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The F-Body's Ultimate Form


story by tony sestito • photos by kevin adolf

The Chevrolet Camaro: Depending on who you ask, the mere mention of this model name can conjure up a host of different reactions. Some might picture a beautiful 1969 creampuff on display at a car show, a Trans-Am racer mixing it up with the best the early ’70s had to offer, or an IROC-Z gently wafting cigarette smoke and hairspray as the opening act takes the stage.

The Roadster Shop’s Rampage Camaro grabs elements from all three visions. It’s stunningly beautiful, shockingly fast, and as wild and crazy as an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.

Phil Gerber, co-owner of the restoration shop and pro touring firm, sheds some light on the origins of the Rampage Camaro’s build. “We had a vision for a wide-body muscle car that was very much inspired by the wide-body Porsche 911s,” he explains. “We wanted to apply it to a muscle car and felt that the second-gen Camaro was the perfect platform.”

The second-generation Camaro, he continues, has a more European look than most other American muscle cars. Compared to the original 1967–’69 Camaro, for example, the 1970–’73 model features softer curves, an iconic split front bumper, and that classic long hood and short deck lid–all features that could have come from Italy. Squint hard enough, and you can see some contemporary Ferrari and Maserati in there.

The Roadster Shop took that classic design into the 21st century by recreating the entire front nose of the car–as well as the rest of the wide-body elements–in carbon fiber. The flared fenders, roof scoop, rear air diffuser, and large adjustable rear wing all come together for an enhanced, functional look that’s more Le Mans special than Def Leppard concert parking lot.

One element that was popular back in the day has been brought back, though: rear window louvers. Instead of some cheap, bolt-on affair purchased from a JC Whitney catalog, these actually replace the rear window and work to promote cabin airflow.

Tooth and Nail

The transformation wasn’t limited to exterior modifications. In stock form, the Camaro came with a heavy cast-iron engine up front and a leaf-sprung solid rear axle out back. There was work to be done.

Even though the Roadster Shop produces off-the-shelf upgrades for the GM F-body, they wanted to take this one even further by starting with a blank sheet of paper. The suspension design for this build has its roots in the modern C6 Corvette. The Camaro shares its geometry, but with some special tweaks here and there.

The materials are different, though. Since the Rampage Camaro was destined to spend a lot more time carving up the road course than hitting up the local market, the shop went with thin-wall 0.090-inch chromoly steel–both strong and light–for the control arms and other suspension components. Those front control arms, by the way, are longer than usual to mate with the wider-than-stock custom Camaro bodywork. Out back, the original solid rear axle has been swapped out in favor of an independent suspension based around a Ford 9-inch-style center section.

The factory-installed recirculating-ball steering setup has also been jettisoned in favor of a modern Wilwood quick-ratio power steering rack. It was custom designed to fit into the chassis and uses factory-style steering arms made of billet aluminum rather than the stock cast-iron pieces.

The wheels and tires are equally purposeful. At all four corners, instead of the expected slotted mags wearing Radial T/As, you’ll find forged Forgeline steamrollers shod in race-spec Hoosiers. Even the anti-roll bars are trick: The Speedway Engineering pieces are splined to allow for fast swapping to further dial in the handling based on track conditions.

You Got Me Runnin’

What good is all this trick suspension engineering without some serious power under that long, air extractor-equipped hood? Instead of your belly button small-block Chevy wearing chrome valve covers and a Holley double pumper–not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course–this car’s engine bay houses a modern General Motors LS7, the 427-cubic-inch engine that tuned the C6 Corvette Z06 into such a beast.

This one, however, was built by Thompson Motorsports to belt out 680 naturally aspirated horsepower. That’s 175 horsepower more than a stock LS7. It also bests the hottest mill available in 1970, the Z28’s legendary solid lifter LT-1, by 320 horsepower.

Behind that stable of thoroughbred ponies lies a stout five-speed Jerico dogbox, which routes power to a C&R Wavetrac differential. It’s all built to handle the abuse, and then some.

The Rampage Camaro isn’t all show and stats on paper: It backs it up on the track. One of its first national appearances resulted in a fifth-place finish at last year’s Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Challenge. In the process, it also took home both the Ultimate Vintage and Officials’ Choice awards.

The car lapped VIR at a blistering 1.51.394 in the hands of pro driver Mike Skeen. “I’m sure the car could’ve been low-50s on that day if everything had been working correctly and on the right tire,” Mike explains. “Unfortunately for us, that’s part of the challenge of UTCC: You have to be able to unload the car and go quick straight out of the box. If you have to spend any time working out kinks during your sessions, the track will have slowed down a lot by the afternoon and you will miss the opportunity for that magic lap.”

Mike explains that the car could be even quicker. “Because the car is relatively overbuilt for the power it has, adding more would pick up lap times easily,” he explains. “The car is pretty well developed as far as suspension and brakes, and somewhat limited in how much downforce it can make without big changes. I would expect a 1:48 to be pretty easy–perhaps even quicker.” That time would have put this Camaro second on the podium at that event, just behind a low-slung, purpose-built Stohr sports racer.

“The car looks a lot meaner than it is,” Mike adds. “They really did an excellent job with the suspension on that car. And it could fit some huge rubber under it as well, so the grip was quite good. This car could easily handle more power than what it has, so you end up with a pretty reasonable package that isn’t trying to kill you.”

Phil Gerber seconds that conclusion: “The car will primarily be used as a fun track day car, seeing most of its use at VIR.”

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Comments

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mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
11/13/17 9:47 p.m.

