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Custom 816hp street-driven 1968 Chevrolet Camaro

By Steve Westmacott | Photos: Dean Summers, 13 Apr 2019 Features

Custom 816hp street-driven 1968 Chevrolet Camaro

Bright, smooth, with massive cubes, this custom 634ci Camaro was Chris Luxford's schoolboy dream

I HAD no interest in cars until high school, when I sat next to a kid mad about Street Machine. Around that time my parents’ neighbour bought a 1969 427 Corvette. The next thing I knew I was hooked on US muscle cars.”

This article on Chris's Camaro was first published in the April 2011 issue of Street Machine

Chevrolet CamaroMods are extensive and include shaved drip rails, front quarters and cowl extended to cover the bottom of the flush-mounted ’screen, VT door handles, bumpers smoothed and pulled in, front guard extensions and steel bonnet bulge

Chris Luxford, who owns this Camaro, was that schoolboy. How hooked did he get? Let’s just say that when he bought one of US engine guru Bill Mitchell’s 632ci Merlin Chev big-blocks he wasn’t satisfied. That’s a donk guaranteed to give you 816hp and 825Nm out of the crate.

Chevrolet CamaroBody mods at the rear include the shaved boot lock, frenched-in billet gas cap plus sliced and stretched rear wheel arches and rolled lips to bring the tyres in as close to the guard edge as possible. Trust us, it’s a tight fit!

But Chris wanted more. So Orger Engines in the outer Melbourne suburb of Bayswater stripped the thing to its jocks, carved out a further two cubes and upped the compression from 10.4 to 10.7:1.

Read next: Eight-second LQ9-powered 1968 Camaro

Chevrolet CamaroImported from the US, the Camaro was in rough shape before Stylerod got hold of it

You’d think that’d be enough but this horsepower gig is worse than hard drugs, so a Dart Tunnel Ram and twin 1000cfm Barry Grant Race Demons are shortlisted, with a supercharger a little further down the line. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Read next: Big-block pro touring 1968 Camaro

Chev Camaro buildThe custom dash and console are steel, like all of the many subtle body mods throughout the car. Note how the tops of the doors blend smoothly into the tops of dash

Street Machine had a huge influence on me when the full-on Pro Street craze filled the magazine with over-the-top ’caged and stripped two-seat blown rocketships. That’s what I wanted. It had to be a ’68 Camaro, big, wide and super-tough but I was determined not to start until it could be done properly.”

Read next: Elite-level blown 1967 Camaro

Chevrolet CamaroUnder the back is a custom four-link with Panhard rod, laser-cut rails moved 5in to suit the tubs, custom sub-frame connectors, and a fabricated Strange 9in diff with Detroit Locker, 3.55 gears, 35-spline axles and floating hubs

Chris had street-driven hobby cars — a ’39 Chevy and a ’63 Parisienne — but it wasn’t until 2003 that the bank balance was ready.

“All along I had three aims: to get the car into Street Machine, to make it into the Summernats Elite Hall, and to build the ultimate wicked street-driven show car with the grunt to match the bling.”

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Chevrolet Camaro engine bayDonk is a street-friendly 634ci monster. Engine bay mods include the smooth firewall, Ring Bros hinges and that neat close-out panel from the radiator to the firewall. Hydratech brake booster runs off the power steering pump rather than vacuum

But he thought his dreams were dashed when he discovered his Pro Streeter could never be registered, so he shelved the project and bought an HSV Grange.

Thing is, he really was hooked; “You can’t simply turn passion off,” he explains.

Chevrolet Camaro mirrorSo the 20-year plan changed and he decided to throw some Pro Touring goodness into the mix, deleting the ’cage and adding back seats. Then came the good news — engineer Bill Malkoutsis from Talk Torque Automotive assured Chris that his schoolboy fantasy could be legally street driven.

“Once I’d made up my mind that the build was back on, it was smooth sailing. I discovered the Camaro for sale in Florida in 2006; it landed in February ’07 and was delivered to Stylerod Panels in Croydon [Vic] in August. The import went without a hitch and the Camaro proved to be as I expected. The US owner had sent me about 200 photos of the car and I knew about its rust issues.”

Chevrolet Camaro dashThe smoothest dash you ever will see, with only the Budnik tiller, custom gauge cluster with Dakota Digital innards and column-mounted blinker and hazard stalks in view. The handbrake? It’s a foot-operated Lokar unit

Have you seen those women on that TV show Ten Years Younger? Scary, ain’t they? The Camaro could have been one of the ‘before’ candidates but Stylerod Panels did the reverse-aging job properly. The guys received an original but battered car with rusted doors, a few minor dings and dents, plus half a dozen rust spots across the floor. They didn’t have to worry about the boot because it was going to be tubbed.

