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Bonding Time Is Cool Time: Yenko Tribute 1969 Camaro

Duane Mellinger’s 1969 Camaro was built as a means to bond with his son

John Machaqueiro Nov 27, 2018
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Growing up in a household that embraced working on cars, Duane Mellinger had a few influences to draw from in his formative years. His father, Glenn, was a mechanic early in life so that nurtured the automotive interest, while his older brothers Ron and Jerry, who owned a 1964 Chevelle SS and a 1969 Chevelle SS, fueled the performance end. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Duane to set his eyes on something from the Chevrolet stable as well, which actually happened before he could legally drive.

At the age of 15, with some financial backing from his father, he pulled the trigger on his first ride: a 1970 Monte Carlo. This car would chart his path in the years to come, as it bloomed into a full-blown show car. It was restored from the ground up and shown for 12 years, at which point he was offered a mountain of cash for it that was too big to say no to. He had a child on the way so a chunk of that money was used for what he describes as a “maturing factor.” However, not all the cash went to family matters—a portion would be set aside to buy another car at some point.

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That wad of cash eventually fueled his next purchase: a LeMans Blue 1969 Camaro that was still under construction. As with the Monte Carlo, this one also evolved into a show car. The same scenario took place. “I had just finished the Camaro a few months before I went to a car cruise,” he recalls, “and this guy was interested in buying the car, so I just threw a number out thinking it would be too high for him to bite. He did.”

“After I sold the blue car, I was looking for another first-gen Camaro,” he explains. “A two-month search revealed a lot of junk and high prices.” In a strange turn of events, someone wanting to sell a car approached him. This was another ’69 Camaro, and it was one Duane was intimately familiar with.

In the late ’80s he owned a body shop in which the Camaro was restored. “We installed all-new GM parts that were available at the time,” he notes. “We put on a complete front end, new inner fenders, hung new quarters, and installed new chrome and trim and repainted it Garnet Red.”

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Fifteen years on, he had the opportunity to buy it at a very reasonable price. What seemed like an easy decision actually proved to be difficult. There was a moment of clarity when he came to the realization that, “I did that car. I know it has all GM parts on it. What am I thinking?”

Once he was past that mental tug of war, it was once again time to dig into yet another car. The Camaro was still sporting its original 350 small-block, which the previous owner had rebuilt and mildly warmed over, as well as the original 12-bolt rear and Turbo 350. While not a real SS, it is a legit X11-optioned car, and it was all still there and in good condition, but it did need a little love. To that end, Duane pulled the front end, engine, and subframe. He also refreshed the engine with a hotter cam, intake, and carb. For the next eight years that’s how he rolled, which also included some track time with a best quarter-mile e.t. of 13.75.

When his son Tanner picked up a Chevy S-10 pickup project, Duane cut a deal. “He gets the truck and I help him finish it, but we’re going to do my Camaro first so that he gets some hands-on experience.” Going in, he knew what he was working with, and metalwork wasn’t on the list. The paint featured a lacquer primer and a first-generation basecoat/clearcoat application. While no longer having his own shop, he was now the manager at Superior Paint & Collision in New Holland, Pennsylvania, and looked at this project as an opportunity to showcase their work.

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“By putting black paint on it, I could showcase the bodywork,” he explains. “Also, our body shop was now spraying waterborne paints. However, the classic and custom car guys were reluctant to go with these paints, so it was an opportunity to show the quality paintjob that could be done with this paint process.”

Along with the fresh coat of paint, the engine once again received a new bumpstick, intake, and carb combo, and a bigger stall converter. When Duane slid the subframe back in he had his friend and top-notch fabricator Josh Hillard whip up a set of chromoly frame connectors to tie it all in.

He didn’t want to have a completely black car, so a contrasting stripe was on the list. He was on the fence between an SS and a Yenko stripe, with the latter winning out due to its longitudinal configuration. The interior was also swapped with a set of houndstooth skins from Denny’s Camaro Parts in Mountville, Pennsylvania.

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With Duane and Tanner spending an average of three evenings per week and full Saturdays on the car, the process took about six months to complete.

