Regardless of whether your goal is to go out for a cruise or go all-out on the track, an LQ9-powered, twin-turbo Camaro can do it all. But as you shall soon see, this ’68 Chevy is much more than just a bright blue beacon for building boost. For Arizona native Nate Burger, discovering that his close friend was hoarding what some may consider being a dream machine was all it took to turn a lifelong goal into a hell-raising reality.
Nate is no stranger to extreme speed. For guys like him, modifying various modes of transportation is more than just a hobby or passion, it’s all they know. The 36-year old has long been hooked on high-powered hair-raisers, admitting that while ’67-’69 Camaros have always taken a top slot in his book, there have been quite a few other machines and moments that have influenced his favoritism. To this day, Nate still gets goosebumps thinking about the time in middle school when he rode in his buddy’s dad’s stock four-speed 1970 Chevelle SS for the first time; or how the movie “Better Off Dead” turned him onto classic Camaro aesthetics.
By the time he finally got around to hearing a full-blown, alcohol-fed big-block belting out its battle cry for the first time, Nate knew that the sensation shaking within his chest and firing every synapse in his skull could never be replaced. From that point forth, all the guy could do was work toward purchasing, modifying, and racing petrol-powered “big boy toys” and overcoming every imaginable obstacle life (and death) could throw at him.
Growing Up, Dropping Out, and Moving On
Youthful influences are a powerful thing and having a father who is really into all things automotive certainly shapes one’s outlook on life. But then again, so does tragedy. When a rare disease began to take its toll on Nate’s father, he was only 15, and from that point forth, things began to change… permanently.
Nate was knee-deep in his first build at that time, a ’69 Nova with plenty of performance potential, but all of the wrong kinks kept it from running right. Stuffing a completely refreshed and upgraded 355 into the relic was a daily obsession for the father/son duo, as together they turned wrenches — a ragged Chilton’s manual serving as their only guide.
Bullhead City, Arizona, doesn’t have a lot to offer, especially if drag racing experts are your desired companions. Being that phoning a friend or inviting a neighbor over for some beers and a bit of timing advice is entirely out of the question, Nate and his old man were forced to figure the build out on their own. But as weekly trips to the VA hospital in Las Vegas became more frequent, and the much-needed disability checks remained on hold, Nate’s decision to drop out of school to take care of his father became an imminent truth.
Nine long months, several hundred cups of instant ramen, and one sidelined Chevy Nova project later, and the disability checks finally began to arrive in the mail. Despite the relief that these payments provided, Nate humbly admits that while he’s ashamed that he never finished high school, caring for his father and his family was an undeniable responsibility…a decision that no child should be born to bear.
Eventually, the father/son family of two would land their first big break, with Nate securing a job at a local muscle car shop in Ft. Mohave. Between turning wrenches and flipping burgers at a fast-food joint, along with routine disability checks, the family’s financial future was kept afloat up until it came time to move to Chandler, Arizona. However, having a VA hospital and the support of Nate’s mother right up the road only slapped a band-aid on the situation, and in 2007 Nate’s father succumbed to the whims of the rare disease that had ravaged his body for years. The man had served both his country and his child well, leaving in his wake a painful void that only his fatherly advice and friendship could fill.
Off-Road And Out Of Control
Automotive influence is a wonderfully unpredictable thing, for no one ever truly knows exactly how it will manifest. For Nate, his father’s passing was an open wound that also opened his eyes to a side of his father’s legacy that he had yet to explore: off-roading.
While big-block GM muscle had been Nate’s core focus in high school, he fondly recalls the first vehicle he ever had a hand in building, which just so happened to be his old man’s CJ7 Jeep. Like many middle-class Americans, the vehicle was being built in the Burger family’s driveway out of no fewer than three donor Jeeps, and many a long afternoon was spent ripping the dilapidated 4×4 vehicles apart.
Nate relished in the tasks his father assigned him, finding functional parts, pulling them, sandblasting, painting, and assembling, serving as the subsequent assignments. To this day, Nate decrees that he’ll never forget that first drive after the build was completed. This gateway experience would forever leave him hooked on petroleum-powered modes of transportation.
Years later, and that old Jeep was creeping back into Nate’s subconscious, and in 2009 he sold his beloved ’64 Chevelle and bought both a truck and a dirt bike. But that first ride was a rough one, and in an attempt to impress a lovely young lass, Nate foolishly launched an ill-advised jump. After an unceremonious backflip attempt and a 15-20 foot drop, Nate landed flat on his back, his brand-new bike crashing down from above. His neck had been broken, and severe liver damage had caused internal bleeding.
Amazingly, Nate was able to get up and limp over to his truck, almost completely pain-free. His only wish at the time was that he just wanted to go to sleep, a sure sign that internal bleeding was beginning to take its toll. An urgent care visit confirmed the severity of the situation, and as fresh blood channeled into his veins via an IV, it became apparent that the swift actions of the first responders had just saved Nate Burger’s life.
