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The Big Red 1969 Camaro Gets a Much-Needed Overhaul

The most iconic 1969 Camaro ever finally gets a little TLC

Tony Huntimer Feb 23, 2016
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It all started with a father and son project that led to a 28-year reign of power and speed unmatched by any other car in the history of motorsports. Now it’s finally time for a major overhaul.

Back in 1987, Bill Osborne and his crew built the beast known as Big Red. It stemmed from Dan and R.J. Gottlieb’s idea of taking an old American muscle car and building it to win the La Carrera Classica race in Mexico. They envisioned a grossly over-powered and race-engineered badass American muscle car that could take out the high-end European sports cars with guns blazing. The vehicle chosen for this task was the perfect fit: a 1969 Camaro.

Big Red was built with the best of the best parts and latest in race car building techniques at that time. Everything was built correctly the first time. Building this 220-mph Camaro was a serious undertaking. Twenty-eight years later, Big Red is the testament of a thoughtfully designed and well-built race car. It hasn’t had a major overhaul since it was built. Not even after its eight-year hibernation in a Laughlin, Nevada, casino car museum, which ended in 2004.

Bill never imagined Big Red would be racing in more than the Mexico-based La Carrera road race. The big steps outside of that box are the salt flats at Bonneville, the dry lakes at El Mirage, and the flying mile events. Big Red has done them all with awesome results. With each event comes a different set of requirements, so plenty of modifications have been made over the years. Many items have been added out of necessity, but not necessarily with the perfect mix of form and function …with serviceability in mind. Making a simple change can lead to a cascade of other changes, so sometimes a little compromise in design had to be made.

2 Big Red 1969 Camaro Bonneville 2/10

Big Red was not built with Bonneville in mind as a destination, But R.J. wanted more speed. So Big Red rocked the salt.

Even with the all the different setups required, Big Red has never been completely torn down to the bare body and chassis for inspection and updates. When running Bonneville, the car needs to weigh in at around 6,000 pounds, so Big Red doesn’t need to go on a diet for all of the racing events. Weight is going to be cut by replacing a few exterior and interior body panels with ones made from carbon fiber. The factory steel decklids will be used when additional weight is needed. Big Red has four different hoods and decklids (with different spoilers). Each one with a specific purpose.

3 Big Red 1969 Camaro Carbon Fiber Deck Lid 3/10

Mocking up some carbon-fiber parts from Anvil. Of course, the parts will ultimately all bear the signature red and white paint scheme. (Photo courtesy Team Killeen)

Steel fenders reign supreme with all setups. There’s something great about being able to say Big Red is the fastest ’69 Camaro on earth (at 251.8 mph), and it still has steel fenders. The driver-side fender needed to be replaced so R.J. had the team search for a GM factory fender. It was worked-over by the metal men in the shop to bulge it slightly for tire clearance and then reinforced with an inner barrier to protect the top against rock damage.

4 Big Red 1969 Camaro Front Fender 4/10

A factory fender was slightly bulged and modified to replace an old, ill-fitting reproduction piece. (Photo courtesy Team Killeen)

Over the years, the team has created a list of items they would eventually change to make it more serviceable. One big change is the addition of a removable transmission tunnel to allow transmission service and inspection without having to raise the car.

5 Big Red 1969 Camaro Open Transmission Tunnel 5/10

A removable transmission tunnel will make life much easier on the crew at events.

The frame was mediablasted with copper slag to remove all the paint and inspect for cracks and address any possible weaknesses. With the paint removed, the surfaces are visible and ready for welding.

This is the first installment of the rebuild process. Stay tuned for more updates of the fastest and most versatile ’69 Camaro on earth. Team Big Red is partnering with BuildBookUSA.com and will be offering a complete 200-page build book that will cover the whole build in detail at the end of the project.

6 Big Red 1969 Camaro Bbs Wheels 6/10

All of the three-piece wheels have been dismounted and will be sent to BBS for inspection.

7 Big Red 1969 Camaro Window Netting 7/10

This photo from an El Mirage dry lake event shows the wiring to be improved, and a peek behind R.J. shows the large lead plates installed for ballast. Dry lakes and salt events require weight for traction.

8 Big Red 1969 Camaro Cage Work 8/10

Team member Tim Fleenor is working on a door bar support. Some ’cage work was performed to make it easier for R.J. to enter and exit quickly.

9 Big Red 1969 Camaro Rollcage 9/10

Hopefully, the rollcage never has to be put to the test, but if necessary, it’s ready.

10 Big Red 1969 Camaro Sandblasting 10/10

The chassis was mediablasted at Devco Sandblasting in San Bernardino, California, so it could be thoroughly inspected for cracks.(Photo courtesy Team Killeen)

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