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Gulf warfare: Dave Sturrock and his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS

1 August 2015


Dressed in the iconic Gulf livery of yesteryear, and boasting the period’s finest go-fast goods, Dave Sturrock’s Camaro is a modern-day nod to motor racing’s golden era

Dave Sturrock is that guy. We all know that one guy, with the back catalogue of cars that most petrolheads would kill for — or at least sell a vital organ for. Dave’s automotive passion fuelled his great taste in cars, and saw him train as a Jaguar mechanic before enjoying a stint in Dallas, Texas, where he found employment as a Jaguar mechanic. During his US adventures, he met people such as Reher Morrison — one of the world’s biggest names in high performance engine building — as well as experienced drag racing a Pontiac Firebird and taking part in a Nascar driving course. Eventually, Dave settled back in New Zealand, but not before getting stuck with his “Texan” nickname.

Of course, with such an involvement in the automotive scene, as well as a karting background, it was only a matter of time before Dave would get sucked into the world of motor racing. When he did, you can bet he went all out. His 1976 Holden Torana SS coupe — featured 10 years ago in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 173 — was a work of art, built to race amongst the Central Muscle Cars (CMC) competitive ranks. 

The Torana ran a stroked 308, built by Dave to his own exacting standards. That, coupled with the Torana’s light weight and Dave’s natural ability behind the wheel, would often see Dave frequently placed comfortably in the top four at race meetings. Dave raced the Torana in CMC until 2007, when he decided to build a 1969 Camaro for the class, and sold the Torana to John Colebourne.

After stripping the ’69, Dave found it to be far from what he was after, and promptly sold it to Ken “Hoppy” Hopper. As far as Camaros went, he’d always liked the look of Shane Usher’s yellow 1967 Camaro RS/SS, so, when it came on the market, Dave was on the phone in a heartbeart. 

“I gave Shane a call, saying I was interested in buying his Camaro,” Dave told us, laughing. “He says ‘All right, but you’d best come over with a slab’ [of beer], and I remember thinking, Ooh, this could get dangerous! I only ever wanted the Camaro, not his engine, or wheels, or any of that …” 

After a night of drinking, Dave purchased the Camaro, minus engine and wheels — “I called [Shane] the next morning, and asked him, ‘Hey, did we end up doing a deal?’ Well, it turned out we had, so that was that,” Dave recalls.

It was at this time that the newly introduced Historic Muscle Cars (HMC) caught Dave’s eye, and the series’ period-specific requirements made it the exact class he’d been wanting to race in. The “selling point” of the HMC is in keeping everything period correct, which eliminates such things as adjustable coilover suspension and Nascar engines; instead the class focuses on authenticity and the period touches that made the 1965–1974 racing era what it was — with the cars as the stars. The series recently revealed their new calendar, which you can check out here.

After the purchase, the Camaro was stripped down in preparation for its rebuild — now to suit the HMC series rather than CMC. With the Camaro stripped, Dave decided to remove the roll cage and start from scratch. Dan Slater, of Slater Fabrications, was the go-to for the fab work, including the fabrication of the intricate roll cage and modification of the front subframe locators. Dan Hill, of Muscle Car Garage in Cambridge, was also enlisted, to replace just about every body panel imaginable, to give the Camaro a coat of paint when the time came, and to massage the rear quarters to accommodate the wide 15×10-inch rear wheels and chunky rubber required by HMC. 

As far as generating power was concerned, the engine was sure to be something special — Dave built the tough 308 in his Torana, and the Camaro wasn’t about to be any different. HMC rules state that “Cylinder head(s) and block must be of ‘standard’ material’”, meaning the Camaro would need to run an iron block and heads — a Dart 400 iron small block and Dart 23-degree iron heads fit the bill perfectly. Inside, a forged Callies crankshaft, Carillo rods, and JE pistons unite to piece together a bulletproof bottom end, displacing 406ci and producing what Dave estimates to be around 12:1 compression. 

Up top, Dave was planning to run an original cross ram manifold with twin four-barrel carburettors, until a closer examination of the HMC rules pushed him towards a period-correct constant-flow mechanical fuel injection. As great as a cross ram manifold looks, it’s got nothing on eight injection stacks as far as the ’60s cool factor is concerned. A period-correct Crower manifold was located, and Dave got on the phone to Kinsler, which shipped him everything he’d need to see his mechanically fuel injected dream come to life, from belt-driven mechanical fuel pump, through to the distribution block, and the octet of shapely velocity stacks.

