Transformers: Muscle Car Innovators

Transformers: Muscle Car Innovators

Story and Photos by Jason R. Sakurai

While the Grand National Roadster Show with its long history and name implies it is geared towards top-shelf roadsters and high-profile hot rods, there are a plethora of muscle cars displayed along with many other types of vehicles. Held January 26-28 at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona, California, we attended this year’s show to find out what new trends are happening in muscle cars, and which builders are on the cutting edge with this advanced technology.

The ‘Summit’ is a ’71 Camaro created by Hector Cisneros and his crew at Bill Dunn’s One Stop Shop in Huntington Beach, California. While there’s an LS engine under the hood and an updated driveline, it’s the interior that pushes the envelope. Contoured bucket seats with perforated leather inserts provide comfort for the driver and passengers. The dash is reworked with a new gauge cluster, integrated surround for the double DIN head unit, and a reshaped console that’s covered with the same tan leather.

Louisville, Tennessee is home to Bobby Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop, and this ’65 Mustang Fastback, dubbed the ‘600 T.A.’ is notable for its Trans Am-styled stubby front air dam. A look more akin to road racing Camaros of that era, Alloway used it here and made us wonder why nobody else had thought to meld the two. Under the hood, a small-block Ford built for the Trans Am series in the ‘80s by Robert Yates is backed by an American Powertrain 6-speed manual transmission, updated suspension and Billet Specialties one-off wheels with Michelin rubber.

Rolling on HRE Performance Wheels normally associated with European and Japanese sports cars, the black ’70 Dodge Charger built by SpeedKore Performance in Grafton, Wisconsin is noticeably lower than stock thanks to its revised suspension and Michelin tires. But the news here isn’t the interior by Gabe’s Street Rod Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California, with its custom seats and dashboard. It’s the machined door handles and fuel filler cap on the exterior, along with modified front fenders made of carbon fibre. Used in race cars for its strength and weight savings and a favourite among import performance cars, Speedkore’s extensive use of a carbon fibre hood, bumpers, and front fenders is new for muscle cars of this era.

Mike and Dave Grotto’s ‘Toxic 66’ Mustang is a modern interpretation of what was once called a Pro Street car, and reportedly built mainly in their garage. With visuals like the blown 351W engine stroked to 408 c.i. protruding from the hood, chromed wheelie bars out back, and no grille in front to impede the view of its CNC-machined fan shroud, it definitely caused a stir. While the gorgeous scoops in the ‘C’ pillars are likely the handiwork of Aaron Takao of Takao Metalworks, with body and paint by Dan Brown, and interior by Gabe Lopez, it’s all in the details and then some.

If you like what appears to be an early Hemi with fuel injection, take a closer look. It’s actually an LS-7 aluminum 427 CI with Hilborn fuel injection, machine work by Greening Auto Company, and fabrication by Orange, California’s Cambra Speed Shop, the vehicle’s builder. No, it’s in a ’55 Chevy 210 Sedan dubbed ‘Roxanne’, not a Barracuda, Belvedere, Challenger, or Charger, but the point is that it easily could be.

Another of the innovations we discovered was Edelbrock’s E-Force Supercharged LT 416 crate engine with 851 hp and 780 lb-ft of torque. Based on a brand-new GM LT1 Gen V aluminum block with a forged and balanced Manley crankshaft, Manley forged H-beam connecting rods, and Manley forged aluminum pistons, the 10.5:1 compression ratio produces safe, reliable supercharged performance with 93 octane pump gas. An all-new Edelbrock E-Force supercharger system and DP-3C intercooler tops it off, and the engine can be had as a long-block only, complete with all the accessories, or with the accessories and electronics included. While this engine package is debuting now, we can’t wait to see it installed in a SEMA Show-bound first-gen Camaro that’s already underway.

While Cotati Speed Shops’ Zane Cullen wasn’t saying much about the Camaro in his display, its tube frame construction, full roll cage, oversized fuel cell and an injected engine that might be more at home in a sprint car said it all. Working head and tail lights, D.O.T. tires, an exhaust system and a passenger seat are indications this car may spend some of its time on the road when it’s not on the track or in a show.

