Riviera Beach, Florida-based Chassis Engineering was founded in 1980 to serve hot rodders and drag racers on the east coast with state-of-the-art chassis, suspension, and driveline components. With many manufacturers at the time operating out west, this reduced the shipping time to get racers and enthusiasts the parts they needed, making it a household name and a go-to source in the sport.
The company, for a time early in its existence, also built complete chassis and racecars, and while it shifted away from that to focus on its mail-order components and custom fabrication projects, it has since resumed building chassis, installing roll cages, upgrading backhalf-style cars, and the like, on a limited basis. Over the last three years, its team, led by owner Clayton Murphy and Curt Perry, completed its most advanced start-to-finish build to date, intended for Outlaw 632 competition and, ultimately, the 3.6-second, 200 mph Pro Nitrous eliminator. The car features all of the latest bells and whistles and meets all of the NHRA Pro Modified category’s 2020 safety enhancements, putting on full display Chassis Engineering’s capabilities as a world-class builder.
The car, a 1970-1/2 Camaro, was commissioned by Florida native Jason Ventura, a longtime offshore boat racer who is getting into drag racing in a big way.
“I’m an offshore boat racer, and I quit. I got out of it, and I started going to the dragstrip. I had an old Top sportsman, a 1974 Z28 Camaro, and we raced it back in 2000 when the class was in the sevens and eights and we weren’t fast enough. I took up the opportunity to go boat racing and parked the car. I later started a business, and the car has been sitting for 15 years, and it’s just not up to date for today’s racing. Outlaw 632 piqued my interest.”
Ventura approached and befriended Outlaw 632 racer Ken Kershaw, who runs one of Chassis Engineering’s Extreme chassis, and was later introduced to Murphy. As Ventura tells the story, his wife wanted to purchase a new Mercedes, and he saw that as the perfect opportunity to purchase a new car of his own — he drove to Chassis Engineering and began the conversation about constructing a suitable, modern racecar. While he initially considered updating his old car, he was ultimately swayed to building an all new piece from the ground up.
Ventura says he went in with two requests: he wanted the car to be legal for and applicable to both Outlaw 632 and Pro Nitrous, and he wanted to use titanium and carbon-fiber to build it as lightweight as possible. In the end, he says, “It’s the trickest thing they’ve built so far.” He adds that “Clayton and his team have taken me in like family.”
With other projects in line ahead of Ventura’s car, he spent the interim traveling with Kershaw to PDRA and other events to “serve his addiction” and reacclimate himself to the drag racing world after nearly two decades away from it.
The Camaro, using Chassis Engineering’s second-generation Extreme chassis, is housed within a Tim McAmis carbon-fiber body and measures out to 108-inch wheelbase.
“It’s a challenge to set a car up for a 632, one kit of nitrous, and a 959 with five kits. The car was built and I got two sets of motor plates, and I had them put in all of the safety stuff for Pro Mod,” Ventura explains. “It may not have all been necessary, but I only wanted to do this once….I’d rather it be too much, be overkill, then have to cut it up later.”
“Jason came to us because he had seen a couple cars we had built and was impressed by them….he had sat one in at a local race and liked it, looked it over, and then came and talked to Clayton about what he needed to do to get started,” Perry explains of the initial moves.
The whole process, once Ventura decided to build a new car, was to select a body — from there, Chassis Engineering could get to work on filling in the space within. Chassis Engineering already had a number of measurements and fixtures on file for popular body styles, including the 1970-1/2 Camaro. The team fabricated a custom housing with a 10-inch ring gear, as well as 1/2-inch four-link brackets with an array of adjustment points — something Ventura says was a big change from his first foray into drag racing when four-links only had a couple holes top and bottom.
The car was built to accommodate — with adjustments — a driver of any height and build. It was also, as noted, made to fit a 632 or a much larger setup nearing 1000 cubic-inches, with two sets of motor plates and transmission mounts.
The door hinges, driveshaft can, parachute mounts, steering column, front lower control arms, fuel cell mount, transmission mount, pedals, door handles, window frames, and other items were hand-made from titanium, and carbon-fiber was utilized throughout.
With the exception of the titanium parts, virtually everything on Ventura’s Camaro can be purchased out of the Chassis Engineering catalog to update or upgrade your own racecar. This build, though, uses items from the extreme end of the spectrum, following the trend of ever-larger and thicker-wall tubing in the chassis and suspension to cope with the power levels common today.
“The trends changed several years ago — because power was getting easier and easier to make, everything had to get bigger,” Perry explains. “The wishbone had to be a bigger piece than standard…it’s big-tube chrome-moly, as is the anti-roll bar, and we use large 1/2-inch rod ends (for added strength and allows the four-link settings to be tighter). The upper and lower four-link tubes are larger in diameter…they were commonly 1-3/8-inch and now they’re 1-1/2 and .020-inch wall.”
“In a lot of ways the cars are standard between all the builders these days; there are varying approaches to how they build the driver’s compartment with the funny car cage, whether it’s behind, in front, or underneath the main hoop,” Perry goes on to say. “Some do them where the main hoop incorporates most everything, as far as the back section of the funny car cage, and they can do it all laid out on a jig table, tack it, and then weld it. Then they set that in the car. But we do everything a piece at a time to maximize space in the cockpit and the safety of the car.”
The 6.0-cert chassis has the cage under the main hoop. The NHRA-mandated Pro Mod updates were also made, including the transmission cover, steel roll cage shield, and driveshaft can. They also formed the ISP molded seat for Ventura.
Ventura is wiring and plumbing the Camaro, and will drop the engine and transmission in at his shop, with a plan to be on track this year. The car was painted an orange hue that Ventura’s wife had seen and liked on a custom motorcycle, and Jason says there’s a boat local to him in Florida that has been painted to match the car.
The engine will, of course, measure out to 632 cubic-inches, housed within a Brodix block, topped with a set of one-off Edelbrock as-cast heads from Lee Latozke and an HRE intake and Accufab throttle body. Switzer Dynamics supplied the MoTec fuel injection and nitrous system for the car. An FTI Turbo 400 and converter transmit the power to a Strange Engineering Ultra center section and axles. Strange Engineering was also called upon for the front struts, which are paired with Penske rear shocks. As mentioned previously, Chassis engineering fabricated its own floater rear end housing, set up with carbon-fiber brakes on all four corners.
Ventura has spent much of his adult life in every nook and cranny of some world-class boats owned by a lot of really wealthy people, but he’s impressed by the craftsmanship of this new car, and he’s been careful to treat it as he would carrying home a newborn child.
“I’m a meticulous guy, being from boating. This is a very detail-oriented car,” he says, adding, “you can give me a million-dollar boat and I’ll have no problem drilling a hole in the side of it, doesn’t even phase me, but this car, I’m so careful….I measure everything 10 times to make sure everything is where I want it to be. They did a great job with it, and I’ve just got to be careful now not to mess it up.”