Fresh out of the hospital a few weeks later, with a sizable plate embedded in his neck, Nate made one of the dumbest decisions of his life: he hopped back on his bike. Three broken bones in his left foot and who knows how many disapproving looks from doctors and nurses later, and Nate had a few more plates permanently inserted into his body, along with one hell of a hospital bill.
In order to fully recoup, Nate wisely decided to take a break from riding, instead opting to spend the better part of the following year indoors building a new bike. All it took was one mistake out in the desert, followed by a shattered collarbone, for things to turn to pot once more. This time around, it was no ordinary break, as Nate’s collarbone was destroyed in such a way that it required the use of a cadaver and quite a bit of prayer. Realizing that he would be seeing his father a lot sooner than he would like at such a pace, Nate made the sage decision to hang up his riding gloves, sell the bike, and put desert racing in his rearview mirror.
The Australian Exchange
Upon realizing that his dirt-slinging days were indeed trying to kill him, Mr. Burger began to look toward “safer” automotive hobbies. You know, something with over 1,000 horsepower and a body that’s almost half a century old.
Coincidentally, Nate’s buddy, Jeff, had just re-taken ownership of a ‘68 Chevy Camaro that had been raced in Australia for the better part of four years. While Nate was a tad apprehensive about the notion of owning a vehicle that had been driven to hell and back on track, one quick blast of boost from the turbo power it possessed left him absolutely obsessed.
Although a first-gen Camaro had long been Nate’s dream car, the guy had never fully contemplated procuring a pre-built, full-blown racecar. But being that he was in the right financial spot at the time, a pact was made and a substantial sum of greenbacks was forked over to his buddy Jeff in exchange for the GM monster.
You never can tell if it’s gonna puke its guts [out] or make a pass. Next year we will concentrate on making it reliable. – Nate Burger
As for the whole Australian backstory side of this tale, word on the track is that Nate’s pal, Jeff, has a trading/selling relationship with a fellow by the name of Scott Hipwell. This hardcore bodybuilding coach from Australia is the sort of guy who adores all things motorsport, with a keen affinity for American drag cars being at the forefront.
So when word got out that Jeff was stuffing a one-off, forward-facing PRK Automotive turbo setup onto a 6.0-liter LQ9 truck motor, and then cramming it into a first-gen Camaro, Hipwell knew he had to have it. Once completed, the vehicle was shipped over to Australia, where its new owner made a few changes, raced it, loved it, and eventually sent it back to Jeff in exchange for a different vehicle.
To this day, Scott Hipwell occasionally asks if he can get his hands on that old ’68 Camaro again, confiding that the way in which the smaller turbos spooled so quickly caused the vehicle to be highly responsive. Hipwell has even gone as far as stating that this Camaro is “the most fun” he has ever had while behind the wheel of a street car, with an 8.19 at 167 mph in full street trim being his best pass.
Race Today, Gone Tomorrow…
After taking possession of the heavily modded street machine, Nate proceeded to test out the vehicle and crushed an 8.06-second pass at 170 mph. The Camaro was then driven down to the local ice cream parlor for some much-needed respite from the Arizona heat. The future was finally beginning to look sweet for Nate, and his dream car was along for the ride.
Despite the car’s street-legal status, Nate confesses that it is only taken out on the town on occasion and for a good reason. After investing every spare cent and waking hour on this straight-line screamer for the better part of the past two years, the thought of some jackwagon slamming into it while crossing an intersection is beyond anything Nate can bear.
It’s amazing how you dream of having a cool car with all kinda ‘trick’ parts, and then you have it… [It all] seems unreal to me sometimes! – Nate Burger
Now, as for the mods the current owner has made to this machine, let’s say that he did a good job of taking “Jeff’s car” and then making it “Nate’s car.” This means it got a brand-new 2.10 TH400 transmission straight out the gate, aftermarket control arms and rack-and-pinion from Smith Racecraft, as well as a lightweight race column. Nate also chopped up the front frame to make it as light as possible. After completion, Nate entered the Camaro in a car show right up the road in Williams, Arizona. This was a first for Mr. Burger, and he walked away with trophies for having “Best Muscle Car” and “Best Chevy.”
Afterward, the carb setup was fine-tuned, and compression was added to the 406, along with a slightly larger cam. The shop that custom built the front-facing turbo setup, PRK Automotive, was then contacted to update the turbo kit, but only after Nate conducted the LS swap in his garage. From there, an Earp Machine 13-gallon mechanical fuel pump went in, and the vehicle was converted to methanol, which Nate admits ended up being a massive game-changer.
