Rarely does a hot rodder get a second chance at owning the same car twice. Even more rare is when the opportunity presents itself to get back two of your previous Camaros. We don't know the exact odds of that happening, but we're guessing it's probably somewhere be between zero and none. Just don't tell that to Randy Johnson, owner of D&Z Customs in Kewaskum, Wisconsin. The freakishly lucky g-Machine muscle car builder got not one, but two Camaros back in his life—cars he may have missed, but never thought he'd ever own again.
It started in 2001 when constant engine issues prompted Randy to sell his '70 RS. "I had owned the second-gen since 1996. It was a big-block car and no matter what engine combination I went with, I ended up rebuilding it every fall," Randy tells. "At one point I even had a ProCharger on it, but it still blew up!"
Frustrated, Randy chalked it up as time to move on and he listed the car in a few local auto sales papers. The only response came from a guy who was hoping to trade Randy a low-mileage Hugger Orange '99 Camaro SS for his problematic classic. "He brought the car over on a flat bed hauler," Randy remembers. "And from looking at only the exterior when he pulled in, it appeared to be as clean as he had described—maybe even a little better. And with only 11k on the odometer, it was in pretty much brand-new condition." Before Randy knew it, the '70 Camaro that Car Craft magazine had once dubbed Orange Peeler, would leave on the very same hauler on which the '99 had arrived. "As I watched my '70 go off in the distance, it suddenly hit me that I had just made a huge mistake. But it was too late. The deal was done."
To relieve his momentary sickness, he fired up the '99 and took it for a rather spirited drive on some backcountry roads near his home. "‘Wow!' I thought to myself," perked Randy. "This car is a blast. I was clutch-dumping at nearly every stop sign leaving posi marks from First and Second, and even chirping the tires into Third."
With Randy enjoying the power, torque, and reliability of the LS1, it gave him the idea to put that sort of engine dependability and horsepower in an old Camaro.
He attempted to track down his old '70 in hopes of buying it back to carry out his first LS conversion. But with no luck on that front he instead performed the LS install on a rolling '67 he came across. The build also consisted of upgraded suspension components to accompany the modern drivetrain. Unfortunately, that meant selling off the '99 in order to fund the first-gen upgrades. With the '67 a hit, he ended up converting a few other classics to LS power for interested buyers. Those projects got the wheels rolling on D&Z Customs, Randy's performance shop dedicated to muscle car, g-Machine and Pro Touring builds. Still missing the '70 and making long strides with his LS conversions, he knew that '70 would be the perfect canvas for LS power. Out of the blue, a friend informed Randy his orange '70 was up for grabs on eBay. Randy called the seller, struck a deal, and headed out to Iowa with a borrowed trailer to haul the car home.
"Amazingly, I got the car back with only 1,600 more miles on it than when I had sold it in 2001," recalled Randy. "With the car finally back in my hands, the first thing I did was convert it to LS power. The guys at Car Craft got wind of the Camaro's return and modern drivetrain conversion then promptly renamed the car Re-peeled."
Fast forward 10 years and the current owner of the Hugger Orange '99 asked Randy if he knew anyone who'd be interested in buying the fourth-gen. At this point Randy's having a good old time ripping up every road course and autocross with his orange '70, but puts the word out about the '99 being up for sale. Months go by and the Orange SS gets no love. With more time going by, the owner becomes increasingly motivated to move the '99, but it's still not in Randy's price range. A few more months pass and the owner calls Randy to accept his lower-than-desired offer, but only if he picks it up that evening and brings cash. "I was amazed as to how little the owner drove the car over a 10-year period," Randy said. "I sold it with 13,000 miles on it and bought it back with only 18,000 on the odometer."
For the most part, the '99 is decked out in stock trim. The LS1 has yet to be tampered with and retains its original 346ci and 320hp status. It's plenty of beans for some fun, and little threat to the SLP 10-bolt rearend and 3.42 posi. A Hurst shifter option manages the Tremec T56 six-speed trans.
Being at the g-Machine and Pro Touring forefront, Randy knew the fourth-gen could stand for a little improvement in the handling department, so in went 1-inch lowering springs front and rear, as well as a Hotchkis strut bar. Along with better handling, the spring upgrade offers a more attractive stance to accompany the Weld Racing RT-S S71 wheels (18x9 front, 18x10.5 rear) on all four corners. Nitto NT05 rubber keeps the fourth-gen planted in the corners (275/35-18 front, 295/35-18 rear).
Subtle interior nuances include custom SS embroidered headrests and the custom white overlay gauges and orange SS on the tach.
With the exterior retaining the mostly stock motif, the GM Hugger Orange finish is accented with 30th Anniversary SS emblems in exchange for the standard SS badges to add another subtle diversion, and to keep the purists on their toes.
Every fourth-gen Camaro enthusiasts recognizes the SS as pretty much the top dog in terms of performance and appeal, and the SLP hood, grille, and wing are iconic staples for the late-90's and early-'00 models.
"With my two kids soon approaching driving age, my plan is to use this car to get them acquainted with autocrossing," said Randy. "If they like it, then we'll have fun family outings at some SCCA Autocross events."
Randy goes on, "I was lucky enough when I got my second-gen back, so when the '99 found its way home, that was pretty damn cool. I tell ya, it's a crazy Camaro world we live in!"
Yes it is, Randy. Yes it is...