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Mild, Big-Block–Powered Pro Touring 1969 Camaro

Heater: From one human generator to the next: world without end, amen

Ro McGonegal Aug 16, 2017
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A father and son (or daughter) often bond outside the immediate family to enjoy interests like fishing, racing, target shooting, bible study, sports of some stripe, the 4H Club, all-you-can-eat-for-$5 troughs and … cars, lots of modified cars, mostly called hot rods. Inexorably drawn by the genetic link, upstate New Yorker Dominic DeSanto says he’s been talking to them most of his life.

This story began like most. A friend of Dom’s dad had heard of a genuine ’69 Camaro SS 396 that’d been sitting since the mid-’80s in a place where the cool cars nowadays seem to be found: in a barn. But it wasn’t pristine by a long shot. It had more than its quota of slow death—oxidation—especially in the floorpans and quarter-panels, but the doors and fenders were basically sound. Even though his plans hadn’t jelled completely, in a frenetic push to get it ready for paint, in 2010 Dom had a local shop perform the exterior corrections.

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Dom’s dad remains close to the hobby/sport and is therefore privy to a substantial grapevine. One of its subscribers is Rick Talbot at Talbot Hot Rods in Ridgeway, Virginia. After discussing the project with his father, Dom drove south for a big pow-wow, cigars included. It was a meeting that Dom won’t soon forget. Rick was eerily omniscient. Like he confirmed exactly what Dom wanted before Dom knew it.

“He had many good ideas about the engine, transmission, and suspension. His vision for the build was exactly what I wanted … but I didn’t know it until he told me.” As a result, with the exception of the bodywork and the paint, it would be Talbot’s job to craft and assemble everything else. But first, the exterior was completed at Bryant’s Custom Collision in nearby Bassett, Virginia. Bryant’s crew refined the bodywork and applied the silver coat and finished off the job with hockey-stick graphics. To underscore the ambience, they narrowed and painted the bumpers as well, giving the car a seamless, soothing, of-a-piece appearance.

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Talbot is known for his involvement with some slick top-end ’30s and ’40s cars that appear modest at first glance. They are subtle, and they are eloquent, and the more you look the more you find. Go on his website and see for yourself. So when Dom came around with his “new” Camaro, Rick was invigorated by the challenge presented by this completely new palette.

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Dom’s a student of history, so he considered the 9561 COPO Camaros, those extremely limited numbers fitted with the all-iron solid lifter L72 427. He got him a Chevrolet Performance ZZ427 (aluminum heads/iron block). Considering its modest mission, that engine will provide all the torque he’ll ever need on the street; it’ll be dead reliable; it’ll likely make the Pro Touring people with the LS darlings twitch. Though this car was originally designed for production big-block applications, Dom says the Hedman Hedders 2-inch primary pipes made for a tight fit, especially the kink by the steering box.

The chassis was amended with a Detroit Speed enhancement that puts those 12-wide back tires to work. It provides a firm but pleasing ride quality, the kind that doesn’t beat your bones and leave you tired when the ride is over.

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What does Dom do with his silver bullet? He lives in it on cruise nights and drives it into local shows. He loves talking about it. He doesn’t aspire to missing orange cones by a hair’s breadth. When we asked about how he drove the car he laughed and said “It’s hard not to drive it hard.” At other times, the overdriven top gear in the TREMEC five-speed knocks the axle ratio down in the mid-2s, returning a trickle of fuel economy and relaxing the engine on steady-state throttle.

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The Camaro’s lush red gut, vibrant and glowing in that silver bowl is a classic scheme, so rich you feel like it might just absorb you, but there isn’t any urgency in there. Everything is in plain sight, condensed to eliminate clutter and facilitate use. A RacePak data logger gathers all the tattletale gauges within its boundaries and keeps Dom’s line of sight in the same general direction as the horizon. Rick went way out with the seats. He based the structure on Glide seat frames and fabricated the buckets around them. He created the back “seat” with sections of plywood and then trimmed it out.

“The true pleasure of the build was working with Rick and his wife, Lynn,” concludes Dom. And the epic continues. Three months after Rick finished the Camaro, Dom brought him a ’32 Ford three-window to fuss over.

And so it goes, from one human generator to the next, world without end, amen.

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Tech Check
Owner Dominic DeSanto, Somers, New York
Vehicle 1969 Camaro
Engine
Type ZZ427/480
Displacement 427 ci
Compression Ratio 10.1:1
Bore 4.250 inches
Stroke 3.750 inches
Cylinder Heads Aluminum oval port, 2.90/1.88 stainless steel valves, 110cc combustion chambers
Rotating Assembly Forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, forged aluminum pistons, four-bolt main bearing caps
Valvetrain Aluminum 1.7:1 roller rocker arms, 3/8-inch pushrods, roller lifters
Camshaft Chevrolet Performance hydraulic (224/234-deg. duration at 0.050; 0.527/0.544-inch lift)
Induction Chevrolet Performance dual-plane oval-port manifold, Holley 770-cfm carburetor, 16-gallon fuel tank
Ignition Billet HEI, 10-degrees before top dead center, 36 degrees total timing
Exhaust Hedman Hedders shorty headers, 2-inch primary pipes, 3-inch stainless steel system, Flowmaster 40 mufflers
Ancillaries Front Runner accessory drive, custom console by Rick Talbot (Ridgeway, VA)
Output (at the crank) 480 hp at 5,800 rpm, 490 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm
Drivetrain
Transmission TREMEC TKO 600 five-speed, GM clutch assembly and flywheel
Rear Axle Narrowed Ford 9-inch, limited-slip differential, 3.73:1 gears, 31-spline axles
Chassis
Front Suspension DSE hydroformed subframe, tubular control arms, Koni Classic shock absorbers, antisway bar
Rear Suspension DSE leaf springs and aluminum shock absorbers
Brakes Baer 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers, front; Baer 12-inch rotors, four-piston calipers, rear; Baer master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
Wheels Budnik V2, 18x8 front, 18x12 rear
Tires BFG g-Force 245/40 front, 335/30 rear
Interior
Upholstery Talbot Hot Rods (Ridgeway, VA)
Material Leather
Seats Glide
Steering Flaming River column, Budnik GTO wheel
Shifter Custom made by Rick Talbot
Dash Leather
Instrumentation RacePak insert, RacePak gauges
Audio N/A
HVAC Vintage Air
Exterior
Bodywork Bryant’s Custom Collision (Bassett, VA)
Paint By Bryant’s Custom Collision
Paint PPG Mercedes-Benz Brilliant Silver base and clearcoat
Hood Stock ZL2
Grille Stock
Bumpers Original, narrowed

Photos by Bill Erdman

Photography by Bill Erdman

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