The project car building process is one that can go in multiple directions—some good and some, well … let’s just say, more challenging than others. It all comes down to the condition of the car you are starting with, which can be quite different from the condition you believed the car was in when you bought it.
With the ’60’s-era Camaros being more popular than ever, we here at Chevy High Performance wanted to join in on the action so we set our sights on a first-gen that we could arm with some of the baddest Pro Touring and performance aftermarket parts available. We were even cool with a car that left GM with a six-banger since we’d be punching in an LS3 crate engine from Chevrolet Performance. The idea for this project would be to build a car with plenty of power combined with the reliability of a daily driver.
The “used bins” are pretty full of first-gen Camaros so a quick Internet search netted us a specimen that looked to be a fairly solid example: a 1969 that on the surface appeared to be fairly shy of rust and rot. The seller claimed to be the original owner, the car had been parked since 1988, and was absolutely rust-free. It was just what we were looking for, as messing with a ton of bodywork was less-than appealing to us. We pulled the trigger and excitedly trailered our purchase to the TEN Tech Center in El Segundo, California. We couldn’t wait to dig into this thing and start welding in and bolting on a bunch of performance goodies. We were in “F-body heaven.” We were finally moving forward on the latest Chevy High Performance project car … Not so fast.
As we began peeling away parts it became glaringly obvious that our tidy “one owner” F-body had lived a much harder life than we were led to believe. As bolts were loosened and panels removed, newly discovered truths of the car’s reckless life were revealed. It wasn’t pretty. We were up against a major undertaking—more than we could, or wanted to, deal with. So, with egos completely deflated, we raised the white flag and sent the carcass of our classic to the AMD Installation Center in Cleveland, Georgia, for a professional diagnosis to see if the Camaro was worth saving.
Veteran AMD Installation Center technicians Craig Hopkins and Cesar Briceno took one look at the car, or what was left of it anyway, and informed us that it would take a full rebuild to get our Camaro off life support. “The only salvageable parts were the A-post, the lower dash, the inner roof structures, and package tray,” said Craig. “The rest of the sheetmetal, including the firewall, inner and outer rocker panels, floors, quarter-panels, fenders, and just about everything in between was junk.” Needless to say, we fired open the Auto Metal Direct catalog and ordered up a slew of new sheetmetal.
Craig and Cesar tossed the car up on the datum table to ensure our F-body remained square, centered, and level while removing the Camaro’s thin skin. It’s vitally important the new sheetmetal lines up correctly so the door and hood gaps are tighter than the day the car rolled of the assembly line. These guys know their stuff.
With the body being properly addressed, we set focus on the engine and suspension. Horsepower, performance, and reliability was the mindset for this project. The idea is to prove that it’s possible to take a classic car that 10-15 years ago would have been destined for the crusher, yet with today’s aftermarket parts, can be rehabilitated into a stunning street machine.
Starting out back, a Detroit Speed Inc. Mini-Tub kit was installed in order to accommodate the 18x11 American Racing VF502 Forged satin-finish wheels and 295/40 Falken Azenis rubber. A CA Chassisworks g-Bar rear coilover suspension was dialed in with a Chassisworks Ultimate Pro Touring coilover system up front by way of the g-Machine front subframe. Falken 275/35 Azenis rubber wrap around the 18x9 American Racing VF502 wheels up front. Double-adjustable VariShock Quickset-2 coilover shocks reside on all four corners, ensuring this Pro Touring ride travels smoothly and stays on track.
We then bolted in a Chevrolet Performance 376ci (6.2L) LS3 crate engine. The aluminum block plays home to L92-type rectangular port heads, hypereutectic aluminum pistons, nodular iron crankshaft, and powdered metal connecting rods. The high-revving LS delivers a stout 430 hp at 5,900 rpm with 425 lb-ft of torque coming in at 4,600 rpm.
A 4L65E transmission handles shifting duties while an Inland Empire Driveline aluminum driveshaft sends twist to a Drive Train Specialties-supplied Truetrac posi and Strange Engineering third member stuffed inside the Chassisworks FAB9 housing.
A peek under the hood reveals an Airaid air intake sucking in atmosphere, while an LS Accessory Drive Kit from Holley rides behind the AutoRad radiator and single electric fan. Eddie Motorsports’ polished hood hinges, hood latch, and fender braces bring some excitement to the otherwise pedestrian engine bay scene.
