Text By Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Dr. Rudy Rouweyha
Inspired by his father, Johnny Matney has spent most of his life devoted to building absolutely pristine cars that look good and go fast. His latest project is one that’s especially close to his heart, as his gorgeous 2012 Chevy Camaro SS was a build that the two shared many hours working on together.
Matney, 38, spends his days working as the general manger of Auto Art, in Glenview, Illinois, a facility that specializes in high-end exotics and custom paint and body. Although he’s usually surrounded by Lamborghinis and McLarens, his first love is American muscle. His father, Kenneth, was primarily responsible for instilling Matney’s love of cars at a young age.
“My dad and my grandfather were into cars and racing,” he reminisced. Initially, Matney dabbled in domestic cars when he first got his driver’s license, but eventually the import scene caught his eye. Matney spent several years touring the East Coast and Midwest with his flashy, neon orange ’99 Acura CL attending events like Hot Import Nights or DUB Magazine shows.
“I had a lot of custom body work done, and at one time I had one of the top ten import show cars in the country,” he said proudly of his past love. “I won over two hundred awards with that car.” The import’s supercharged 3.0L motor was fully built with JE pistons and Eagle rods and featured a nitrous kit from Nitrous Express. Every part of the car had either been polished or painted to match, including the wheels. Matney even went so far as to remove every piece of plastic from the interior and recover it with leather or suede. His attention to detail was so incredibly intense that he had all the nuts and bolts either plated, powder coated, or hand painted. Eventually, the car show glitz and glamour lost its appeal and Matney went back to his first love—American muscle.
“I really wanted to get back into something fast, that’s where my heart was,” he stated. He purchased his current Camaro brand new in February of 2012. “My intention was just to make it a nice sports car that I could drive every day,” he explained. “The first year that I had it, I drove it all through the winter to and from work.” Matney began to crave more, and he started out with some slight modifications like upgrading the exhaust, intake, and more. “Then I did a cam, and I ended up doing a supercharger,” he added. Eventually, the car got to the point where he had invested enough time and money into it that Matney didn’t feel comfortable using it for daily driving duties.
While he originally never planned on the Camaro making the kind of power that it does now, the car had been a joint collaboration between Matney and his father since day one.
“My goal was to build something that I could still drive, take to a car show, and take to the track to run some decent times,” noted Matney, who was very close with his father. “It gave us something to do together on the weekend.” Sadly, Matney’s father passed away in April of 2013 and their collaborative Camaro took a temporary hiatus.
“I took a few months off,” Matney recalled of the devastating time when he lost his mentor. “It was hard to keep going with the car, but I figured he’d want me to do it, and that helped me work my way through it a little.” Although his father never got to see the car completed, Matney continued on with the build as a tribute.
Matney got back to work, and put together yet another winner. Staying true to his mission to make decent power, his stick-shift Camaro was sent to Speed Inc in Schaumburg, Illinois. There, its 376ci LS3 motor was beefed up with Ferrea springs and chromoly push rods, a Comp cam, and a Vortech V3 supercharger cranking out eleven pounds of boost—the stock heads, bottom end, and intake remained untouched.
“I used to play with nitrous with the imports and my old ’95 Corvette, but I got tired of always having to worry about refilling the bottles or if something would go wrong,” Matney clarified of his decision to go with a supercharger. “Plus, I’ve always wanted a supercharged American car, and Vortech helped me out because they knew me through my old import days and knew what I could build.”
Once the horsepower part of the build was buttoned up, Speed Inc tuned Matney’s Camaro to put out an impressive 776 horsepower and 694 foot-pounds of torque to the wheels while running on E85 fuel. To date, his best quarter mile run has been a mid 10-second elapsed time at nearly 140 mph, but he won’t give up the exact numbers.
Despite having gotten away from his blingy car show days, the car’s appearance was still very important to Matney. He opted to add a COPO reproduction hood, and lucked out when he scored one of twenty SLP Zl575 spoilers that were released to the public. The rear valance was swapped over from a Camaro ZL1, as were the side skirts. For the wheels, Matney selected a set of 18” two-tone black and silver Weld wheels that complement the car nicely without overshadowing its natural good looks.
For the finishing touch, Matney tasked his team at Auto Art to lay the flawless coat of Inferno Orange metallic paint, a reddish-orange hue with just a hint of copper. Auto Art was also responsible for the gorgeous custom carbon fiber work found under the hood, and Matney took painstaking care to ensure that all of the go-fast bits were given a truly custom, personalized touch. To keep the Camaro’s outward appearance as immaculate as the day it rolled out of the spray booth, Matney trusts only Meguiar’s car care products.
As he previously relied on his father for assistance at the track and suddenly no longer had the support system he’d come to count on, Matney found himself transitioning from a “test-and-tune weekend racer guy” back to a “car show guy.” True to form, he found success wherever he brought the car and began accumulating multiple awards.
