Autocross Warrior: 1968 Camaro “War Machine”

Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about a first-generation Camaro. GM made hundreds of thousands and they have been the go-to platform for years, to the point the car has been celebrated and critiqued ad nauseam. When we first saw Rodney Prouty’s Camaro at SEMA 2023, we were smitten but had no idea the backstory of this man and his tale of grit, determination, and renewal.

Rodney located this Camaro as a basket case in San Bruno, California in 2007. He restored and raced the car until he lost his eyesight during the great pandemic of 2020. As we all remember, the world stopped at the dawn of the 2020s and Rodney was sidelined getting the medical help he needed. Miraculously, his eyesight was restored and he went on to transform his Camaro and resume racing. There’s that old saying “Who saved who?”, and the story of Rodney and his Camaro perfectly illustrates that adage.

To start this story, let’s rewind to 2006. Rodney was working at Steve’s Camaro Parts in Northern California, and his boss told him a lady called and asked if anyone there wanted to buy her 1968 F-body. Rodney elaborates further, “He told me about the car and said I should go check it out. I went to the lady’s house and she opened the garage and the first thing I see is the back end of a Camaro with Rally Sport-specific back-up lights. I tried to remain calm but was super excited. The car had kitchen cabinets on the roof, no glass or hood, and was filled with a bunch of parts, including a turbocharger. I asked her how much she wanted for the car and she said $100.”

The lady said, “This was an abandoned project of my son’s. He got involved with drugs and left the car at my house. I want it out of here.” Rodney forked over the $100, loaded it onto a trailer, and took the rolling shell of a Camaro home. Rodney’s dream of rebuilding the Camaro was not backed up by a big budget, so he got to work sleuthing and gathering up parts.

Rodney leveraged his parts counter experience and began to work every angle. He told us, “Customers came into work to upgrade their brakes, clutch, and steering. I always asked, what are you doing with the stuff you’re taking off?” This became a gold mine for parts for his car. He also scanned Craigslist every night and it became another avenue for the source of cheap parts. Rodney contacted a lady on Craigslist who was recently divorced and sold him multiple sheet metal parts for the Camaro. She told him, “My ex left them here and I’m off to the next chapter, take ’em away.” Rodney snagged all the parts for $50 and they live on as part of his Camaro.

Rodney’s wife Suzy didn’t want a car sitting in the garage for decades. So she told her husband it had to be built and running in two years. Eighteen months later, the car drove out of the garage, in all its junkyard-dogging glory. Then, it was off to a Goodguys autocross about a month after that initial drive.

When the Camaro was finished, it was powered by a 383 stroker and backed by a Borg Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission. Underneath, the car was running Global West and Detroit Speed control arms, Hotchkis leaf springs, and used QA1 single adjustable shocks. The rolling stock consisted of Wilwood disc brakes, Corvette C5 wheels, and sticky rubber on all four corners.

By 2012, Rodney was winning races and driving all over the West Coast to race autocross. In that same year, the 383 gave its last breath and an Ebay 6.0 liter LS (LQ4) swap was completed, retaining the carb from the old 383. At this point, vendors were taking notice and Ridetech sponsored the car with all-new suspension, control arms, a four-link rear, and triple-adjustable shocks.

Then the Camaro hit a rough patch. Rodney tells us, “The car took a turn, or rather didn’t take a turn in 2015. Then, while pulling onto the track at Columbus Goodguys, the clutch took its last breath. The car went onto the jackstands while a new transmission and some other bits were ordered. Then, life happened and the Camaro went on the back burner.” With his time freed up, Rodney built a hopped-up Rambler wagon for Suzy and took the car to SEMA 2017.

Little did the couple know what was coming next and this is where it gets a bit scary. Rodney told us, “A cross-country move spawned by a career change, led to us settling in a different state. In 2019, I realized I was losing my eyesight in the corner of my left eye. A visit to a local eye doctor confirmed that I had a detached and torn retina. To add insult to injury, Covid-19 hit and I was put on the back burner for treatment because it wasn’t life-threatening.”

Rodney continues, “To make matters worse, I was laid off from my job and that meant selling suspension parts as a side hustle. That became a full-time gig and an opportunity to rent a 5,000 sq ft shop to perform fabrication and installation, which morphed into Suspension Geek, my car-building business with my wife.”

Then tragically, Rodney’s other eye went dark. After Covid blew over, several surgeries took place to save his sight and miraculously, he regained 20/20 vision in both eyes. Rodney says “It was bad timing for this to happen to me during Covid, but great timing because we live in the 21st century with high-tech tools to fix my vision.”

In 2022, with his eyesight restored, Rodney got back into the racing groove by piloting Suzy’s Rambler at an autocrossing event. He was bitten anew by the racing bug and he committed to getting the Camaro back on the track by the end of the 2023 season.

Slowly but surely, he worked extra hours at night to get the Camaro back together. Currently, it’s running the same LQ4 V8, but with around 600hp, thanks to ACES “Jackpot” fuel injection and a bigger cam and lifters. He also upgraded the transmission to a sequential  TCI 4L60 with an autocross valve body.

Underneath the sheet metal is a factory subframe with a Ridetech front suspension, and in the rear is a solid rear axle with a TCI rear torque arm. The car rolls on prototype USMag Grand Sport wheels. These were one-of-a-kind wheels designed before USMag was bought by WheelPros. The car is running Continental EC Force tires, 315x30x18 front,  and 315x30x18 rear. Rodney also changed the color to blue with red and white stripes.

Inside the cockpit are Kirkey aluminum racing bucket sets finished by Suspension Geek, Stewart Warner gauges, and a Ridetech roll cage. Rodney told us, “I drive it like I stole it. My cars always handle well, it’s what I do for a living. I drive hard and people say it’s “violent” riding with me. The Camaro was built to take turns, not go straight. That is not to say that they can’t go straight, but there are differences between cars built to do land speed or drag racing, and those built to do autocross. I prefer more than 500 horsepower, closer to 700 is best. I like a lot of torque and a lot of brakes to make up for the quick torque.”

Rodney continues, “I run the Pro Class at Goodguys, CAM-T in SCCA, and Vintage class in Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge events.  I have competed in countless Goodguys and NSRA events, winning the National Championship Goodguys at Scottsdale in 2014. I have had podium finishes at a handful of Optima events as well.”

These days, Rodney and Suzy are busy with their business, Suspension Geek. It’s a full-service shop that specializes in developing suspension solutions for restored, pro-touring, resto-mod, and race vehicles. They aim to inform and educate customers so they get the very best results for their investment. Additionally, they have a shop that offers full suspension tuning as well as full builds, drivetrain, paint, and body.

In their spare time this spring, the couple will be showing and racing the War Machine Camaro at various LSFests across the country. Be sure and check out Rodney and Suzy’s Camaro if you are attending as well.

Photography – Adam Hosey

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an editor at Power Automedia. He digs all flavors of automobiles, from classic cars to modern EVs. Dave loves music, design, tech, current events, and fitness.
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