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Stellar Big-Block Pro Touring 1969 Camaro

Mario might make more moves

Ro McGonegal Oct 17, 2018
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See if any of this sounds familiar: Mario Marr clipped his Camaro from eBay, a car that was announced as “rust free.” Little did he know that the rust was free—“it was a complete pile of junk,” Mario said. Then he said, “I always wanted a COPO Camaro but they are way out of my league, price wise.” Without really knowing why, he decided he was going to build a COPO clone. He thought his credentials were full enough. He’d started the life in his brother’s cage doing general repairs, got some heavy diesel experience along the trail, and ultimately he opened a collision repair shop. He wasn’t anywhere near ready for this action.

He was still hot on the COPO cluster until one day that entire notion disintegrated. Now, Pro Touring would become the prevailing wind. “The first person to help me start the project in the new direction was my nephew DJ. Then I met Mike Kelly from Lateral-g.net. Through him, Troy Gudgel from BBT Fabrications became responsible for 90 percent of the build,” he said. “I purchased the car in 2005, figuring that I would get a nice foundation to start with, gradually putting money away so I could build it without cutting corners. I had Carter Hickman Designs do a rendering or two, and by 2010 I had enough money to start the project.”

The beginnings were humble indeed. Every single panel was rusted out and nothing much was salvageable—basically just the A-pillars and the inner quarters. “I should have scrapped it and started over with a better, cleaner car.” But he didn’t. Oh, no. “Not many can say they built a car from basically nothing, so it became personal to me to make it happen,” he confessed. He and nephew DJ disassembled what was there and sent it out to get sodablasted. They sprayed the results with PPG DP40 epoxy primer. He got a call a few weeks later from Mike Kelly, who was keeping an eye on Mario’s Camaro. Kelly asked if he could come down and lend a hand.

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After a year of weekends, the car was back together—in a manner of speaking—but was still sorely lacking. Mike and Mario took a hard look at what remained—not a single end-gap was close to being perfect, so it must be time to send the car out to get them welded up.

Coincidentally, Mario became infatuated with a ’69 Firebird project called Encore on Lateral-g. It was being built by Gudgel at BBT Fabrications in freeway-close Mahomet, Illinois. He called Troy and talked about, among other things, gapping his Camaro. Mario: “I can honestly say that was the point where everything changed.”

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Mario took the Camaro to BBT and parked it next to the Encore Pontiac. “I would have been OK with dropping the car off myself, but I was with a group of what my wife, Pamela, likes to call enablers (and we know who the main one is) and within minutes I realized that my car wasn’t there just to get gapped. I went to my first Goodguys show in Columbus later that year. I ran into Troy and during a simple conversation, I went from having a nice Pro Touring build to what you see here.”

This crew chewed on, removed the quarter-panel gills, built the cowl on the hood 3/4-inch lower than stock, smoothed the wiper cowl, recessed the marker lights, built the chin spoiler out of aluminum, and constructed the side skirts and deck lip. They moved the gas fill door to the center of the valance, narrowed and tucked the bumpers, and created the center exhaust and rear bellypan. Advanced Plating in Nashville did the brightwork.

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Mike’s Custom Cars fabricated the rear floor section and removed the spare tire well so that the fuel tank can sit higher and not be seen; they added 3 inches to the DSE minitubs. The billet grille was erected by Greening Auto Company (Cullman, Alabama). Troy’s lads put up a new firewall and lined the engine compartment with aluminum. They subtracted 3 inches from the center of the DSE subframe to accommodate wide, deep, and clearly belligerent 19-inch hoops and 30-series rubber. Because they are rarely seen in a street application, those giant 15-inch Brembo carbon ceramic rotors and six-piston calipers are impossible to discount. Can’t get ’em much larger or lighter than that.

