Everyone has a different version of the true American Dream. For some it’s a successful business, for others it’s the ideal home, still others find it in the magic of a muscle car. Simon Wehr found his dream as a teenager in the form of the classic Camaro while living in his native land of Australia. His first impression was at 14 when he saw a first generation RS/SS RS version. From that moment on he was hooked.
While the cool Aussie cars were the Holden variants from GM Australia, he was set on someday owning an American-made Camaro. When gen five Camaro photos were released in Australia, with an announced marketing plan to sell them there as the new Holden Commodore, he started planning exactly how he wanted his Camaro dream machine to look and perform.
Then General Motors turned his dream into a potential nightmare when the once mighty industry giant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Simon feared his vision of a home-market, right-hand drive (RHD) Camaro would be killed as part of GM’s bloodletting.The fire of desire for his American muscle car dreams was nearly doused, but a flicker of light remained.
“IT PROMPTED MANY OF THE GUYS ON MY BLOCK TO COME BY AND ASK, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ ONCE THEY HEARD MY SUPERCHARGER ANSWER, THEY KEPT COMING AROUND TO WATCH THE PROGRESS. IT WAS A BIZARRE BONDING EXPERIENCE.”
He continued to believe he was meant to own a Camaro, and that he would find a way. His wife, ever supportive, bought him a Hot Wheels a 1:64-scale Camaro in Inferno Orange, just to keep his spirits up and his dream alive. Simon never took it out of the package and told his son, “You can open this package when I buy the real thing.”
As Simon recalled, “Later, seizing upon an opportunity to take a job in the U.S., I began seriously looking for my dream Camaro. I decided to special order, so that the dream would become reality exactly the way I had always imagined.” Many option boxes were checked off on the factory order sheet, and the color, of course, was Inferno Orange. The other critical options were the SS and RS packages, followed by the Inferno Orange and Trim Accent packages.
Upon delivery, Simon came prepared for a special personal moment. “I had carried the Hot Wheels version, still in the factory package, with me. I presented it to my son, and said, “Now you can open it; it’s yours.”
With the dream car now a reality, Simon’s efforts to finalize all of the important additional attributes began within the first two months of ownership. To more accurately control the Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual transmission, the shifter was upgraded to a Hurst billet Competition Plus model.
Next, more power was in order. Simon had seen a Whipple supercharger on display while in Australia, and had long ago added that component to his mental wish list. “The car was only a few months old when I purchased a Whipple supercharger. I did the installation myself in the garage. I was quite a spectacle in my new neighborhood.
Here was this heavy-accented foreigner with a brand-new American muscle car, the entire front end stripped off, with me working on the car each evening. It prompted many of the guys on my block to come by and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ Once they heard my supercharger answer, they kept coming around to watch the progress. It was a bizarre bonding experience.”
While the Whipple had to come on and off a few times as Simon learned that he had to engineer a few changes to the installation, he admits, “I got pretty good at it.”
Later, a bad tune resulted in some lessons learned, along with three broken pistons. “After the engine soured, I went to Pfaff Racing Engines in Huntington Beach [California]. I knew that if Gordy Jennings, their engine builder, could assemble a marine racing engine that would last for hours at wide open throttle, he could build a bulletproof street engine. While I desired 1,000 horsepower, I agreed upon 800 for increased reliability.”
From reading online forums, Simon found that Ryne Cunningham was a brilliant tuner and had earned a reputation for suggesting improved injectors. Simon put Gary and Ryne together to figure out the best internals for the build that included forged pistons by Mahle with a 10:1 compression ratio. Pfaff treated the heads to a competition valve grind.
The camshaft specifications were closely guarded, and the Comp Cam unit was modified by Cunningham Motorsports of Murrieta, California. Manley H-beam-design connecting rods were chosen for added strength. The entire LS-3 (6.2L = 376-ci) engine was assembled with ARP bolts and studs. A Melling oil pump was tasked with supplying proper lubrication pressure. FIC 80-pound, billet-tipped injectors were installed to feed the fuel. The engine’s crown was the Whipple 2.9-liter, twin-screw supercharger creating 12.7 pounds of boost.
To handle the spent gases, a Borla 3-inch stainless system was installed via XS 1 7⁄8 long tube stainless four-into-one headers. “The mufflers were carefully selected so that I can actually talk in the vehicle at cruising speeds. It’s a refined note, similar to a Maserati. No excess droning. When I step down on the accelerator, it completely changes to an aggressive and loud response,” Simon noted.
After the engine build and installation, the Camaro spent another month with Cunningham for a customized final tune.The results were recorded by Simon’s request. “I have a video of 782-plus horsepower on a 90-degree day. On 91-octane California pump gas. The car pulled so strong [680 ft-lbs of torque] that we had to sit on the trunk to keep the rear tires and wheels on the rollers.”
Speaking of those big tires and wheels, the 22-inch Icon wheels by Strut were custom color-matched, 22×10 in the rear and 22×9 in the front. TheVredestein tires have a high-performance ompound made in the Netherlands, a selection that was based upon performance and traction characteristics that are shared by OEM-specification for many European exotics. The rear tire size is 295/30-22, and the front, 265/30-22.
In addition to the Strut wheels, this Inferno-themed Camaro does not hide the fact it can burn up the road in style. Strut components play a unique front-end styling role with a custom color-matched upper and lower grille collection. Suspension modifications include Eibach springs and Whiteline bushings. But, Simon may not be done yet. When asked about the items on his wish list.“If money were no object, I would like to beef up the stock IRS rearend with ZR1 half shafts. I’d also like bigger tires to help put the power to the ground.”
In its current dream state, the Camaro has been on display at the SEMA Show and selected Goodguys events, and it’s won recognition awards at the Street Machine & Muscle Car Nationals and was awarded Best New Camaro at the Cruise for a Cure.
Make no mistake, Simon believes in driving his dream, and please, don’t ask if you can buy his exercise in aspiration. “I will pass it on to my son James,” Simon says. To young James, it’s an American muscle car dream version 2.0.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.