Words by Edrich Santos Photos by Alan Sevilla
While I don’t particularly have a deep devotion to American muscle, I seem to attract a lot of stories about them. No exception is the metallic silver gray 1977 Camaro of an old friend and former owner of an amazing Plymouth Duster that I had previously featured before (see Gorgosaurus!, C! Classics April, 2010). Bernie. His name is Bernie. The friendly Austrian fellow who astonishingly loaned me his Duster for that glorious (and hilarious) feature in our C! Classic section.
Bernie’s Duster was called ‘Gorgo’ back then. Today, he has another amazing machine: Norrin Radd. For those of you who know, the Silver Surfer –as Norrin Radd is also known– is an entity steeped in mystery and purpose; herald to a great power.
With our initial schedule already affected by uncooperative –no, downright annoying– weather, by the time we finally got around to doing our shoot, I suddenly realized that I had not seen Bernie since our last one with him (I think), so even if we’d been in touch, it was quite an exciting time to see my affable and well-mannered friend again. And let us not forget our amazing super-photographer Allan Sevilla who very patiently collaborates and enthusiastically participates in my often-experimental (and at times vaguely controversial) projects. Allan too is a good friend of Bernie’s so our get together was something we quite looked forward to.
Upon arriving at our appointed meeting place –a southbound petrol station– around noontime, I was greeted by a relaxed and predictably suave Bernie just outside a nearby restaurant. Allan soon arrived with all his gear and we proceeded with the first priority on our list that day. Lunch.
After eating, I had my first look at Norrin Radd as it pulled out of the petrol station: restored at the workshops of Frank Koh and Alex Claudio along with their experienced team at Route 66 in 2012. Route 66 is well known for churning out some of the tastiest American metal on the road this side of the archipelago. The car received further attention from Eddie Castro of Castro Motorworks, Angeles up north in well, Angeles. While up there, Norrin Radd had additional engine tuning resulting in the prodigious output of the 350 cubic inch engine and the brakes were sorted as well. Eddie is not related to Fidel Castro.
Bernie’s Camaro is an interesting symbiosis of loud and quiet. While clearly a machine made for thundering down endless strips of tarmac (and the occasional car alarm-tripping episodes at car parks) it also possesses a vaguely refined character despite the out going personality. The choice of color and Bernie’s penchant for not conforming has resulted in a somewhat restrained example of the car that, for the first time outsold Ford’s Mustang in 1977. Not for Bernie are the loud, racy, primary colors of the mainstream muscle car palette –Bernie decided to go for a sort of considered sophistication by opting for a somber, metallic shade for his new steed.
While a 350 V8 engine, mild racing cams with an Edelborck intake manifold and brand new 4-barrel Edelbrock 600 carburetor spewing fire and brimstone through galvanized X-pipes climaxing in a pair of 40’ Flowmaster mufflers isn’t exactly the final word on subtlety, our Camaro for today doesn’t go over the top with its paint job, choice of wheel size/design and the over all absence of filigree and other unnecessary mods making it almost refined –nothing’s over done. Add to that a freshly overhauled (and astonishingly smooth-shifting) Turbo Hydra-matic 350 three-speed Powerglide auto (a four speed manual was also available in 1977 for the motorsport-oriented) topped with a bright and shiny new B & M Quicksilver shifter and the full gentleman/scoundrel effect is complete. Quick note on the V8: for muscle car purists, not having V8 power and the requisite soundtrack is like going to your senior prom with your kid sister. Its just a bit lame; social suicide. So they say.
All this while you settle into generous, comfortable seats swathed in original Camaro seat covers and switch on the centralized air conditioning (lovely). Then you look across the vast expanse of what we might refer to as a ‘perfect study in American dashboard design’ (whatever) and look down the long bonnet streaked by two black racing stripes –that is, if you’re tall enough. People in my size will feel like Short Round sitting in what is undoubtedly a cockpit tailor-fit for the Eiffel Tower. Luckily, Indy was in the seat beside me.
When it came time for me to drive, it was already after we had dinner (we make sure our priorities are all sorted) and it was Bernie who first took the car out of the car park in case I accidentally modified the front bumpers on a sidewalk. He started the car by engaging the key to ‘on’ then reached up to push a starter button.
At least that’s what he said he did. I though we had launched an ICBM.
The engine just blew up in my ears and, and, and…
Well, anyway when the initial shock of the Norrin Radd holocaust had died down the car settled into what most enthusiasts would call a reassuring V8 burble that didn’t actually sound reassuring. In fact it sounded almost like the car was getting ready for it’s dinner with ME on the menu, the exhaust note going over and over again: food, food, food, food, food, food, food, food…
I felt like fresh meat.
