Legendary IMSA Second-Gen Camaro Racer Gets Back On Track

10 min read

Legendary IMSA Second-Gen Camaro Racer Gets Back On Track

10 min read

After stints wrenching on race cars for Formula 2 and FIA Endurance efforts, Swiss-born Phil Henny landed a gig with Scuderia Filipinetti in 1966, serving as a crew chief for the Ford GT40 driven by Peter Sutclife and Dieter Spoerry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His work on that GT40 subsequently caught the attention of Caroll Shelby, who in turn brought Henny on board to help with the development of the MK IV GT40 – the car which Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt piloted to an overall victory at Le Mans in 1967.

A few years later, Henny decided to put his own racing experience to good use, competing in various IMSA and SCCA events between 1969 and 1976 in everything from open-wheel racers to GT cars. For the latter, his chariot of choice was a thoroughly reworked 1971 Chevrolet Camaro, a car which saw action in the 24 Hours of Daytona and a number of other notable races throughout the mid-1970s.

It’s around that same time that Henny’s racing parts company, Drysumpsystems, saw a sudden influx of demand due to a NASCAR regulation change. With the parts business requiring more and more of his attention, Henny eventually decided to hang up his racing suit so he could devote more of his time to Drysumpsystems, and sold off the Camaro in turn.

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Phil Henny piloting the Camaro in competition back in 1975. Note the cutouts for the 1974-77 taillights in the body.

The car then spent decades shuffling from one collection to another before ending up in the hands of Ken Garchow, a retired optometrist from Portland, Oregon. “I started road racing in big bore because of a friend of mine,” Garchow explains. “He and his wife were competing in vintage road races, but at the time I didn’t have a car that could race in their class. I’d competed in an E30 M3, a 240Z, a Datsun 510, and a 964 widebody 911 previously, but none of those were eligible for the big bore classes that I wanted to run in.”

His search began back in 2016 with a simple Google query and some basic criteria: It had to be a second-gen Camaro, and it had to have a historic racing pedigree to satisfy the sanctioning bodies’ rules.

“I found this expired listing,” he says. “Somehow I tracked down the owner, and that’s when I discovered all of this background information about Henny, and how this car was built to compete in the IMSA series.”

He then headed down to Paradise, California to make a deal with the owner, who had already spent a number of years working to get the car race-ready. “I don’t think any race car is ever truly race-ready,” Garchow jests. “The guy was honest and forthright about what the car was, and the work was done well. But until you actually get the car on the track, you don’t have the whole story. You just don’t know where the deficiencies are until you put it in that kind of environment.”

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Not long after he took possession of the Camaro, Garchow discovered that the body needed a bit more attention to bring it up to the quality of most vintage race cars that are competing today. “At some point the car had been hit on the passenger door,” he says. “The door had been replaced, but the tub itself hadn’t been fixed, so we had to spend some time getting that straightened out.”

The car hadn’t seen a road course since 1986, so once Garchow got the Camaro back to Oregon, he quickly set to work getting the car prepared to re-enter competitive racing. “That first winter before I raced it, we spent about 2000 hours on it, getting it back to period-correct specification as far as performance and aesthetics,” he says. “And along with getting the car fitted for me, there were just a lot of little things that needed to be done to ensure it would be safe and pass tech inspection; there were a few leaks we needed to address, it needed new pumps, hoses, tires – the kinds of things that need to be addressed after sitting for so long.”

Weighing in at 3000 pounds wet, the car gets its motivation from a dry-sump 350ci Chevy small-block with 12.5:1 compression that’s been outfitted a NASCAR-spec rotating assembly from Joe Gibbs Racing, along with a Lunati solid roller cam, Pro Action cylinder heads from Racing Head Service, and an Edelbrock Victor Jr intake manifold, while a Vertex magneto handles ignition duties.

And as with its original engine setup, a Holley four-barrel oversees the distribution of air and fuel. "We’re running a Holley 850. These are just a staple of big-bore vintage racing. If you need a jet and you don’t have one, your buddy in the garage next to yours probably does. And it’s never let us down.”

Hooked to that small-block is a four-speed Jerico dog box, which sends the power to a full-floating Ford 9-inch rear end. Stopping power is provided by the braking system from an L88 Corvette, while the factory-style suspension system has been beefed up with stiffer front springs and upgraded monoleafs in the rear, NASCAR-style sway bars, solid bushings, and Viking double-adjustable dampers at all four corners.

Garchow says that he typically competes in a handful of Portland-area races each season, though the extra downtime provided by 2020 has allowed him to focus on getting the Camaro’s reliability up to snuff with the rigors of sprint racing. “Right now we’re still developing the car. As a vintage racer, there’s a sense of responsibility as the steward of this car to show and race it as it was intended to be, but I also don’t want to destroy it. So when I get a vibration, I usually head to the pits to check u-joints instead of trying to drive through it. I don’t want a driveshaft coming through the floor of that thing.”

The extra time has allowed him to make a few other tweaks in preparation for the 2021 race calendar, refining the brake system and making improvements to things like the pedal assembly, shift linkage, and aero kit. “I had sort of a wish list of things to work on, and last year allowed me to get further down that list than I had expected,” he says. “Now we just have to see how things shake out this summer.”

IMSA Camaro 1975 Super Chevy magazine

The Camaro was featured in the October 1975 issue of Super Chevy magazine.

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Ken rows through the gears of the Jerico four-speed dog box with a Hurst Competition/Plus shifter.

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Garchow tells us that his engine builder’s dyno simulation software pegged the small-block’s output at about 650 horsepower.

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Ken notes that the Hooker side pipes are the original exhaust system pieces from the car’s 1975 race season.

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In SVRA and SCCA vintage racing, the big-bore classification typically applies to anything with an engine displacing 3.0-liters or more. That results in fields that are mostly comprised of old school American iron, though Garchow points out that Porsches, BMWs, and other European models also go toe-to-toe with Detroit’s finest at these events as well.

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While the Camaro has a VIN from 1971, it wears a fiberglass nose from a 1974-1977 Camaro in order to maintain the period-correct vibe from its racing career in the mid-70s. “Part of the appeal of road racing is that I get to drive the hell out of this thing and not get arrested,” Garchow said with a laugh.


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