I was never really a fan of the F-body. This probably stems from growing up in NJ with all the Bon Jovi wannabes running around in their Z28s and Berlinettas. Too much stigma and big hair for me. This car though, is based on my Favourite of that genre, the early 70s were the prettiest of the breed and this car simply turns the knob up to 11.

nocones
nocones UltraDork
11/14/17 12:16 a.m.

I know this car is catching some flack over on the Facespace page but I think it's fantastic.  I was thrilled to see it in the magazine as I've been enthralled by the car since I first saw it on the internet.  Someone said you can't build that in your garage.  Yes this car probably cost near supercar money but that doesn't mean it can't inspire your build.  I'd take a good hard look at some of the builds on this forum and  consider what some of the GRM community is capable of before you assume you couldn't pull that off in your garage.  Builds like loosecannons MGB, kevlarcorolas autox toy, the Nelson clan, the 1JZ Ratrod just to name a few show what can be done by dedicated people with limited resources and day jobs getting after it and being inspired.  I like  to think that my MG would look a little more like this if it wasn't just me, an angle grinder, and a harbor freight flyer.  

I hope someday to see this car in person and want to make the relatively short drive to RoadsterShop someday to have a look around.  No matter what the budget someone visualized that dream and real talent went into making it a reality.  To me that is an inspiration to challenge what I think I am capable of.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
11/14/17 9:02 a.m.

Yes, the car is receiving a lot of flak on being "not-Grassroots" and "too expensive". But the car is absolutely amazing and it needed to be recognized. It's not just your run-of-the-mill, "Pro-Fairground" Camaro build. 

This car was built for track duty using all the tricks in the book (and then some), and it competed in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge with success. Many of the cars that compete in that event are just as expensive. It is not just a show car; it hangs out for much of it's existence roasting its tires at VIR. Who says you can't build a cool track car on a common platform as a showcase for what your shop can do? It's a conversation starter and a more-than-capable racer.

Also, it is a "halo" build for sure. This car has gotten my lazy butt back out to my own garage to wrench on my own 2nd Gen F-Body. If I can make mine 1/100th as cool as this thing, then I'm winning. And that's part of the reason why it exists. smiley

NOT A TA
NOT A TA Dork
11/14/17 9:50 a.m.

The downside to trying to pull off a project like Rampage at home is the average guy doesn't have the equipment a place like Roadster Shop has OR the manpower team that's talented in many different ways (even if they have the financial resources).  Design, engineering, fabrication, electrical,  body/paint, and assembly of a car like this all require different skills. A single person probably won't compare to the quality craftsmanship of a RS team member who does a particular profession daily does. Also a person working alone could spend decades of their free time to complete a build like this only to end up with an outdated car if it ever was actually completed.

mtn
mtn MegaDork
11/14/17 9:55 a.m.
NOT A TA said:

The downside to trying to pull off a project like Rampage at home is the average guy doesn't have the equipment a place like Roadster Shop has OR the manpower team that's talented in many different ways (even if they have the financial resources).  Design, engineering, fabrication, electrical,  body/paint, and assembly of a car like this all require different skills. A single person probably won't compare to the quality craftsmanship of a RS team member who does a particular profession daily does. Also a person working alone could spend decades of their free time to complete a build like this only to end up with an outdated car if it ever was actually completed.

It is  a recipe. Document it, and the average guy can take one or two of the ingredients and put it into their own meal. 

Gimp
Gimp SuperDork
11/14/17 11:38 a.m.
mtn said:
NOT A TA said:

The downside to trying to pull off a project like Rampage at home is the average guy doesn't have the equipment a place like Roadster Shop has OR the manpower team that's talented in many different ways (even if they have the financial resources).  Design, engineering, fabrication, electrical,  body/paint, and assembly of a car like this all require different skills. A single person probably won't compare to the quality craftsmanship of a RS team member who does a particular profession daily does. Also a person working alone could spend decades of their free time to complete a build like this only to end up with an outdated car if it ever was actually completed.

It is  a recipe. Document it, and the average guy can take one or two of the ingredients and put it into their own meal. 

This is exactly what I have done with my own Camaro build.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
11/14/17 12:32 p.m.

Yes, the Rampage is over the top.   Yes, it was extremely expensive to build, and put together by some of the most talented craftsmen in the world.  (don't believe me?  Visit the Roadster Shop)

 

What this car represents is a high-point, a goal, an inspiration.  I see nothing wrong with showcasing such an incredible build every now and again.  This isn't the meat and potatoes of what we do, but it sure is interesting to see what CAN be done.   This car also represents a melding of our road racing / autocross world and the Hot Rod / Pro Touring scene, and I find that exciting. 

 

We can teach many of these pro-touring guys things about making a car turn.  They can give us fabrication, and engineering advice.   I see cars like the Rampage bringing our two camps together, and I love it!   

svisek
svisek New Reader
11/14/17 1:59 p.m.

As far as I'm concerned the "F" in F-body stands for Firebird.  Ponchos forever!

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) PowerDork
11/14/17 2:09 p.m.

My google foo is failing me but can we have a "compare and contrast" between this one and that crazy mid engined 2nd gen autocross monster that was featured in the mag a couple of years ago?

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
11/14/17 2:14 p.m.

In reply to KyAllroad (Jeremy) :

Here's the article. Compare away!

The0retical
The0retical SuperDork
11/14/17 3:11 p.m.

To be fair UTCC brings out some pretty serious and expensive hardware too. Featuring these builds here and there doesn't hurt anything especially when further back you have the low buck Miatas, that glorious ramp truck, and the garage build.

I've been laughing my ass off at the flack GRM has been catching on FB for covering the Simply Clean event. So much salt about what's become a fairly visible sub culture. It's not what I'm into it either but if a build appears well done I'll spend some time looking and I'm really interested in the direction they've pushed the aftermarket air suspension industry.

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