuel system: Aeromotive Stealth pump, FAST injectors
Exhaust: custom headers by Pryde Fabrication (1⅞-inch long-tube), dual 3-inch Black ceramic coated exhaust with X-pipe and Borla mufflers
Ignition:MSD Digital 6, MSD HVC II coil, MSD wires
Cooling: Ron Davis custom aluminum radiator, DSE water pump
Other: custom breather vent tanks built by Pryde Fabrication
Output: 655 hp at 6,000 rpm, 633 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm
Engine built by: Bud Yancer
Transmission: Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed manual with McLeod Racing twin-disc clutch, Billet Joe's shifter
Rearend: narrowed Detroit Speed & Engineering (DSE) 9-inch with Truetrac diff and 3.89 gears
The undercarriage of Marty’s Camaro is clean enough to do open-heart surgery. HER went all
Frame: factory unibody construction, modified by Heath Elmer Restorations with rollcage using 1¾-inch tubing
Front suspension: DSE front subframe with JRi coilover shocks, C6 spindles, splined sway bar, rollcage tied to subframe with 1¾-inch rollbar tubing, subframes connected with DSE subframe connectors and integrated into floorpan.
Rear suspension: DSE QuadraLink triangulated four-link rear with JRi coilover shocks, DSE splined sway bar, DSE mini-tub kit, DSE subframe connectors
Steering: DSE rack-and-pinion, DSE Delphi 600 pump
Brakes: Baer 6P four-wheel disc brakes all around
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Rushforth satin black powdercoated Whiplash wheels, 18x10 (front) and 18x12 (rear)
Tires: BFGoodrich KDW, 275/35R18 (front) and 335/30R18 (rear)