With the colour looking as good as it does, it may come as a surprise to hear that the paint scheme was a tough one — Dave reckons he probably spent a year “umming” and “ahhing” over what to do. The paintwork had to stand out, and it had to be period correct, so when Dave came across a picture of a Camaro in the USA with this scheme, that did it for him. You can’t get any more retro than that iconic blue-and-orange Gulf livery. With Gulf’s blessing for him to replicate its logo and colour scheme, it was all go — Dan Hill sprayed the Gulf-coloured PPG liquid on, and Dave was delighted with how it turned out. 

What Dave wasn’t so happy with was how the Camaro looked on the Minilite wheels he had it sitting on — it just didn’t look right! Thankfully, the fix was an easy one, and came in the form of the chunky ET Wheels on which the car now rolls. Wrapped in Hoosier rubber, they just nail the tough ’60s race car look the Camaro needed to have.

The inside threw another problem Dave’s way. With the beautiful roll cage and paintwork, everything was looking spot on to whack an interior into. Unfortunately, Dave found most American race cars from the period to be ugly when it came to the interior, and he didn’t want to bring the car down with poor interior aesthetics. He knew he wanted the gauges to protrude from their mounting surfaces, but couldn’t work out how to do it. Dan Slater could, though, telling Dave to leave it to him. Dave did, and, once more, he couldn’t be happier with how the work turned out. 

The alloy clusters hold a full set of Auto Meter gauges needed to keep tabs on every aspect of the Camaro’s anatomy, complemented by a matching alloy case for the retro racer rocker switches and start button. A hydraulic handbrake comes in handy for uphill standing starts, but Dave explains, “Historic Muscle Cars is less about the racing and more about putting on a show, so I love to get her sideways and make a bit of smoke.”

The Camaro was finished at 6am on January 15 this year, and made its debut at the Gulf NZ Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs Raceway the very next day. The car was a huge hit, especially because of how perfectly its Gulf livery tied in with the theme of the festival. 
“I didn’t have huge expectations, with it being brand new and untested,” Dave says, “but I have to say it performed amazingly right out of the box.” 

Dave qualified sixth out of 28 cars, and finished the first race in fourth place, recording the second fastest lap time for the race — “It blew me away!” he exclaims. 

It may have taken two years longer than expected, and cost three times as much as anticipated, but Dave says that, given the end result, it was well worth it. It’s not just any guy who can say he’s got a car as powerful, as well built, and with as much of that arbitrary “cool” as the ones that made the ’60s one of racing’s finest eras — well, Dave Sturrock is that guy. We all know that one guy … 

1967 Chevy Camaro RS / SS

Engine: 406ci small-block Chev, Dart 400 iron block, Callies crankshaft, Carillo rods, JE pistons, ARP studs, Dart 23-degree iron heads, CNC ported, Comp Cams roller camshaft, Jesel valvetrain, Crower fuel injection manifold (period correct), Kinsler mechanical fuel injection, Kinsler belt-driven mechanical fuel pump, Magnaflow electric feed pump, Magnaflow fuel pressure regulator, MSD 6AL ignition, MSD magnetic pickup distributor, Taylor 10mm Pro Wire ignition leads, Elston Headers custom Tri-Y headers, stainless 3½-inch oval exhaust, custom alloy radiator, alloy heat exchanger / oil cooler, Peterson dry sump, System 1 oil filter
Driveline: Tex T101A four-speed race gearbox, dog engagement gear set, custom steel flywheel, 7¼-inch Tilton triple plate clutch, hydraulic operation, GM 12-bolt diff, Endevour Engineering full floating kit, Endevour Engineering axles, LSD, gear ratio varies with track (3.73:1 for Hampton Downs)
Suspension: Factory double wishbone front, leaf spring rear, top link arms, adjustable Watt’s linkage, Koni adjustable shocks, Eibach coil springs (front), custom sway bars
Brakes: Tilton firewall-mount pedal box, lug mount AP Racing calipers (period correct), AP Racing rotors (period correct), Coastline Automotive front hub and stub-axle stiffeners
Wheels/Tyres: ET Wheels, 15×9-inch and 15×10-inch, Hoosier 25½x8½x15, Hoosier 26½x9½x15
Exterior: PPG paint, Gulf Oil colours (period correct), expanded factory rear quarters
Chassis: Modified front subframe locators, custom roll cage
Interior: Recaro driver seat, Sparco steering wheel, Long shifter, Woodward steering column, Auto Meter gauges, custom dash panels
Performance: 600hp at the wheels