Treading a different path is not easy when you’re building one of America’s most popular street machines, but Queensland’s Ashley Laurence has done just that with his ’72 Camaro. Featuring modern styling and pro touring suspension, this Camaro also has something a little more interesting in the engine bay than a dime-a-dozen LS, in the form of a 502ci big-block with a side-mount blower.
First published in the February 2023 issue of Street Machine
Choosing the road less travelled has been a theme of Ashley’s life with cars from the beginning. “When I was growing up, my father got us into cars,” he recalls. “I was born and raised in Castlemaine, so we used to always go past the Castlemaine Rod Shop. We had Ford coupes, but I had a done-up LX SS Torana hatchback with a stroked 308 for a first car.
Since my father retired, we’ve started doing up more cars again.” With a 40,000-mile Yankee Falcon coupe and an LS-swapped ’66 Mercedes on the go, Ashley wasn’t really needing another build to occupy his time. But then, some of the best projects are the ones we stumble across accidentally.
“Buying this was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment thing through an online auction in Perth,” Ashley says of the Camaro. “It is a genuine Z28 going by the paperwork I’ve got, but it already had the nine-inch, 502 big-block and a TH400. I managed to speak to Chris Spaulding, who did all the previous works on the car, and he informed me that it was better than it looked in the photos, as the previous owner didn’t spare any expense. I did more homework and found out that Chris is the go-to guy for anything with Camaros in WA, so the deal was done in about a week.”
Already a tidy ride, the Camaro had been lavishly coated in Gunmetal Grey by Sam at Awesam Paintworks over on the left coast, with the chrome blacked out for a modern style.
Under the skin, significant upgrades in the handling department include a full front end from the pro touring gurus at Detroit Speed. This includes their adjustable coil-overs, front sway-bar, steering rack, upper control arms and chassis connectors, all of which radically improves handling over the floppy stock set-up.
However, while the Camaro was an awesome piece of kit when he got it, it didn’t quite hit Ashley’s brief for his perfect muscle car. “I wanted a tough street car, so the first change I made was to get the T56 Magnum manual,” he says. “I didn’t want a drag car, and that is what it felt like with the Turbo 400!
Half the fun of it is rowing gears, and having the double-overdrive is awesome on the highway.” Back in ’72, the Camaro was available with both three- and four-speed manuals, but the Mal Wood Automotive-fettled T56 Magnum in Ashley’s Camaro is a six-speed.
From there, the pony car went to Rides By Kam on the Gold Coast for a host of other important upgrades designed to make GM’s 1970s Mustang-fighter drive like a modern car. “I didn’t design it to be a show car; I built it to drive, as I like to use my cars,” Ashley explains. “I do look after it well, like I do with all my cars, but I didn’t build it to just take it from show to show.”
Renowned for their Elite-level builds featuring air suspension and smoothed undercarriages, the Rides By Kam team have brought Ashley’s corner-carver into the 21st century.
First up, the stock leaf springs were binned in favour of a custom four-link rear end, Ridetech coil-over suspension and mini-tubs.
The driver-oriented mods continue under the bonnet. Back in the early 70s, the hottest ticket in the US was Motion Performance’s 454ci conversions for second-gen Camaros (see sidebar below), but Ashley’s car has even more cubes under its rakish snout.
The thumping 502-cube big-block Chev has copped some judicious fettling in the form of 315cc alloy AFR Magnum cylinder heads, along with a 224º/234º cam, Edelbrock port EFI manifold, Holley Sniper ECU, Hedman headers, and a side-mount D-1X ProCharger. While he could have made ridiculous power, Ashley chose to keep it sensible and streetable.
“The car had a four-bolt-main 502ci crate motor when I got it, and the short motor is basically the same, but when RBK did the ProCharger, they fitted different heads, the EFI, and a custom intake and intercooler,” he explains. “It’s putting out around 700hp tuned for the street and to drive nicely. It didn’t need any more power, but it sounds tougher with the ProCharger. If we were going to push the car harder, we could put a bigger cam in it, but I wanted a nice-driving street car.”
Another area where reliability trumped all was the cooling system, both for the engine and the cabin occupants. To this end, a custom PWR radiator with matching thermo fans was given the nod, while Vintage Air a/c keeps the interior a nice place to be. “When we were doing the radiator, I wanted the biggest and best one you can put in it,” Ashley states. “I did not want to be driving around nervous about it overheating or having to turn the a/c off to keep it cool, as then you’re sitting in a sweatbox.”
Rides By Kam put bulk time into turning the cabin into a place of luxury, but one that is still identifiably 1972 Camaro. Heavily bolstered buckets replace the flat, stock tombstones that offered no lateral support, while the billet tiller, Pioneer stereo, custom centre console and Dakota Digital gauges offer modern upgrades.
With that blown big-block up front and a chassis ready to carve corners, all wrapped in a classic silhouette, it’s no wonder Ashley loves spending so much time driving his Camaro!
Aussie Ford fans avert your eyes: the first muscle car to wear the Phase III tag was actually a Chevy! During the US muscle car wars of the 1960s, there were plenty of new-car dealers hooking up with local race shops to build turn-key supercar-killers for their clients, and one of the most famous was Baldwin Chevrolet in Long Island, New York.
Starting in 1967, Baldwin partnered with Motion Performance to take brand-new Chevelles, Novas, Corvettes, Camaros and Biscaynes and stuff them full of angry V8s, ready to brawl stoplight to stoplight.
It all reached a peak in the early 70s with Baldwin-Motion’s Phase III GT Camaros and Corvettes, which boasted 525hp 454ci big-blocks, sidepipes, big-block Corvette bonnet scoops, and a heavily raked stance. Baldwin-Motion guaranteed 11-second ETs from the package, which was seconds quicker than anything available off the showroom floor of the time. Chevrolet had actually published some early brochures for the 1970 model-year Camaro that suggested a 454-powered model was coming, but none were built, and in any case, they were unlikely to have been as spicy as the Motion cars.
However, as Motion removed emissions control devices to build its street-race specials, the EPA soon got involved, threatening in 1974 to fine Motion US$50,000 per car if the company didn’t stop building the Phase IIIs. That was the death knell for the craziest Day Two specials in history.
1972 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
|Brand:||Chev 502ci big-block|
|Heads:||AFR Magnum 315cc alloy|
|Intake:||Edelbrock single-plane, custom intercooler|
|Fuel system:||Two Bosch 044 fuel pumps|
|Cooling:||PWR radiator and thermo fans|
|Ignition:||Holley Sniper HyperSpark|
|Gearbox:||Tremec T56 Magnum six-speed manual|
|Clutch:||NPC 10.5in twin-plate|
|Diff:||Currie 9in, 3.5:1 gears, LSD|
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES|
|Front:||Detroit Speed Gen2 front end, coil-overs, sway-bar and upper control arms; Flaming River column|
|Rear:||Custom four-link, custom mini-tubs, Ridetech coil-over struts|
|Brakes:||Wilwood 15in discs with six-piston calipers (f), Wilwood 15in discs with four-piston calipers (r)|
|WHEELS & TYRES|
|Rims:||Billet Specialties Invader; 20x8 (f), 20x10 (r)|
|Rubber:||Haida 245/30R20 (f), Winrun 305/30R20 (r)|
Rob and his team at Rides By Kam; Mal at Mal Wood Automotive.