Ken Tozi’s affinity for everything fast, especially muscle cars and drag racing, has its roots in the 1960s when he was a young man working in gas stations, car repair shops and as a shade tree mechanic.
“In my teenage years, I worked on restoring olds cars like Model-Ts,” he said. “I’ve also had a ’34 Ford, a ’65 Dodge Charger and a Ford Mustang 427.”
The Mustang, he remembers, “Was very fast.”
Knowing the upbringing of the Strawberry retiree makes it more understandable why the senior citizen is the owner of a high-powered, but street legal, dragster capable of churning out 750 horsepower and burning up quarter-mile drag strips with the fastest of funny cars.
The dragster he’s busting with pride over is a Chevrolet El Camino that debuted in 1971 with a fresh front-end styling that included large Power-Beam single headlights, a reworked grill and bumper and a small block 350 cubic inch V-8 that was reduced in engine compression due to the mandated use of lower-octane fuels.
A “smog pump,” used to control tailpipe emissions, also reduced power and performance.
Today, Tozi’s El Camino bears little resemblance to that underpowered Chevrolet of 40 years ago.
The Chevy is now powered by a 355 cubic inch specially machined V-8 that sits under a crank driven air/fuel mixing supercharger, also called a “blower,” used to increase atmospheric pressure in the engine to produce more horsepower.
Atop the blower sit two chrome four-barrel carburetors frequently seen on American high-performance muscle cars.
Also catching onlookers’ eyes are the exhaust manifolds from which flow a set of gleaming chrome headers, or a fine-tuned exhaust system that routes exhaust from the engine eliminating the backpressure, and decrease in horsepower, of conventional exhaust manifolds.
“It has ‘spiral mufflers’ which make it (the El Camino) street legal,” Tozi said.
He, however, admits that when he really gets the engine firing up in RPMs, the noise can be ear splitting.
While the high-powered engine is an impressive V-8 that emits gasps from onlookers, it’s the posterior of the Chevy that reveals this is a tried and true drag racing machine.
Just beneath the rear bumper is a “Wheelie Bar” used to prevent excessive front-wheel lift when drag racing.
Only the fastest of cars are equipped with such bars.
Just above the wheelie bar is a single parachute, a safety device usually only used on cars that exceed 150 mph in a quarter-mile drag race.
More evidence the El Camino is a legitimate burner exists at the rear tires. Tozi points out the pair are Mickey Thompson 18x32 “slicks,” or tires with no tread pattern.
By eliminating grooves cut into the tread, such tires provide the largest possible contact patch to the road, and maximize traction for any given tire dimension.
So, with all that horsepower powering a finely modified and machined El Camino, what times and speeds can it record in a quarter-mile drag race?
“In the low nine’s (seconds) and 165 (mph),” Tozi said.
That’s fast, I don’t care who you are.
The high speeds it’s capable of, however, has Tozi’s wife questioning her husband’s good sense.
“She told me it (the El Camino) was going to get me in trouble,” he said. “So far, it hasn’t.”
In fact, most law enforcement officers acknowledge the El Camino as a genuine eye-catching street gem.
“When I see them, they look real close at first and then give me the thumbs up and smile as if they like the car,” Tozi said.
Police are not the only ones to take notice of the Chevy.
“Everywhere I go people stop and stare, it catches their attention,” Tozi said.
As grabbing and impressive as the El Camino is, the owner admits it does have a flaw.
“It’s not a good gas mileage car,” he deadpanned. “I don’t drive it for that.”