Duane once again hit the local shows with it. However, a new tug of war took place. “All my life I’ve been building show cars. I’ve pampered them and cleaned them up from show to show and have reached a point where I questioned if doing that was still fun. I got into the racing and realized this was another way to enjoy the car.” So he did some grudge racing in the Camaro at Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland, where he pulled off a 12.19 e.t. pass. That run only added to the fire and he is not shy about stating, “Racing gets in your blood and you have to go faster.”

That speed bug was addressed when he had Josh Hillard assemble the 383ci stroker that now resides between the fenders. That change got the Camaro down into the mid 11-second range, and he feels there is plenty more in it. For Duane, reflecting on his youth and what he has been able to accomplish with his son has been the most gratifying aspect. They bonded while working on the car, and the racing is priceless. CHP

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Tech Check
Owner: Duane and Amie Mellinger, New Holland, Pennsylvania
Vehicle: 1969 Camaro

Type: 1971 Chevrolet small-block
Displacement: 383 ci
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Bore: 4.030 inches
Stroke: 3.750 inches
Cylinder Heads: AFR 195 aluminum castings, 64cc combustion chambers, CNC ported, 2.050/1.600 valves
Rotating Assembly: Eagle crankshaft and SIR I-beam connecting rods, Speed Pro hypereutectic flat-top pistons and rings, Clevite bearings
Valvetrain: Crane Gold roller rocker arms, Comp Cams chromoly pushrods and roller lifters, PAC Racing 1.290-inch lift springs, titanium keepers, Cloyes double-roller timing chain
Camshaft: Howards hydraulic roller (0.545/0.565-inch lift; 240.6/246.6-deg. duration at 0.050; 106-deg. LSA), fabricated aluminum valve covers
Induction: Edelbrock Endurashine RPM Air-Gap aluminum manifold, Holley 4150-series carburetor (750 cfm), Mr. Gasket air cleaner, Holley fuel pump, GM stock fuel tank
Ignition: MSD 6AL, Black Pro Billet distributor, MSD 8.5mm wires
Exhaust: Hedman Elite shorty headers with 1 5/8-inch primary tubes, 2.5-inch aluminized system, Flowmaster 40 series muffler
Ancillaries: 16-inch 2,800-cfm fan, Classic City two-row aluminum radiator, Powermaster polished alternator, black 1/2-inch AN fuel lines, stainless ARP bolts, CRV V-belt aluminum pulleys
Machine Work: Jeremy Gerz, Innovative Performance and Repair (Lancaster, PA)
Built By: Josh Hillard (Narvon, PA)

Transmission: Victor at Newswenger Transmission (New Holland, PA) Turbo 350, ATI 4,500-stall 9-inch converter, B&M shift kit
Rear Axle: 1969 GM 12-bolt, Richmond Gears 4.11:1 gears, Moser axles, stock GM driveshaft

Frame: Stock with chromoly frame connectors by Hillard Fabrication
Front Suspension: McGaughy’s 2-inch drop spindles, stock GM A-arms and springs (one coil removed), KYB shocks
Rear Suspension: GM two-ply rear springs, KYB shocks
Brakes: The Right Stuff 11-inch discs, GM stock calipers front; GM 10-inch drums rear; GM stock master cylinder, brake booster, and proportioning valve

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Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Weld Racing Alumastar 2.0 Black 15x3.5 front, Pro Star 15x8 rear
Tires: Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R 26x7.50 front, ET Street Radial 275/60 rear

Upholstery: Denny’s Camaro Parts
Material: Vinyl and houndstooth
Seats: Stock GM
Steering: Stock GM steering box and column, Grant Signature series steering wheel
Shifter: Stock GM
Dash: Stock GM
Instrumentation: AutoMeter
Audio: Stock GM
Installed By: Seat upholstery by Todd Myers; headliner by Sam Ellingsworth, Custom Rags (Glenmoore, PA)

Bodywork & Paint: Duane Mellinger, Superior Paint and Collision (New Holland, PA)
Paint: PPG Black code 41
Hood: Goodmark 6-inch cowl-induction steel
Grille: GM stock
Bumpers: OE

Photos by John Machaqueiro


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