Landmark birthdays can either be stressful or the stuff memories are made of. For Becky Austin, her 40th clearly fell into the latter category.
"She wanted a car for her 40th birthday... something built in her birth year," said Becky's husband, Steve.
He not only found the perfect car, he was able to keep it a secret during a whirlwind 3 1/2-month complete rebuild at All Angles Collision Repair and Restorations.
"It was kind of hard... her brother knew, her dad knew, the neighbors knew. Probably half of Wichita knew about it," Steve said, grinning. When it came time to reveal the gift, he lured Becky to All Angles on the pretext that she could meet baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez and actress Kate Hudson, who were in Wichita to check on work being done on Rodriguez's Ferrari.
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She saw the "Happy Birthday" sign draped across the stunning silver Camaro. "I was a little disappointed. I really wanted to meet them. But after a couple of margaritas, it was OK," Becky said.
She had seen a silver Camaro at a car show and commented on it to her husband. "I just like the body style," she said. Duly noted.
Steve found the Camaro RS/SS tucked away, in pieces, in a garage on North Broadway. The owner, who had taken a job in Germany, said it had been stored since the mid-1980s and he realized he was never going to get his high school car back together.
"The motor was missing, which turned out to be a good thing," said Steve, who said that freed him up to pick the engine he really wanted. That engine was a 40th Anniversary ZL1 5.7 Liter all-aluminum V-8 produced by Chevrolet. He was able to purchase serial number 84 of only 427 produced.
Bart Brown, owner of All Angles, was commissioned to do the project. The engine received a beefier camshaft and carburetor setup along with a set of Hooker headers, boosting its output to an estimated 700 horsepower, according to Brown. He added a Keisler TKO-600 5-speed manual Tremec transmission to the package, which delivers power to a triangulated GM 12-bolt rear end carrying 4:10 gears.
Speed Tech suspension components are complemented by a computer-controlled Air Ride Technologies air bag system, which allows the Camaro to cruise at a safe ride height, but also strike a low-down stance when parked for display purposes.
Massive Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners are used for stopping power. Rushforth10-spoke billet wheels, 18-inchers in the front, 19-inchers in the rear, mount extra wide Nitto tires, which have had all the sidewall printing shaved smooth for a cleaner look.
"Our goal was to kind of make it subtle, until we put the vents in the sides," Steve Austin said. When there was no room to run the exhaust over the rear axle, a special set of capped stainless steel mufflers was installed, with the outlet pipes venting into ports built into the lower rear quarter panels. The drip rails were removed and modern flush-mount windshield glass was installed.
The bumpers were trimmed and molded into the rear and front valances, with a special aluminum chin spoiler added to the front, which also got a Chip Foose grille insert and matching headlight doors. A set of 1968 Camaro taillights were used for added interest and the rear deck lid has a handle carved into its surface, not just for looks, but for utility.
Brown chose a Sikkens pewter paint, but took all the golds and browns out of it. "We wanted it to be as bright a silver as we could get," he said. And bright it is, with the "ghost" rallye stripes on the front fenders virtually disappearing in direct sunlight.
Inside, Bill Shively at Unique Auto Upholstery used a half dozen hand-selected premium leather hides in silver to cover the door panels and the bolsters on not two, but four Procar bucket seats. The rear seats had to be heavily modified to work with the full-length console. Perforated suede complements the leather in the seats.
A Hurst 5-speed shifter, along with a beautifully finished 3-spoke factory-style rosewood steering wheel, create a period-correct set of driver controls. A custom gauge pod, mounting a full array of Auto Meter gauges, provide on-the-road feedback. The car also is equipped with power steering, air conditioning and power windows.
"This car was built to drive. Everything works... it had to be built to stand up to Wichita's roads," Brown said.
"I've only driven it once... with all the weather we've been having, I've been kind of hesitant," Becky Austin said. The interior is just the right size for the Austins and their 16-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, she said.
"It will take some getting used to," she said of the manual gearbox. "I have driven nothing that's quite this powerful.
"I think it will be great to go to the grocery store... to make a fast run to pick up some milk," she said, joking.
The Austins also plan to make as many car shows with Becky's silver birthday present as possible this coming season.