A look at the SCA Chevrolet Camaro
Bill McGoverns Bevan Imp has won the British Saloon Car Championship yet again because of the system which gives maximum points scores for class wins, but the real glory in the series has fallen to the car which finished third, the monster Camaro Z28 driven by Frank Gardner, which has won outright seven of the ten Championship races, the immaculate red, white and green colours of its Castrol sponsor treating the crowds to a genuine spectacle at the bead of the field. Everybody seems to know that George Bevan is the man behind the Imp, but little is known about the man and the organisation behind the Gardner Camaro, better known to racegoers as the SCA Freight Camaro. The man is Adrian Chambers whose brilliance and will to succeed is reflected in the two focal points of his life: the fairytale growth of his SCA company from one lorry origins six years ago into one of the largest international trucking firms in the business, and the creation of what is almost certainly the fastest Group 2 car in Europe.
SCA are not merely sponsors of the Camaro; they own it lock, stock and barrel and what is more unusual in this era of trade named racing cars, they even built and developed it. At the company’s British freight depot at Island Row, London E.1., there’s a curious anomaly amongst the workshops devoted to maintaining huge Scania lorries and Mercedes vans: a small competitions department with two full-time mechanics who do nothing else but prepare and cosset the Camaro. As with all men who prepare racing cars, “mechanics” is the wrong terminology for Norman Lockwood and Mark LeSueur, two of the best racing saloon engineers in the business. Both are ex-Alan Mann Racing, Norman later worked for Chris Amon and was responsible for building Amon’s Can-Am Ferrari, and Mark has spent three or four seasons working on Gardner’s cars. The status of these two is indicative of the level on which Chambers treats his company’s racing involvement; only winning is good enough and to win you must have the best of everything—the best engine builder, the best driver and the best team. Alan Smith is the best contemporary V8 engine builder, so naturally the Camaro’s 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 was entrusted to him.
Chambers is an enthusiast who raced for nine seasons in 1,000 c.c. Formula 3, Elans, Elites and lightweight E-types and once ran a team of four cars with Harry Stiller, but he emphasises that his current racing involvement is on a business rather than a personal enthusiasm level. The name of the game is publicity and good publicity can only be achieved by winning, so if the car ceased to win there would be no SCA Camaro. Out of 13 starts last season, the Camaro had nine outright wins and smashed outright saloon car records 10 times, so Chambers was happy. The team represents a £20,000 capital investment to him, which he reckons he could recoup almost in its entirety if necessary, while running costs break about even with the aid of sponsorship front Castrol and Goodyear and the happily frequent prize-money. Once running costs began to exceed income significantly, Chambers would withdraw; that’s the businessman part of him showing through.
Most of SCA’s freight business is in Italy, Germany, France and the Low Countries, areas which are favourably interested in Group 2 saloon car racing so that they tend to pay a lot of attention to the Camaro’s successes and consequently to SCA. While British television gives little coverage to saloon racing, German television and the news media in general are more conscious of its popularity and give it good coverage, all good European promotion for SCA, particularly when the Camaro can reduce the products of Cologne and Munich to ashes in front of the home crowd, who love this big, noisy, crazily fast machine.
Chambers sees the Camaro purely as the Catalyst in his overall promotion and publicity campaign. To reap the rewards of success on the circuit he has a back-up campaign involving taking clients and potential clients to races where they develop a personal interest in the car and its success, throwing champagne parties and employing a bevvy of girls to distribute stickers at the circuits. He can directly attribute a large amount of new freight business to the achievements of Gardner in the Camaros over the last two seasons. True, a lot of the new trade has come from the motor industry but it doesn’t matter where it has come front so Icing as it’s there.
The SCA racing team was formed only about 22 months ago and in 1971 entered an old-type Camaro for the Australian, which has now been sold to a fuel company in Australia and New Zealand, where it will he campaigned by Gardner through the winter, with Lockwood and LeSueur in attendance, before being handed over to Kevin Bartlett for next year.
Last season saw a disappointing start for the team because their new model Camaro didn’t immediately come up to expectations. Many of the lessons learned on the old car were incorporated in the new style shell, but failed to work because the two cars proved entirely different in characteristics. As a result the old car was used to start the season while a fresh development programme was undertaken on the new one. Fuel injection was substituted for the Webers for the first race, but this didn’t work because of incorrect tail-pipe sizes, so Webers were reverted to for the rest of the season rather than waste further time. However, that problem has been overcome and the Smith engine will carry injection for next season. From the strength point of view the later model car proved superior because Chevrolet had endowed it with bigger wheel bearings and beefier subframes, wishbones and front uprights, but on the other hand this meant an increase in unsprung weight, creating problems with dampers in particular. Proving that styling changes aren’t always for the best, the later car proved to have a less “slippery” shape than the old one, in spite of its appearance to the contrary. Fortunately Chevrolet homologated an injection-moulded plastic rear spoiler which corrected this situation.