Since then, Nate’s Camaro has received a 1.84/1.44 close-ratio trans and different rear end gearing to help set a new personal best of 1.08 at 60-feet, and 3.12 at 330-feet. Reliability was never much of an issue for the LQ9 until its owner began throwing 45-plus pounds of boost at the thing, at which point turbos began to grenade. That said, the goal this year will be to add more cubic inches and better engine programming to the mix in order to cut back on boost, all while hopefully making the vehicle even faster.
When asked what the most treasured aspects of the automobile are in his eyes, Nate grins and says that the Camaro’s stance has become a real stand-out. One wheelie after another, followed by the inevitable drop that follows, has worked the front springs pretty hard over the years, thus giving the Camaro an “all-natural” low profile look that is pretty badass.
Once the helmet is on, it’s go time. It could lose oil pressure in the burnout, and I wouldn’t know or care, I’m gonna let go of the button. – Nate Burger
Regarding driving characteristics and handling, Nate admits that as of right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the car will behave upon start-up. We get it. Any time you take a stock iron block and push it to the breaking point, only to scale things back just enough to keep it from eating itself, your reliability levels are going to become debatable at best. For instance, most of Nate’s most recent passes have all been made possible by 56 pounds of boost, which he admits was completed in the only way he knows how: 100-percent all-in. Just the way his father would have wanted it.
- Nate Burger
- Age: 36
- Occupation: Bogart Racing Wheels Sales and Marketing Director
- Year/Make: 1968 Chevy Camaro
- Make/year: LS 6.0 LQ9
- Stock CID: 364
- Bore/Stroke: 4.005/3.622
- Crankshaft: Stock 3.622
- Pistons: ICON premium flat tops
- Connecting Rods: Callies Compstar
- Compression Ratio: 9.8:1
- Machine work: Billy Kinkade
- Name of Shop: Wildside Machine Phoenix, AZ
- Camshaft: Custom R1E spec Reid Sanders camshaft, ground by COMP Cams
- Cylinder Heads: 823 =truck heads, stock valves, COMP valvetrain
- Heads Built By: Nate Burger with COMP Cams spring and retainers
- AIR and FUEL: VP Racing Fuels M1
- PCM: Haltech VMS Box
- Engine Tuner: Nate Burger
- Induction: 950 APD carburetor
- Fuel Pump: Earp Machinery 10-GPM mechanical pump on a cable drive
- Regulator: Aeromotive 13202
- Intake Manifold: Holley split single
- Headers: Flowtech
- Turbocharger System: PRK Automotive custom forward-facing twin-turbo setup
- Turbocharger Model: Precision Gen 1 76/75 ball bearing
- Blow Off Valve: Procharger Big Red
- Wastegate: Precision Twin 44mm
- Boost PSI: 56 (so far)
- Intercooler: None
- Hot Side Piping Size: 3-inch
- Cold Side Piping Size: 4-inch
- Downpipe: Front Fender Ported 3 to 4-inch
- Type: TH400
- Clutch / Converter: PTC Bolt-together
- Flexplate: TCI
- Shifter: M&M Transmission
- Stall speed: 7400 RPM
- Cooler: B&M
- Driveshaft: 3-inch chromoly
- Trans Built By: Close-ratio trans From Coan Racing built by Nate and Willie Wray in Phoenix, AZ.
- Type: 9-Inch
- Gears: 4.10
- Axles: 40-Spline Moser
- Spool: 40-Spline
- Front Upper/Lower Control Arms: Smith Racecraft
- Front Shocks/Struts: Afterworks
- Front Springs: Stock
- Rear Shocks: Varishock
- Rear Springs: Calvert Racing Split Mono Leafs
- Sway Bar: None… yet
- Subframe connectors: Custom Boxed 2×4-inch
- Front: Bogart D10 17×4.5” (pictured) Bogart D10 15×3.5” (race setup)
- Rear: Bogart D10 15×11″ double-beadlocks
- Tires, front: Mickey Thompson
- Tires, rear: Mickey Thompson 275 radials
- Front: Aerospace Race Brakes
- Rear: Aerospace Race Brakes
- Color: Tacoma Blue
- Body modifications: Stock with lower grill deletes, side-port exhaust cut-outs, and Simpson chute
- Hood: Harwood 4-inch fiberglass
- Spoiler: Stock
- Stock with Kirkey Racing seats and harnesses
- Rollcage: 8.50-Cert Chromoly
- Best 1/4-mile: 8.06, 170 mph
- Best 1/8-mile 4.90, 142 mph
- Best 60-foot: 1.08
- Horsepower: 1500-ish
- Torque: 1300-ish
Special Thanks To:
Bogart Racing Wheels
Advanced Product Design
Kevin at CSU
Kenny at PTC
Terry Earp at Earp Machine
Brandon at BTE
Phil and Randi at PRK Automotive
Bill at Wildside Machine
Nick Chapman at CPR