They’re everywhere you look. It’s the muscle car equivalent of the 1932 Ford over in the street rod world. It’s the prolific and oh-so-popular 1969 Camaro. At some events you would almost think it was the only Camaro ever produced. Sure, there’s an occasional 1968, 1967, or even a second- or third-gen, but if Camaros ever had a civil war the ’69 would have them all outnumbered.
While some people have only recently jumped onto the ’69 Camaro bandwagon, others have loved this particular model for a long time. Even back when they barely cost a finger rather than the arm and leg they command today. That’s Payton King’s story; he was digging ’69s back when they were considered “just another Camaro.” As he told us, “My good friend Marks Henry really got me into the first-gens and I had helped him work on his ’69 and ’67 convertibles. But I really liked the one-off body style of the ’69. When I was 19 I helped my younger brother Brennan, who had just turned 16, build a ’69 Camaro for his first car.” The main problem Payton had at the time was that he liked to carve corners but there weren’t aftermarket parts available to help a ’69 stick better in the curves. “We didn’t have a name for Pro Touring, but I did; it was called a Corvette. In the early ’80s if you wanted to do both in a GM vehicle, that was your only choice,” recalled Payton.
Fast-forward a few years. Payton got married, moved from Louisiana to Alabama, and bought a house in the span of a few months. As Payton remembered, “I’m living in marital bliss for three months when I bring a ’69 Camaro home on a roll back. It doesn’t run, and all of the parts are loaded up in the interior with most of it sticking out of the windows. My wife, Cheryl, flipped out because she didn’t know I could work on cars, much less restore them.” A year and a half later the car was done and on the road with the help of Mark Roller.
Around this same time, Mark Stielow was making noise over at the Real Street Eliminator competition being covered by Car Craft magazine and Payton was trying to model his car after Mark’s white one. But, since the ’69 was Payton’s daily driver there was only so much hot rodding he could do to it. In a weak moment he sold it to his brother, but retained the right of “first dibs” if it ever went up for sale again. Two years later the Camaro was back on the market and was sitting in Payton’s garage, now located in Matthews, North Carolina.
All was right with the world again and Payton drove the car to work every day for a solid month. Then he decided to do a quick engine swap. As he tells it, “I had a big-block I was going to drop into the car with a six-speed and a ProCharger supercharger. That’s when things went bad. My factory A/C wouldn’t work with the big-block, so I decided that I might as well smooth the firewall and add a Vintage Air unit. Then, I decided I really didn’t want the big-block and traded it for an LS1. Since I’m there, I might as well do the front suspension. Things snowballed like they always do and a motor swap turned into a 6-year rebuild of the entire car.” During that process, Kevin Schoolcraft, owner of Turn Two Collision, donated space for Payton to work on the car while Chris Reed replaced every panel on car with N.O.S. parts, with the exception of the roof and floors. Payton worked away on the Camaro but his plan kept morphing. He changed the subframe twice, the wheels four times, and the color kept skipping around the spectrum. Eventually, he settled on retina-stinging Viper Yellow and tasked Benny Wilson with laying down the paint.
With the body done, it was time to turn his attention to the rest of the car. The LS1 he got in trade for the big-block was sent over to Clyde Norwood at Precision Engine where it was gone through. Diamond forged pistons replaced the stock hypereutectic slugs and TEA-ported heads were bolted on. To actuate the valves and raise the output, the 346-inch aluminum mill, Clyde also added a 230/230 110 LSA Comp bumpstick. Sitting atop the LS1 is a FAST 90mm intake, which sucks atmosphere through a 90mm Nick Williams throttle body, while spent gasses exit through a custom exhaust system crafted by Payton’s friend Jim Pettigrew. It all works together to lay down 425 hp and 386 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Backing up the LS engine is the venerable Tremec T-56, which shifts power back to a 9-inch with 4.11 gears.
Payton’s fascination with corners really came into play when he got to the suspension stage. He replaced the factory subframe in favor of a C5 Vette-based front clip from 21st Century Street Machines. Incorporating a 1-inch solid Speedway splined bar and a 15:1 AGR rack, the new subframe was just what Payton needed to scratch his handling itch. Coilovers with AFCO shocks reside up front along with Detroit Speed’s 2-inch-drop leafs and Koni shocks in the rear to help modulate the stance. Stopping power is provided courtesy of massive six-piston front and four-piston rear Wilwood binders biting down on 13-inch two-piece rotors. Rolling stock is 18x8.5 front and 19x10 GM C6 Vette wheels wrapped in Goodyear 245/40-18 and 285/35-19 rubber.
Payton wanted the interior to be custom but still retain the feel of a ’69 Camaro. For the stitchwork, he took the ride over to Tommy Harris who re-covered the Arizen seats and worked over the door panels. He also crafted the custom center console. A DSE dash is filled with Auto Meter gauges, and Jim Pettigrew installed and customized the DSE rollcage.
Payton installed a Pioneer and JL audio system to add noise to the cabin in between the frequent mashings of the throttle. The interior all gels together to update the Camaro without smothering the essence of its vintage spirit.
So, what’s the meaning of his license plate that reads “DEAD CAT”? “I started hanging out on a few Pro Touring websites and it seemed that everyone on those sites were building ’69 Camaros. When my friends and I would go to a car show we would always speculate which car was going to be the ‘dead cat.’ It actually came from the old saying ‘You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a (insert common item here).’ Well, come to find out, my car had become the ‘dead cat,’ as you can’t swing one without hitting a ’69 Camaro,” deadpanned Payton.
So, after six years the car is finally done and Payton couldn’t be happier to have it on the road. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s finished messing with the Viper Yellow F-body. He’s been eyeing a new rear suspension along with possibly adding mini-tubs and 335 tires out back. Of course that will require new wheels. But hey, where’s the fun in being done with a car?
“I have owned this car for 15 years and don’t see it going anywhere in the future. People ask me if I am going to give it to my kids when they get old enough and I say ‘no,’ said Payton. “I will help them build their own—this one is mine.”
If it were ours we wouldn’t let it go either.
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