Chevrolet Camaro dashWith the cancer eradicated and all repairs done in metal, the custom bodywork could begin. If you had a spare week I’d list all the mods but here’s the abridged version: side markers deleted, rails shaved, tops of the front guards extended to match the flush-mounted windscreen and done in conjunction with a cowl panel extension. The firewall was smoothed, the boot lock shaved — the list goes on. And that’s just the outside.

“I wanted the Camaro to have the cleanest interior any car ever had. There are four seats, two gauges, a steering wheel and that’s it. There’s no shifter or switches; everything is hidden. My original plan was that when parked the dash would fold away in the same way flip-up headlights disappear. We spent a huge amount of time trying to accomplish it but had to give up as it was too hard.”

Chevrolet Camaro seatsHe shouldn’t be too disappointed because the interior is still so clean and spartan that brain surgeons would agree their operating theatres are grubbier. There’s little to see other than twin gauge pods containing Dakota Digital Odyssey II gear, the Budnik Bladerunner wheel and four buckets trimmed in cream leather. The lack of visual distraction makes it easy to appreciate how all surfaces flow as one, with the console blending from the dash down through to the rear bridge panel, around into the tops of the doors and then reconnecting back into the dash. Look up and you see a flawlessly smooth steel roof. What about the legalities of the four-link and the fact that this is a lefty?

Chevrolet Camaro roofThe steel hoodlining took a couple of weeks but looks fantastic. “We bought a repro roof skin,” Chris says. “Stylerod sliced an inch out of the middle, welded it shut and slid it in through the rear. They made up their own interior A and C panels, tack-welded it all in and filled it with expanding foam”

“The car was always staying left-hand drive — it’s a US muscle car and US cars are left-hook; it wouldn’t have been right to change it. As to the four- link, my engineer had experience with Sean Mullins Race Cars, so Sean did my work. Again, it was hassle-free. The key is to have a detailed plan from the outset and to not keep changing your mind along the way.

Chevrolet Camaro consoleHidden away in the centre console is the ignition switch, the Retrotek Smart Shifter (which operates the TH400 ’box) and controls for the air conditioning, power windows, boot release, wipers and headlights. There is a also a button that allows Chris to shift the Dakota Digital gauges through various functions, including tacho, speedo and performance settings such as 0-400m testing

“Just planning the wheels and tyres took some thinking. With the Pro Touring angle, I wanted to have big brakes. That meant I need to fit a minimum of 17in rims, but I also wanted fat rear tyres with a tall profile, not rubber bands. The only ones I could find that fitted the bill were M&H Drag Radials. It would have been easy to rush out and buy some rims only to find I couldn’t fit the brakes or tyres I was after.”

Chevrolet Camaro doortrimChris’s PPG Vibrance Sunshine road rocket rumbled out of the workshop on 23 December, 2010, debuted at Summernats 24 and won Top Custom Interior (Fabrication), the High Impact Award and a spot in the Elite Top 20. There were a mere 32km on the clock when the curtain (and rain) fell on Canberra. Chris had upped that to 450 kays by early February, including some time in the rain and a dirt road or two.

“I just can’t stop driving the thing and I can’t express in polite words how awesome it is. With 900 horsepower, the violence with which it pushes me into the seat takes my breath away, yet it’s also docile when I need it to be, like in rain or heavy traffic.”

CHRIS LUXFORD
1968 CHEVROLET CAMARO

Colour: PPG Vibrance Sunshine

GRUNT
Engine: Bill Mitchell Chev big-block, 634ci
Intake: Merlin single-plane
Induction: Holley 1050
Heads: Merlin III, aluminium
Pistons: JE
Crank: Crower
Cam: Not too wild
Ignition: MSD HEI
Exhaust: Custom 2¼in primaries into twin three-inch stainless system, Magnaflow mufflers

SHIFT
Transmission: Hugo’s Raceglides Turbo Hydramatic 400
Converter: TCE with 3000rpm stall
Diff: Strange nine-inch, Detroit Locker, 3.55 gears, 35-spline axles
Shifter: Retrotek Smart Shifter

BENEATH
Suspension: QA1 coil-overs (f&r), Art Morrison sub-frame (f), Sean Mullins four-link (r)
Steering: AGR power rack, Ididit billet polished column
Brakes: Hydratech Hydroboost, SSB master cylinder, PBR calipers, DBA 330mm discs (f) PBR calipers, DBA 300mm discs (r)

ROLLING
Rims: Rushforth Concept I 17x7 (f), 17x12 (r)
Rubber: Falken 235x35 (f) M&H Racemaster 390x40 (r)

THANKS
Melissa for letting me spend all our spare cash on the car; the team at Stylerod Panels; Pete, Troy, Craig & Mark; everyone else who helped