Right where you’d think they’d have put an LS3 or something else as ordinary, there’s a fat-block in there giving the raspberry, flaunting 572 cubic inches as built by Joe Kern and Tad Lewis in Salem, Illinois. Under that sexy Hogan’s intake manifold and Holley fuel injection, a Lunati hydraulic bumpstick comports with Comp enablers. BBT formed the custom rocker covers and built the 2.0-inch primary-pipe headers and 3-inch collectors, as well as the exhaust system complete. Torque is transferred via a Magnum T-56 spinning freeze-altered gearsets and a Centerforce clutch assembly.

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Got to put Mario someplace. Might as well be in the striking interior designed by Victor Fulton and turned into something that can actually be used from collaboration by Customs by Vos and BBT. An unlikely color combination, creamy leather and seriously advanced controls and tuning knobs provide a likely contrast with those acres of PPG Black. “I can’t say,” said Mario, “I would do anything different with this build. It makes it easy when you work with someone who knows what he’s doing. To that end, my most memorable recollection of the Camaro is seeing it complete for the first time at the 2016 Goodguys Columbus show.” If he pondered a little longer, he’d probably come up with a few more good thoughts. CHP

Tech Check
Owner: Mario Marr, Orland Park, Illinois
Vehicle: 1969 Camaro

Engine
Type: Gen IV tall deck
Displacement: 572 ci
Compression Ratio: 8.0:1
Bore: 4.560 inches
Stroke: 4.375 inches
Cylinder Heads: GM 310cc rectangular port, raised 118cc exhaust port, 118cc combustion chambers, 2.25/1.88 valves
Rotating Assembly: Forged crankshaft; forged, shot-peened connecting rods; forged pistons
Valvetrain: Aluminum 1.7:1 roller rocker arms, 3/8-inch pushrods, Comp springs/hardware, custom BBT Fabrications rocker covers
Camshaft: Lunati hydraulic (0.639/0.629-inch lift; 299/309-deg duration at 0.050)
Induction: Hogan’s Racing isolated runner manifold, Holley fuel injection, Rick’s Stainless tank
Ignition: MSD, MSD primary wiring
Exhaust: BBT Fabrications (Mahomet, IL) stainless headers, 2-inch primaries, 3-inch system, Borla Pro XS mufflers
Ancillaries: PRC aluminum radiator, Billet Specialties accessory drive, Edelbrock water pump, Powermaster alternator, SPAL fans, six-point rollcage
Machine Work: Joe Kern (Salem, IL)
Built By: Joe Kern/Tad Lewis (Salem, IL)

Drivetrain
Transmission: TREMEC Magnum T-56 (cryogenically treated gears), GM 11.5-inch flywheel, Centerforce pressure plate and disc
Rear Axle: Strange Engineering 9-inch, Truetrac differential, 3.83:1 gears, 31-spline axles

Chassis
Front Suspension: DSE hydroformed subframe (narrowed 3 inches), C6 spindles, JRi triple-adjustable coilover shock absorbers, antisway bar
Rear Suspension: DSE QUADRALink, JRi triple-adjustable coilovers, subframe connectors, antisway bar
Brakes: Brembo carbon ceramic 15-inch rotors, six-piston calipers, front and rear; Wilwood proportioning valve

Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boze Mesh 19x10 front, 19x12 rear
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 285/35 front, 345/30 rear

Interior
Upholstery: Customs by Vos (Griffith, IN)/BBT Fabrications
Material: Leather
Seats: N/A, four-point belts
Steering: ididit column, DSE rack, MOMO wheel
Shifter: White Lightning
Dash: Aluminum custom by BBT
Instrumentation: Dakota Digital
Audio: Sony head unit, JL Audio speakers, front and rear, JL subwoofer; installed by BBT Fabrications
HVAC: Vintage Air

Exterior
Bodywork: BBT Fabrications/US Collision
Paint By: BBT Fabrications
Paint: PPG Black
Hood: Custom steel cowl-induction
Grille: Greening Auto Company, custom machined
Bumpers: Modified and tucked, front and rear

Photos by Robert McGaffin

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