First things first! I want to give credit to all those at Hot Rod Magazine who contributed to this story!
By Rob Kinnan
photographer: Wes Allison
I wanted to share this story with everyone! Im sure most of you know this story, but for those of you who don't...If you don't bleed Camaro Red after reading this...you never will.
The Porsche and Ferrari wankers never knew what they were getting themselves into. The second running of the Silver State Classic was expected to be much like the first--a group of high rollers bringing together their European exotics and assorted oddball sports cars (with a handful of Corvettes, Panteras, and other domestics thrown in) to let it all hang out on a closed section of highway in the remote desert of Ely, Nevada. Ely is so far out in the middle of nowhere that we were shocked they had electricity, let alone an actual high school with a football field. But there we were, standing on the field surrounded by beautiful people and their beautiful automobiles, being careful not to bump into anyone lest we cause them to dribble their chablis. The Euro supercar owners at best tolerated the Vette guys and were confident that a red Italian car would run the highest speed of the event. It would be a red car, that's for sure, but not one of theirs.
Normally, a crowd would gather around such a spectacle, but not here. Not today. The other competitors kept their distance, and all they could do was stare, mouths agape in sad realization that they would all be racing for Second Place, and even then, nobody would care. For this garish American "godawful hotrod" was sure to not only eat their lunch, but to also spit it back in their face and walk off with their trophy wife.
Sure enough, with HOT ROD's Joe Pettitt doing little more than providing right-side ballast, Big Red destroyed the 94-mile course in 27 minutes, 54 seconds, for an average speed of 197.99 mph and a radar-recorded 222-mph top-end velocity. That was in 1989, and the legend of Big Red had just begun.
In reality, Big Red's legend began a year or two earlier. The original Big Red was a '69 Camaro with not much more than a rollcage and a John Lingenfelter-built 540 big-block that made 800 hp and pushed the car to over 200 mph. The first time the world saw the Gottliebs' '69 Camaro was at the '88 La Carerra Road Race, a flat-out 120-mile road race in Ensenada, Mexico. Foolish officials started Big Red third on the grid, but it quickly passed the two "faster" cars that started in front of it, then chased down a handful of the motorcycles that got even bigger head starts. Near the end of the race, however, with R.J. driving and Chris Kaufmann in the right seat, the car went off the road and crashed. R.J. and Chris walked away but the car was toast. Before they even got home, a new '69 body was located and they wisely decided to drop it on a full stock car-style tube chassis. Bill Osborne of Inland Chassis Design was given the task of building the car.
Osborne built the chassis using the day's state-of-the-art stock car parts designed to handle the high-speed loads that come with open road racing. Larry Mollicone freshened the 540 and they backed it with a Jerico four-speed. An all-steel '69 Camaro body was dropped over it, complete with functioning doors, roll-up windows, and a stock dash. The seats were even leather-covered Recaros, not full-race aluminum jobs. The difference between Big Reds One and Two were immediately obvious, and all involved knew the car was going to be unstoppable.
Big Red Two, now known simply as Big Red, ran La Carerra a few more times until that race turned into a rally, prompting Dan Gottlieb to help start the Silver State Classic open road race. That bonzai run with HOT ROD on board happened at the '89 Silver State, where Big Red really got the world's attention. This and other magazines showcased this glorious car (including a great Road & Track shootout wherein Big Red flat-out embarrassed a lot of ridiculously expensive tuner exotics), and readers immediately recognized it as quite possibly the coolest Camaro of all time.
And they began to try to duplicate it.Within a few years, we started seeing wide wheels and big brakes on all-around performance cars. As Pro Street turned to full race, a new trend caught on spurred by Big Red's stance and attitude, germinating in, most notably, Mark Stielow's One Lap of America '69 Camaro, built and raced in 1993. Stielow, through Chevy High Performance's Jeff Smith, named the trend Pro Touring, and we were off to the (street) races. Popular Hot Rodding loved the idea but refused to acknowledge its competitor's success in naming the trend first, and dubbed these cars "g Machines."
There had been IMSA-styled Monzas and Corvettes since the early '80s along with cars built to handle well, but it never really caught on as a trend until Big Red hit the scene. Call it Pro Touring, g Machine, or whatever, but all these types of cars owe their heritage to a bright red '69 Camaro from Southern California that has yet to lose a fight.
