09/18/09 09:51AM Camaro, Car Shows Wheels and Wings Show, Chevy, Drag Racing, Events, Motorbooks

Custom Camaro sparkles at car shows and drag strips
By Larry Edsall / Special to The Detroit News

1967 Camaro

September 17, 2009

OSCEOLA, Wis. -- Very often, cars are customized for show or for go. Jeff Kobilka of Hudson, Wis., wanted his car to span that gap.

"I wanted to do both," he explains. "I wanted to go to car shows and to go drag racing, so I could get out more and go to more events."

Despite his eagerness, it would take Kobilka 20 years to build his car, which was one of the 800 or more displayed here at the 29th annual Wheels & Wings show hosted by Motorbooks, publisher of automotive, motorcycle, motorsports, aviation and other books.

Though based in Minnesota's Twin Cities some 30 miles to the southwest, Motorbooks' warehouse has been located here in the small town of Osceola, on the bluff above the east bank of the scenic St. Croix River. For the last 85 years, Osceola has staged an annual Community Fair in mid-September. For nearly half of that span, Motorbooks' has participated with a combined car show and book sale.

Kobilka's dual-purpose car is a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro on a 1987 chassis. He started work on the car in 1988, but then put that project on hold to build his house. He resumed work on the car six years ago. His goal was to build a car that could compete in National Hot Rod Association drag racing, but that also could serve as a handsome show car.

He devised a way to hide theracecar's roll cage, made the car faster and lighter by replacing manysheetmetal body panels with composites, and fabricated separate rear wings -- one for the drag strip, one for the show display. The car still wears a registered license plate, as well as its mandated drag racing parachute brake, but unlike the typical drag racer, the car has two seats -- one for Kobilka, the other for a passenger.

Part of the Osceola Community Fair was a gathering of classic Airstream trailers, so Jim Gannon of Stillwater, Minn., enjoyed both that event and the Wheels & Wings car show, using his Corvette-powered 1938 Lincoln Zephyr to tow his 1948 Curtis Wright Airstream-style camping trailer.

Instead of the usual race car numbers and sponsor decals, Kobilka's car simply sparkles.

"A guy I met at a car show showed me how to shoot big flake paint, the same kind they use on bass boats," Kobilka said of the 40/1000ths metal flakes that give his car its shimmering gleam.

Kobilka's car also shines on the drag strip. The car is powered by a 598-cubiic-inch V8 engine fed by a single carburetor, but fed well enough to pump out 1076 horsepower and propel the car a quarter-mile in 8.60 seconds at a top speed in excess of 160 miles per hour.

Kobilka did virtually all the work on the car himself. He said it takes him only hours to convert the car from the way it looks at a car show to full readiness for racing.

Featured authors at the 29th annual Wheels & Wings car show and book sale were Donnie Smith, who writes about custom motorcycles, and Larry Edsall, whose latest book, Camaro: A Legend Reborn, chronicles the development of the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, so several bikes and a brand new Camaro show car were provided featured parking places.

One of the special features Kobilka devised was the car's hood.

At many car shows, people display their cars with the hood up so people can see the engine. Kobilka didn't want to make people bend down beneath a traditional hood, or even have to try to peer into the darkness of the shade beneath a hood elevated by stanchions, so he cut and sculpted a unique hood that showcases the engine.

"I was shakin'," Kobilka said as he remembers making the first cut into the $400 composite hood he had his car.

But the new hood is a work of art and enhances the car's look when displayed at a car show. It's a pity the hood can't be appreciated by those who see only the tail end of Kobilka's car as it pulls away down the drag strip.