South Australia churns out fully engineered, mega-tough streeters at a rate of knots, including Joe Esposito’s killer 1968 Camaro RS/SS featured here. This twin-turbo, 615ci big block-equipped pony car will be wearing rego plates by the time you’re reading this, and even better, it’s been finished to such a high standard that it’s already claimed some Elite-level tinware.
First published in the April 2023 issue of Street Machine
Thanks to his day job as the SA consultant for PPG Paints, Joe has the know-how to achieve a first-class result, and proudly states that the lion’s share of the assembly happened in his home shed. “I’ve been with PPG for 30 years, and while I go into resto shops daily, I didn’t have the coin to send the car to one, so I built this at home. I just wanted to create a nice, tough street car,” he explains.
When Joe bought the Camaro back in ’97, he’d initially planned on an old-school pro streeter, but a heavy tub job was all that transpired before other projects absorbed his attention. A pair of HK Monaros were the primary culprits, though once complete, their sale funded the rest of the Camaro build.
Finally, a decade after purchasing it, Joe properly hooked into the ’68. By then, Adelaide International Raceway was a shadow of its former self, which really took the shine off the race aspect of the build for Joe – not to mention he’d just returned from a heady trip to SEMA.
Both these factors influenced the direction of the build.
“I loved the no-chrome look the American guys were doing, and at the time we had AU$1.05 against US$1, so it was the best time to buy parts. People were going berserk,” Joe recalls. Investments in decent upgrades for the car followed, including a tubular front end, custom billet rims and a stonking twin-turbo big-block powerhouse.
We’re talking about a massive 615ci big-block Chev with a Dart Pro M 10.2-inch tall-deck foundation. It’s filled with a Callies 4340 forged crank, Callies forged H-beam rods with JE Pro Series slugs.
A custom Isky bumpstick operates the valves in the Dart Pro 1 alloy heads, and the whole shebang is fed via a Dart manifold with a C&S billet aerosol 1500cfm blow-through carb set-up plumbed to a pair of T4 Turbonetics 96mm snails. For street duties, the Camaro should pump out around 700 horses.
“I had the 615ci Chev built in the States by Dyno-Flo,” Joe says. “They had previously built engines for me; I just get them looked at when they arrive in Adelaide. It’s a no-brainer, and I’ve had no issues.”
Robust hardware flows down the line, too. There’s a reverse-pattern TH400 with transbrake, a three-inch chrome-moly tailshaft and a CDS Engineering-built nine-inch complete with Strange nodular case, Detroit Locker, Race Products full-floater, 3.9:1 gears and Moser 35-spline axles.
Colossal 20×15 Billet Specialties Rat Tail rims aptly fill the heavily tubbed rear, and they’re matched by 18x7s up front.
When it came to the colour, Joe required something exceptional – heck, the bloke is surrounded by bespoke colours and high-end resto shops day in and day out! “I have access to all of the latest technology and tinters, so I could produce a colour that I loved,” he says of the expertly crafted PPG Juicy Orange with crystal flake. “Everything is painted; only a few dash knobs are chrome for some contrast. It took more work to paint it, but it didn’t cost me much.”
For Joe, it was the hands-on experience that became his ultimate takeaway from his time on the project. “I loved getting back on the tools and painting the car in my shed – no one could believe that I did it,” he laughs. “It was enjoyable getting my mates – my team – together; many laughs and cursing were shared over those years.
There were many late nights that turned to early mornings, and a few times everyone just had enough of the project!”
Even so, Joe and his mates pushed to get the Camaro buttoned up for a November 2021 Adelaide Auto Expo debut. Here, the fresh pony car took out a few awards including Runner-Up – Elite and a Meguiar’s Superstars invite.
Meguiar’s MotorEx 2022 presented a hurdle, though, thanks to the ’68’s inability to neatly slot into Joe’s preferred street-based judging category. “The Camaro has rough paint under the guards, as I’ll be driving the car, so I instantly lose points in the Elite category,” he says. “But I couldn’t go into Street Elite either, as the car wasn’t registered.”
Happily, it soon will be. Joe steered the build towards street duties from the outset, and after a few more engineering tests, the mild-mannered Camaro will shortly gain the required tick of approval.
Still, while the car will be a street beast first and foremost, we reckon Joe won’t take much convincing to turn up the wick and send the ’68 down the track for a blat or two. “At 15psi, it could make something like 1500hp; it’s got heaps more in it,” he enthuses. “It’s too nice to be a race car, but if we get something going at Tailem Bend, maybe I’ll see what it can do. I might try roll racing, too.”
1968 CHEVROLET CAMARO RS/SS
|PPG Juicy Orange with crystal flake
|Dart Pro M 10.2in tall-deck
|C&S billet aerosol 1500cfm blow-through
|Inlet manifold: Dart
|Twin Turbonetics T4 96mm
|Dart Pro 1 alloy
|Iskenderian custom hydraulic-roller
|Callies forged H-beam
|JE Pro Series
|Callies 4340 forged
|Moroso billet, Moroso sump
|Aeromotive Eliminator pump, 102-octane
|Be Cool radiator, custom-built intercooler
|3in stainless headers, 2½in custom exhaust
|MSD 6AL and leads, MSD Blaster 2 coil, MSD billet dizzy
|TH400, reverse-pattern, transbrake
|Strange 9in nodular case, Detroit Locker, Race Products full-floater, 3.9:1 gears, Moser 35-spline axles
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|Speedtech custom IFS tubular front, coil-overs, QA1 shocks
|Adjustable QA1 shocks, leaf springs
|RetroRack with electric power steer, cut-down original column
|Wilwood six-piston calipers, 355mm cross-drilled and slotted rotors (f & r); tailshaft-mounted park brake
|Wilwood, VH44 booster
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Billet Specialties Rat Tail; 18×7 (f), 20×15 (r)
|Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R; 18×8.00R26 (f), 20×18.00R29 (r)
Roc Leonello for wiring; Mario Leonello for bodywork; SA PPG team – Rob, Peter, Tyson, Antony & Evelyn; Carl Butler; Brad and Brenton Dalwood; Jason Staltari; Daniel Bodjo; CDS Engineering; Sot Kavuki; Carafano Motor Trimmers; Dave Carafano; Rob at RMF; Marsy Herrera; Scott Lang for body prep; Carline Findon for exhaust