July 24, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Henry Garcia's Car Shop Camaro in the staging lanes at Detroit Dragway

The Car Shop Camaro funny car was one of a kind, with a Charger roof grafted onto a Camaro body.

Henry Garcia and the Car Shop Camaro at Detroit Dragway

The Car Shop Camaro was one of the more interesting funny cars of the late ’60s. It was one of a kind, with a faux-vinyl roof from a Dodge Charger grafted onto glass ’69 Camaro body shell. There wasn’t another car like it anywhere, but the odd juxtaposition of Chevy and Mopar made for an extraordinary funny car body style.

Driven and campaigned by Henry Garcia, the Chevy-powered flopper was raced extensively throughout the Midwest and Southeastern United States. AFAIK, there isn’t any relationship between Joe Garcia, who drove the Out of Sight Camaro and the driver if this car, Henry Garcia.

Built by famous Customizer Dave Stuckey

On his website (which I can no longer find online) customizer Dave Stuckey claimed he designed and built the Camaro flopper. While Stuckey is best known for show cars such as the famous Lil’ Coffin, he also had a hand in a number of drag cars. In between show cars, he was involved with various sling-shot dragsters. When Del Hienelt ran off the track at the wheel of the legendary Seaton’s Shaker ’65 Chevelle match racer, Pete Seaton tapped Stuckey to help hang 1966 Chevelle body panels on the old ’65 altered wheelbase chassis.

According to Stuckey, the Car Shop Camaro project came about when he was selected to reconstruct an exotic sports car. An executive at Car Shop Incorporated of New Orleans, needed a metal worker to restore his accident-damaged European supercar. Stuckey was recruited based on his long-established metalworking skills.

Somehow Stuckey progressed from patching-up the high-performance luxury import to building a funny car for Garcia from the ground up. That included building a chassis of his own design as well as producing that unique body. I don’t know if anyone else was involved in the car’s design, but on his website, Stuckey claimed responsibility for the car’s architecture.

Half Chevy Camaro, half Dodge Charger

Maybe Stuckey got a deal on a couple of wrecked body shells. Or maybe his customizer roots made him want to create something a little different. Perhaps he he just thought the Camaro would look cool with a Charger roof-line.

The Car Shop car featured a one of a kind grille

The car incorporated some interesting touches. As you can see from the attached photo, the body features Canard style wings. Several other funny cars experimented with wings, but Stuckey and Garcia approached the problem from a completely different direction. The wings are installed behind the grille and open up to holes in the hood.

This accomplished two things. First, it reduced the aerodynamic drag of that vertical Camaro grille. Secondly, it produced downforce on the front wheels, always welcome when a race car exceeds 200mph.

Those large openings in the grille perform the same function of the current slant-nose funny car front ends, while still retaining the look of a stock first-gen Camaro. I’m no areo engineer, but this seems like a great innovation and I wonder why other cars weren’t built with this refinement.

I have seen scattered reports that the Car Shop car was an ill-handling beast. I am not sure I believe that. On two different occasions, I saw the car run at Detroit Dragway and it seemed to run as well as the other fuel cars. One time Garcia did experience a gigantic wheelstand, but that is more about the clutch and the driver’s foot than the chassis design.

I also followed the car in the pages of Drag News, and Garcia laid down some good numbers and won a fair share of match races. So it seems the car didn’t suffer any more handling woes than most late ’60s funny cars.

The Car Shop Camaro. Too radical for the sanctioning bodies

As far as I know, Garcia never ran any national events with the Car Shop Camaro. That could be because he preferred to make money match racing, but I suspect the car wasn’t, considered “stock enough.” That odd body style was just too radical. I’m not kidding. Today, you can stick a decal of a car logo on an unrecognizable blob of carbon fiber and it will be legal to compete as a funny car. Fifty years ago, however, the sanctioning bodies wanted funny cars to look like the cars available at the local dealerships. That probably made the CSI car illegal for funny car eliminator at many national events.

Writing in Dragster Insider, Phil Burgess, mentions that Rolong Leong’s 7/8 scale mini-Charger was illegal for NHRA competition in 1969. I can only imagine what the sanctioning body tech inspectors thought about a Camaro with a Charger roof.

The blatant irony is the Car Shop car was immediately recognizable. Anyone who takes one look at the car and fails to see an early Camaro needs to surrender all credibility as a car enthusiast.

Today any lump with four wheels can pass as a funny car. Five decades ago, however, the Car Shop Camaro was limited to being a match racer. A mostly successful match racer, but it wasn’t welcome at National Events. 🙁

I took this photo from the CSI car hauler in the staging lanes at Detroit Dragway. I did this often back in the day. I usually didn’t ask permission and no one ever said anything to me. I didn’t stay long. I just climbed up on the hauler, grabbed my shot and jumped down. Of course I only did this before the start of eliminations. I wouldn’t want to get in the way when racers were thrashing to get ready for the the next round.

So what happened to the Car Shop Camaro?

Unfortunately, The Car Shop francise went out of business, and AFAIK that spelled the end for the CSI Camaro.

Anyone know what happpened to Garcia or the CSI Camaro after it left the match race circuit? With it’s destinctive roof line, it would be hard to miss even if it was repainted.