In our little world of hopping up vintage muscle cars, there’s no doubt that it’s a male-dominated hobby. Dudes have been bragging about how many cubic inches lie under the hood of their hot rod since the beginning of time. And it’s not like the ladies aren’t invited to the party—they are—it’s just a more common sight for our better halves to offer their support from the passenger seat. Now, that may be the case in many households, but not at the Hilliard abode. Mrs. Hilliard prefers the driver’s seat of this beautiful Pro Touring-inspired ’69 Camaro. As well she should … it’s her car!
It all started for Donna when GM introduced the fifth-generation Camaro back in 2009. As she explains, “I’ve always loved muscle cars, but when I saw the ’10 Camaro, I got the bug again. I really wanted a muscle car of my own.”
Donna’s husband, Jay, liked the idea of Donna getting into a muscle car, and being the proud owner of a ’69 Camaro himself, he was able to talk his wife into a ’69 as well. Convincing her to fix up an older car instead of buying a late-model ride was an easy task.
After hours of scouring the Internet, Jay got a lead on a dead-end Camaro project located over 1,200 miles away. It was just a shell at that point and a friend who lived near where the car was located assured Jay the car was in the condition the seller described in the listing, as well as sending hundreds of photos to the Hilliards. That news prompted Jay to move quickly on the car. A rented truck, a borrowed trailer, a couple of buds, and a 1,250-mile journey to rescue the Camaro was soon under way, and with Donna’s birthday coming up, Jay figured this project would be the perfect gift. As Donna puts it, “somebody really has to love you [and cars] to go through all that trouble.”
With the car finally in the Hilliard’s hands, resurrection of the ’69 was under way. Parts were ordered and countless trips to Randolph Powdercoating (Asheboro, North Carolina) were a common occurrence. Dan Holohan at Holohan’s Hot Rod Shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, started the process of repairing the quarter-panels and installing the doorskins. This is an area where Dan takes great pride, so he and Jay spent countless hours perfecting the door, fender, and hood gaps. Proper alignment was crucial with this build.
With the refined foundation laid out to near perfection, Donna’s sights set were on keeping the car in its original color, so Ronnie Vasconcellos meticulously prepped the sheetmetal before laying down a luscious layer of PPG Glacier Blue pigment followed up with the Cortez Silver DX1 accent stripe on the nose.
Jay and Donna agreed on building a Camaro that would carry a simple theme, yet convey plenteous amounts of attitude. A GM 427 crate engine was just the ticket to get ’er done. Conservatively rated at 480 hp by the manufacturer, Donna’s L88 dyno’d in at 526 hp and 518 lb-ft—plenty of “juice” to ensure Donna’s F-body would be more than just another pretty Camaro.
Instead of over-glamorizing the engine bay with a smooth firewall and matching paint, Jay instead incorporated a DSE heater delete panel and Vintage Air four-port bulkhead. Still an attractive presentation, DSE fender braces and wiper motor chime in for a tad more style. The big-block’s nutrients come through a Holley 770-cfm Street Avenger, while atmosphere is introduced via a classic, black powdercoated air cleaner wearing a period-correct “427” badge. A set of custom-built stepped 1 7/8- to 2-inch Calvin Elston stainless coated headers work in tune with a MagnaFlow 3-inch exhaust system and MagnaFlow mufflers. Additional engine appeal and functionality comes by way of a Vintage Air FrontRunner drive system—a necessary component for reliability and interior creature comforts common in today’s classic muscle car builds.
Keeping with the less-is-more build theme, a TH400 trans and 3,000-stall converter motivate the GM 12-bolt posi rearend stuffed with street-friendly 3.55 cogs.
When building an old-school muscle car, there comes a responsibility to achieve the proper stance to commence the expected visual impact. Often overlooked, it’s the most important aspect of a build—it can make or break the whole package. Being this wasn’t Jay’s first rodeo, he incorporated SPC tubular A-arms to the stock GM spindles and dialed in a set of Hotchkis lowering springs for a 3-inch reduction in altitude up front. Out back, DSE 2-inch lowering leaf springs and AFCO 3/4-inch lowering blocks bring down the rear to visual perfection. Bilstein shocks on all four corners provide a confident, smooth ride and DSE solid body mounts and subframe connectors keep chassis flex to a minimum.
Baer T4 four-piston calipers restrain the 13-inch rotors up front, while a set of SS4s and 12-inch rotors reside out back. To frame up the ensemble, Rushforth Super Spoke wheels (18x8 front, 18x9 rear) wrapped in Nitto 555 rubber (245/35 front, 275/35 rear) got the nod.
The interior retains the car’s classic vibe joined by a dose of modern essentials. Donna credits Jean-Noel Greffeuille of JNG Creations (Pittsboro, North Carolina) for the amazing work. “We told him our vision and he nailed it perfectly. From the suede headliner to the custom dashpad and the way he designed the door panels was incredible,” said Donna. “The dark blue interior with contrasting light blue French seams in the thread is a work of art.” The vinyl-covered Corbeau seats and Clayton Machine Works interior components complete the scene.
Auto Meter Cobalt gauges and a Vintage Air control panel populate the painted-to-match DSE dash, while an Alpine head unit powers the mid-range and tweeters housed in the Screaming Performance kick panels. A Billet Specialties half-wrap steering wheel and Lokar shifter provide Donna positive gripping points for shifting [when necessary] and course navigation.
“Although it took three years and two months to build the car, the experience of transforming an old classic into a thing of beauty with my husband, was a total blast,” recalls Donna. “But the best part besides actually driving the car is seeing people’s expression when they learn it has a big-block 427 and the woman who owns it, drives it and knows every detail about the car.”