What’s your favorite muscle car? Can you even pick one? Well, Rick Baumgart decided he wanted to take a 1970 Camaro and blend it with a 1969 Camaro, and add some features from a 1973 Roadrunner, along with a 1978 Trans Am, so he could have several cars in one. The one-off “Gnarlee” Camaro is the final product, and it’s one unique ride.
Rick grew up in the perfect time for any muscle car fan—the 1960s, and 1970s. If that wasn’t enough to incite an attraction to high-performance vehicles, Rick’s father also owned a Mobile gas station, and he would score rides in any muscle car that would bring him along. After Rick got his driver’s license at 16, he was ready to jump behind the wheel of anything he could find.
Gnarlee’s story begins in Monticello, Iowa, where Rick purchased the car back in 2011. Rick knew he wanted to do something different with this build, so he didn’t want to buy a nice car to cut up. Gnarlee was just a bare shell with no drivetrain and was kind of rough around the edges. Rick worked a deal with the owner and purchased Gnarlee for just $3,000.
Rick wanted a car that was different than anything else out there. If you ask Rick what year Gnarlee is, he’ll tell you it’s a 1969 ½ Camaro. How did he come up with that and the car’s unique look? Rick worked with Lorenzo’s Paint & Body and HM Auto to blend the 1970 Camaro tub with the nose of a 1969 Camaro, along with the hood from a 1978 Trans Am that’s wearing the scoop from a 1973 Roadrunner. A custom split bumper was made, and the fuel fill was moved to the right side of the roof.
Every inch of the Camaro’s body was modified to ensure it looked perfect. The rear taillights were converted to LEDs and mounted inside Marquee fixtures. The marker lights were flush-fitted to the body to give the Camaro a sleek look. Hinges from Ring Brothers were added to the hood to give it a custom look to match all of the sheet metal fabrication that had been done in the engine compartment.
“I sold tools for years and would meet incredibly talented people at different shops. I would take the car to their homes and would do some trading for tools or money for work, but I was amazed at their pride, passion, and extra ideas they would bring to the project. The car took 10 years to complete, as anything you do that’s custom seems to take four times as long,” Rick says.
Body modifications don’t mean anything if you can’t cover them with the right color. Rick let his painter go wild with the color and theme for the car, a decision that paid off.
“I couldn’t figure out color and design for the car or the interior, so I contacted artist Eric Brockmeyer. He went to a Blue Angels airplane show and he decided on a blue for the color and he went with an old bomber-themed interior with distressed leather. We then added a one-off fabricated spoiler to the rear of the car, added grilles to the lower front fenders, mini-wing spoilers to the front valance, and custom wing bracket to the mirrors too,” Rick explains.
Steve and Chris Williams from Lorenzo’s took care of Gnarlee’s custom fabrication since there’s no blueprint for a build like this. Not only did they make sure the body was perfect, they also designed and installed the Camaro’s roll cage and custom wheel tubs. Everything had to work together so the Camaro would have a cohesive look.
The Camaro received a significant number of chassis upgrades to match its one-of-a-kind body. A Heidt’s Pro G front subframe was bolted to the Camaro’s body as the base for the front suspension. Heidt’s tubular A-arms, rack and pinion steering, and QA1 coilover shocks were also added to the upgrade list. In the rear, you’ll find a Heidt’s Pro G IRS system with a 9-inch center section filled with 3.50 gears. QA1 coilover shocks were also added to the rear suspension. To bring the car to a stop, Rick bolted on a full set of six-piston Wilwood brakes. Schott Wheels, which are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport tires, keep Gnarlee planted to the road.
Chevy purest will look under the hood of Gnarlee and have a heart attack at first when they see what’s living between the fenders. At first glance, you’d think there’s a Hemi powering the Camaro, but that’s not the case. Under the custom valve covers and intake covers, you’ll find a healthy LS-based engine. The aluminum mill was worked over by Motorheads in Ely, Iowa, and features a set of ported heads and a bumpstick from COMP Cams. Exhaust gasses are removed from the engine by a set of custom headers and a custom exhaust that exits under the license plate. A TREMEC six-speed transmission is bolted up to the LS engine to round out the drivetrain.
Inside the Camaro, you’ll find a lavish interior that was created by Interior by Jordan’s Custom Stitching of Amana, Iowa. Richard had several things he wanted changed about the interior, and Jordan’s team made it happen.
“I don’t care for the plastic dash that the 1970 Camaro came with from the factory. So, a completely custom metal dash was fabricated and is home to Dakota Digital gauges and a Pioneer stereo head unit. Super trick headrests were fabricated and now hang from the roll cage. The cup holders and armrest were also fabricated to match the rest of the interior’s theme. We even added Vintage Air AC to the car to make it comfortable to drive during the summer,” Rick states.
Rick enjoyed the build process that brought Gnarlee to life. Taking the time to build the car he wanted was worth it because he has something that no one else will ever have.
“I love the vehicle because it is a one-off and made from different years and models. When I was very young in the early ‘60s, every magazine displayed cars with all different makes and models of parts intertwined in a build. I really love that idea, and it makes you think outside the box. I had many nice cars, but when I would go to a show, there would be 10 cars the same year as mine but painted a different color, with different wheels, and air cleaner. Now when I go to a show, I have the only one. Love it or hate it, the car is an extension of my personality,” Rick explains.
Approaching a build from a different angle doesn’t always go as planned, but the chance Richard took on Gnarlee has paid off. The Camaro has stacked up some serious hardware at major shows across the country.
“The car has won two awards at Goodguys shows since we brought it out. We also won some awards at the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit and the World of Wheels in Omaha. The car was even crowned Grand Champion at the St. Paul Street Machine Nationals, as well as being invited to SEMA 2022. I couldn’t be happier with the reception Gnarlee has received,” Rick says.
Rick Baumgart’s Camaro does a great job of combining several vehicles into one and making it look natural. Now, Richard’s build isn’t for everybody, but he didn’t build the car for other people, he built it for himself.
Photos provided by GrimCreative