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1969 Chevy Camaro - Smoke, Daddy?

Multi-Generation Family Camaro Kicks Sideways

Ro McGonegal Apr 1, 2010

Jeff Theobald is 46. He's had cars all his life. His father is partly responsible. His father encouraged him. Jeff calls him the rock in his life. Dad helped him get this Camaro done when Jeff had more or less consigned the project to a good idea that never came to fruition. He'd considered selling it off with the parts he'd accumulated for the build. Dad would hear none of it.

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"I have always dreamed of building a ground-pounding muscle car. You know the type. Big cam, loud exhaust, and tire-smoking horsepower," Jeff says with a wink. "Eight years ago I purchased the Holy Grail, a plain vanilla '69 Camaro with a 307 and three-on-the-tree automatic. I drove it for a few months and discovered the meaning of slow. I pulled it apart and began to collect the goodies I'd envisioned.

"The other thing I'd always wanted was to invent something and to have my own business. I put the Camaro on permanent hold and birthed Performance Stainless Steel in Soquel, California. The business took every minute of my time. Five years blew by and the car was still under the tarp and had deteriorated to a sad state," he admitts. But ..."My dad's an old-school hot rodder with picture albums of all the cars that he should have kept. To my amazement, he told me to find someone to build it and that he would finance the project. We've done many projects together. He wanted to do one more."

Jeff called in friends Rick and George at Driven Performance in Seaside, California, for a sit-down. Rick brought his trailer and collected the basket case. Jeff wanted them to do it because he felt that they build all their cars as carefully as if they were their own. A year and half later, the custom car crafters gave him the keys to his new Camaro-on Father's Day 2009.

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That Rick and George build things as if they had their own cash in them, they would do no less than take the body down to a shell and begin the reconstruction from the ground up. Jeff's car needed that. It needed chemical stripping and sandblasting, it needed a fresh interior and a solid, viable, un-cracked wiring scheme. Jeff's car needed everything, and in the process gobbled up about $50,000 to come to fruition. Detail upon detail would make it feel and work better than a new car.

Jeff didn't follow his big-inch, ground-pounding dream. He wanted a sedate driver with a bit more power than usual but not something that he'd have to constantly attend to later on, as he matured. He didn't want to teach his daughter how to run the valves every month or require an expensive wallet to fill the tank with premium octane. Smooth reliability is what he sought. Hence that raggedy-ass cam and race-muffler exhaust system were quietly erased from the list.

Rather than source every last part of engine stock, he simply went with a GMPP crate 350 and had Grant at GMP Speed and Marine in Santa Cruz, California, make some basic changes to the primary systems. That lumpy cam is in there. Flowmaster mufflers are in there, but the motor's a sweetheart, good at blasting around or sitting at a light idling demurely in complete confidence-and laying rubber at just the right moment and for the delight of innocent bystanders.

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Said Jeff (with a big grin on his kisser): "The car is awesome. I'm not a fan of 'garage trophies.' I like to drive 'em instead. I love to roll off a light at about 15 mph and hammer it and have the car smoke the tires and pitch sideways. I owe the completion of it to my Dad and have promised to pass it on to my 5-year-old daughter Kate. She is my favorite cruising partner. Every time we take the car out for a cruise, she tells me 'Daddy, can you make smoke?' How can I say no?"

Once Rick and George at Driven Performance got the car, they stripped it completely, just a naked shell. They found holes in the roof. They fixed the rot top by welding and filling said holes. They stripped, sandblasted, and primed. They scalped and straightened the ZL2 cowl-induction hood. They got a new rear bumper and an Endura bumper for the leading edge of the car. They popped out the running lights and filled the voids, installed a spoiler, and a new grille, smoothed out the firewall, and included a Detroit Speed firewall fill plate. Cut away the rotten lower quarters and, while they were at it, replaced the trunk pan as well. When all was pristine once again, they applied the following: '06 Mustang GT Tungsten Gray, custom stinger stripes on the cowl hood, and laid down pinstripes on the fender reveals. In all, a clean, swift appearance that says "cool" with nary a shout.

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Wheels & Brakes
Early C5s ('98 and '99, but not Z06) were privy to genuine magnesium hoops, size 17x8.5 and 18x9.5, that GM Performance Parts carried through 2006. Jeff mated them with BFG g-Force Super Sport A/S P245/45ZR17 and P275/40ZR18 rubber and posed them in front of stock 11-inch Camaro discs in front and companion SSBC discs at the rear. All are enabled via stainless steel lines and a SSBC proportioning valve.

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You want to make some noise and get carried away with the rush, a hopped 350 will do that in grand fashion. Jeff brought the GM crate to GMP Speed and Marine in Santa Cruz to get its Comp Cams Mutha' Thumpr hydraulic roller (0.522/0.509-inch lift, 235/249 degrees duration at 0.050), a lumpy stick that provides just as much aural sensation as it does performance. GMP installed Comp springs on the port-matched Fast Burn aluminum heads and finished the conversion with GM 1.6:1 roller rockers. Hypereutectic pistons swing on powdered connecting rods connected to a forged steel crank. Compression ratio is a fortuitous 9.6:1, so Jeff can run regular fuel rather than $3-per-gallon premium. Fuel, air, and spark emanate from a Holley 4150 HP 750 carburetor on an Air-Gap intake manifold, an MSD Pro Billet distributor et al, Hedman Elite 1 5/8-inch shorties dumping into Flowmaster boom cans. The carb was jetted and the engine tuned by Campbell Auto Restoration. Output is estimated at 430 lb-ft of torque and 450 hp at 5,900 rpm. Plenty stout for a 3,000-pound automobile, no? Peninsula Transmission Service in Sunnyvale built Jeff a 700-R4 overdrive fronted by a custom 12-inch, 2,800-stall converter. It's plumbed into a B&M cooler and manipulated by a B&M Street Bandit Hi-Tek shifter. Peninsula situated the tranny with an Energy Suspension mount on a Bowtie Overdrives crossmember. They connected it to the 12-bolt (Eaton differential, 3.73:1 ring-and-pinion) with a custom steel prop shaft equipped with a heavy-duty yoke and U-joints.

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The interior is mostly stock, save for the small carbon-fiber inserts for the Auto Meter gauges. The big Auto Meter tach perches on the steering column as it would have been back in the day. Campbell Auto Upholstery outfitted the vinyl interior as 100 percent stock. There is no climate control or audio system, but Jeff grips a Camaro Sport three-spoke black-on-stainless steering wheel and he and Kate are held by Simpson lap belts. The Camaro was an original air car, prompting Jeff to leave the vents for the Vintage Air setup he will eventually install.

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Driven also enabled the chassis. No modifications to the original subframe save for sandblasting and painting with black epoxy. They swapped the upper control arms for Global West tubular members and fit Energy Suspension bushings to the lower arms and inserted them everywhere else they could. Hotchkis 2-inch drop springs complete the front end. Driven put 1-inch lowering blocks between the 1.5-inch Hotchkis drop spring bundles and the axle housing. Hotchkis added body control with 1 1/8-inch (front) and 7/8-inch (rear) antisway bars. Wheel control comes via Koni reds. New Moog steering stuff takes cues from the Detroit Speed 12.7:1 power steering box. Joe at Custom Alignment in Redwood City drew the geometric map for the best compromise between street and road course handling characteristics.

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