Back in the day when I read about the Camaro Trans-Am project at Chaffey College I was blown away. What a cool program.
Hot Rod Magazine’s editor, Don Evans, devoted his June ’69 editorial to a very interesting subject—a college racing program. The Trans-Am Camaro project is the brainchild of Sam Contino, the automotive technology instructor at Chaffey College. He hopes the project car idea waill serve to attract prospective high-performance engineers. This first machine is 100-percent student-built. Their only assist came from generous speed equipment manufacturers. Construction of a racing car in the classroom must rank as great scholastic achievement. Chaffey College and instructor Sam Contino obviously know where it’s at and aren’t afraid to lead the charge in that direction. No doubt the administrators will note an enrollment increase because of their progressive curriculum. Other project cars are in the works.
The 302-cubic-inch ’69 Chevy mill runs a set of TRW slugs with Chevy high-performance rings and rods. Edelbrock did the deed on the crankshaft. The Mondello-modified heads have Isky rockers actuating the Mondello valves and springs. An Isky RP<-300 cam is use with a Summers Bros. drive. A pair of 660-cfm Holleys get fuel from a Goodyear tank with a don Allen valve. Hooker headers, Delco-Remy CD ignition and Schiefer clutch and flywheel are also used. The ’67 Chevy chassis uses offload (heavy-duty) front suspension and beefed rear end fitted with Watts linkage and traction shocks by Wheeler Engineering. American mas mount Firestone skins.—Hot Rod, February 1970
It’s been said that when it comes to researching the history of any given subject the most trusted source is often a publication from back in that time. Take, for example, the following story we’re presenting on the 1967 Camaro students at Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California, prepared to compete in Trans-Am at Riverside Raceway in 1970.
The first word of this intriguing project appeared in the June 1969 issue of Hot Rod magazine when then editor Don Evans devoted his editorial to discussing the new race car technology course that was being offered by Chaffey’s automotive technology department. To give a little insight on how it all came together, Sam Contino, the instructor championing the effort was a natural-born teacher and promoter. In 1965, Sam operated Sam’s Auto Electric in Ontario, California, where he conducted two-week seminars on basic tune-ups, and word spread around town about a mechanic that taught really interesting and informative classes.
Word spread to the point that Chaffey’s dean of vocational instruction contacted Sam and offered him the opportunity to teach tune-up and automotive electrical courses at the college. As fate would have it, teaching was something Sam had always wanted to do and this was his chance. Sam went to UCLA part time and obtained his teaching credentials.
The early ’70s were a golden age for motorsports in Southern California’s Inland Empire region. Riverside Raceway was in full bloom and Ontario Motor Speedway had just opened up in nearby Ontario. Sam got wind GM was going to unveil the 1970 Camaro to the motoring press at Ontario and spotted an opportunity.
Sam contacted John DeLorean, the GM executive in charge of the event and offered the services of Chaffey’s auto shop students to keep the new Camaros detailed. The students happened to meet actor and then budding race car driver Paul Newman, and spoke at length with Paul about Chaffey’s race car technology program. It was the beginning of a great relationship between Paul and the college’s racing program. Shortly afterward, Paul donated a V-8-powered VW Bug for the students to work on and this sparked an onslaught of new students to the program. During the course of time Paul donated two more cars and Carol Shelby donated a race car hauler.