The Camaro’s main problem is its weight: 28 cwt. unladen, 30 cwt. with driver and fuel! In fact this is more than the homologated weight because many of the things allowed in Group 2 increase weight and there’s no legal way of reducing it any further. The massive steel roll cage in particular adds an appreciable amount, but as Chambers says: “Put 28 cwt. on its roof at 100 m.p.h. and . .!” Of course, there’s a fantastic amount of power to move all this along, Smith’s three engines for last season producing 485 b.h.p. at the worst and 505 b.h.p. at the best, sufficient to move a ton-and-a-half at 170 m.p.h. at Hockenheim. Next season’s engines are expected to give 520 to 530 b.h.p. on injection.
General Motors themselves have shown quite an interest in the SCA Camaro because it’s the only new-shaped one to prove successful in their new guise and as Chambers and Gardner found out when they visited GM earlier this year, the SCA car is far better developed than the Trans-Am ones, particularly in the suspension department. Although the power outputs are the same, Chambers believes his car could beat a Trans-Am Camaro hands down in a straight match.
The sheer weight of the car has made development difficult within the framework of Group 2. “If we still had Group 5 we could do fantastic things with it,” Chambers says, “As it is we’ve made a silk purse out of a sow’s car simply by grabbing a bit here and grabbing a bit there.” Because the car is a front runner and likely to be stripped by the scrutineers at any time, there can be no question of improving the car further by bending the rules.
So far as bodywork is concerned the limit of development has been reached; there can be no further lightening and the spoilers must stay as they are. The only homologated lightweight item is a glassfibre bonnet, which does little to offset the weight of the big steel doors and boot lid, Wheel arch extensions were made in steel as a protection against lesser fry which might try to encroach on the monster’s circuit space, though the only contretemps last season was with Dave Brodie’s Escort in the Silverstone TT, which resulted in Gardner taking to the grass, damaging a steering hall joint which broke 10 laps later to put him out of the race, Isis only retirement in the Series. Apart from the laminated screen, safety glass is retained all round as dictated by Group 2 regulations, a ruling which Chambers would like to see changed for safety reasons.
The V8 uses the same small-block Chevrolet item as F5000, with the longer-throw (3.5 in.) standard forged crank to increase the capacity to 5.7-litres. Rods are the heavy duty option, carefully matched, polished and balanced and pistons are Forged Tru. Bearings are Glacier. Valve gear follows F5000 principles; but the camshaft is a three-quarter race Smith item designed for torque, rather than a full-race tale. The heads run a compression ratio of 10.5:1 and exhaust through Derrington manifolds. Dry-sumping is by Weaver three-stage pump and sump pan.
The old engines had four, twin-choke, down-draught ‘Weber 48 IDAs fitted to a Moon manifold, while the injection system consists of a Lucas Formula One metering. unit, MacKay manifold with indirect injection below the butterflies and an in-built fuel cooler, a Cosworth high pressure pump driven mechanically by the engine and a Lucas low pressure pump in the boot. This arrangement will give a 20 to 30 b.h.p. increase at the top end, a proportional improvement in the middle range and much better throttle response on corners.
Conventional Castrol oils are used in the engine and Muncie “rock-crasher” close ratio gearbox, but the stresses generated in the differential called for a special brew. Extra attention has to be paid to the rear axle, which contains a General Motors limited slip differential, half-shafts being prone to breakage. SCA cut the risks by crack testing them after every race and changing them after every two races. Though the surfeit of torque creates axle reliability problems, it does mean that the final drive ratio is less critical and only three alternative ratios need be used.
Suspension development proved the greatest headache because of the weight it carries. Pick-up points can’t be moved in Group 2, so geometry had to remain the same and most of the improvements perforce consisted of anti-roll bar and damper alterations. The team worked on the principle of limiting movement dynamically so that the static setting was almost the same as the running setting, a decision which called for very heavy dampers and massive anti-roll bars. Normal Bilstein gas-filled racing dampers are used all round, with settings evolved after a tremendous amount of development work in conjunction with Bilstein. Springs are the conventional competition options offered by GM. Rear suspension is fairly conventional in layout, rigidity located fore and aft and laterally by twin radius rods, a Watts link and the Bilsteins.
