Alex Short has always loved the classic, clean lines of the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, and seven years ago decided to undertake the rebuild of a car found he in a local classified advertisement.
“I drove a shell of a ’69 Camaro, purchased for $2,500, into my home garage on a trailer. I began acquiring parts with my friends and family, trying to piece together what we could to make it look like the original ’69. We quickly learned our skills were mediocre, to say the least,” says Short. Underneath the shiny red paint the entire car was rotten, wrecking his original plan of building the car at home.
Enter experienced custom vehicle builder—and Alex’s longtime friend—Cam Miller of HS Customs in Logan, Utah. Miller was entrusted with the Camaro and a plan was hatched to create a ’69 Camaro like no other, dubbed Under Pressure. The car’s name has a dual meaning, according to Miller. The first is simple: a pair of turbochargers feeding the engine creates the obvious meaning. Bubbling under the surface is the second, subtle meaning: the challenge of building a custom ’69 Camaro like none that had come before it, without wrecking the timeless lines of the iconic Chevy. The pair went into the project with a plan of building a car that featured 1,000 horsepower—more power than any of the other cars the pair had built in the past, including Short’s ’58 T-bird, which was runner-up for Custom Rod of the Year with Goodguys in 2014. “While the shop was fixing what was left to fix as far as body and rust issues, I went to work on some ideas and renderings,” says Miller. “After about six months of going over ideas, Alex and I came up with a pretty wild concept.”
That concept included the aforementioned twin-turbocharged engine, spec’d by Brian Thomson of Thomson Automotive in Wixom, Michigan. The 427-cubic-inch LS engine relies on a Chevrolet Performance Parts LSX block housing a 4.000-inch-stroke Callies crankshaft, Oliver 6.125-inch forged connecting rods, and 9.0:1-compression pistons from Diamond Racing. LSX aluminum heads from Chevrolet Performance Parts sit on top of the engine, with a Comp Cams hydraulic roller acting as the engine’s brain. Mirror-image 72mm turbochargers from Nelson Racing are fed from Stainless Works headers and an HS Customs hot-side, while the HS Customs cold-side was designed for superior performance. It provides the artificial atmosphere to the engine, while the assembly is controlled by a Dave Mikels-tuned Holley Dominator engine management system, with tuning support from Holley’s Rick Anderson.
Remember that 1,000-horse number mentioned previously? The engine actually produces 1,225 horsepower and 989 lb-ft of torque with only 11 psi boost pressure, easily eclipsing the intended power figures. In the interest of retaining smooth driveability, one of Hughes Transmissions’ 4L80E computer-controlled slushboxes relies on a 2,600-stall Hughes converter to transfer power to the Currie Enterprises 9-inch Ford rear. And that’s where the fun began for the HS Customs team. The rear tire plan called for 335-section width Pirelli meats, which required new 2x3-inch built-from-scratch framerails to replace the stockers. Tire clearance also required new wheeltubs and inner trunk panels, while the transmission tunnel was designed in with extra clearance for the center-exit exhaust.
The Pro Touring front clip is from Total Cost Involved (TCI), which uses TCI’s spindles and a Mustang II-style rack-and-pinion. JRi hydraulic/adjustable ride height coilovers are at all four corners. The rear suspension uses one of TCI’s torque arm assemblies, which allows the HS Customs team to plant the suspension into the weeds. Wilwood 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers provide the stopping power. The wheels were designed in-house at HS Customs and executed by Evod Industries; they measure 19x8 in the front and 20x12 in the rear, with Pirelli P Zero shoes providing traction.
Building a ’69 Camaro with an appearance and style different from all others required a massive undertaking by the HS Customs team—a challenge they eagerly accepted. “The body mods kept getting more and more technical and massive. This is where most of the build time was spent,” says Miller. “For balance and packaging, the engine was moved back 4 inches, and the firewall was modified for the needed room. All inner fenders were scratch-made for form and function, the underside of the hood was reshaped and smoothed, the top side of the hood and the cowl were stretched, and the header panel was removed.”
Custom touches from the HS team are all over this car—there are even custom-made washers for every exposed fastener under the hood. “A custom cold-air intake was made to feed the turbos through the side gills of the grille, and the grille is billet, with the design cues of the new and the old Camaros,” says Miller. “The center splitter of the grille has flush-mount LED turn signals/marker lights. The cold-air gills, which are handmade, on the outer side of headlights are also a big part of the overall design of the car. The lower valance panel was sectioned and smoothed. The driving lights were moved outward and reshaped, which left more room for cold air to run over the intercooler. A custom steel chin spoiler was created to look nearly factory, and scratch-made front and rear bumpers were created with super-tight fit and finish in mind.”
In fact, Miller tells us that there are so many custom subtle changes made to the body of the car that the only stock piece remaining is the center of the roof—it truly takes a keen eye to pick up all of the modifications performed. Inside the car, the flow works with the changes made to the exterior. A redesigned dash holds custom Dakota Digital gauges, while the outer air-conditioning vents mimic the exterior cold air gills.
“The glovebox door, engineered by Doug Tinney, is a piece of engineering genius that cantilevers out from the dash and holds documents and all diagnostic ports for the car,” says Miller. There’s an iPad Mini, Restomod Air A/C system, and a completely hidden Kicker audio system that was installed by Troy Bushman. Andy Yeager did the honors on the upholstery, one-piece headliner, and smooth floor.
The PPG white/gray/gold custom-mixed paint was applied by Cort Sessions and Cam Miller atop the bodywork that was completed by Sessions and Steve Olsen. The entire project wouldn’t have come together without the support of many people.
The HS Customs crew that worked on Under Pressure are Steve Olson, Cort Sessions, Cam Miller, Morgan Larson, Bob Riggs, Jesse Webb, and Rhianna Jones. Individual components were engineered in CAD by Doug Tinney and Dewayne Merritt, with custom machining by BK Machine, Zigg Design, and Custom Fabrication and Machining. As the car has already been on display all over the country, Troy Bushman, Ryan Decol, and Donnie Woolsey help it get from place to place without fail.
“A very special thanks to PPG Automotive Refinish, which includes Jock Lyon and Jim Kavatek,” says Miller. “PPG sponsored the paint for this build, and Ron Willie at Automotive Industrial Supply got the paint to us. Ron even came and helped buff the car for a week. Also, thanks to Alex and Staci Short for giving us the opportunity to build this car, and allowing us to travel around with the car and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
The HS Customs gang spent thousands—no, tens of thousands—of hours getting every little detail on this car just right. Talk about being under pressure; we can’t imagine how difficult it must be to execute the vision as it exists in the builder’s eye while still meeting the requirements of the car owner in the process. Short, for his part, is in love with the execution—and the way it drives. “Being eligible to contend for the Ridler and Great 8 at the Detroit Autorama, and finishing in the Top 5 for Street Machine of the Year at the PPG Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, were memorable experiences—and driving it through the autocross wasn’t too bad either!” sums up Short.