In 2013, Matney won the prestigious GM Performance award at the Camaro Fest event, which was presented by GM engineers. In 2014, he picked up multiple wins including both the 5th Gen Camaro winner and Best of LSX title at the LSX Shootout at the NMCA race in Indianapolis, Indiana. He also won the Late-Model GM Muscle Editor’s Choice Award. The trend continued in 2015, and Matney was named the Best LS of Show winner, Best Engine winner, and GEN 5 Camaro winner at the 14th annual NMCA World Street Finals season finale event in Norwalk, Ohio. Matney also won both the Best LSX Powered, and the 2010 and Newer Camaro Modified class at the 2015 Super Chevy Show at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, Missouri.
Most notably, while attending the 2015 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in late November in Chicago, Matney went home a big winner.
“I won the gold,” he proudly shared. “I was just eight points off a perfect score out of a thousand. They judged everything including the engine, paint, undercarriage, fit and finish of body panels, interior, and more.”
When he’s not busy dominating the car show scene with his fiery Camaro, Matney enjoys driving the car for special events and Saturday nights. Although he doesn’t daily drive it anymore, it still sees regular use driving to car shows, meets, and more. Matney also occasionally takes it out for test and tune nights or grudge races at local tracks like Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana, Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, and Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin.
“I never really competed in class racing before because I never felt I had a car that was competition worthy,” he confessed. As that’s no longer an issue for the Chicagoland racer, Matney decided to try his hand at full-fledged drag racing competition in 2016.
Throughout the year, Matney will attend a few Super Chevy Show events and continue with sporadic car shows so that he can display his stunning work of Chevrolet art. His primary plan, however, is to run as many NMCA races as possible, starting with the 15th annual NMCA Bluegrass Nationals at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky in May of 2016.
“Now that I’m making more horsepower, the biggest thing for me will be to just get more seat time. The car’s a manual, so it’s not the easiest to drive at this power level,” admitted Matney, who is looking to get into the low 10s in the near future. He has a few options with what NMCA classes he could enter, but he’s thinking he’ll most likely do a combination of True Street on Saturday and car shows on Sunday.
“I’ll run it until something happens to the motor, and then I’ll end up putting an LSX block in and upgrade the blower,” said Matney, who has goals of eventually getting his Camaro to produce well over a thousand horsepower. “I’ll have to put a cage in the car, and we’ll just see where it goes from there. I’d like to keep it with an independent rear suspension and see how far I can take it before I have to change that up, too.”
Despite not having his father by his side anymore, Matney still plans on having fun and putting his whole heart into his upcoming race season. Whether he wins or loses, he knows that he’s making his father—and his mother, Della—extremely proud by continuing on with their project Camaro.
Owner/Driver: Johnny Matney
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: General Manager, Auto Art, Glenview, Illinois
Vehicle: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Engine: Chevrolet LS3 V-8
Displacement: 376 ci
Block: Stock LS3
Heads: Stock LS3
Valvetrain: Ferrea .660-lift Extreme dual spring kit, 5/16 x 7.400 Chromoly pushrods
Cam type: Comp Cams hydraulic roller (.231/.237 duration – .617/.607 lift)
Carburetor or EFI system: Stock EFI
Power-adder: Vortech V3 with 3.12 pulley
Fuel brand and type: E85
Headers and exhaust: Kooks 1 ⅞ X 3 long-tube headers, Magnaflow ZL1 3-inch exhaust
Transmission: Stock Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: McLeod RXT clutch and billet flywheel / MGW short-throw shifter
Rearend: Stock IRS with Lingenfelter 3.91 gears
Suspension (Front): BMR lowering springs, antisway bar end links
Suspension (Rear): BMR lowering springs, toe rods, lower control arms, and extreme antisway bar and bushings
Brakes (Front): Stock disc with CTSV 6-piston calipers color matched to car
Brakes (Rear): Stock disc with CTSV 4-piston calipers color matched to car
Wheels (front): WELD RT-S S71 forged aluminum, 18×5
Wheels (Rear): WELD RT-S S71 forged aluminum, 18×10.5
Tires (Front): M&H Racemaster 28×4.50
Tires (Rear): Nitto NT05R 315/40/18
Aftermarket body modifications: COPO reproduction hood, SLP ZL575 spoiler, Camaro ZL1 rear valance and side skirts
Safety equipment: BMR Safety loop
Vehicle weight: 3,900 lbs
Horsepower/Torque: 776 whp / 694 lb-ft of torque
Quickest ET: 10.54 at 139
Fastest mph: 140
Best 60-foot: 1.58 seconds
Sponsors: Vortech Superchargers and Meguiar’s Car Care products