540-cube big-block 1971 Chevrolet Camaro

Lee Payne has ticked all his boxes with this gorgeous 1971 Camaro

Photographers: Ben Hosking

LEE Payne is a wood butcher by trade, and this second-gen Camaro is the result of his first ever crack at building a car. It’s a certified Summernats Top 60 stunner and tough as the proverbial, and considering he threw it together in the shed at home with limited tools and experience, he’s suitably rapt.

This article was first published in the June 2020 issue of Street Machine

“I’ve read Street Machine since day dot, and I’d always wanted to build a car with the view of getting it in the mag,” he explains. Well, we’re glad to be of service.

Chev Camaro rear

As always, choosing a colour was a difficult decision, but after having the team at Bodywise Smash spray out some test panels, Lee opted for Dulux Miami Blue-Green, and we reckon the Camaro wears it very well indeed

Lee bought the car near where he lives on the NSW Central Coast as a painted roller, complete with a smattering of go-fast bits, most of an interior and a not-yet-fitted vinyl roof. His first move was to throw it on the hoist, strip every nut and bolt, and send the front clip off to Mark Sullivan at PROCoat for some wrinkle-black powdercoat. He then painstakingly set about stripping 40 years’ worth of road grime from the undercarriage with a drill and wire brush, before refinishing it in satin black.

Next, he cleaned up the nine-inch diff housing and buttoned it all together with a 3.7:1-geared Strange Ultra Case centre, before refitting it and the freshly coated and rebuilt front end back to the car, with 320mm Wilwood anchors all ’round. It was a roller once more, and so the time to source a heart for the second-gen was at hand.

Chev Camaro side

The Camaro has a decidedly tough US Pro Street-style look. The 540ci, 800hp big-block Chev is tucked beneath a reverse-cowl scoop, while the rolling stock consists of Weld V-Series wheels – 15×4.5 front and 15×10 rear – wearing Mickey Thompson Sportsman 28x6x15 and 28×12.5×15 hoops respectively

“By chance, a 540ci big-block Chev came along,” Lee says. “It was a crate engine that had been re-cammed and had a new intake fitted, and it dynoed at 800hp. I later found out it had the wrong head gaskets, and my mate Bob and I switched them out. I paired that with a Paul Rogers-built manualised, reverse-pattern TH400 with transbrake, along with a Dominator 4000 stally.”

Those 800 flywheel horsepower translated to 540hp at the tyres – plenty of torquey, aspirated, big-block shove from the Dart-blocked 540. It sports an Eagle crank and rods, topped with SRP high-compression slugs. The camshaft is a solid-roller unit of a considerable .785in lift and 268/283 duration. Dart Pro 1 alloy heads are topped with a port-matched Edelbrock Victor manifold and a 4500 Holley 1400cfm throttlebody, with the brains of the operation being a Holley ECU. Whopping 21/8-inch Hooker headers funnel gases rearwards through an owner-built twin 3.5-inch stainless system with Flowmaster mufflers, and it sounds the business.

With the powertrain in the bag, Lee whipped out the drill and wire brush again and cleaned up the cabin surfaces, before treating them to a double coat of black epoxy paint and Dynamat from the firewall to the parcel shelf, including the roof. A 78-litre Proflow fuel cell was powdercoated and affixed to the boot, alongside the battery box and fuel pump. “There’s just enough room left for a carton or two of beer!” Lee reckons.

The underside of the car might be finished in black, but it’s detailed to a Summernats Top 60 standard. Lee painstakingly stripped the floorpan back to the metal and painted it himself in the shed. Suspension consists of Pedders shocks all ’round, with Pedders coils up front and mono-leaf springs in the rear

His mate Bob Mason attended to the Camaro’s electrical system, using an American Auto harness that was tailored to suit the car’s needs. “Bob and I pressed on for days sorting things out with the wiring, and Bob made the fuel lines and stainless brake lines by hand while I made all the stainless brackets for whatever we required,” Lee says. “I took it upon myself to make all the hoses, and wow – what a learning curve that was! The Vintage Air air conditioning system was one of the best things I’ve fitted to the car; it works flawlessly.”

With the standard of the car heading on a certain trajectory, Lee made the call to redo the paint and bodywork, calling upon Jason from Bodywise Smash in Cooranbong to do the honours. After some experimentation with colours, they settled on the hue, and five weeks later the job was done. “It was an amazing transformation,” Lee says. “Words cannot describe not only how happy I was, but how invested everyone at Bodywise was in the project, and how excited they were to see it come to fruition.”

Stitched Up was tasked with the interior retrim, but with frontman Darren away from the shop, Guido took ownership of the job, delivering an interior worthy of Lee’s exacting standards and installing the vinyl roof. Lee worked in with Guido, assisting with the installation of components like the stainless-steel trim and rubbers, working odd hours to get the job done. All that was left to do before Summernats was to bounce the car back to Bodywise for a final buff and once-over.

Stitched Up Custom Trim dealt with the interior retrim, incorporating VE front seats and a standard rear bench. A Grant steering wheel and B&M shifter deal with driver inputs, while there’s a modest stereo for cruising tunes, and vitals are relayed to the driver via a Dakota Digital dash

“Summernats was a blast as usual, but to my surprise, the Camaro made it into the Elite Top 60 against some amazing cars,” Lee says. “I got interviewed and had pics taken, and one judge actually said it was their pick of the show – that’s a big enough accolade on its own.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get any silverware, but being in that hall against that calibre of cars was enough for me,” beams a justifiably proud Lee. “Just a few more shows, then it’s time to drive the thing!”


Paint: Dulux Miami Blue-Green

Brand: 540ci Dart big-block Chev
Induction: Ported Edelbrock Victor, Holley Sniper Stealth 4500 1400cfm throttlebody
Heads: Dart Pro 1 aluminium
Camshaft: Solid-roller, .785in lift, 268/283 duration
Conrods: Eagle
Pistons: SRP high-dome
Crank: Eagle
Fuel system: DeatschWerks 350iL pump
Cooling: Four-core radiator, twin Spal fans
Exhaust: 21/8in Hooker headers, twin 3.5in stainless system, Hooker mufflers
Ignition: MSD 6A, FAST I91 coil, Holley HyperSpark dizzy, ICE leads
Power: 540rwhp

Gearbox: Paul Rogers Turbo 400, reverse-pattern, transbrake
Converter: Dominator 4000rpm
Diff: Braced 9in, Strange 3.7:1 gears, 35-spline axles

Front: Pedders springs & shocks
Rear: Mono-leaf springs, CalTracs, Pedders shocks
Brakes: Wilwood 320mm discs and four-piston calipers (f & r)
Master cylinder: Hydratech

Rims: Weld V-Series; 15×4.5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson Sportsman; 28x6x15 (f), 28×12.5×15 (r)

My wife (treasurer) – without her it wouldn’t have happened; my mate Bob Mason for help with wiring, head gaskets and hand-made fuel and brake lines; Jason & Kylie Wise from Bodywise Smash; Rick from Bodywise Smash for brewing up such a spectacular colour for me; Rod Scott for the help with getting that BBC and trans in; Paul Rogers for ongoing support with the trans; Jessi for the final welding of my made-up exhaust; Darren & Guido from Stitched Up Custom Trim; Mick LePiane for sorting out my Holley Sniper; Mark & Mitch Sullivan at PROcoat; Jez at DVS for a great tune