The Bill Thomas-Chevrolet Connection
By Wayne D. Guinn
Most every Camaro enthusiast
knows about the Nickey/Thomas Combine and the 427 "Super Camaros" they produced.
But, how many know the man behind the movement, and... what was it was all about...?
What's the difference???
Over the years, Chevrolet has drawn on the
talents of a few select individuals outside Engineering to improve and
promote Chevrolet products. Bill Thomas was one of those "elite" individuals who helped
Chevrolet achieve racing superiority and gain a predominant high performance image.
Based on the theory, "the winning image sells",
Chevrolet set out to capture the youth market with the '67 Camaro and the race track was
the platform by which they would accomplish it.
The problem was Chevrolet wasn't able to go racing because
of an agreement made between the "Big Three" manufacturers to not directly
sponsor or participate in racing. As a result, all efforts to gain a winning image using
racing were carried out covertly- through secret channels, using
"insider"-"outsider" liaisons/consultants and engineers, better know
A racing "network" of independents was
established through Chevrolet Engineering's Product Performance Group (Chevrolet's "Racing
Central") headed by Vince Piggins. Product Performance would give support to the
independents, many of which coincidentally were Chevrolet dealers as well as race
enthusiasts. Among these was Bill Thomas who had a solid reputation as a Chevrolet racing
authority and because of previous successful Chevrolet racing endeavors was already
"in the fold".
A Master Plan... How to make the Image
Bill had his work cut out...He realized in order to help
Chevrolet gain the high performance image they were looking for, they would have to
overcome two major obstacles:
- The Camaro would have to be competitive against the large
displacement Shelby Mustangs.
- They would have to offer a large displacement Camaro since
the factory wasn't at that time.
The answer was simple, but genus... Bill Thomas Race Cars
in Anaheim, Ca. and Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago conceived the idea to combine and offer
the ultimate F-Body by "transplanting" the 427-425 HP engine into the Camaro
Chassis two years in advance of Chevrolet's COPO 427 Camaro. The idea of course
was a legendary success... The Nickey/Thomas Camaros went on to wreck havoc on the drag
strips and gain dominance on the streets... Hence, the image was created!!
Initially the Super Camaros were
based on the SS350 (above) which required several modifications for the transplant. Two of
them being, grinding the steering box and the stock exhaust manifolds for engine
||Mid-way through the '67 year, the 396 was set
into production and then became the basis for the transplants. From this point on, SS cars
were ordered with the 396-375 HP engine, which in itself was quite a rarity! It simplified
the transplant since the engine chassis mounts were now the big block type having the
correct offset for engine clearance.
you see this decal R-U-N!!! The big 427-425 HP was the basis for the transplants. From
this point, Bill would heat it up to your preference.
In addition, the suspension and drivetrain was upgraded by
the factory to match the higher output of the 396 engine. As a result the later '67 models
were better suited overall for the transplant and serious performance work.
Featured above is one of the finest
of Bill Thomas's work, currently owned by Kenneth