The lack of wheel movement makes the Camaro very twitchy indeed, which is no joke with over 509 b.h.p. under foot and puts a high premiurn on driving skill. “It needs a real man to drive it,” says Chambers, “Courageous, experienced and strong, and to my mind there-are only three people in this country who could drive it to the limit: Gardner, Muir and Redman.”
Tyres are extraordinarily critical on the Camaro, again because of the weight. Clambers feels that Goodyear have been magnificent, carrying development so far that they’ve readied the stage where advanced tyre construction and suspension refinement has allowed them to provide this 28 cwt. car with tyres of the same compound used on F1 cars a -year ago. With further tyre development through the winter, he expects to Nee a half to one second a lap improvement on times through this alone, with at least another half-second advantage from the increased power, However, he believes that this will be the physic-al limit of improvement.
The car is very sensitive to damp conditions, so that two or three types of intermediate tyres are necessary, whereas the lighter saloons can rely on one. This means frequent wheel-changing, an operation which has been facilitated by some legal rule-bending: standard wheels have five-stud fixing, which the regulations say must remain. so knock-on adaptors have been cleverly bolted to the original studs. Rapid removal of the single big wheel nuts is made even easier with the aid of Chicago Products air-wrenches. The wheels themselves are Lola ones, basically to Indianapolis design with thicker walls than normal sports car wheels. Sizes are 10 in. x 15 in. front and 14 in. x IS in rear, placing 10 in. and 13 in. of rubber on the road respectively.
The mind boggles at the thought of a ton-and-a-half of motor car decelerating from 170 us. ph. for a 45 m.p.h. corner for lap after lap, but that’s exactly the sort of demand imposed on the Camaro’s brakes. Regulations state that the same swept area and pad size must remain, otherwise there’s relative freedom. Fortunately Chevrolet homologated the larger Corvette brakes on Z28, which has allowed SCA to modify them basically to Can-Am standard. Twin servos (separate from and rear) work twin-pot alloy calipers on 11.9 in. x 1 in. ventilated discs all round. Even so, cracked discs were frequent at first, a fantastic amount of heat being generated. Air ducts were fitted to direct air to the middle of the discs and the problem was cured. Apparently the brakes are now superb, for which Gardner must be eternally grateful.
Apart from the brace of Corbeau bucket seats, the Britax full harness, full instrumentation including a Smiths chronometric rev. counter in place of the speedometer, a lack of carpets and the roll cage, the interior is unimpressive at first glance. However, it contains an interesting motor racing development which could render redundant the pit signal board as we know it: the Interlap digital lap timer. This is an electronic device which reads off the seconds and tenths on a facia-mounted screen. At the end of the lap an antenna on the roof receives a signal from another antenna mounted conveniently near the pits, stopping the timer for 30 sec. with the elapsed time on the screen so that the driver can read it. Meanwhile the computer continues to operate and after 30 seconds the indicator jumps ahead to the new elapsed time. Fittipaldi’S JPS-Lotus is the only other racing car to he fitted with the Interlap at present, but if it proves reliable the system could become widely accepted.
SCA’s plans for the coming -season are to contest all the British Saloon -Car .Championship rounds with the Camaro and one-off appearances in selected European Touring Car Championship rounds, for which longdistance events they believe the car to be adequately reliable. The only limitation will be the 25-gallon tank, which will mean more frequent stopS than the Cologne Capri to satisfy the V8’s prodigious thirst, though 20 gallons can he poured in front churns in less than 40 seconds. Gardner will continue to drive for them—the only racing he’ll do since he’s confirmed his retirement from single-seaters again.
However, should Frank eventually decide to retire from motor racing completely, he could always offer w drive one of Adrian Chambers’ 60 Scania prime-movers or one of the two-tone Mercedes vans which deliver from London to Paris door-to-door every day at a rate of five-pence per kilo. He would be joining the 250-strong staff in Britain or alternatively he could sign on with SCA at one of their subsidiary companies in Milan, Dusseldorf, Rotterdam or Basle. Twenty-thousand tons Of dry and tanker freight per year go front Britain to the Continent via SCA, giving Adrian Chambers a turnover of £1.7 million pounds per annum, not had after starting with that one lorry six years ago. Incidentally, the company still owns that same lorry, which has completed three quarters of a million miles. This 10 cylinder, 16-litre, air-cooled diesel Magirus-Deutz with it 12-speed ZF box is now being rebuilt as new; Adrian toyed with the idea of keeping it as a show-piece but decided to press it back into service. The SCA Camaro isn’t likely to complete three-quartets-of-a-million miles, but there again the Magirus-Deutz won’t be the main challenger for next year’s British Saloon Car Championship. . – C.R.