At some point, Short Round (me) had to trade places with Indy (Bernie) so that I could take my driving impressions. I have always been quite reticent in public (as ironic as it sounds) and getting out of what must’ve looked (in the semi darkness of dusk) like Burton’s Batmobile in front of people passing didn’t help my holocaust-frayed nerves one bit. But I soldiered on and got into the driver’s office. Its hard to focus on the cultural nuances of American dashboard design while trying to navigate a fire-breathing, barely-restrained harness of horsepower and torque that has a taste for automotive journalists who can’t see over the dash on public roads.
Throttle response is prompt with useful travel that allows you to modulate the power delivery with some control so I was able to start out gently, feeling the torque and where the power band lay while all the time trying to maintain my professional composure by flawlessly conducting what I thought was a relaxed, pleasant conversation with an enthusiastic Bernie. It went well for the first few hundred RPMs, then for some inexplicable reason –maybe a desire to make the magazine look good to my gracious host, or maybe just plain stupidity (probably both) –I decided to give it the beans.
The Camaro just shot up through the stratosphere (i.e. down the road) as hundreds of American horses on industrial strength steroids and Viagra broke free and just kept going faster and faster for what seemed like the length of a Shakespeare sonnet and streaked past all the traffic on the road. And left my gonads behind. The Camaro snaps from somewhat Jekyl Estate to Hyde Park in the amount of time it takes you to sneeze on the throttle.
It’s not about the amount of power or rate of acceleration but the explosive revelation of it.
In its defense, I must say that since the power deliver is very easy to modulate because of the tractable throttle, controlling the rate of acceleration is an almost precision task. But should you decide to punch the throttle? One moment you’ll be trundling along, innocently enjoying the B-actor celebrity attention of driving a classic ’77 Camaro and then suddenly, your whole life will be literally flashing before your eyes. Your wet eyes. I pretended (for Bernie’s sake of course) that they were tears of joy. But they just weren’t. And just like a scary movie that you can’t turn your head away from despite being quite terrified, I kept my foot down for as long as possible before valiantly deciding to release the throttle when it got too much.
Then I tried the brakes. Which profoundly worked. I mean, they really are full of feel and perfectly weighted so my confidence began to grow –no, sorry– return. I tried the giving-it the-beans-bit a few more times and eventually got used to the power and the Lotus Esprit driving position. Astonishingly, I started to have a really good time. We drove around for a bit more before I tried the other thing: spirited cornering. Suddenly, my confidence instantly evaporated (again) and I just managed a fast(ish) sweeping turn –while wearing my best Han Solo expression (I failed miserably at that too). I’ve always been skeptical about muscle cars when the word ‘cornering’ is brought up –and Norrin Radd is no exception. But the Camaro can be maneuvered deftly by a good driver with lots of time behind the wheel –I saw Bernie make a really fast clip exiting a toll booth then rapidly change lane to pass a truck on its way out as well. Having said that, the Camaro, unfortunately in the end, still corners like a muscle car –a minor inconvenience for any true-blooded muscle car enthusiast. So, sports car drivers beware if you want to take the plunge: these are heavy, powerful machines that would rather eat the horizon than drive around in circles on a racetrack or pounce upon B-roads. They’re about freedom and letting go. If sports cars are all about smug smiles of satisfaction, muscle cars are about wide open-mouthed laughter behind the wheel that can make drivers look like air scoops large enough to collect every single protein-rich insect in their path. Show them some tight corners and there’s a huge possibility these cars won’t take you seriously.
So, apart from the driving position, the driver’s office in the Camaro was not a bad place to eat away the miles. There’s plenty of room for two in front and a bit of space behind for a pair of yoga instructors, the sound system is equipped with modern auxiliary connections (the only 21st century convenience) so you can plug and play your favorite music selection and of course, the air conditioning system as I’ve said actually gets cold. The switches are sparsely laid out making the dash neat and the instrument cluster is not over done.
So, another great car from our old friend Bernie. I can’t wait to see what else he’s got cooking in the skunk works.
That’s it for now.
Engine: Reworked Chevy V8 with mild racing cams, Edelbrock intake manifold and 4-barrel 600 carburetor
Displacement: 350 cid
Compression: 8.5 : 1
Transmission: 350 three-speed Powerglide automatic
Max Power: 300+ hp @ 4000 rpm
Max Torque: 320 lb ft @ 2400 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62 mph): 8.4 sec.
Top Speed: 180 km/h (realistically)
+ V8 power, pretty comfortable and cool image; paint scheme goes well with the car’s Super Hugger shape — not over the top.
– Its big, heavy, made for tall people (Bernie’s car is), corners like a yank tank and 350 V8 drinks like an alcoholic camel. Not that you care.
Editor’s rating: 9/10