Big Red won Silver State again in 1990, this time with a slower 189.25 mph average (208-mph top speed) due to a bad intake valve. After that, R.J. got more heavily involved in Super Production racing with a variety of cars, and in 1996 Big Red was loaned to Don Laughlin's Auto Museum in Laughlin, Nevada, where it sat for 8 years. After a few years of people asking what had happened to the car, Chris Kaufmann suggested to Dan Gottlieb that they blow the dust off Big Red and take it to a few shows. That turned into a full-blown restoration, and soon the competitive hunger started growing. Dan and R.J. updated the car to feast on some more Italian food--and this time it could have some Pro Touring cars for dessert.
Think you got something for Big Red? Prove it. On May 14th, R.J. Gottlieb and Big Red will be taking on all comers in the Z2Z Big Red Challenge, a contest to determine who can accelerate from a standing start to 200 mph and then bring it back down to a complete stop in the shortest distance. Think of it as an extreme version of the popular 0-100-0 shootouts you've seen in the past. It'll happen where the legend began, in Ely, Nevada, in conjunction with the '05 Silver State Classic Challenge, on a 2-mile-long course. The winner will hold onto the Z2Z Perpetual Trophy for a year and have his or her name engraved on the base. We're not sure how many cars will show up that can actually get to 200 mph in only a mile, and the thought of standing on the brakes at two bills is a little shaky, but they're going to do it.
But that's not all for Big Red. R.J. plans on regular floggings at open-track events and anywhere else the car is challenged. Maybe you'll even see a HOT ROD-organized event where Big Red takes on the world. The icon is officially out of mothballs, and it's looking to kick some exotic tail.
R.J. Gottlieb, Los Angeles, CA
Engine: It's all serious Rat, with a Donovan aluminum block, a 4.250-stroke King crank, Carrillo rods and 4.50-inch JE pistons that make 540 cubes. Airflow Research heads, a Pro Systems Dominator on a Dart intake, and custom headers with Borla mufflers make enough power to push the stock body well over 200.
Power: It makes 874 hp and 655 lb-ft of torque, both at 7,000 rpm.
Transmission: The Jerico four-speed crash box is linked to an RPS Stage IV clutch with a Cyn-R-G segmented flywheel and a carbon-carbon dual-disc setup.
Rearend: A full-floating 9-inch Ford rearend takes all the abuse. The axles are 31-spline, gun-drilled pieces, and the gearing changes depending on the venue. They run 3.25:1 gears while testing on a closed track, 2.79s for an event like the Z2Z Challenge, and a 2.49:1 ring-and-pinion for 220-plus mph speeds at flat-out open road races.
Frame: Bill Osborne's Inland Chassis Design built what is essentially a stock car chassis with 2x3 rectangular-tubing framerails. With the stock '69 Camaro body dropped over it, the stance is unlike that of any other Camaro you've ever seen.
Suspension: The front end is supported by coilovers with Grigg's Racing shocks and Vogtland springs. The steering is a Stiletto rack-and-pinion, and the tubular sway bar is from Speedway Engineering. In back, it's also Grigg's/Vogtland coilovers with a three-link and panhard bar.
Brakes: Baer Racing is one of the car's primary sponsors, so it's no wonder Big Red wears the latest Baer 6S six-piston brakes clamping huge 14-inch rotors on each corner. The car will need those big brakes to come down from 200 mph.
Wheels: The wheels are "high-tech, old-school" 18-inch BBS three-piece units with magnesium centers.
Tires: Bet you've never seen an early Camaro with 335s on the front. Now you have. They're 335/30ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS-Fioranos on all four corners.
Body: It's a bone-stock, all-steel '69 Camaro RS body with steel everything except for a fiberglass cowl-induction hood.
Paint: Mike Face Auto Painting applied bright red paint with white Z/28 stripes.
Interior: The stock dash is still covered by a stock pad, and the comfy seats are leather-covered Recaros (circa 1988). Even with a full `cage and aftermarket pedals, the car is shockingly comfortable. It feels like a stock '69 Camaro inside, and we'd have no problem going 200 in it.