Hot rodders often find that one small project leads to another. And another. And yet another. Just as often, during the course of these small projects, ideas are formed and new visions born. Things just seem to have a ways of snowballing when it comes to automotive passion, and soon the all-encompassing desire to perfect the vehicle overrides good sense and economic responsibility. Such was the case with musclecar enthusiast Bob Spears and his '69 Camaro convertible. All he wanted was a more modern steering wheel, but by the time Bob Spears left the Bay-area Speed Merchants shop, he had a whole new vision for his Camaro. "I went in looking for a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel," Spears tells us, "and left with a plan for an awesome g-Machine."
After kicking around visions of the ultimate convertible g-machine, Spears recruited Speed Merchants' Tony Huntimer as his project manager. "Bob and I worked together to see that the car matched the vision he had for it, but he put me in charge of working out the details," recounts Huntimer. "He told me simply to 'make it awesome.'"
Knowing that every g-machine is based on a solid suspension and chassis combination, Huntimer got the project under way by addressing these areas. Starting up front, Detroit Speed and Engineering tubular control arms, Hotchkis coil springs and swaybar, Bilstein shocks and poly-graphite bushings provide a much-improved ride and stance. Detroit Speed also provided an IROC-sourced fast ratio steering box to sharpen up the steering commands. Of particular importance to the chassis' integrity were the addition of Detroit Speed's sub-frame connectors and solid body bushings. "The addition of the sub-frame connectors and bushings really made a huge improvement in the car. It is now stiff as a board, and handles extraordinarily well," Spears says.
The rear suspension is centered around a Moser 9-inch rear, which is stuffed with 3.50 gears and held in place by Detroit Speed multi-leaf springs. Another pair of Bilsteins is responsible for jounce control and a Hotchkis swaybar keeps things on the level. "The car corners as if on rails and instills supreme confidence in the driver," Spears says. No g-machine would be complete without a set of Baer brakes. Huntimer sourced a complete Baer Track system with PBR calipers and massive 13-inch front and 12.5-inch rear drilled, slotted and zinc-washed rotors. Finishing the look is American Racing's ubiquitous Torque-Thrust II wheels. "I know everybody has them but I don't care," he explains. "They look great on my car. I would put them on my bike if they made them in that size."
Feeling the stock 350 engine was no longer complimentary to the revamped chassis, it was pulled and replaced with a Speed Merchants-built 383 cubic inch LT1. The fresh bullet is based on a '94 LT1 block and a full complement of forged internal components were used, including SRP pistons and Scat crankshaft and connecting rods. The cam is a custom Isky hydraulic roller with 269/276 degrees of duration, .500-inches of lift and a 112-degree lobe separation angle. Coated bearings were installed in the name of reduced friction and engine longetivity. A Meziere highflow electric water pump sends coolant in the direction of an aluminum Be Cool radiator.
CNC-ported LT1 heads are fed by an Accel Super ram intake equipped with 36 lb.-hr. injectors. Accel's latest Digital Fuel Injection Gen VII keeps everything in sync. The engine exhales through a pair of Hedman shorty headers and a 2.5-inch intermediate pipe to a Flowmaster American Thunder exhaust system. Before the LT1 was put in place, the firewall was smoothed and detailed, making it show-ready. The transmission is a beefed up 4L60-E automatic with a sport shifting mode accessible via a toggle switch on the dashboard. Though the Camaro's body remains stock, the interior has been treated to the addition of a Detroit Speed dash insert stuffed full of Autometer gauges.
According to Huntimer, "The car has been dyno-tested at 360hp and 550 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels." Build time was just over two months, which is impressive considering the level of detail built into the suspension and underhood components. Spears is definitely pleased with the new direction he and Huntimer have taken his Camaro. "I spent a lot more money than I'd planned to, but Tony and the crew at Speed Merchants delivered everything they promised, and did it on schedule." And yes, he got his new steering wheel, too.