The classic county music hit, The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers, offers us this sage advice: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” There are a lot of life situations where Mr. Rogers’ time-tested advice can be applied, and Cullon Cabler from Bryan, Texas, certainly knew when to hold his cards when he finally found the car of his dreams – this 1968 RS/Z28 Camaro.
The Camaro wasn’t always the Pro-Touring jewel you see here before you. The Camaro’s journey to what it is today, thanks to Cabler, started almost 14 years ago. Cabler tells us, “I moved into a new home in 1998 and became good friends with my neighbor across the street, who was a mechanic at a local shop. He had an original 1968 RS/Z28 Camaro, minus the motor and transmission, sitting in his garage. After a while, I finally asked if he would sell it, and of course he said no; he had owned the car for over 22 years.”
Undaunted, Cabler held tight to the hand he was dealt, and refused to fold. He says, “I continued to ask him to sell me the Camaro for 4 more years, always with the same reply. Then, my neighbor remarried and his new wife wanted to park in the garage, so the Camaro got parked outside. I knew I had him then!”
Seeing his chance, Cabler really put on his poker face, and knew it was time to go all-in. Cabler says, “For about two weeks I gave him a really hard time about moving the car out of the garage. Finally, he came to me on a Wednesday, and said he was going to Louisiana on a gambling trip the coming weekend. Depending on how his trip went, he might be willing to sell the car upon his return. That Sunday, he found me standing in my garage waiting for him to get back. He pulled up and I walked across the street. He just looked at me and said, ‘I’ll be right back with the title.’ The money changed hands that day, and the car was finally mine!”
Cabler wasted no time and went right to work on the Camaro. Ironically, a Pro-Touring style build wasn’t what he first had envisioned for the car. He says, “It started as a restoration because of how rare the RS/Z28 package was. But after some research I found that without proper documentation, it was just another Camaro. So I wasn’t really sure where to go with the car from there. While surfing the net one day I found Detroit Speed & Engineering’s website, and saw all of their awesome Pro-Touring cars. I knew then exactly what I wanted to build. After countless hours on the net looking at different cars and parts manufacturers websites, I came up with a Pro-Touring plan of my own.”
Starting with a good foundation, Cabler picked DSE to supply the Camaro’s full suspension, using their Quadralink 4-Link rear suspension, and for the front he used DSE’s tubular A-Arms and coilover conversion for the stock subframe. For stopping power, the Camaro was then outfitted with 4-Piston Wilwood brakes on all four corners with cross-drilled rotors. The opportunity was also taken to mini-tub the car to fit some chunky Budnik Fontana wheels in 18×11’s in the rear with 315/30/18 Michelin Pilot Sport PS2’s, while the front wheels are 17×8’s wrapped with the same Michelin PS2’s in 245/40/17’s.
The body’s modifications weren’t just limited to widening the rear tubs. This car is packed with subtle details that only the most informed Camaro fan would spot. The original back bumper has been shortened 1 ½ inches to tuck it into the side of the body more, and the bottom of the rear spoiler has been trimmed off to lower it. All the marker lights have been shaved, and under the hood the firewall has been smoothed and all the A/C lines and wiring are hidden. Cabler also extended the custom touches into the interior. He tells us, “I knew I wanted to have a 5 inch speedometer and tachometer, which fit right in the stock bezel. That left me to figure out where the rest of the gauges would be going. So, I decided to build a panel in the center of the dash, where the radio and A/C controls originally were. I spent three days sitting at my bench fabricating this part out of sheet metal. It took another 2 days to weld it in place and blend into the dash. I’m really proud of the result; it almost looks like something GM should have done.”
Just as much detail and attention went into choosing out the Camaro’s unique and modern paint color. Cabler says, “Picking the color was a three month ordeal that just about drove my family and employees at my business crazy. The color is everything on a car to me. It really will make or break your car. I saw a late-model foreign SUV that was a root beer color so that’s where I started on the color wheel. I spent probably 40 to 50 hours at the local PPG store (one day from 9:00 AM until they closed) doing test sprays on cards until I thought we were close, then we would mix a small amount to spray an old fender I had at home. That fender must have 20 coats of paint on it, but finally I found the right one; a Subaru color. I wanted the car to look high-end without having a high-end cost, and most of all I wanted it to be different.”
At the heart of this Camaro is a powerplant as impressive as the rest of the build; a MAST Motorsports LS3, mated to the bullet proof Tremec TKO 600 from Keisler Performance. Cabler tells us, “I first read about MAST in a magazine, and I contacted them in September of 2008. I bought an ‘08 LS3 HO, and drove up to their shop to pick it up. All the guys at MAST were great – they changed the cam and valve springs right there while I waited, and they even let me watch as they dyno’ed my engine.”
He goes on to say, “I decided to go with an LS engine because of the dependability, awesome power, and good gas mileage. I told everyone I was building an ‘old man’s hot rod’ – the type where you don’t have to work on them once the build is finished. So, l wanted an engine I wouldn’t have to mess with a lot after I dropped it in. The LS3 has been every bit as dead-solid reliable as I expected it to be.”
What makes this Camaro all the more impressive is that it was built entirely in Cabler’s own two car garage with the help of a couple of good friends. He says, “I did everything myself with exception of the headliner, installing the glass, and spraying the paint. I have two good friends that helped tremendously. Chris Moore gave me guidance and help on the body work and he is the one that sprayed the killer paint job, and my friend John Tucker helped with wiring the car and the final assembly. John and I assembled the car from a bare hull of a car to driving it in eight weeks working nights and weekends.”
Take a lesson from both Kenny Rogers and Cabler, don’t be afraid to put it all out there on the table to make your dreams come true.