A Classic Industries RS grille and headlight door kit provide added style, and the Detroit Speed electric door actuator system makes it all tick.
Classic Industries then came through with all the bits and pieces that bring the business quarter back to life. TMI provided a performance-themed, stylish interior that wakes up the cockpit by tying in the door panels and seats to a uniform ensemble. A Classic Auto Air A/C system ensures the occupants stay cool while a solid dose of Dynamat keep the heat and exterior noise in check so the Custom Autosound tunes can be fully appreciated.
Scott Bonowski and the crew at Hot Rods & Hobbies in Signal Hill, California, took over final assembly and filled in the sheetmetal seams and gapped the body to perfection before laying down the Axalta Cromax sealer, single-stage Tuxedo Black Magic Mirror topcoat, and Cromax Pro coat and clear. The Cromax Silver “hockey stick stripe” gives the car a sporty attitude and a nod to performance. No doubt they pulled off a finish that far exceeds what the factory turned out back in 1969.
What started out as a simple idea took a hard left turn and became the monster of all projects. It took years longer than intended, included more sheetmetal than we knew existed, and sucked up more hours than we had to give. But after all was said and done the finished product is one we are more than proud of. The car looks killer, runs great, and we felt positive vibes knowing another 1969 Camaro was saved from the jaws of destruction.
|Owner||Chevy High Performance, Santa Ana, California|
|Type||Chevrolet Performance LS3|
|Cylinder Heads||LS3, L92-style ports, as cast w/ 68cc chambers, 2.165 intake/1.590 exhaust valves|
|Rotating Assembly||Nodular iron crankshaft, powdered metal connecting rods, hypereutectic aluminum pistons|
|Valvetrain||1.7:1 rocker arms, OE pushrods, OE retainers|
|Camshaft||Hydraulic roller (201/211-deg. duration at 0.050; 0.510/0.522-inch lift)|
|Exhaust||Doug’s 1 7/8-inch primary headers, Doug’s 3-inch J-bend exhaust, JBA stainless mufflers|
|Ancillaries||Holley oil pan, Holley front drive system, AutoRad aluminum radiator w/ single fan, Eddie Motorsports hood hinges and fender braces, Painless Performance wiring, Detroit Speed wiper motor|
|Output||430 hp at 5,900 rpm, 425 lb-ft 4,600 rpm|
|Transmission||Chevrolet Performance 4L65E|
|Rear Axle||Drive Train Specialties-supplied (DTS) Truetrac differential, Strange third member, 35-spline axles, CA Chassisworks FAB9 rearend, 3.70:1 gears|
|Driveshaft||Inland Empire Driveline|
|Front Suspension||CA Chassisworks g-Machine subframe, CA Chassisworks Ultimate Pro Touring coilover system, 2-inch drop spindles, 1.25-inch splined sway bar, CA Chassisworks rack-and-pinion steering, VariShock Quickset-2 double-adjustable shocks, 550lb VariSprings|
|Rear Suspension||CA Chassisworks g-Bar coilover suspension, splined 5/8-inch solid antiroll bar, VariShock double-adjustable shocks, 175lb VariSprings|
|Brakes||Wilwood 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front; Wilwood 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers rear; Wilwood master cylinder|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels||American Racing VF502 Forged 18x9 (5.75 backspace) front; 18x11 (5.875 backspace) rear|
|Tires||Falken Azenis RT 275/35 front, 295/40 rear|
|Steering||Flaming River column, Eddie Motorsports Launch steering wheel|
|Dash & Interior Pieces||Classic Industries|
|HVAC||Classic Auto Air, factory A/C controls|
|Sheetmetal||Auto Metal Direct|
|Glass||Auto Metal Direct|
|Body||Auto Metal Direct Installation Center (sheetmetal install)|
|Paint & Body||Hot Rods & Hobbies (Signal Hill, CA)|
|Paint||Axalta Tuxedo Black Magic Mirror basecoat; Axalta Silver stripe|
|Hood||Auto Metal Direct; Eddie Motorsports SS vents|
|Grille||Classic Industries, Detroit Speed Inc. RS Headlight Door Kit|
|Bumpers||Classic Industries, tucked by Hot Rods & Hobbies|
Photos by Jorge Nunez