Prime Pro Touring protagonist Mark Stielow says he’s been building cars since he was 16. He’s 52 now. When Mark was a lad, his dad played a little with cars and he owned car washes and a trash hauling company. The kid grew his curiosity of mechanical things because his dad would let him take the old equipment apart to see what was inside and what made it work. Then he’d put it back together to see if it still worked. He’s been doing that stuff ever since.
He seems stuck on first-gen Camaros, and as you are aware, he’s shepherded at least a half dozen; some were harbingers, others all-out annihilators, and each of them illuminating in its own way. For his next act (tentatively titled Gunner), Mark wanted simplicity and a realistic build time: not years, but a matter of months. He wanted to build a car that looked old, unmolested, and original and pack it with the very latest modern equipment, just like people did in the old days.
He saw two ways to tighten up the response: find a car with virtually no oxidation but possessed of a scurfy, dirty coating on its original livery. Celebrating the patina pardoned Mark from Paint Jail before he even got there. There was no question that he’d keep the tar paper roof. “I looked long and hard to find a survivor car that wore its original paint and this one was the perfect candidate. That patina will provide a great contrast to the updated powertrain, while simplifying the build. But finding a patina ’69 Camaro isn’t an easy thing to do. The ’69s are so popular most have been restored at least once.” During Gunner’s transformation, all the sheetmetal was fiercely protected to keep the patina intact.
The prep, measuring, and squaring processes are absolutely critical. The lines must remain true and adhered to faithfully, but there’s always something in the way to interrupt them. To make room for the wheeltubs, you gotta cut out the rear framerails. Because the space for the fuel cell is smaller now, you need to source a narrower tank. Putting up the Detroit Speed Inc. QUADRALink requires the removal of a large section of the trunk’s upper floor. To install the suspension X-member means eliminating the original shock mounts.
About the chassis and suspension Mark says: “It’s one thing to build a fast car or one that corners harder than anyone else’s but the trick is doing it in a package that’s fun to drive and won’t beat you up. My last few cars were higher end builds with custom engines and paint. I wanted to do something fun and not worry about just being able to drive it.”
A big part of that not getting beaten up thing is being surrounded by the continuity of a completely finished interior that includes carpet, door panels, armrests, door glass, wind lace, window cranks, and 67 other bits straight out of the Classic Industries bible. That stuff complements the feel-good creature comforts (minimal audio, capable HVAC, badass seats) and, compared to the outside of the Camaro, seems a different world.
Stielow decreased his time in the proceedings by bringing in his go-to guys at Sled Alley Hot Rods up on 15 Mile, as he had done lots in the past. “With their experience, they’ve got the installation down to a science. It takes them less than half the time it would take me, helping get the car finished that much quicker,” Stielow imparts. Sled would complete all the heavy stuff, the main substructures, and the welding and then Mark would retreat to his big home garage (built right where normal humans would probably have dug a swimming pool) for the finesse work.
Before Mark could dig in, there were myriad things Sled attended, among them complications with the accessory drive system. It meant that Sled had to adapt conventional hydraulically operated power steering to an accessory drive that wasn’t designed to accommodate it. To help offset the weight of the driver, the oil tank and related lines of the dry-sump system were placed in a pocket created in the passenger-side of the firewall, removing about 40 pounds from the nose of the car and putting it where it would be beneficial. Sled capitalized on that fact and attached a transmission fluid overflow tank to address leakage that will occur under severe use.
Experience has shown that a blower engine under the whip wants to run as cool as possible. Sled had C&R Racing build a 28.5x21.3x2.5-inch aluminum core and paired it with the 850-watt fan from a CTS-V. Stielow liked its inherent pulse-width modulation, which offers greater temperature control and requires less energy to operate. The flared cold-air intake tube looks simple enough but required 20 hours to make it work as well as it looks.