What is described on Classic Recreations’ website as ‘the newest iteration of the Shelby GT350, the GT350CR Pro-Touring Shelby Mustang’, features an updated design with performance and aesthetic upgrades to bring this classic muscle car into the 21st century.  A 545-hp, 427 c.i. crate engine powers these hand-crafted cars, with this particular example receiving custom stitching from Elegance Auto Interiors on the Sparco seats, matching door panels, and trunk insert.

Retina-searing orange is what we called the hue on the Chevelle from Braun’s Muscle Car and Hot Rod Restoration, a departure from boring OEM-matching, period-correct paint. Under the hood, things are much more subdued, with black, gray, and high-temp coatings to provide contrast with its exterior. While the ‘70s added considerable heft to the Chevelle, in this scenario with the powertrain it has, the temptation to just want to drive it hard is overwhelming.

Also from Braun’s is their earlier ’66 Chevelle, a work in progress. You’ll note the twin turbocharged LS engine protruding above the front fenders, along with the rear tires, which appear much too tall and wide even with rear quarter panels that have already been widened to accommodate them.

Yes, it’s a ’70 Pontiac TransAm from Stones Metal Shop in Gardena, California and its CEO, Brian Stone, is also the builder. The late-model Hemi engine with either a 6:71 or 8:71 supercharger leaves no one who has seen it without a lasting memory, and the carbon fibre front end is in keeping with another trend we recognized earlier. It’s the extreme wide body that really captivated everyone who saw it. No doubt it also draws attention to the Schott wheels and the Baer brakes.

The ease with which LS engines can be transplanted into almost any vehicle wasn’t lost on Pat Tobin or his sons Sean, Jason and Devin when they were doing a body-off restomod on their ’65 2-Door Post GTO in a 1-car garage. However, the Tobins decided to keep their Goat all Pontiac, relying on a 428 engine bored .040-over, an Eagle crank with a 4-in. stroke, JE dished and forged pistons, and ported Edelbrock 72cc heads. Now producing 520 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque out of 434 cubic inches, Bob McCray Performance, who built the engine, also performed its tuning and certification.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of the Chevy Camaro, Goodguys enlisted artist Eric Brockmeyer and Goolsby Customs to produce a Butternut Yellow 1967 Camaro Grand Prize Giveaway Car for the 2017-18 season, utilizing a host of modern-day parts and high-end aftermarket components. Under the Year One hood resides a 700-hp Edelbrock Performer Series 420 c.i. LS V8 linked to a Tremec six-speed transmission. The new offering that can’t be seen is the Roadster Shop Spec Series chassis, which, paired with B-Forged wheels and BFGoodrich tires, provides perfect ride height and exceptional handling.

Shown in a flat black finish, Rocket Racing Wheels’ new Track & Touring Series are part of a revolutionary category of wheel technology with the first-ever dual-direction, flow-form, semi-forged wheel. Dual-direction production offers near infinite flexibility because the cast centre can be moved within a wide range of offsets inside the spun forged outer, providing options and weight and metal strength characteristics that until now were available only from high-dollar, multi-piece forged wheels.

From Hot Rods & Custom Stuff is a ’66 Dodge Polara 4-door wagon that’s nearly completed. If the Art Morrison Sport chassis and 18/20-in. U.S. Mags wheels don’t impress you, how about the 6.4L 500-hp Hemi? This is one pre-SUV grocery hauler that would have no problem getting from one stoplight to the next. The selection of a full-size Dodge wagon to receive all these upgrades is something of a surprise, but a good one at that.

Last but not least is the ’68 Dodge Charger belonging to Johan Eriksson of Mora, Sweden. While few details were provided, it’s gratifying that trends we’ve identified today, and the appearance of the cars in magazines such as ours (as well as coverage of the Grand National Roadster Show by the media throughout the world), goes a long way in encouraging builders like Eriksson wherever they reside.

Categories: Features, Muscle Car Plus