Leila Fields glanced in her rearview mirrors. Much to her dismay, the swaying and rocking she felt was not from her '78 GMC 1/2-ton truck loaded to the gills with her and her husband's belongings. While the makeshift moving truck was at capacity, it was her husband Mark's '69 Camaro making all the fuss, in her mirrors at a 45-degree angle.
The year was 1984. Mark had acquired the Camaro a year earlier in New Orleans for the paltry sum of $1,800.
"There were six of us who owned old Gen I and Gen II Camaros. Mine was a basic model, yellow with a black SS stripe and a vinyl top," said Mike. "In those days it was about building hot rods, driving them hard, racing them until they broke, then fixing them and making them faster."
The go-fast parts back then that Mark got away with included a four-speed Muncie with a Hurst shifter, and a 350 with 2.02 heads. The Cherry Bomb mufflers however came under a little more scrutiny.
"I decided to get on it after a night out just for fun," said Mark. Crossing a bridge a mile or two after his brief yet egregious display of horsepower, the police pulled Mike over from the front and behind, jumping out of their cars screaming and yelling. A law-enforcement double-team if you will.
"One officer started asking who I was trying to race and threatening me with jail," he added. In those days, they didn't crush your car, but street racing was still a big-ticket item.
Much later, Mike and the aforementioned wobbly GMC/trailer and pilot Leila moved west. The car had been driven for five years or so in California, and then subsequently stored in Colorado up until then. It was at this point that Mike decided to pull the trigger and rebuild the car to the max.
"My kids were growing up and I wanted to complete the car before, as my wife said, ‘We get too old to look good and enjoy it.'"
This is where Mike Ramsey comes in. Mark's best friend since 1983 (when he bought a Camaro out from under him), it is he who Mark gives credit for the brass tacks of the build. Apparently, he was the man for the job, as he had restored his Camaro numerous times.
"The car sat in a field behind Mike's house in Texas for a year before he started tearing it apart," said Mark. "The idea was to make it close to original, but that didn't last long." They picked up Heidts A-arms, spindles and springs, Koni shocks, as well as the GM Performance Parts Ramjet 350 with cast aluminum cylinder heads.
"Mike wanted to get all the parts purchased so he could put it all together and get everything mounted before painting," said Mark. "He found a design for a rotisserie online and built one. This was before you could buy them."
With the car flipped on its side and back, Mike performed his magic and filled all the cracks. He removed the side markers, and filled the cowl panel between the hood and windshield. The hood itself had all the bracing removed and spot welds filled, as did the accompanying two-inch cowl. Items complementing but not overpowering the bodacious bodywork include a Marquez design front valance panel and the DSE-RS electric hidden headlight kit.
Around this stage of the build, Mike worked offshore four weeks on and four weeks off. The four weeks off he spent on the Camaro. While away at sea, he stored an amalgam of parts intended for the rebuild in a 24-foot trailer behind the house. One day he got a call from his wife Beth, someone had pulled up to the trailer, cut the locks on the hitch, and pulled it away.
It was around this time that Mike discovered the new Quadralink rear suspension. This set-up from DSE works with leaf spring suspensions and is supposed to allow the suspension to fully articulate with no binding. The rear upper shock cross member improves rigidity, ideally eliminating axle tramp.
At this point, Mark started taking "vacations" to Texas from Denver to aid his buddy with the build. A real bromance bloomed as they melted off the tar undercoating, resprayed the bottom with truck bedliner and installed the aforementioned Quadralink and found a set of 18-inch Budnik 430s.
The duo approached obstacles such as the wiring harness. After solving the puzzle and crafting five different compartments under the dash for electronics, they were confronted with the age-old question that has plagued hot rodders since the beginning: "This is gonna be one badass Camaro! What color should we paint it?"
Enter Albert Sanchez, a painter from California uprooted to Texas. He sprayed the two-tone black and red. While this had been done before, a graphic designer made it different by applying a strip of flames to break up the color scheme.
Dooley and Sons out of Magnolia, Texas, utilized a new paint called PPG soft touch, which, when dry has the look and feel of leather—the vegan approach to customizing interiors if you will. Other additions to the cabin include black '02 Trans Am seats with red stitching, a Budnick steering wheel, and the Nexus digital instrument system.
"I wanted the car to have all the electronic and digital controls," said Mike. Seeing as he was an electrician on offshore oil rigs for years, it was only fitting that he acquired and installed the digitally programmable gauges, A/C, fan, power windows and door locks with key fobs as well as the LED turn signals. It was no mean feat to get the wiring harness to work with all the new doo-hickeys, including the stereo. The stereo? Suffice to say that the Kenwood head unit plays Mark's favorite Justin Beiber through JL Audio speakers to max volume.
In the end, his wife Leila pulled the car safely to a garage, where with limited funds, she had the bumper brackets welded back on to the frame. And remember the coppers that pulled Mark over back in the day? Mark remained calm and was let off with an illegal exhaust ticket.
As far as the stolen trailer goes, Mark did take a bath there losing $16,000 in parts and paying another $8,000 to repaint the replacements. And now, 30 years after purchasing his Camaro, and countless trials and tribulations later, Mark is reaping the rewards, literally, winning the Bandimere Super Chevy Show Award of Excellence three years in a row.
While his taste in music is actually quite good (he prefers Stevie Ray Vaughn, not boy bands) his perseverance in the face of adversity is a characteristic that shows in the quality of this stunning 30-year build.