Sled’s principle Matt Gurjack’s wisdom: “Metal fab has always been my thing, and at the end of the day, it’s my reputation on the line, not someone else’s.” Though there would be no metal prep, there was some rash on the front valance that required attention. The tricky thing here was being able to smooth it without breaking the 48-year-old paint. Gurjack carefully performed the fix with hammer-and-dolly, but he padded the hammerhead with a T-shirt to keep its edges from tearing into the paint. The lip of the left-front fender needed some love, too. Again, judicious use of the time-honored fix and several more ratty T-shirts came to the rescue.
In this world of just-in-time parts availability, what would be more expedient than an engine that was already built and already proven? The Gen V LT4 dry-sump version, the engine in the Corvette Z06 and Camaro ZL1, is rated at 650 pony/650 twist. Mark: “The choice with the Chevrolet Performance LT4 was easy. Bang for the buck, it’s a fantastic, very powerful engine and, like retaining the car’s original paint, simplifies the project because we’re not dealing with a custom engine build.” Through it, Stielow learned more. He says the most challenging part of the project was sorting out the new issues with the LT4.
So is it over yet? Stielow’s lead foot is getting heavier and even a best-bang-for-the-buck engine always needs more. Why? Because the kid will never stop growing his curiosity for mechanical things. CHP
Owner: Mark Stielow, Milford, Michigan
Vehicle: 1969 Camaro
Type: Scoggin-Dickey Chevrolet Performance Gen V LT4
Displacement: 376 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Bore: 4.065 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: As-cast Rotocast w/ 65.5cc combustion chambers, 2.130 (titanium)/1.590 valves
Rotating Assembly: Forged crankshaft, powdered metal steel connecting rods, forged pistons
Valvetrain: OE investment-cast, roller-bearing trunnion 1.81:1 rocker arms, OE pushrods
Camshaft: Hydraulic roller (0.492/0.551-inch lift; 189/223-deg. duration at 0.050)
Induction: 1.7L Eaton R1740 TVS supercharger at 9 psi positive manifold pressure
Ignition: OE, coil-near-plug, Chevrolet Performance E92 engine controller (PN 19331517), Optima RedTop in Eddie Motorsports battery box
Exhaust: Hooker Blackheart headers, 1 7/8-inch primary pipes, 3-inch system
Ancillaries: Four-point 4130 rollcage by Sled Alley Hot Rods (Clinton Township, MI), OE dry-sump system, OE/Holley accessory drive, American Autowire harness, C&R aluminum radiator, CTS-V fan, custom center console by Sled Alley
Output (at the crank): 650 hp at 6,000 rpm, 650 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm
Transmission: TREMEC Magnum six-speed (modified and assembled by D&D Performance (Wixom, MI)); 2.66:1 Low-gear ratio/0.50:1 Sixth-gear ratio; Centerforce DYAD dual-disc clutch assembly, flywheel, and hydraulic clutch linkage; Quick Time bellhousing; fluid cooler w/ Walbro pump
Rear Axle: Strange Engineering 9-inch, Truetrac differential, 3.50:1 gears, Strange 35-spline axles, Detroit Speed Inc. (DSE) floater hubs, Strange driveshaft
Front Suspension: DSE hydroformed subframe, spindles, springs, and splined antisway bar; JRi two-way shock absorbers
Rear Suspension: DSE QUADRALink, 1 1/4-inch antisway bar, Panhard bar, subframe connectors, DSE/JRi shock absorbers
Brakes: StopTech 15-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front; StopTech 13.7-inch rotors, four-piston calipers rear; 2010 Corvette master cylinder and booster, Tilton proportioning valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline CF1 18x10 front, 18x12 rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Rival 275/35 front, 335/30 rear
Material: Leather/suede inserts
Seats: Recaro, Recaro harness
Steering: OE column, DSE rack-and-pinion, Turn One P/S pump, Momo wheel
Shifter: TREMEC, Eddie Motorsports shifter bezel
Dash: Classic Industries
Audio: Alpine head unit, front and rear speakers
HVAC: Vintage Air
Bodywork: Minor straightening of front valance and left-front fender lip by Sled Alley
Paint By: GM
Paint: GM Fathom Green (Code 57)
Hood: OE w/ Eddie Motorsports hinges
Photos by Robert McGaffin