Classic 1964 El Camino drag racer goes fast in
by Sam Barer
As a child, Bret Swearingen raced his friends on
tricycles. He cannot
recall losing, explaining why he spent much of his teens at the drag
strip piloting his self-modified VW Beetle to eleven-second
quarter-miles, a mark besting stock modern Dodge Vipers by a full
Like most weekend warriors, work and family soon
took priority and Swearingen stopped racing, although he never stopped
restoring and hot rodding cars. Three years ago car-crazy Swearingen
left his job at Boeing to open Madrona Autoworks in Olympia, WA
providing him the opportunity to make racing a part of his life. So
when Swearingen found a 1964 Chevrolet El Camino for sale, he jumped
at the opportunity to use it as a starting point to create a classic
muscle car dragster.
Long before modern sport trucks like the Ford
Lightning, the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino proved the demand for
combining performance and light-duty hauling in a stylish package.
During the height of the 60s muscle car era, gearheads found
that tuning the lightweight Chevelle-based El Caminos resulted in
ultimate sleeper stoplight and quarter-mile bandits.
At 38, Swearingen is too young to have been
racing down Main Street in the 60s, but he knows all the old hot
rodder’s go-fast tricks, not to mention a treasure chest full of new
ones. With the help of
his wunderkind chief mechanic Adam Cummings, he transformed this 1964
El Camino from a stock vehicle with no drivetrain or electricals, into
a classic dragstrip monster.
The black car, mini-truck, truck-car, car-truck,
trar, cruck, or trucklet, or whatever you choose to call it, maintains
its cool lines with mostly stock panels, but shows its intentions with
titanic 28.5” by 18.5” drag tires and fuel cell consuming the rear
bed and a high-rise hood up front.
There’s no doubt, this ain’t your grandpa’s yard-waste
The classic 283ci V8 originally motivating this
1964 El Camino has given way to a gleaming 476ci big block V8 engine
running 13.5:1 compression. Expensive
racing fuel is sucked-down like it’s nickel beer night through the
Holley Dominator 1050CFM carburetor.
All told, this combination puts out over 700 horsepower.
Swearingen and Cummings finished the vehicle late
this summer, and only have one drag strip session on the engine.
On its maiden voyage, Swearingen piloted the El Camino to an
eleven-second-flat quarter mile. Not bad, considering that he was running conservatively to
learn the car.
Climbing through the rollcage I plop into the
wide flat seat in the largely stock interior.
Swearingen even decided to keep the thin, large diameter
steering wheel. Aftermarket
racing tachometer, oil and water temp gauges have been added.
With a turn of the key, the engine growls to
life. The whole car
shakes as each cylinder fires. I
clip the competition seat belt as Swearingen slides the two-speed
Powerglide transmission into gear.
The car rumbles out of the large bay door and out on the
street. Yes folks, this ten-second capable quarter mile car is 100
percent street legal with full mufflers and lights.
Onto the road we go.
The ride is very compliant, but the car understeers heavily due
to skinny front tires and lack of a differential.
With no warning, Swearingen lays his foot into the throttle
just a little, which produces enough force to slam my cranium back
into the rollcage. I
scoot down in the passenger seat to produce more headroom and grab the
rollbar at my knees for support.
On Swearingen’s favorite strip of safe, private
road, he demonstrates the raw power of this monster machine. After instructing me to take my “courage pills,” he drops
the floor-mounted shifter into low, applies the brake and proceeds to
warm the tires with a smoky burnout.
The engine revs with a thunderous roar and the car slides
sideways. He punches the
throttle, and in what can be described as the closest thing to being
the human cannonball, the car surges with a dragon’s roar from the
engine. My whole body is
propelled into the seat springs.
In a matter of seconds Swearingen lifts from the
throttle. I feel the need
to call my wife to say: “I survived”…and describe the feeling of
having 700-plus horsepower shove you squarely in the backside.
Sam Barer writes for Apex, an Olympia, WA based freelance
writing company. To submit a car for a future “Sound Classics”
story, email email@example.com
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